Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Take a Picture, Why Don't You?

The convenience, simplicity, and level of accuracy (focus) of cell phone cameras has developed to such a degree that they should be top on the list of necessary tools for any jewelry maker. Better than readers, a visor, and even a microscope, digital photos taken with your phone are the best way to see
Bicone bead with a split
in the seam. Artist: Me!
the tiny defects, construction problems, scratches, and unintentional slip 'texture' that might go unnoticed when finishing your work before firing.

Take a quick shot of your work from a variety of angles and open the photos on your computer for the best view. I bet you'll see some nicks or cracks that could use some love before you put the piece in the kiln.

The picture to the left shows a split in the seam, which I didn't see when I was checking the piece.  I don't think it will affect the stability, and an antiqued patina may help it to look intentional, but it might be better to do a simple repair or fill before the bead goes into the kiln.

Posted by Lora Hart

Artistic Advisor

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Saul Bell Metal Clay Winners and Ceremony

Janet Alexander, Jennifer Park, Holly Gage, Ivy Solomon

As a recipient of the Finalist Award for the Saul Bell Design Award, I wanted to share what the evening at the awards banquet was like.

The Reception
As I walked into the conference room there were four display cabinets, around 5’ long and 3’ wide, sitting back to back displaying this year’s Saul Bell Design Award winner’s pieces. Every piece was more beautiful in person than the photos shown on the website. Walking in and seeing all of this work was awe inspiring!

Each piece had the artist’s name and listed First Place or Second Place. So, everyone was eagerly walking around, looking at the outcome of the competition. It was very exciting!

One artist, Kent Raible won two first place awards! One in hollowware and the other in Gold/Platinum. His work is outstanding.

Off to each side of these display cases were round tables with photos of the other Finalist’s submitted pieces. It was great to be one of those artists!

Ivy Solomon

Ivy Solomon, of Oak Park, Michigan, won first place in metal clay. In fact, this is her third time winning the Saul Bell Award!  She won in 2004, and again in 2006. She uses a mixture of metal clay, silver sheet, and resin. The metal clay has texture and is accented with color using resin, much like Champlev√© in enameling. Each of her pieces tells a story. When asked where she wants to take her skill to next, she said she would like to write a book on her technique and teach workshops. 

Holly Gage

Holly Gage, of Bowmansville, PA, won second place in metal clay. Her piece, Je t'aime, was made by combining metalsmithing with Metal Clay. It is a love story expressed in dance. The pose you see is the final movement in the lover’s dance. As their love grows, they emerge from a blossom.

Kathleen Nowak Tucci and mom
The Dinner
The banquet room had two bars with free beverages throughout the evening. Sitting at my table, the winner’s table, were Ivy Solomon and her husband Steve; Holly Gage and her husband Christopher; Kathleen Nowak Tucci (first place in Alternative Materials) and her mom; Jennifer Park, first place winner in the enameling category; and myself with my husband Gary.

Dinner was served, including salad, filet mignon with a potato mixture, green beans, dinner rolls, and a white mousse with a chocolate stick topped with a strawberry. Wine flowed freely to all! The centerpiece was a beautiful long stemmed red rose arrangement.

Jennifer Park

The Awards
The Bell family turned out for the occasion in large numbers! What a wonderful family! The winners were introduced by way of a video. Previously, they were shipped a video kit for them to film a video with someone off camera asking them questions. They were told not to look at the questions before filming! It made for a fun video as each one tried answering questions. For example, “If you were in need of being saved who you would choose from these three people, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Sylvester Stallone.” There were a lot of fun questions and some serious questions about their piece.

After the video, awards were given to the finalists and then to the winners. I happened to be the first Finalist as my name starts with an A. Allan Bell handed me a framed certificate and then they took a photo of me with him. They showed my entry piece on the overhead screen during the process. It was very exciting.

The winners went through the same process, with a photo of their entry piece showing on the overhead screen, they received their award from Allan Bell, and had their photo taken with him.

I had a great time visiting with the other artists. It’s great to get together, ask them how they created their piece and find out who they are. We all have so much in common, even though most of us just met a few hours before the ceremony, it felt like we were old friends.

Congratulations to the winners and finalists! You all are an inspiration.

Until next time, have fun claying around!

by Janet Alexander 
Technical Adviser

Monday, May 11, 2015

The ABC's of Scratch Foam

Some metal clay artists have innate drawing abilities, and some do not. Those who do may find it easy to come up with illustrations for custom texture plates. Those who do not (like me) struggle and might feel they have no option other than to use commercial texture products. The ones who are 'art class' savvy are capable of creating beautiful sketches, doodles, and zentangles. The ones who were in choir instead (me again) turn out stick figures that are unrecognizable. But, there is hope for the challenged ones with template aided drawing!

Earring designs
Here are ten ideas on how you can create wonderful Scratchfoam textures using commercial 'helpers'.

10. Raid a childs' toy box and use their 'Spirograph' to etch nuclear, mid-century filigree.
9. Use decorative paper punches to completely perforate the styrofoam (see below).
8. Enhance a line drawing by cutting out simple shapes with a pointed craft knife, which will create a matching 'puffy' design in the metal clay.
7. Press hollow tubes, cookie cutters, and other metal shapes into the scratch foam sheet to create crisp, clean outlines.
6. Make outlines for specific pieces of jewelry by scribing the inside shape of drafting templates.
5. After pressing a specific shape into the center of the foam sheet, fill the rest of the sheet with additional designs.
4. Punch a ball burnisher through the styrofoam to form 'granules' in the clay.
3. Use a succession of ball burnisher sizes to develop tapering line widths.
2. Create sharp, thin lines with a pin (scribe lightly and slowly to avoid 'drag').
1. Draw a pattern on paper (or trace a copyright free illustration in a book) with a soft pencil, turn it upside down on top of the scratchfoam, and burnish with your fingernail to transfer the design onto the foam.

Design made with an oval cookie cutter,
 mini Kemper's teardrop cutter, straight pin
and cut outs. Texture tested with Silly Putty.
Basic tips:
• Use a ball point pen to press abstract lines, dots, and swirls all over the Scratchfoam (the ink helps the pen glide smoothly).
• Cut a large sheet of Scratchfoam into individual 4.5"x 2.75" pieces.
• Scratchfoam is very soft and will develop unintended marks very easily. Keep your texture plates pristine by storing them in an index card case.
• No matter what you do, Scratchfoam will eventually get scarred. If you love a plate you made, use polymer or silicone mold compound to make a copy of it.
• Use meat trays or to-go containers as a practically free Scratchfoam alternative!
• Test your Scratchfoam (and other) textures by pressing Silly Putty onto it.
• Scratch foam is very difficult to clean completely. Use separate texture plates for different clay bodies (silver, copper, bronze, etc).

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

Monday, May 4, 2015

What is Methylcellulose and How Does it Affect Metal Clay?

Yummy fluffed substance!

In my posts on reviving failing metal clay, I had several people ask me to try Methylcellulose (or methyl cellulose). It's a chemical compound derived from the cellulose of vegetables. Like cellulose, it is not digestible. “A” type food gums are methylcellulose AKA modified vegetable gum.

In researching this substance I found that it has many uses: as a thickening component in foods, as fiber in laxatives, in the science field it's added to organisms for viewing under microscopes (it slows them down), artists use it for paper repair, bookbinding, and for general archival adhesive applications. Horror movie companies use it for making green slime and blood.

It has neutral pH, is nontoxic, and is listed on the MSDS sheet as hazardous due to its dust's flammable potential. It can cause skin, eye, and throat irritation. Last, but not least, it is dangerous as surfaces subjected to spills may become slippery! 

Methyl Cellulose can be found as a powder and as a liquid. Its powder dissolves only in cold liquid forming a clear viscous gel. If heated this gel turns solid and then returns to liquid after cooling.

With all that said, how does it affect failing metal clay? 

I decided to try the liquid form (1.5%) since most of my metal clay needs rehydrating. After rolling approximately 16 grams of crumbly metal clay as thin as possible, I added drop after drop of methyl cellulose, mixing it into the clay. I used a total of five drops. The clay became more homogenous. I wrapped it tightly in plastic and allowed it to sit for a couple of hours.

It still pulls apart showing fibers, but it is more pliable. It couldn't be used, however, if I needed it to bend into a ring.

I decided to test this clay mixture with glycerine and see if that helps. At first, it became smooth just as it did when adding petroleum jelly. After allowing it to sit for several hours, though, it is still fibrous.

Since this solution is only 1.5% methyl cellulose, I will try the powder form next. 

Until next time, have fun claying around!

by Janet Alexander 
Technical Adviser