On the shoulders of giants

Wendy McManus, Pam East and Dela Coward in Brasstown, NC at the John C. Campbell Folk School, June 2009

I’m always in awe when I hear that some people start their metal clay journey all on their own.  I had read dozens of books and articles but I still didn’t feel confident buying clay and starting out alone.  Instead, I headed off to the John C. Campbell Folk School for a week long introduction to metal clay course with Pam East.  It was a big investment of time and money, but I have never regretted it for a moment.  Pam  is a Master Instructor with Art Clay and it’s easy to see why.  She is a tremendously talented and patient teacher.  I’ve always felt that this solid foundation in metal clay was the best possible start to my work in this medium.  Thanks, Pam!

After this awesome experience, I was on a quest to learn from the best teachers in the metal clay community. So far, I’ve had the privilege to study with Barbara Becker-Simon, Gordon Uyehara, Pam East (a second time), Celie Fago, Terry Kovalcik, Jackie Truty, Holly Gage and Chris Darway.

You can see from the captions that I’ve traveled a great deal to take these classes.  If you are an artist trying to perfect your craft, I can’t stress this enough.  Invest in yourself.  Invest in your art.  Take the time and find the money to study with the best teachers you can find.  Push yourself outside your comfort zone and learn stuff you might not ever use.  Trust me.  These skills and influences will turn up in your work when you least expect it.

My skills with metal clay have progressed quickly, mostly because of what I learned from these awesome teachers.  These experiences are irreplaceable.

Wendy McManus and Barbara Becker-Simon, at the Florida Society of Goldsmiths studio in DeLand, FL, fall of 2009.

Gordon Uyehara and Wendy McManus at Gayle Frank's home in Bradenton, FL for a workshop hosted by the Florida Suncoast PMC Guild, March 2010

Celie Fago and Wendy McManus in Celie's Vermont studio, September 2010.

Wendy McManus and Pam East in Pam's home teaching studio near Atlanta, GA, January 2011.

Terry Kovalcik and Wendy McManus at the Society for Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh, PA, April 2011.

Holly Gage and Wendy McManus at Erin Harris' Wishlist studio, Cazenovia, NY, April 2012

Wendy McManus and Chris Darway in a pre-conference class before the 2012 PMC Conference in Florence, Ky, June 2012.



July 6, 2012

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Ready to Learn

Baja Fish Tacos with Mango Salsa (photo by Lou Manna)

This week I’ll be in Manhattan for a National Mango Board photo shoot with food photographer Lou Manna.  These shoots are always fun, fast-paced and challenging.  We will get seven shots in a day and a half, which is really a crazy pace.  Fortunately, Lou and his team are amazing, so I know it will work.

Thursday afternoon I’ll hop on a plane and head to Pittsburgh for my Rio PMC Certification class with Terry Kovalcik.  I’ve been trying to take this class for over a year.  They had it scheduled in Orlando last year, but the class was cancelled due to low enrollment.  I’m looking forward to this intense three-day class where I’ll complete seven projects and work in all the different forms of PMC.  I’ve heard raves about Terry as a teacher.

Terry Kovalcik at the 2010 PMC Conference

I have conflicting feelings about taking this certification class.  It’s frustrating that I have to fly to Pittsburgh to get this done, and all of the travel expenses make for an expensive investment in my continuing education.  It will be nice to have the certification under my belt.  It will get me a discount with most of the metal clay suppliers, which is a big plus with the current prices of silver and silver clay.  And, it will be a nice thing to have on my website and resume.  But, it doesn’t really “certify” me for anything in particular.  I decided to go ahead with the class because I can pick up a few techniques that I’ve never tried before, and I can spend three days learning from Terry.  I can fine-tune my existing skills and pick up some new tricks to add to my repertoire.

For these past two years, I have really dedicated myself to learning all I can from as many great teachers as I can.  This certification class is the next step on that journey.  Wish me luck!

April 3, 2011

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Enameling Demystified

Pam and MimiThere’s just no substitute for a good teacher and a hands-on learning opportunity.  This was true when I took my introductory week-long metal clay class from Pam East in 2009, and it was certainly true of this weekend’s enameling workshop.  I’ve read enameling books cover to cover, but I just haven’t had the confidence to try it by myself.  After this workshop, I fear I may have sparked another addiction.  Hold me back before I shop again!

Before EnamelsFive of us gathered in Pam’s well-equipped home teaching studio for two days of metal clay and enamel immersion.  There should have been six in the class, but poor Julie came down with the creeping crud and was kind enough not to share it with us.  Mimi, Sue, Karen, Linda and I had a fine time cheering each other on, and Pam was in excellent form.

During day one we focused on creating our metal clay pieces.  While much of the material was a review for me, I picked up some great tips and learned how some of my well-worn techniques can be optimized for enamel application.  My main take-away from day one is that the enamel should not be an add-on.  I need to design with the enamel process in mind to ensure my piece is well-suited to the enamel and that the design elements are fully integrated.

Wendy Working

Day two was all about enameling.  Pam has a wonderful way of explaining “why”  not just “what” to do, so I felt that I really understood the process at each step of the way.  We had created 3 metal clay pieces on Saturday, and Pam let us know we would probably only have time to enamel 2 of them.  I chose to focus my time and energy on my biggest, most complex piece.  It involved wet-packing enamels in three recessed cells on a domed piece.  We learned how to create gradations of color by building up thin layers of transparent enamels and blending where the colors meet.  Pam’s demo piece involved blending 3 colors.  I, of course, had to complicate things by choosing four colors and making two additional custom blended colors to smooth out the gradation.

My goal was a full champleve finish, meaning the cells would be slightly over-filled and then sanded back to make a completely level surface between the enamel and the metal borders.  I carefully placed the enamel bit by bit, using a tiny paintbrush and a scribe.  Five layers were required to slightly over-fill the cells.

Each layer of enamel was fused for two minutes in a HOT kiln and cooled before moving on to the next layer.

Needs More SandingAt the end of the day, I was furiously sanding my piece with a diamond-grit sanding pad, but the clock was not my friend.  I left Pam’s neighborhood at 6:30 to catch my 9 p.m. flight back to Orlando.  Let me just say, it was close!  So, my piece is not quite finished, and you can see the dull finish in the photo.  Once I grind down the enamel and work through about 10 grits of sanding materials, I will be ready to do the final cleaning and flash-fire the piece to bring it to its final, glossy brilliance.

I’ve got ideas of how to incorporate enamels into my work already bouncing around in my head.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go order more supplies!

February 2, 2011

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