Tuesday, April 28, 2015

More Craft Show Inspiration

I had another incredibly inspiring week. Cindy Silas and I ventured up to Washington DC to take in the Smithsonian Craft Show at the National Building Museum. This show is much smaller than the American Craft Council show I wrote about previously, but (dare I say it), even more impressive.

Biba Schultz. Fabric covered, foam core
wall displays.

The jewelry makers were out in full force, of course. Biba Schultz, one of my favorites, had a really wonderful booth featuring cardboard tables and foam core wall hangings. It must have been so light to ship and easy to set up. I actually wonder if she orders the materials from each city she shows in and later abandons it.

I loved the ceramics by Sharon Brush, and just had to get myself a little somethin'. Don't you just love the shape of that large black piece in the back? The lid sort of looks like a boat... makes me want to take a journey.

And I was just charmed by the anthropomorphic, mixed media sculpture of Betsy Youngquist. I'm not usually attracted to this type of sculpture, but it was so well made and so happily whimsical, that it just made me smile all day.

I'm so lucky to live in an area with so much artistic yumminess going on. With DC, Baltimore and New York so close, and with so much going on in Richmond itself (where I live) - creative muses are all around me. Click on the photos to see them large and in charge.

What kind of artistic inspiration do you have around your home town? PMCC would love to see some pics! Post some to our FB page and let's share the love.

 Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

Monday, April 20, 2015

Never Clean Sterling Silver with Ammonia

Someone asked me about a pendant she was having problems with, it tarnished in a fairly short time. She had sealed it with ProtectaClear, but the sterling tarnished anyway.

She told me about how she finished the metal. She had a very in-depth, complicated process she used on the sintered sterling metal clay. She cleaned it with water mixed with Dawn and ammonia, dried it, and then cleaned it with denatured alcohol and dried again on a coffee mug warmer. She then coated it once with ProtectaClear and accelerated drying with a low temp warmer.

There is no need to complete all of these processes. Jewelry manufacturers warn their customers not to use ammonia on sterling because it's not good for sterling. It causes sterling to turn black and other problems develop, then it will not clean by conventional methods. Scrubbing with Dawn, a detergent, leaves the detergent in the pores. My husband is a chemical engineer, he says detergents are stronger than soap and harder to remove from something porous. In theory, soaking the piece in denatured alcohol helps displace water, but it will not displace detergent or ammonia. The ammonia may have been the problem, especially if the pendant wasn't washed thoroughly.

I don't know if she dipped it in liver of sulfur before she did all of this. I have found that if a freshly sintered piece of metal clay is placed into liver of sulfur, the liver of sulfur is absorbed inside the porous areas of the piece. Over time it tends to oxidize faster, from the inside out. I suggest burnishing the pores closed using a steel or brass brush before applying liver of sulfur. After oxidizing, place the piece into a mixture of baking soda and water to neutralize the liver of sulfur. This keeps it from continuing the oxidation process. Then soak it in water, removing any other chemicals left behind. Dry completely and then polish. I personally don't use a lacquer over sterling silver. Over time the sterling silver still oxidizes, at which point, the lacquer must be removed in order to polish it. 

Until next time, have fun claying around!

by Janet Alexander 
Technical Adviser

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tip of the Month - Class Prep

One of the most important aspects of being successful in a classroom situation is being a good student. Of course you want to make sure you have a great instructor, one whose work you admire and whose style you relate to. But, a satisfying class is a collaboration between the student and the teacher. Preparation and forethought can make all the difference. Here are my top five actions to take into account:

Micro molds (like this bead), can
be modified to accentuate any project
1. Sign up! That seems like a given, but often students wait until the last minute to register for a class. But teachers, and the institutions they work with, need to know that a class will have a certain number of students to be profitable in order to run it. The local art center I teach for cancels classes a week in advance if they don't see the numbers they need. Sometimes delays in registering have to do with the student's schedule, monetary issues, or procrastination (I'm a foot dragger from way back). Letting the instructor know that you plan on taking the class (even if you can't sign up in advance) will allow them to prepare, purchase materials, and keep the class on their calendar.

Set small CZ's into micro molds of
decorative headpins.
2. Make sure the skill level of the class matches your own. If the description says it's for intermediate to advanced artists, and you're really just beginning, don't do yourself and the other students the disservice of signing up. You'll be frustrated, and because the instructor will probably spend more time with you, the other students will miss that one-on-one attention. Email the instructor in advance with questions and he or she might have some suggestions on how you can prep for the class and be successful with your level of experience and knowledge.

3. If you are just beginning, and the class is an Intro, don't expect that the instructor will let you set a diamond, make a ring, or try another advanced technique. There is a learning curve to every craft, and we all have to start with the basics. Don't get in your own way by trying to create a masterpiece your first time out of the gate.

Shadow box made with micro
molds of leaves and rocks, and
a commercial brass stamping.
4. Bring whatever you think you might need to make a piece you're proud of. You have an artistic voice or style that may be different from the instructors. Filling your toolbox with textures, gems or other inclusions, and carving tools or cutters that you like will help make a project really special and personal. Make micro molds or gem settings in advance, bring metal clay sheet cut into shapes that you like, or create custom shape templates to put your own spin on the project.

5. Don't be afraid to finish the piece at home. Spend time learning the actual technique and put the finishing touches on when you can take your time in your own familiar and comfortable studio. You're learning how to build a box, make hinges, create a specific texture, or carve into clay. A project is made up of a variety of techniques, and your goal should be to learn the techniques so that you can adapt them to work with your style of production. Don't think you need to make a piece that looks exactly like the instructor's sample. On the other hand, don't spend class time trying to re-invent the wheel. Sometimes making something that does look exactly like the instructor's sample frees your mind from design choices that might otherwise distract you from the business of the class.

The most important thing to think about is why you're taking that class, what you hope to learn from it, and how can you take your new skills and make them work with your own jewelry making practice.

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

Monday, April 6, 2015

Experiments in Restoring Metal Clay Binder

In my last blog I discussed the problem of metal clay binder failing. If you don’t know what this is then please read my last blog.

Now, I want to experiment with some ideas passed to me on rejuvenating metal clay binder.

Adding Cornstarch
Someone mentioned that they ad cornstarch to metal clay when the binder starts to fail. I tried this by adding a small amount to my clay. No go. It didn't work. It dried the clay out. I added water to the clay and let it sit overnight. The clay didn’t improve. I added more cornstarch and it dried the clay out even more. 

Adding Glycerin
I added a drop or two of glycerin to the failing metal clay, working it into the clay until it was well mixed. No luck. I added water and let it sit overnight. The binder still failed to reactivate. Adding more glycerin didn’t help, either. 

Adding Petroleum Jelly
I added a small amount of petroleum jelly to the metal clay. It instantly became smoother but when pulling it apart, I could see the fibers. I added more petroleum jelly to the same piece. The fibers became smooth again. I decided to let it sit for 24 hours and it was back to being fibrous when pulled apart.

Adding Lavender Oil
I added one drop of lavender oil to a ball of metal clay the size of a pea. It instantly became smoother just as the clay with the petroleum jelly. It too, returned to fibrous after 24 hours.

Lavender Oil + Glycerin
I took the clay with the lavender oil in it and added a very small amount of glycerin. I let it sit for an hour, and it still has the fibrous condition.

So, all of the "fixes" that I have heard about didn't work. Some improved the feel of the clay, but it still pulls apart showing fibers and is not smooth and bendable like new clay.

Until next time, have fun claying around!

by Janet Alexander 
                                                                                                                                                                                              Technical Advise