Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Profiles In Artistry - Anna Mazon

Anna Mazon's lacy, intertwining metal clay work is unlike any other artist that I'm familiar with. She uses gentle fingertips and heartwarming memories of her Grandmother's art to create the secret garden-like vines and floral designs she's best known for.

PMCC - How long have you been working with metal clay?
AM - I found out that metal clay existed in 2008, so roughly 5-6 years.

PMCC - What skills, interests, or achievements do you bring to your designs from previous, unrelated work?
AM - As long as I remember I've loved drawing, sculpting, singing, dancing, writing, etc. - so I guess that I've always enjoyed expressing myself in all possible ways, and I just felt that [with metal clay] I'd found yet another one that I feel I love the most. I am simply a 'dreamer' and I love playing with new ideas in my head. I think this helps me create.

PMCC - How did you discover/develop your signature technique or style?
This is currently my favorite piece.
"Slavic Tales - Leshy" is the keeper
of the forest in Slavic folklore.
It's the first time I used copper,
bronze, and silver in a single piece.
AM - Honestly, I'm not sure. The first piece I ever made with metal clay was already in 'my style'. It was a drop shaped pendant with small, hand sculpted flowers and leaves. This way of working with metal clay and nature related themes was simply natural for me from the very beginning. I never used textures, molds, etc., which seems to be the most popular way of beginning the journey into the metal clay world. The truth is that I'm still not good at using them.

I remember that when I was a child my Grandmother used to make brooches and pendants out of something similar to polymer clay. They were always adorned with tiny flowers and leaves or small, cute creatures like bunnies or dogs. Maybe this was my source of inspiration and made me think that this way of working with metal clay was just the right way for me.

PMCC - How has your work or skill set evolved since you began working with metal clay?
AM - I'm definitely more confident and calm when I'm working. I remember my very first time with silver clay. I didn't know much about it and I was sure that the whole lump would be completely dry in in less than a minute or so, so before opening that first package I thought through the whole process of making a pendant and practiced twice using plasticine. Then when I finally made the piece in clay in about 30 seconds, imagine how surprised I was to discover that it was still moist and pliable! I also did the firing with a clock in my hand because I was sure that if I fired too long, something really bad would happen.

Now, I work rather slowly and give myself all the time in the world to think everything through. I like to work on a few pieces at once, to be able to switch from project to project, to get some distance and later look at my work with a 'fresh eye'. I don't rush myself. Making jewelry for me is kind of a relaxing ritual. Unless something goes wrong - then I'm not relaxed at all and I swear a lot! I'm much more precise and patient than I used to be and and that helps me in many different areas of my life.

"Flower Storm" This bracelet is an example of my signature technique,
which combines both organic and precise working methods. 
PMCC - Do you teach?
AM - Yes I do, mostly abroad. In my home country of Poland, I prefer teaching one to one classes because there is still not enough interest in metal clay to organize regular workshops for larger groups.

During my university years I completed a course for business coaches and was really interested in conducting workshops [focusing on] the sociological and psychological aspects of creativity and group dynamics. I even worked for a while on the Learning & Development team of the HR department. I think this knowledge and experience has helped me as a teacher.

PMCC - Do you consider yourself primarily an artist/maker or a teacher?
AM - Definitely a maker. I love teaching, but for me it's just an additional thing - a wonderful change from my jewelry work, but still - just a side interest. When I do teach, I especially enjoy traveling to teach in other countries - I come up with a lot of new ideas during my journeys. Seeing new places and meeting wonderful, talented people is very inspiring, but I feel most at home when I come back to my workshop and start creating things again.

PMCC - How do you feel about teaching others your signature technique?
AM - Basically great! I have no problem with it. I feel it pushes me further in my explorations to seek new things, new designs, new techniques. It makes me think more creatively. It's also very interesting to see what other people do with my techniques. Pieces created by my students during a workshop are always so unique - each one is so different, even though the technique stays the same. I always encourage my students to incorporate their newly acquired skills into their work and find a way to express their own vision through the skills they learned. I really enjoy that moment when I see their work later and I recognize elements of what I taught them in their creations.

PMCC - How would you like your future with metal clay to evolve?
AM - Let's dream! I would like to get to the point where I could work only on big, statement pieces without worrying about whether they would sell or not. I would like to teach more in other exciting locations - I love traveling and meeting new people. Maybe I could write a book? I already have a good idea, I just need a little push to consider it more seriously. I also enjoy writing very much, so I might like to write regularly for a craft magazine. I have a lot of ideas for the future, maybe some of them will come true.

It was a wonderful experience to see "Sol Omnia Regit"
on the cover of Metal Clay Artist Magazine.
PMCC - Why did you choose metal clay as your primary material? What qualities do you particularly appreciate?
AM - The thing I most love about metal clay is the freedom of creation. I think more about what I want to make, than what I can make using this stuff. Carving, sculpting, etc. in metal clay is so easy from the technical point of view that basically all the possibilities are in your hands - it just depends on your creativity, talent, and intelligence instead of fancy tools and years of hard training in a well equipped, professional workshop. I also love the fact that metal clay can be worked directly with just bare hands - this way I can really leave an impression of myself in my work - figuratively and literally.

PMCC - What would you like new users of metal clay to know?
AM - That it's almost impossible to 'waste' clay. That's the most common fear among people working for the first time with metal clay - especially silver. You can always rehydrate a piece that you're not happy with to turn it back into pliable clay, or paste. Even after firing, you can send finished jewelry to a refiner to get money or new, raw materials in return. So don't worry - just create and see what happens!

We here at PMC Connection would like to congratulate Anna on her 2nd place win for "Flower Storm" in the Saul Bell Design Awards! It's a beautiful bracelet, and a well deserved honor.

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

Friday, May 16, 2014

Lights, Camera, Action! Behind the Scenes - Shooting Quality Photos

Last week I was asked to submit 15 photos of artwork to a magazine for a local art tour of professional artists. We have over 25 artists. It shouldn’t be hard to find 15 quality photos, right?
Wrong! Some were out of focus, others showed junk in the background, or had their item laying in bright red cloth, and lastly the color was off. I find this happens more often than not.

So, in this blog series, I’m sharing some simple tips on creating quality photos of artwork (jewelry in this case).

Holding the Camera
The camera must have a camera stand. This removes most of the chances of blurry photos. They don’t cost that much, less than $36.  Most cameras have a screw hole in the bottom that allows for mounting on a stand. A search on the internet will reveal a camera stand/mount designed for iPhones too.

The Background
When setting up your shot, look in the background. Put jewelry on a neutral background. Bright colors, like red, blue, or yellow take away the focus of the main object. Additionally, colorful backgrounds reflect their color onto jewelry. Look at the reflection on the jewelry to see what color is showing, especially if it’s silver jewelry. A bright color makes the silver appear to be that color. For my background I use a white cutting board or a gray card.

Set the White Balance
Have you ever taken a photo that turns out blue or really yellow, but when you look at the setup it looks fine to your eye? That’s because the digital camera is picking up light different than your eye. All cameras have a setting that allows you to set the white balance. This setting is what changes that same shot to the corrected color. Different lights cause different colors. For example, fluorescent lighting adds a bluish cast to photos whereas tungsten (incandescent/bulbs) lights add a yellowish tinge to photos. Check your camera’s user manual to find the white balance setting menu. The easiest setting to use is "Auto". The camera makes a best guess of balancing on a shot by shot basis on the auto setting.

Lights and Lamps
I used to go outside on a cloudy day or find a shady spot to photograph my silver jewelry. Shade offers natural lighting, but the problem is the reflecting light. If I have a wall nearby the color reflects off my jewelry. A quick, easy, and cheap way to obtain natural lighting (I found out from Doug Baldwin) is to use CFL Daylight bulbs in a desk lamp. They can be bought at most hardware and discount stores. Use a desk lamp with the movable neck. This allows you to move it closer or further from your jewelry.

Softening the Light
A bare light bulb near shiny jewelry reflects a bright shine! The light must be diffused or scattered. An easy way to do this is to place tracing paper in front of the bulb (another tip from Doug Baldwin). If using the CFL bulbs they don’t get as hot as other bulbs, so it’s not as much as a fire hazard to do this. I lightly tape the tracing paper over the end of the lampshade. Of course, don’t leave the lights covered with paper for a very long time. It can cause a fire!

This is a good start on setting up your shots. Next time I’ll cover the secrets of making the jewelry behave and sit correctly!

Until next time, have fun claying around! [Edit. Look here for post #2]

by Janet Alexander 
Technical Adviser

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Cash Versus Accrual Accounting: Why It Matters to Artists

We all just competed tax returns or filed extensions. So, while taxes are fresh in your mind without the time pressure, here are some tax concepts you might still encounter or come across in the coming year.

I will be going through parts of the IRS' Schedule C Profit or Loss From Business and the accompanying form 1125-A Cost of Goods Sold. I’ll do this over the next few months. Click here for a pdf of Schedule C Instructions by the IRS, at bottom of page.

Here we go. After your name, as proprietor, your SS# or EIN, there is the question F about your accounting method. How do you keep track of your income and expenses? Your choice, per IRS, is Cash or Accrual or Other.  ‘Love the Other, which I’m ignoring here.

One difference between Cash and Accrual is in the timing of a transaction associated with actual dollars of income or expenses. The other difference is how inventory and its monetary value show up in your records.

The cash method is more commonly used in small businesses. In the cash method, income is counted when income is actually received and expenses are counted when they are actually paid.

The accrual method is complex and thus might cost a little to implement. QuickBooks starts at about $300. Be sure to get the appropriate program, one that handles manufactured goods, not purchased-for-resale goods. I speak from experience.

In the accrual method, revenues are matched to expenses at the time in which the transaction occurs rather than when payment dollars are received. All meaningless words so far?

Let's isolate an example. Say I send 20 items at $50 each ($1,000 total) to a shop that will sell them on consignment. Here is the cash version, in which my inventory dropped by 20 immediately and my cash increased as items were sold and I received payment.

Here are the same 20 items at $50 each in the accrual version. This time, the monetary value of those shipped items appeared in my accounting program. The monetary value went into an account called Accounts Receivable, a holding place for "items-I-still-own-but-have-not-been-paid-for". They don't just disappear as they did above. They are still on my books, so to speak. As they sold and I was paid, my cash increased and the Accounts Receivable decreased.

The cash versus accrual method decision comes down to what kind of records you keep. How connected is your inventory to your accounting program? Some keep inventory here and accounting there. Some have programs that keep both. And we're back to QuickBooks. In my opinion, QuickBooks is not ideal, but it seems to be the universal program.

The advantages and disadvantages of each method are numerous and complicated. If you are interested, read on. If not, this is about all I can handle today, too.

The accrual method shows the ins and outs of business assets, income, and expenses more accurately. Careful though, because on paper your income report may show thousands of dollars in sales and receipts (in Accounts Receivable), while in reality your bank account is empty because you haven't yet been paid.

Though the cash method might show you've got lots of cash on hand, it could be misleading in terms of long-term business. For example, maybe the beginning of your year is spectacularly profitable. You get excited and go to Hawaii. But then, the rest of the year is slow and now you have a bunch of credit card debt.

It's a good idea to generate inventory and accounting reports on a monthly basis. Ponder them and insights may come. To have an accurate picture of your business' finances, you need more than just a collection of monthly reports and annual totals that go onto your Schedule C. It would be best to understand what your numbers mean and how to use them to answer financial questions. Find some adult-education courses, or find a professional. I’ve seen a lot of commercials lately for the Better Business Bureau at https://www.bbb.org/. That would be a good place to start.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Explore Base Metals Online with Hadar

Hadar has developed a new program for those who love her clays, but can't make it to one of her classes. With travel expenses what they are, that's a lot of people!

Her online classes are an opportunity to get the latest on new developments and revisit tried and true techniques. What a wonderful opportunity to interact with Hadar and refine your skills. Info here.

Monday, May 5, 2014

A .960 Ring Test

I'll let you in on a little secret. I don't always practice what I preach! Sometimes I try things that my better judgement knows may not work. It's a function of my excitement when trying a new technique or creating a special design, my experienced ego thinking that I have magical skills that can produce anything in any way, and plain old laziness. For instance, last week I made a ring using the newly discovered alloy of sterling and fine silver that Celie Fago is calling .960.

For those who may not be Facebook users, or who may not have read of this new discovery on Celie Fago's blog - the .960 alloy is a combination of equal parts PMC3 and .925 clay. Mix it yourself, let it rest for about a half hour, and make your creations. Then fire on an open shelf. No carbon required! You can read more about it here.

I didn't have any PMC3, so I used PMC+. Old, dry PMC+. And the sterling clay wasn't that new either. And I didn't wait 30 minutes after mixing for the alloy to blend and condition. And, since I was in too much of a rush to make .960 slip, I tried joining elements with PMC3 slip, or the water/squidge method. (Do you know that method? Brush water on both elements, let it soak in, add a bit more water, and then move the parts back and forth against each other a bit to stir up some slip [squidge], hold for 4-5 seconds and hope for the best. It's a real technique. Honest!)

I fired at the recommended schedule of a fast ramp to 1500ºF, for an hour, on an open shelf. The ring band seemed like it was sintered, and it was strong when pressed between my fingers. But, when I started to polish it with my motor tool, the decorative elements started to pop off! Dang! Perhaps the user error was that I didn't join well enough, or perhaps it was the materials I used. Maybe PMC3 slip and the water/squidge system weren't good choices. Perhaps I was just in too much of a rush. I also wondered if it had anything, at all, to do with the fact that I speed-dried my work on a coffee cup warmer.

Then, because I'm teaching a ring class with this new blend, and want my students to work with the best material possible, I ordered some PMC3 and a new package of .925 clay and made the new alloy again. To make samples for the first week of my class, I made three flat strips (decorated with scratch foam textures) that I planned on bending after firing during class. I fired at the recommended schedule again. But when I started to do the demo for my students and bent the strips into bypass rings (with fingers touching, slowly and methodically) - SNAP! The first one broke into three pieces. I tried again with another strip and as I moved from one end of the strip to another - SNAP/CRACK! It broke again. Sigh. This time I wondered if the different thicknesses/uneven topography of the scratch foam texture made it unstable. Flat, untextured, 4 card thick, .960 strips made with PMC+ bent perfectly. But then I remembered that .960 is NOT fine silver. It's a sterling alloy and it might have needed to be annealed. Sterling actually heat hardens at around 500ºF so it might have even hardened while slowly cooling in the kiln overnight. For those of us used to working with fine silver - we have so much to keep in mind now with all the different alloys. And it seems right that an acute bend - like in a ring - would need annealing. A more gentle bend - as in a cuff bracelet - might not.

Tip of the Day: You can tell if sterling is annealed by marking it up with Sharpie ink - when you've played the flame over the metal until the Sharpie burns off - it's annealed. That's the easy way. The 'right' way is to coat the metal with flux, then when the flux gets glassy - it's annealed. Easy or 'right', it's a good trick to know. You can also anneal in a kiln by taking the temp to 1000ºF for about 30 minutes, and quenching immediately.

The next day, I decided to do some tests. The right way. Like I should have done to begin with. I assumed that my firing schedule must have been off for MY particular kiln, so I lowered the ramp to 1500ºF per hour and fired at 1520ºF for 1.5 hours. I made round coil bands, round flat bands, washer rings, and fired another flat bypass strip at the new schedule. I was so excited to test my results. But when I tried to bend the strip, POP! It snapped again! Double Dang! The band portion of the strip bent beautifully, but when I got to the center signet I had incorporated into the design, the band broke off. I wondered if the signet was making the forming difficult, so I decided to make one last simple ring strip. Success! Fired for an hour and a half at the schedule above - it, and all of my student's rings, bent beautifully. Annealing and a steel ring mandrel helped form the last half inch of each side of the strip into a perfect circle.

At the risk of treading on our Technical Advisor, Janet Alexander's toes, I'll share my findings in the hopes that they will help when you make rings with the .960 alloy.

Ring 1 had prongs that broke off while polishing.
You can see the settings I created to fit the prongs into. I thought they were well attached.
Ring 2 broke when I tried to make the acute bend with my fingers.
Ring 3 bent perfectly. It started 3"long/4 cards thick, shrunk to 2.5" and bent to size 7. 

Each commercial ring sizing system is slightly different and measures slightly different sizes. For instance, my steel ring mandrel registers sizes slightly larger than my aluminum multi mandrels. The wooden multi mandrels are probably yet another measurement. Metal, round ring sizers come up with a different diameter than the blue, plastic ring sizers. And those white plastic 'zip tie' style sizers wind up at still another measurement. U.S. sizing measurements are different from Euro measurements. The only way to find and make consistent sizes is to use the same tool for all measurements.


• All test items were produced with a consideration towards structure, but not design.
• Minimal sanding/clean-up/refining was performed.
• In my opinion, 4 cards thick (wet) is too thin for washer and flat (meant to be bent to size post firing) rings, even with the stronger alloy. I suggest 5 for flat rings and 8 for washer styles.
• 4 cards thick seems perfectly fine for round, band rings.
• The 4 card thick washers were easily distorted, although I did not try to actually bend them in half.
• All rings were fired without the use of a ring core.
• A ring core/plug will stop a ring from shrinking past the desired size, while it continues to shrink in thickness and height.
• Ring sizes are in U.S. measurements


Washer rings (4 cards thick): approx. 20% shrinkage - I suggest sizing up at least 3 - 3.5 sizes if using a firing plug, 4 sizes if firing without a plug.
Size 8 wet - 7 dry - 3 3/4, 4 fired
Size 9 wet - 8 dry, 4.5 - 4 3/4 fired
Size 10 wet - 9 dry - 5 fired

Flat Band and Coil rings were left to dry on ring mandrels, so there are no wet to dry measurements.

Flat Band rings (5 cards thick, 1/4" wide):15% shrinkage
Size 8 pre-fire - 5 fired
Size 9 pre-fire - 6 fired
Size 10 pre-fire - 6.5 fired

Coil rings (rolled to a calibrated 8 cards/thick) - 11 gauge after drying/12.5 gauge after firing: 
15% shrinkage
Size 8 pre-fire - 4.75 fired
Size 9 pre-fire - 5.5 fired
Size 10 pre-fire - 6.5 fired

Flat, untextured strips (4 cards thick): 15% shrinkage
2"/50.8mm dry - 1 11/16"/43mm fired
2.5"/63.5mm dry - 2 1/8"/54mm fired
3"/76.2 mm dry - 2 9/16"/65mm fired
3.5"/88.9 mm dry - 3"/75.5 mm fired

All in all, I like this new alloy. It seems stronger than fine silver and can be open fired on a shelf. Easy peasey! The round rings, both flat band and coil band, seemed much stronger than fine silver - but could be distorted into an oval shape with my fingers before polishing. I didn't try to distort with tools - any ring made of any material, whether milled metal or metal clay, platinum, gold, or silver - can be bent and broken when mishandled or manipulated with tools. Rings I later polished were plenty strong and could not be reshaped by hand. Although I did end up having success with this style perhaps adjustable rings that will be fired flat and bent to size after firing are better left to .925 sterling. Maybe more testing should be done with textures other than scratch foam.

My next experiments will be with container forms and flat pendants. I'm looking forward to it! If you've used .960 we'd love to know about your experience! Please leave a comment here or write a post on our Facebook page.

To help with the figures used for this post, this site and this site had some wonderful ring sizing charts, and this one helped me to figure out shrinkage percentages. Note that the ring size numbers differ from site to site!

Posted by Lora Hart

Artistic Advisor