Ready or Not, Here I Come!

Single-CharmI flew to Indianapolis this morning to attend the PMC Conference at Purdue University in Lafayette, IN.  For my non-metal clay friends, PMC is a brand name for precious metal clay.  Every other year hundreds of metal clay artists come together to get inspired, learn new skills and connect with friends.  This is my first conference, and to say I’m pretty jazzed up about it is an understatement!

The past 13 months since I first got my hands on silver clay have been a time of intense study, practice and progress.  It has been truly exhilarating to discover just how this material makes my creative spirit sing.  An unexpected bonus of working in metal clay is the vibrant community of artists who support each other on line, in print and out in the real world.  Through forums, blogs and Facebook, I’ve gotten to know many metal clay friends.  Today, I get to meet lots of them in person for the first time.  So excited!

Charm-on-CardThis evening I’ll attend a  social event where many artists will swap charms.  The idea is that you make as many charms as you’d like to swap.  I made 10 charms, so by the end of the evening, I will have a treasure trove of 10 charms from different artists, while my charms will be in the collections of those 10 artists.  It’s a pretty cool way to get to know people and share a small piece of yourself with them.  My charms are in my fins and spheres style that’s based on the original Blue Fin piece.  You can read more about the inspiration for Blue Fin here.

July 29, 2010

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BRONZclay Success!

bronzThanks to some great advice from Bill Struve and several other members of our metal clay community, I have successfully fired BRONZclay!  My  strategy was to focus on the two most likely problems, which were temperature and carbon.  I’ve suspected that my kiln might run a bit hot, so I backed off to 1500 for the hold temp.  I also switched to the coconut carbon that I’ve used to successfully fire COPPRclay.  These three test pieces are fully sintered with no blisters and not even the tiniest of cracks.  Wahoo!

My next test will be fired in a new batch of coal carbon, which should arrive later this week.  I really want to fire in coal carbon to get those amazing colors right out of the kiln.  I’m learning that the coal carbon is an inconsistent firing media.  From what I’m told, you might buy a batch from a source today that works perfectly, and buy another batch next month that doesn’t work.  I don’t think it reflects on the vendor when you get a bad batch.  It seems to be just the luck of the draw.

Of course, I’m just trying to piece together all of the information that’s flowing in.  I’ll post again after the next test.  Many thanks to you all!

July 13, 2010

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Two Down…

After famously trying hundreds (maybe thousands) of materials for a light bulb filament, Thomas Edison claimed he had not failed.  He had simply found 1000 ways not to invent a light bulb.  Likewise, I really try to treasure the learning process when things are not going quite right.  My favorite saying when I make yet another mistake is, “learning… so much learning!”  So, let me reassure you that yesterday’s post was not my final word on BRONZclay.  My intention is to document my learning process, so the community can help me, and my experience can hopefully help the community.

I’m just thrilled that these base metal clays became available right as I was getting into metal clay.  COPPRclay has provided me the opportunity to create with a sense of freedom that’s not always possible for me with the more expensive silver clay.  And during the 2009 holiday shopping season, about half of my sales were from my copper pieces.

Last night I fired  4 pieces with a variety of handling techniques, making careful notes so I would know what was what.  I slowed down the ramp to 225 per hour and boosted the 3.5 hour hold temp to 1530.  Results were mixed.  Two pieces split like the previous firing.  One piece blistered.  One piece came out perfect.

Bill Struve, the creator of the material, reached out and offered to help me work through the problems.  I’ll touch base with him this week.  Lots of folks from the community have offered suggestions.  I knew going into this experiment that it might be rough at first, but I’m not about to give up. I’m sure I’ll get there soon.

July 11, 2010

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BRONZclay Fail

I went to the kiln this morning, hoping to “ooh” and “aah” over my BRONZclay pieces that fired last night.  Instead, this is what I fished out of the carbon.  Eight pieces, all cracked and split open.
I’ve only worked with this material one time before, in a workshop setting about a year ago. My piece didn’t sinter properly and crumbled in my hands. After that experience, I trained my focus on COPPRclay, and of course, the ever-reliable silver clay. I found a firing schedule for COPPRclay that works well for me every time and at any thickness. But, I really wanted to create in bronze and I had 200 grams of BRONZclay on hand. The variety of firing schedules on the web was a bit overwhelming, so I reached out to two metal clay friends who work in this material and asked them what firing schedule they use. Their answers were very similar, so I figured I was on the right track.
Here’s what I did:

  • Conditioned the clay according to the info on Margaret Schindel’s BRONZclay Squidoo Lens
  • Rolled to 6 cards, then rolled over my texture plate at 4 cards
  • Clay was totally dry as it had been in greenware stage for over 24 hours
  • Buried in coal carbon in stainless steel firing pan (carbon purchased from WLW and never used before)
  • Ramped at 250 per hour to 1516, held for 3.5 hours
  • Firing pan pulled out of the kiln when still hot and allowed to cool at room temperature (kiln was not red-hot, but still quite warm – I didn’t note the temperature)
  • Kiln is a Paragon SC2

I have a few ideas for what might have gone wrong:

  • Maybe I needed to let the pan cool in the kiln, rather than pulling it out
  • The lid on my stainless steel firing pan is so warped that it barely connects with the pan.  It’s almost like having the pan uncovered.  this hasn’t been a problem with firing COPPRclay, in fact I have stopped using the lid altogether for that purpose, but maybe the BRONZclay is more particular about oxygen exposure.
  • I used SLIK as a release agent, rather than olive oil
  • For the holes that split open, I probably need to leave a wider strip of clay on the skinny side of the donut

I think it’s significant that the pieces appear to be fully sintered.  I whacked on them with a hammer, and flattened out some of the domed pieces.  They are quite strong and even marred the face of my hammer (darn it).  To me, this points to a temperature shock from pulling the pan out of the kiln too fast.

Perhaps someone out there can provide some advice. I’ll also shoot this out to the MC forum for more insight.  I really want to create in bronze and I’m looking forward to trying Hadar’s formula and Bill’s new Fast Fire formula, which is coming out later this month.  Hopefully, I can figure out how to make something beautiful from the clay I have on hand.  I’ll keep trying based on what I learn from this experience.

July 10, 2010

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Studio Tour

Today I’m sharing an inside view of my metal clay “studio”. My primary workspace is situated in a corner of our family room.  It’s a bit unorthodox, but it works well for me. You should know that I have a home office, which I could easily convert to a studio.  However, I work full-time and I spend most of my free time working in metal clay.  If I shifted my creative space to my office, my husband would probably forget what I look like! It’s simply a better choice for both of us that I’m out in the middle of the action and able to work without closing myself off from him and the world.

My worktable is actually a modified TV tray, which is both portable and perfectly sized for how I work.  It accommodates all the tools I need at hand for any given project.  This arrangement encourages me to keep my materials well organized and to clean up at the start or end of each session.  Trust me, this is not in my nature!

TableA few months ago, I added a larger board to the top of the tray to expand my workspace.  I screwed small strips of lumber on 3 sides to keep my materials from rolling off.  The entire addition attaches to the TV tray with Velcro, which is surprisingly solid, yet easy to remove if I ever need to fold the tray down.

Close at hand in my studio corner, I have efficient storage for tools, supplies, work in progress, books, and even my laptop computer.  When I’m not working, my chair and worktable tuck neatly back into the corner and out of the way.

outsideWe have an enclosed porch, which is a great place  for the rest of my tools and supplies.  This is where you’ll find my kiln and polymer clay oven; along with everything I need for torch-work, pickling, tumbling, patination, etc.  I like having these elements outside, since they are often loud, fiery or smelly.

I’m sure the day will come when it makes sense for me move into a real studio.  For now, this arrangement fits my lifestyle and actually encourages me to spend more time being creative. Perhaps someone will read this post and be inspired by my minimalist studio approach.  You don’t need a lot of space to create.  You just need a creative approach to using the space you have.  It certainly worked for me.

July 8, 2010

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Protector of the Lair

I’m so happy to share this piece with you.  “Protector of the Lair” has been working himself out for about two years, in my head and in polymer clay versions.  I’ve posted previously about the polymer versions.  I made dragons for my nieces and nephew back in 2008, and you can see the photos and story here. My polymer clay dragon pendants were quite popular, but oh so labor intensive.  Here’s a post about a polymer clay dragon pendant.

Protector of the Lair 1
I just knew that a silver clay version would be really cool.  I created it in original PMC, which allowed me to work a bit larger and use the shrinkage of the material make the details even tinier.  I love how the dragon’s tail wraps up and around the chain.  Every bit of this piece was formed, sculpted and carved by hand.  There’s no mold or texture plate involved.

Now, I have to decide if I can stand to part with him.  Perhaps I’ll just make more to sell and keep this special one for myself.

July 4, 2010

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