Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Quick and Easy Way for Removing Tarnish

All of us have had the problem of our finely polished jewelry tarnishing over time. With a show coming up in the next few weeks, I need to have my pieces ready for display. One problematic woven chain of mine is tarnished and the inside strands are nearly impossible to polish. I've tried a polishing cloth, but it just doesn't work well enough for this chain.

Here is a recipe for making your own non-toxic cleaning solution.
  • Flat pan lined with aluminum foil with the shiny side facing up
  • 1 Tablespoon of baking soda
  • 1 Tablespoon of table salt
  • 1/2 cup of white vinegar
  • Hot water, enough to fill the pan so that it covers the silver pieces
Bring water to a boil and then add the baking soda and salt. Stir until everything dissolves. Add the vinegar. 

Note: it will fizz for a short time.

Pour solution into the aluminum lined pan. Place the silver pieces into the pan. Remove the silver pieces from the pan when tarnish is gone. Rinse with water and dry. 

If needed, polish with a polishing cloth, bringing the silver to a high shine.

Note: I tried this solution on sterling silver pieces with a liver of sulfur patina. It does not remove the patina.

This solution does not clean tarnished copper.

Cleaned Chain

Until next time, have fun claying around!

by Janet Alexander 
Technical Adviser

Monday, June 16, 2014

Profiles in Artistry - Helga van Leipsig

I first met Helga at one of the PMC conferences at Purdue University, and we continued to renew our friendship at every conference since then. Now that the Guild has disbanded and there is less opportunity to visit in person, we keep in touch through Facebook. Helga has long been one of my favorite artists - with a style that is all her own, and is a constant inspiration and motivational force in my artistic life. 

Helga's studio in Holland
CS - How long have you been working with metal clay?
HvL - In November 2005 I bought my first package of silver clay out of curiosity.  I fired the first batch with my torch and thought it was magic. Then I turned to the internet to find more information about the product and found out there were two brands. PMC [Precious Metal Clay] was the one I was most attracted to because there was a wealth of technical information on the guild's website, which I was looking for at that moment. I had a desire to know everything about it, and that desire still fuels my passion for metal clay.

CS - What skills, interests, or achievements did you bring to your designs from previous, unrelated work?
HvL - My graphic design work gives me my uncluttered style I guess. Then, garden work gives me motivation & metaphors. The beauty I find in the small details of plants are an eternal influence. I connect them to my personal development processes. Metal clay gives me clues in understanding myself. Perhaps a bit weird to say, but that’s the way it works for me. I am constantly trying to find out what the clay wants to say to me. My latest work, the Cambia series, is about how sap streams up and down in a stem. It's a transport system that carries essential minerals to the leaves & roots.

Embrace & Open-up from the Earth series
"After a period of struggling with incorporating
metal clay into my jewelry, I made this ring.
I have to embrace all the qualities of the
clay (the open armed half-round shapes)
before I can open up to all the possibilities
it has (the ruptures on the rim)." 
CS - How did you discover and/or develop your signature style or technique?
HvL -  I consider the Earth series my signature style, the inspiration came from farmers ploughing the fields. It also started as I was thinking about a Masters registry project (E3 - Metal Clay Paper). Then a workshop with Ruudt Peters called, 'Now Breath', where I worked with earth from my garden. This workshop was non-jewelry related and liberating. The Earth series is still a work in progress.

CS - How has your work or skill set evolved since you began working with metal clay?
HvL - I  work more intuitively and freely with metal clay. Sheet and wire can be very strict. With clay I play more. That is good.

In 2013 Helga entered a time of creative reflection and artistic discovery through a self-directed, week-long, artist retreat at home. In addition to making her discoveries the focus of her blog, Helga hosted live video chats with other artists around the world, which I was honored to be a part of. (Look for "Next read" at the bottom of each day's post for a link to the following 10 posts.)

CS - Can you tell us a little about your Summer Art Retreat at Home (S.A.R.A.H.)?
HvL - The retreat came out of the frustration that 1. I couldn’t go to Haystack [to take a workshop], 2. I had a free schedule and committed to the time to do it, and 3. my desire to develop myself. It was a lesson in determination, and a journey to learn to trust in what I can do myself. It taught me tons, as you can read on my blog.

CS - Do you teach?
HvL - During the 3rd through 6th years of working with metal clay, I taught some classes. But here in my area there is not very much demand for metal clay classes. I live in a small village and don’t want to travel too much.

Cambia #1
"This ring is a result of the first S.A.R.A.H. It was
made after many tests I made with porcelain clay
(my favorite testing material). The gold emphasizes
how important it is to keep on Flowing."
My take on teaching is giving a presentation like I did at the PMC conference in 2012 or the Polymer conference in Malta in 2014. Like that, I can reach a bigger crowd. Also, writing for Art Jewelry Magazine gives me satisfaction in the same way teaching might. Then there is the work on my website. Blogging is a way to communicate, so I can reach & teach online while I continue to work on my style in my studio.

CS - Do you consider yourself primarily a teacher or a maker/seller?
HvL - Definitely a maker & seller.

CS - How would you feel about teaching others your signature techniques?
HvL - That is not something I am interested in, I would prefer to teach how to find your own style. Everybody has unique qualities and I am convinced it is a matter of knowing how to look. I would love to teach that. The presentations I've done were about this subject.

CS - How would you like your future with metal clay to evolve?
HvL - I'd like to keep on exploring different ways of working with the clay to find innovative techniques. It challenges me to grow on a personal level, it’s a process.

CS - Why did you choose metal clay as your primary jewelry making material? What qualities do you particularly appreciate?
HvL - Sometimes I have the feeling metal clay chose me. I can’t help but keep working with it. What I particularly like is that it’s still a new material with no set traditions, so I am free to explore.

CS - What would you like new users of metal clay to know?
HvL - That you are free to play.

Thanks for sharing your process with us Helga. I'm in love with the idea of a personal art retreat and am so impressed with the way you designed it and laid it all out. I hope many of our readers use it as a template for their own creative renaissance.
Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

Friday, June 13, 2014

Lights, Camera, Action! #3 – More Tips on Making your Jewelry Behave While Photographing

This is part three of my photography tips. If you haven’t read the first two, do so! [Edit. Look here for post #1 or post #2]

Now that the lighting is all correct, here are some more tips on photographing problem jewelry.

Problem 1 - Photographing Hanging Jewelry

Sometimes, a pendant or earrings just look better hanging. This is how to setup a display. Take some 18 gauge annealed steel wire and bend it as shown below.

Tape it so that it hangs between the two boxes. Be sure to have the white mat board propped against the back box making a white backdrop. Hang the wire higher for long pieces or in the middle of the height of the boxes for earrings and short items.


Problem 2 - Photographing Hanging Earrings

Simply hanging earrings on the wire doesn’t mean they will face the way you want them to hang. One earring always wants to face the wrong way.

Glue dots to the rescue! Use a small glue dot under each wire and position the earring at the desired angle.

If you have photo editing software there are two ways to finish this photo. Either crop off the top removing the wire, or use a clone tool to cover up the wire.

Problem 3 - Photographing a Hanging Pendant

If the pendant hangs straight without tilting to the side, then hang it from the top of the mat board. Position the camera so that it is slightly lower than the pendant and aimed upward. This keeps the shot from looking flat.The downside to photographing the pendant laying against the mat board is that it has darker shadows behind it. If you don't want the shadows in the chain and behind the piece, then hang it using the next option.

If the pendant doesn't hang flat, like the one shown in series 2, then drape it over the wire used for hanging earrings. This technique will also soften the shadows behind the pendant.

Until next time, have fun claying around!

by Janet Alexander 
Technical Adviser

Friday, June 6, 2014

Words and Phrases

With so many emerging metal clay enthusiasts just beginning their jewelry making careers, I decided to create a mini dictionary to help them better understand the lingo that goes along with our alchemous tradition. Feel free to distribute this list to your own students, and if you notice that I've missed something - please leave a comment here with the word you think should be added to the list.

A glossary of words and phrases as they apply to Metal Clay
Compiled and Defined by Lora Hart

Alloy – A mixture of two or more metals that are combined to form a new metal, usually to increase strength or provide resistance to corrosion.
Alum - A food grade powder, found in the spice section of the grocery store which is used in pickling recipes. When dissolved in warm water it may also be used to remove oxides and other impurities from metal. See pickle.
Bail – The part of a pendant through which a chain is strung.
Base clay – Metal clays that are not considered precious metals such as bronze, copper, and steel.
Binder – An organic, non-toxic, burnable material that absorbs water and temporarily holds microscopic particles of powdered metal together to form metal clay.
Bronze – A metal alloy usually consisting of 90% copper and 10% tin.
Burnout – The period in a firing cycle when binder incinerates and excess water evaporates.
Cards – Refers to playing cards used as spacers to roll clay to a consistent thickness.
Carve – The process of using a small, sharp blade to incise a design into dry metal clay.
Copper - A pure, unalloyed, reddish-brown metal.
Clay body - Refers to the specific type and brand of metal clay used - such as bronze, rose bronze, copper, white copper, steel, silver, etc. Terminology borrowed from ceramics.
Cutter – A uniquely shaped metal object with sharp edges, such as a cookie cutter, used to cut clay into decorative shapes.
Dehydrate – The process by which metal clay loses water to the atmosphere, becoming dry - either through natural evaporation or with the aid of a heated atmosphere such as a cup warmer or food dehydrator. 
Extruder – A hand held machine that pushes clay through a tube and out a shaped hole or die to form tubes, hinges, bails, and other small elements.
Fine Silver – Pure, unalloyed silver metal. Can be stamped .999.
Fire (v.) – To sinter metal clay in a kiln. Terminology borrowed from ceramics.
Greenware – Metal clay that is formed and dry, but not yet fired. Terminology borrowed from ceramics.
Investment - A plaster-like powder that when mixed with water and allowed to cure, forms a hardened material that will not burn with extreme heat, as in a kiln. Used for casting, in ring molds/plugs and to replicate an implantable (like a cabochon, gemstone or other item) that may not be fired in a kiln. 
Kiln – A type of furnace capable of reaching the high temperatures needed to sinter metal clay, fire ceramics, or flow glass.
Lavender Oil Paste - A user made concoction of pure, essential oil (most often lavender oil) and commercially or home made slip/paste used to create a stickier, stronger joining material. Home made oil paste may be made with any clay body, and may be used with either unfired, or sintered metal clay. Approximately 15 - 25 drops of oil to 15 grams of slip/paste is recommended. Adjust the proportions as needed.
Leather Hard – Unfired metal clay in which the water has almost completely evaporated, leaving the clay slightly flexible, yet still fragile. Terminology borrowed from ceramics.
Lubrication – A thin coating of olive oil, olive oil based balms or other preparations that may be used as a release on tools, textures, hands, and other objects which may come in contact with metal clay.
Metal Clay - A generic term referring to a malleable jewelry making/sculpting material made from microscopic particles of metal, binder, and water.
Needle Tool – See Pin tool.
Paper – A solid, flexible type of unfired fine silver metal clay made with oil instead of water, which is malleable and can be folded, woven or used to cut decorative appliqués. Also known as Sheet.
Paste - A watered down mixture of clay similar in consistency to nail polish, yogurt, or spackle, depending on the amount of viscosity desired. Also referred to as Slip.
Patina - a green, brown, or black coloration on metal formed naturally or hastened with chemicals. Often intentionally applied to replicate an aged or antique appearance.
Pickle - An acidic solution used to remove oxides and other impurities from metal. A mild, non toxic pickle can be made with ordinary Alum and warm water.
Pin Tool – Any thin, pointed, sharp object used to cut shapes in metal clay. Typically a dressmakers pin or needle set into a wooden handle.
PPP’s – Photo Polymer Plates, a UV cured product used with overhead projection film, toner, and a black and white image to create a custom texture stamp.
Precious Metal Clay (PMC) – The brand name of the first silver metal clay manufactured by Mitsubishi Materials. The letters 'pmc' have been used to refer to metal clay in general, much as Kleenex has come to stand in for all facial tissues. But PMC is a brand name, and doesn't refer to the material itself.
Ramp - The rate at which a kiln's temperature rises expressed in degrees per hour. Full ramp is equivalent to approx.1792ºF per hour.
Rehydrate – The process of adding water to make dry or drying metal clay moist and malleable.
Resist - A substance applied as a coating to protect a metal clay surface during some process, for example using wax, nail polish or other material to create a design on dry metal clay in preparation for water etching or fired metal clay prior to the patina process; or the application of a non-burnable dust (investment, soldering board, etc.) between pieces of touching, dry metal clay to prevent bonding during the firing process.
Ring plug -  Also known as a Ring Sizer or Ring Pellet. A cylindrical form made of jeweler's investment that prevents a ring from shrinking beyond the desired size.
Ring Pellet Mold - A mold which is used with jeweler's investment to create standard, ring size plugs. 
Scratch Foam – A low-tech way to create custom texture sheets using Styrofoam and a rounded stylus or ballpoint pen. Introduced to the metal clay community by Wanaree Tanner.
Sheet – A solid, flexible type of unfired metal clay made with oil instead of water, which can be folded, woven or used to cut decorative appliqués. Also known as Paper.
Shrinkage - Refers to the reduction in size of a metal clay item after drying or firing. Metal clay typically shrinks in mass about 1% during the drying process, and anywhere from 8 to 20% during firing depending on the firing schedule and the specific clay body. Metal clay shrinks uniformly in thickness, height, and circumference, unless prevented by a mechanical element - such as a ring plug or kiln shelf.
Sinter – The process by which metal particles coalesce or fuse together metallurgically at high temperatures without melting.
Slats – Refers to colored plastic strips, which correspond to playing card thicknesses and are used to roll clay to a consistent thickness.
Spacers – Refers to any type of flat, calibrated strips used on either side of an amount of clay to roll a consistent thickness.
Slip – A watered down mixture of clay similar in consistency to nail polish, yogurt, or spackle, depending on the amount of viscosity desired. Also referred to as Paste. May be used to complete repairs, or as a decorative material.
Slip Printing - The method of  pushing thick slip through a template onto dry clay to acheive a surface decoration or texture. Also referred to as the stencil process.
Slip Trailing - The method of applying slip in a painterly manner onto dry metal clay to acheive a surface decoration or texture. 
Steel – An alloy of iron, carbon, and possibly other elements.
Stencil - A thin sheet of tape covered cardboard, plastic or metal with a pattern or geometric shape cut into it, used to replicate the design on the surface below with an application of slip or by the use of a pin tool to cut out shapes. May also be used to simply press a design into fresh metal clay.
Sterling Silver – An alloy usually consisting of 92.5% fine silver and 7.5% copper. Can be stamped .925.
Syringe – A specific formulation of metal clay the consistency of cake frosting, inserted into a syringe and used to make repairs or decorate the surface of metal clay items.
Tearaway – A method of creating low profile texture sheets using glossy paper, a copier, toner, black and white graphics, heat and friction. First developed by Gwen Gibson, and introduced to the metal clay community by Celie Fago.
Texture – Anything that can be used to impress a dimensional design into or onto the surface of clay.
Template – A negative shape in a sheet of plastic, card stock or metal that can be used to cut a pattern in clay.
Tissue Blade - A long, flat strip of stiff metal that is sharp on one edge - used to cut straight sections of clay. Originally a pathologist's tool.
Water Etching - The method of selectively removing/eroding dry metal clay in a specific design by use of a resist, sponge and water to achieve a surface decoration or texture. 

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Lights, Camera, Action! #2 - Making your Jewelry Behave and Adjusting the Light

In my last blog I discussed the basic setup of light, camera, white balance, and camera stand. What’s next? Sometimes the area around the table where you are taking photos can be a drain on the lighting or cause shadows. Here is what can be done to give a more even light on your jewelry. Use three number-4 USPS boxes taped shut and placed in a "U" shape on top of the cutting board. Then put a white piece of mat board against the back box.

By putting these boxes around three sides, and with them being white, they reflect the light back to the center area. If you want, cover the blue label with white paper. The white mat board acts as a backdrop when taking photos of earrings or anything vertical.

Photo Problem 1
The first problem piece of jewelry is a pendant with a hidden bail. It won’t lay flat and tends to fall to the left or the right.

My fix for this problem is a simple foam earplug. No, it’s not used! I cut it in half and, if needed, take that half and cut into two pieces. Wedge the two pieces under the pendant. Problem solved.

Problem 2
I want to take a photo of a ring standing up, but I don’t want to have it propped against anything. Glue dots are your friend! Use the extra strong dots found at Hobby Lobby.

There are two sizes, 2mm and larger. I use both depending on what I am trying to hold. In this case, I want to hold a simple ring on its end. I use a small dot. If its a heavy ring I use the large one.

Next time, I’ll discuss some other tips for photographing "trouble" jewelry.

Until next time, have fun claying around! [Edit. look here for post #3]

by Janet Alexander 
Technical Adviser