Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A New Year's Toast

As I was going through some old issues of Studio PMC, I came across a mention of PMC Connection that announced our arrival in the world of metal clay. "In January 2001, PMC Connection began its operations as a direct importer and distributor of PMC supplies in the United States." PMC Connection has gone through many changes since we were born, from both internal moves and external forces. The one thing that has remained constant throughout the years, though, is you - our customers, friends, readers, and supporters.

As we move closer to our "Sweet 16", we'd like to thank you all for being a part of our family and offer the following poem as our best wishes to you.

Kittikun Atsawintarangkul -

'Tis the day before New Year's and throughout cyber space, 
All the artists are planning, their goals to embrace.
Use a word or a phrase to define all your dreams,
Let the chosen intention keep track of your schemes.

As the year moves along and you grow with your art,
Try to do so with pride, and with grace, and with heart.
Let each detail and aspect you mold with your hands,
Show the voice and aesthetic that defines your brand.

It's the joy in the making that keeps us inspired,
Doing all that we can so our jewelry's admired.
And the skills that we've garnered as we toil late at night,
Ensure all that behold it will squeal with delight.

So we partner with you to support your endeavors,
To bring you the tools that help make your fine treasures.
And all of our goals - our dreams, schemes and wishes
Are to help you fulfill all your artistic blisses.

Now let's raise a glass high to the inventive ones, 
To the makers, the teachers, the creative mums.
Let's all learn and let's play 'til we're full up with cheer,
And make 2015 the very best year!!
Happiest New Year from the whole PMC Connection team!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Can Fine Silver Really Be Work-Hardened?

A question was asked online about how to work-harden fine silver. Someone had embedded fine silver wire into metal clay earrings and they wouldn't hold their shape. There was quite a bit of discussion on work-hardening fine silver.

I researched the answer and found this information.

What is a metal's hardness?
A metal’s range of hardness differs depending on its particular mixture due to its arranged patterns of crystals and concentrations of mass specific to that metal. Each metal type has a range of hardness from soft to hard only relative to that metal. In other words, each metal type has its own range of soft to full hard ratings. 

How is a metal's hardness measured? 
There are several tests developed for measuring hardness, Mohs, Vickers, and Brinell. Through research, I found that Vickers is most often used for measuring a metal's hardness because it has one of the widest scales among hardness tests, known as the Vickers Pyramid Number (HV). The Vickers test observes the metal's ability to resist plastic deformation from a standard source.

When comparing relative hardness, Vickers lists fine silver as having the most softness compared with sterling silver and argentium silver. It rates fine silver as the softest metal when it is fully hardened when comparing it to argentium silver and sterling silver. Even at full hardness fine silver is still softer than soft sterling silver.

For earrings, the metal must be work-hardened so that it holds its original shape and can spring back into its original shape when slightly bent. Work-hardened fine silver still isn't able to become work-hardened enough. This is why copper is added to fine silver, making sterling silver, so that it can be work-hardened until it is spring-hard.

So, use sterling silver in your metal clay earrings in order to gain the needed spring-hard hardness. Make sure you don't fire the sterling silver higher than 1300˚F (704.44ºC) or the metal becomes brittle.

There are a few ways to work-harden sterling silver.
  • Hammering the sterling silver with a rawhide or plastic mallet against an anvil
  • Twist sterling silver wire (posts) with pliers or compress them with pliers
  • Heat harden sterling silver in a kiln

According to Jörg Fischer-Bühner from Santa Fe Symposium® Proceedings, 2003. These are the steps for heat hardening sterling silver. 

Step 1: Check the sterling for any solder joints that may already be present.
Step 2: Heat the sterling to 1292°F–1346°F (700°C–730°C) for 30–60 minutes; adjusting temperatures if solder is present (if low-temperature solder is present, heat the piece only to 1000°F–1200°F). Quench in water.
Step 3: Heat the sterling again, this time to 572°F (300°C), holding at that temperature for 30–60 minutes. After cooling, Vickers hardness will range between 120–140dph; if lower temperatures are used, the sterling will not achieve this level.

Until next time, have fun claying around!

by Janet Alexander 
Technical Adviser

Monday, December 15, 2014

Profiles in Artistry - Susan Ellenton

Susan Ellenton is a metal clay artist living in Canada, and I might not ever have been aware of her work if not for the Master's Registry. When planning a design for one of the construction projects, Susan created a bi-cone bead with such an interesting texture that I had to learn more about it. When I found out she had been experimenting with regular old baking yeast, I was floored!

CS: How long have you been working with metal clay?
SE: I've been working with metal clay since 2006.

CS: What skills, interests, or achievements did you bring to your designs from previous work?
SE: I was trained in sciences and worked as a biologist in my 20's and 30's, first as a technician and later as a park naturalist. In 1973 I took a part-time job with a hippie silversmith. My Dad said, "It will be good for you, Susie - it will be something to fall back on". I've been messing around with silver ever since. I've always made my living with a combination of biology, silversmithing, and songwriting.
Bi-cone bead with yeast texture

CS: How did you discover and/or develop your signature style or technique?
SE: I kept wondering if there was some way of creating texture that would be unique to metal clay, i.e. something you couldn't also achieve with traditional methods like casting. One day after rummaging through my kitchen cupboards for things to embed in the clay surface, I headed off to the studio with poppy seeds, fennel seeds, and instant yeast granules. It wasn't until I was pressing the yeast into the metal clay that it occurred to me: given more moisture and the right temperatures, yeast would feed on the binder and grow. I ran lots of test samples to discover a range of wonderful effects, which you've seen on the bi-cone bead I made for the Registry.

Susan's yeast tests

The resulting textures are so interesting to me. Unlike many texture techniques I've tried, the yeast-grown textures look even better under magnification. Given how often the images of our work get enlarged for publication, that's a real plus.

CS: Tell us more about your work
SE: I have two different lines, which overlap, of course. What they have in common comes from my love of nature.

Beachgirl Barrette with moonstones.
First, my Cascadia designs, which are literal interpretations of the flora and fauna around where I live on Vancouver Island.  These designs were some of the first things I made in metal clay, and originally I was only thinking about what I myself would want to wear... Blackberry earrings, a bracelet of overlapping moon snails, and a sea urchin textured setting for a pearl ring. The Cascadia designs are my most popular sellers. However, I am better known within the metal clay community for technical innovations like experimental patinas, altered extrusions, and yeast grown textures. It was at a 2009 enamel workshop with Deb Lozier that I really embraced what it meant to be 'process oriented'. After that I began experimenting in earnest, letting the behavior of the metal clay 'speak' to me. As my accumulation of enigmatic metal forms and effects has grown, I've begun to treat them like found objects or beach-combed treasures, sometimes developing them into wearables, sometimes displaying them as sculpture. 

CS: How has your work or skill set evolved since you began working with metal clay?
SE: My manual dexterity is much improved - I can hold things with a delicate balance of gentleness and firmness, even when doing something that requires great concentration.  I've learned to see problems as opportunities. I've learned to torch fire enamels. I'm deepening my relationship with design. I've learned a lot about close-up photography and I've become a better presenter.

CS: Do you teach? If so, do you consider yourself primarily a teacher or a maker/seller?
SE: I do teach, and I value the teaching as much as the making - but I make more than I teach at present. 

'Extruded Undulations'. These forms are made by introducing a
wire into the nozzle of a syringe clay extruder. "I've tried
all sorts of extruding arrangements over the years.
Messy, but rewarding."
CS: How do you feel about teaching others your signature techniques?
SE: I'm especially interested in helping students become more process-oriented in their own practice, so when I share my techniques, I expect that my students will use them to develop their own style.  

CS: How would you like your future with metal clay to evolve?
SE: I want to bring more moment to moment awareness into my studio practice, and more trust in the process. I hope to pass on my love of making. 

CS: Why did you choose metal clay as your primary jewelry making material? What qualities do you particularly appreciate?
SE: It excites me! It builds on my background as an artisan silversmith. It is easy on the hands - I have repetitive strain, so when I heard about metal clays I had already given up hammering and sawing, etc. for nearly a decade.

I love that metal clay is easily recycled, and encourages playfulness. There are so many ways to work it - wet, dry, flexible or not, by accretion, by subtraction... After firing there are even more possibilities - you can decide to make it shiny or matte, solder it to other metal forms, play with color on metal, etc. And it is still fairly new, so there is room for pioneering. I like that a lot!

CS: What would you like new users of metal clay to know?
SE: Many skills from other craft media are beautifully transferable to metal clay - like basketry, paper arts, soap carving, pastry making, and others. The community of metal clay artisans is friendly, generous, and fun!

Thanks for playing Susan! It's so great to meet you and learn a little more about your work. Perhaps one day I'll get to see those fabulous extrusions in person. 

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

Monday, December 8, 2014

Protecting Yourself with Video Security

For years I've kept my studio location a secret due to the precious metals and jewelry I have stored inside. Now, I'm teaching classes and participating in studio tours, so the general public is in my studio quite a bit.

My studio doesn't have running water which means, during a class, I must leave students alone in the room. Sometimes, there is only one student. On a studio tour, however, people crowd in and can easily pick something up without my knowledge. I had one ring walk away on a tour.

I believe my students are trustworthy, but the new ones are strangers to me. Add to that the missing ring during a tour, I decided to put in a video monitoring security system. An art gallery I have my jewelry in told me about their monitoring system which they have been very happy with. My husband also talked with a security company manager who told him not to use wireless cameras as they can be hacked.

The system has four cameras, for indoor use only, that work day and night (IR). It supplies full color video monitoring that can transmit to a mobile phone, the web, or can be hooked up to a monitor. It activates with motion, can be scheduled for certain times, or can be activated by remote. A motion alarm is also available. It records to its own hard drive so all you have to provide is a monitor, and electricity with a surge protector.

The whole system cost me less than $400. In fact, I found it on sale the week after I purchased it for only $299. It's sold by Harbor Freight and it has some good and some bad reviews. Most of the bad reviews were because the camera was placed outside and got wet. These are indoor cameras. Additional cameras can be purchased for this system at any electronics store.

I think its a good system for the money and is definitely better than nothing.

Until next time, have fun claying around!

by Janet Alexander 
Technical Adviser

Monday, December 1, 2014

In The Studio - Stencil Texture

I'm in the midst of teaching a six week textures class here in Richmond, Virginia. The other evening, as I was demonstrating the Slip Printing technique (or as others call it - stencil technique), I showed my students that in addition to using a spatula to force slip through a stencil to create a plaster-like surface decoration on dry metal clay, you can also use the stencil to impart a smooth, design pattern on a fresh clay slab. Then, I had an epiphany - right there in class! I took a piece of lace and placed it over the stencil. This way I was able to create a detailed, textured, damask type pattern on the clay.

Here's how you do it:
• Roll out a slab of metal clay to the desired thickness.
• Place a scrapbook sized stencil over the rolled clay and spacers and roll again. Do not reduce the thickness of the spacers. The stencil should be thin enough that it will sink slightly into the clay and leave a shallow relief pattern.
• If you'd like to impart a textured surface to the design, roll the clay as described above, lay down the stencil, then the lace or other texture, THEN re-roll to impress both the stencil pattern and the texture at the same time.
• Experiment with lace, a skeleton leaf, tearaway textures, or other very thin material that is flexible enough to work with the stencil.
• A variation of this technique would be to roll the slab, re-roll with just the stencil, then before removing the stencil, texture the pattern with a mascara or toothbrush, ball burnisher, or other tool.
• To make the pattern completely unique - use a jewelers saw to pierce a design out of 26g brass.

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor