Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Profiles in Artistry - Anna Siivonen

Lora Hart - I first became aware of Anna's work through FaceBook. I saw an image of a fabulous scorpion necklace and was so intrigued with its intricacy and meticulous craftsmanship that I had to learn more about the maker. Anna says she was inspired by two specific images. One of Serqet, the Egyptian goddess of scorpions and venomous creatures, and another image of a scorpion mother carrying her babies on her back.

PMCC - How long have you been working with metal clay?
AS - I first heard of silver clay in 2005. I found info about it online when I was searching for something related to ceramic clay.

PMCC - What skills, interests, or achievements did you bring to your designs from previous, unrelated work? 
AS - I have been drawing, painting, and creating all of my life. When I was six, I took a ceramics class. I kept at it until I was about 25, when I began to teach ceramics to children. From the beginning, my favorite thing was to sculpt people and creatures.

PMCC - How did you discover and/or develop your signature technique?
AS - In 2005, there were very few people working with silver clay in Sweden. I taught myself through the internet, books, and a lot of experimentation. In 2007, I wrote my first book about silver clay called "Skapa i Silverlera"  (Create in Silver Clay), which was published in Sweden and Finland.

"Serqet Scorpio Necklace" Sculpted
in bronze clay, bronze wire, and
assembled with faceted ball chain.The
last little scorpion is also the clasp.

The appearance of bronze and copper clay was quite significant for me. My sculptural work (even the smaller items) usually requires a lot of clay. To experiment and produce as much as I have done in expensive silver clay would not have been possible for me.

Also, selling on Etsy has had a big impact on my style. When I started selling online I did one of a kind things, but I could not sell the items for a price that covered material, time making them, taking pictures, and writing listings. So, I started to research and experiment with methods to reproduce designs and speed up production. I think many of the factors that add up to ”my style” actually result from the time saving methods I use.

PMCC - Do you teach?
I do teach a couple of classes a year, but I teach less when I’m busy making and selling. I like to do both but I definitely consider myself more of a maker than a teacher. I teach intense weekend classes in beginner silver clay and weekly classes in sculpture/production in base metal clay. My favorite class is definitely the latter one which is how I work now.

AS - 'I sculpted a Shar Pei head as a
commission for a customer. Later, when
I wanted to make a pendant, I used
molds and high shrinkage copper
clay to reduce the original, larger head
in size, then sculpted a body for it.'
  PMCC - How would you like your future with metal clay to evolve?
  AS - I would very much like to write a new book about the methods
  I use today and I would like it to be published in English. I even have
  a working title - ”Production Work in Metal Clay”. But writing a
  book is very time consuming, and I’m so obsessed/busy making
  stuff, it gets in the way of starting a big project like that.

  PMCC - Why did you choose metal clay as your primary material?
  AS - I consider myself more of a sculptor than a jewelry maker. I’m         not that interested in jewelry, I never wore it before I started making it.     What I like is constructing and creating stuff, and metal clay has           been the most rewarding artistic outlet of the ones I have tried. Thanks   to metal clay I have been able to quit my day job and support my self     with my obsession.  :)

Puppies carved in unfired bronze clay
PMCC - Would you mind sharing a bit about your process?
AS - I use my fingers, a scalpel, and a brush for
sculpting. I don't sketch on paper, but sometimes I make 'sketches' with clay. I usually start by making a rough shape by hand in copper clay, letting it dry, then I refine it by adding and subtracting clay, carving, and scratching in detail lines.

PMCC - What would you like new users of metal clay to know?
AS - My advice to new users of metal clay is be creative, experiment, and don’t be too hard on yourself. What you consider a failure might be a success if you look at it differently. Many of my bestsellers are
”accidental designs” - things that didn't end up as I originally pictured,
but that turned into something that was even better.

PMCC - Anna, thanks for this insight into your work and process. Your carving skills add so much life to the world of metal clay. We certainly hope you get around to writing that book. It sounds like a great subject!

Anna's website

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

Friday, April 18, 2014

Four Tips For Sintering Metal Clay in a Kiln

When firing your clay in a kiln, there are a few things to think about:
  • Support
  • Placement
  • Heat
  • Time

Placing the item on a fiber blanket and pushing the blanket up under the unfired piece helps support it. I like to place my sterling (for the first firing) and fine sliver pieces in a fiber bowl with vermiculite to support them.

Vermiculite Bowl & Fiber Blanket

If I have an item with a wide side, that side is placed perpendicular into the vermiculite. This helps avoid sagging because gravity has less of an effect on it. Place the bowl raised up off the kiln floor so that the heat can move around the whole bowl. This keeps the bottom of the bowl from being cooler. If you don’t use a bowl, then raise the kiln shelf off the kiln floor and support the items, if needed, using fiber blanket or thick fiber paper.

Always notate the locations of the kiln’s heating elements. Most front loading kilns do not have elements in the door, so the front of the kiln will be slightly cooler than the back. Top loading kilns tend to heat more evenly. If an item has a stone or sterling silver embeddable, place them towards the cooler area of the kiln. If there are sterling silver embedded objects then don’t heat higher than 1200 degrees, but heat longer to be certain they attach.

I have discussed the importance of testing your kiln's temperature at different degrees in the past. I cannot stress how important this is. Tested kilns have shown that some kiln's temperature is up to 10 degrees higher than it's readout suggests.

Lastly, there is the issue of time. Sintering time is a constant variable, depending on the circumstances. For example, there may be time constraints due to a classroom situation. It is always best to sinter the metal clay for the longer recommended period of time. This allows the molecules to soften and attach to each other. If attaching pre-fired items together, heat the piece to as high a temperature as is allowable for the metal and for the longest recommended time.

Until next time, have fun claying around!

by Janet Alexander 
Technical Adviser

Monday, April 14, 2014

What a Wholesale Sale Looks Like

So, you have your booth set up at a wholesale trade show.

Your select items are on display, easy to see at eye level, clearly marked with wholesale prices that are labeled “Wholesale” or “WS.” You haven’t put out all your items, you've put out the ones that will appeal to this collection of buyers. Are most businesses desert resorts, western stores, east coast vacation destinations, upscale galleries, tourist traps, or urban spas and boutiques?

I try to see their buyer’s badge when they walk up to my booth, to see their name and business and where it is located. If they see me doing this, I ask, "Where are you from?" Or, "You’re from Livingston?" One time, the show staff put the wrong town on a buyer’s badge, and suddenly many previously unconnected conversations made silly sense to her. We laughed.

Understand before you are understood. Be curious about their shop, store, spa, museum, or gallery. What do they sell? To whom, and do they have seasonal sales? When is their busy season?

Point them to your best-selling items or items that might be a fit for their business. Tell them why you think they will be a good fit. For example, I related to buyers that I had worked in a shop where my goods were sold and that I secretly spied and eavesdropped on people who looked at and bought my items. I went so far as to say to a buyer, “These earrings appeal to women my age, oddly enough. I’ve never seen a young person buy these.” I could tell this gave the buyer confidence in my knowledge of my goods. She ordered some.

Tell buyers a little about your art process. With PMC, that is always fascinating. If it’s true of your medium, such as PMC3, explain why PMC was invented in the 90s and how it contains 40% or more silver from industrial waste. Throw in a little special tidbit from your artistic aspect; for example, explain briefly your personal passion for silver or copper or bronze.

Hold a blank order form on a clipboard along with a pen. On your order form are fields for the buyer's basic contact info: name, business, address, phone, email, etc. Don’t fill those out, simply ask the buyer for a business card and tape it to the form—right then and there. Also, on your order form is a list of your items, so that when they say, “Let’s do twelve of those,” you simply put 12 on that item's line.

As you talk with them, make notes on the order form. Tons of notes. For example, “liked the key-holder earrings but did not order.” If they order four pair of Artisan Earrings, ask and note which ones they like. Then try to send them those when you fill their order. Depending on your goods, you might have a conversation about display, display cards, the “includes recycled silver” cards, if they want a written piece on your art process (which they could, and should, share with their staff), and other things that you can do to help your items sell well in their business.

Be sure to ask, and then write on your form, the date they desire you to ship the goods. This date can be “ASAP” or “ship the first part of July” or “just before Christmas.” You will be calling them for their credit card number after you've added shipping with insurance costs and are ready to ship.

I do not rehearse any part of my conversations with buyers. Even if I did, I've lost the ability to speak lines from memory. In thinking back to experiences, I believe the most important things to do are to connect and be authentic. Let conversations occur organically. You and the buyers are there for a reason, there is no need to do a sales pitch. Speaking from a need to sell something is a huge turnoff.

As a result, I meet the most interesting people who happen to be buyers at wholesale trade shows. All of them are pleasant and people of integrity. They know their business. And new business owners are enthusiastic. I am generally impressed and awed.

Put a business card or rack card in their hand before they leave your booth, whether or not they've ordered. I am certain to say a fitting thanks as they leave me.

The evening of the show, yes, after you’ve put in a twelve-plus-hour day, most of it on your feet, you sit at your computer and shoot them a pdf or copy of their order via email. Along with a heartfelt message of how much you enjoyed talking with them.

You return home from the tradeshow, assemble their order and send it off, or wait until the date they wanted the goods. Unpack. Take a few days to relax and re-enter your life. Well done.

Kris A. Kramer

Thursday, April 10, 2014

FREE Project From Hadar Jacobson

Hadar has published a free project for making medallion cuff bracelets using her Dark Champagne Bronze clay.

View the project and then get started with the clays.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Movable Parts

One of the basic tenets of metal clay production is that metal clay won't stick to metal clay without moisture. This is a very important aspect of construction to remember when you want to fabricate a box, layer decorative appliques, or connect a fixed bail. No moisture between the parts means that after firing the pieces may just fall apart. But, what if you turn this 'law' to your advantage? What if you wanted to make a moveable bail? If there is no moisture between the parts before firing, they'll swing freely and easily after they come out of the kiln!

There are lots of ways to make a kinetic bail. I thought of this one while teaching a class last week. I'm calling it the Riveted Bail. The 'rivets' are made entirely from clay, and the rivet heads can be any decorative element you can think of. I had some tiny parts made with a mold I'd taken of a decorative head pin, so I used those. The week before, I taught my students how to pre-set CZ's in a simple bezel and save them until needed. One of my students used her pre-sets for her rivet heads. You could also use the 3/8" Kemper Cutters to create 4 (or more) card thick teardrops, hearts, flowers, or disks. Here are the steps I used to make the bail.

Making the Rivets:
2mm CZ's and decorative head pin molds

1. Roll a thin, straight coil about 5 cards thick (or as thick as a toothpick). Let it dry.
2. Create two rivet heads with any of the ideas above (or one of your own!). Let them dry.
3. Sand both rivet heads to perfection and set aside.
4. Cut the coil into, approximately, 1/4" sections. Make sure the ends are perfectly flat and at a 90ยบ angle to the coil. The length of the rivet coil will depend on the size and thickness of your pendant!
5. Attach one rivet head to one side of the coil with thick slip. Set the other rivet head aside for now.

Making the Bail:

1. Cut a strip of clay 3 cards thick, about 1/4" wide and 1" to 1 1/4" long. Use a small tube or cocktail straw to put holes on each side, about 2mm away from the ends.
2. Immediately drape the strip over a cocktail straw to dry. The goal is to have a horseshoe or U shaped bail.
3. If desired, use files and/or sandpaper to create scallops or other decorative edges on the bail.

Putting it Together:
1. Use any method to make the pendant of your choice, use the same tube or cocktail straw to create a hole at the top and let it dry. Then sand and groom until it is perfect.
2. Check to see that the rivet coil will fit in the holes of the bail and pendant. If it doesn't slide through with ease, use a needle file or damp toothpick to enlarge the hole. It's easier to try and fit the rivet coil in each element separately first.
3. Slide the bail over the pendant and make sure the holes line up.
4. Gently slide the rivet through all the pieces and turn over. It might be easier to hold it in place with your finger at this point.
5. Attach the second rivet head to the back of the rivet coil with thick slip and let dry. Make sure that it can move and that there is no extra slip or moisture between the parts.

In order for the bail to swing freely, you need a little bit of room between the elements. The rivet coil should extend about 2mm's beyond the back of the bail before the second rivet head is attached. After firing, the construction may 'stick' a little, but just a tiny bit of elbow grease and pressure will click it apart.

If you want to make extra sure that the bail parts won't stick, scrape a kiln brick/pad to create a little dust, then apply it to the crevices with a small paintbrush. The dust acts as a microscopic resist/barrier and won't allow the individual elements to bond.

If you try this design, we'd love to see a photo! Please visit our FaceBook page and show us your work!

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

Friday, April 4, 2014

Tips for Successful Burn Outs With Hollow Beads Made with Cork or Wood

Someone contacted me regarding problems she had with firing hollow beads, they were crumbling after firing. Here are some tips and processes for firing PMC3 metal clay coated cork beads.

  •  Form wood or cork clay into a shape. Attach it to a toothpick to use as a handle. It is best to place the toothpick in an area where you want a hole to be. If you are making a bead then place a toothpick on each end of the bead where you want the bead’s holes. The toothpick will be removed before firing, making a hole in the piece. This hole acts as a vent hole and a cleanout hole. The hole should be around 2mm in diameter.
  • Make sure the wood or cork clay is completely dry before adding the metal clay. It will be completely hard when dry, no give.
  • Smooth and shape form by sanding and filing. Using a rotary tool with sandpaper is fast and easy. 
  • Using lump clay: Roll your clay at 1mm thickness (4 cards), lightly wet the core form, and apply the clay. Seal the joins from inside with thick paste, cut the excess clay, and blend the seams with water and a clay shaper. Dry completely. Sand the seams to refine.
  • Using clay slip: Measure the form with a millimeter gauge and write down the measurement. After coating the form the diameter of the bead should be 2mm larger. Paint approximately 8 coats of slip over the form. Allow each coat to dry completely between layers. To keep track of layers painted, place a mark on a sheet of paper before each coat.
  • If using PMC3,  slow ramp to 650F to slowly burn the cork. Hold at 650F for 30 minutes, then full ramp to 1290 for at least 10 minutes to 2 hours. Firing it at 1650˚ can risk the piece caving in. Ramping too fast can cause the piece to blow out making a huge crack.
  • Support the piece with fiber blanket or vermiculite, but don't cover more than 50% of the piece. If using a fiber blanket, wrap the fiber blanket around it as to "embrace" it evenly on all sides and bottom.
  • If the form is large, there is a chance of slumping. It's best to fire it upright and supported by fiber blanket or vermiculite up to the middle of the form’s height.
  • After cooling, wash out the ashes. Insert a syringe tip and squirt with water. Leaving the ashes inside a hollow form can cause it to discolor.

Until next time, have fun claying around!

by Janet Alexander 
Technical Adviser