“But the Customer Said They Would Be Back” by Jeannette Froese LeBlanc

“But the Customer Said They Would Be Back” and Other Things You’ll Hear at an Art Show

It’s that time of year for most of our readers. Art show season. Hang in there!  While I’m not participating in a show this holiday season, I have decades of experience selling my work at a variety of shows. I’ve recently attended some shows as a customer and it was eye opening to see the mistakes artists are making, I wanted to shout, “You’ve worked since April on your stock…get some lights, don’t look so grumpy!” but instead, I’m writing out some tips and hopefully some encouragement for artists out there in their booths and to those thinking of attending shows.

The first thing newbie’s should realize—shows are expensive. This is something I wish customers realized too. It’s not just the booth fee, it’s the cost of the booth, the cost to ship the booth and all of the handmade items, to find a place to stay and food on the road, insurance for the work, the booth, marketing materials and…. It’s like setting up a mini store.

Don’t be the invisible artist.  I can’t believe how many booths I’ve seen that are abandoned. Either the artist is actually not there, or they are chatting with a vendor down the row, or they are hidden behind their products, or booth walls, or low chairs. This boggles my mind. After working so hard to make things, and to pay to show and to haul it all and set up…artists are hiding. Continue reading…

Video Tour: Rio Grande

Did you know that Rio Grande manufactures nearly 5,000 findings, tools and equipment products at their solar-powered facility in Albuquerque, NM, USA?  Many people mistakenly think that they are a wholesaler of imported goods.  A few years ago, while at the Sante Fe Symposium I had the opportunity to have a tour of Rio Grande.  In the video below you can a peek inside their manufacturing areas.  And since this is the last year of the jewellery symposium, I’d urge you to think about going if you are a jewellery maker. It is a wealth of information. http://www.santafesymposium.org/


Art Moment: Holly Anne Mitchell

Meet jewellery artist Holly Anne Mitchell.  She uses newspapers and other print materials to make hand-formed, and stitched jewellery. Her one of a kind bracelets, brooches and more are made of paper and are sealed in a non-toxic, moisture-resistant coating.


From Holly Anne Mitchell’s site: “Holly Anne began exploring newspaper as an artistic medium back in 1990 while studying metalsmithing at The University Of Michigan. She had an assignment to create a piece of jewelry which did not consist of any traditional jewelry materials (no metal, precious stones, etc.). “I chose the Chicago Tribune newspaper comic strips because of their bold, vibrant color patterns and the character’s facial expressions. I discovered the best way to bring out these aesthetic strengths is to transform the newspaper into beads. I’ve been exploring this material ever since.”https://static.wixstatic.com/media/fc2db1_bab3e746715e49869b8b17f6a5ed5b43~mv2_d_3427_3427_s_4_2.jpg/v1/fill/w_1000,h_1000,al_c,q_85,usm_0.66_1.00_0.01/fc2db1_bab3e746715e49869b8b17f6a5ed5b43~mv2_d_3427_3427_s_4_2.webp

Video of artist with her work at the Smithsonian Craft Show.

Paper artist Holly Anne Mitchell of Newspaperjewelry.com recycles comic strips and ads to create her beautiful #jewelry. She explained her creative process in this video. #smithsoniancraftshow2018#smithsoniancraftshowsswc#nationalbuildingmuseum#americancrafts#dcevents#thingstododc#finecraft#dccraft#washingtondc#handmade#craftsmanship#contemporarydesign#paper#craftshow

Posted by Smithsonian Craft + Design Show on Saturday, April 28, 2018

Find more of her work on her website: Newspaperjewelry.com


Artist Profile: Martha Biggar by Julia Rai

I always think of Virginia based metal clay teacher and artist Martha Biggar as part of a team – Ed and Martha go together like ham and eggs – for the US readers – or tea and crumpets as we say in the UK! I’ve called her a ‘metal clay teacher and artist’ but Martha describes herself slightly differently. “I usually think of myself as an artist/educator/farmer, but maybe renaissance woman would be better…” she told me.

It’s not often that I meet someone who still lives within a stone’s throw of where they were brought up, but Martha is an exception. “I grew up on the family farm that touches the one we own today in Draper, VA,” she began. “My husband Ed, a glassblower, and I travel and teach both glass and jewelry.  Although I sold my cow herd in 2013, we still have donkeys, horses, and a couple mules.  We raise specialized vegetables for the farmers markets and chefs in our area, including figs, asparagus, and assorted varieties of cherry tomatoes.”

Not surprisingly, her first memories of being creative involve animals. “My earliest memories involve drawing horses as a very young child,” she said. I asked her how she discovered metal clay. “I taught middle school art in our county, and as is required in Virginia, I had to take classes every five years at least in my field. Since I didn’t want to write reports, I generally went to Arrowmont in Tennessee, where I took my first class in metal clay in 2000 from Linda Kaye-Moses. I had seen metal clay advertised by Rio Grande and wondered about it but was concerned about the cost of a kiln. So, I figured I would try it out and see if I liked it. If I didn’t, my family would have a vacation and I would have Christmas presents. But I did, and promptly went home and purchased a kiln. My first piece was a 1-inch square that Linda always taught to beginners, I still have it.” I guess it was a lean Christmas that year!

If you follow Ed and Martha on social media, you’ll know about their creative space, The Shedio. “We have The Shedio, made by the construction class at our high school. Not big enough at 10×16, it has plenty of outlets dedicated for kilns and a hood for Ed’s glass work space. It is very chaotic especially if we are in and out for traveling.  But we both seem to manage.”

I asked Martha about her own creative process. “As a general rule I don’t sketch for myself,” she told me. “I sometimes make my own templates and draw them. Even though I draw well it’s not part of my process.” She went on, “Since Ed is so involved in glass, it was only natural that I should include glass in my work. I am not especially fond of dichroic glass, although I do like and teach fusing. Many of my pendants capture leftover bits of marble or goblet cane.”

Glass and silver pendant by Martha Biggar

I asked Martha if she has a style. “I think the most recognizable part of my ‘style’ is that I like clean finishing,” she said. “I use different grits of sanding pads to accomplish this and finish my semi-production pieces as nicely as the one of a kind items.” And what influences her work? “My two main influences are my faith and the natural world around us,” she began. “Many of my pieces reflect the many images of crosses. And, although some would say those two viewpoints are against each other, growing up as we did depending on weather and the land is something that is ingrained in me. Beautiful textures that come from plant or other natural forms are commonly mixed with cruciform shapes in much of my work.” Martha has a great example of these influences in her work. “This is one of my favorite pieces, a Jerusalem Cross made of Original PMC and PMC+ (which gives it the gentle curve). The back texture is from a skeletonized leaf.”

Jerusalem Cross by Martha Biggar, photographer credit Robert Diamante

I know that both Ed and Martha teach so I asked her to tell me more about that. “We teach both privately and at venues such as Bead and Button and Glass Craft. I enjoy fusing classes, photopolymer plates, and beginner metal clay classes.” They also sell their work. “We sell locally at our Farmers Markets, as well as regionally such as the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center in Abingdon, VA, and through the galleries and Fairs of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, based in Asheville, NC,” she explained.

With teaching and selling as well as farming, Martha has a full and busy schedule. I asked her what she does to relax. “Read, play with the animals, be outside.” she said. Not too surprising given her background and environment, so I asked her to tell me something that we might find surprising about her. “One summer in college I saw a poster for classes at Harvard University. One of my instructors helped me and I received a grant and studied there for six weeks in the Masters of Landscape Architecture program. Loved it!  And the Boston Pops too!”

I asked Martha what she was currently working on. “Here is this Celtic Cross made from Cyprus Clay.  I saw a blacksmith friend make a larger version from three straight pieces of steel; I went back to our demonstration booth and replicated it in silver. I truly enjoy working with the Cyprus, its flexibility allows the clay to be bent and then reshaped in wet form.”

Martha is about to embark on an exciting new challenge. “I am on track to become a certifying teacher for the new Camp PMC, Mitsubishi’s new certification program,” she told me. “I told Ed the other day that this has been a dream for years. As far as making goes, I’d like to take three to six months and concentrate on creating a larger body of one of a kind pieces, probably in series, and not concentrate so much on the bread and butter pieces.” When I asked her where she sees herself going with her metal clay work, her answer was simple. “Onward and upward…” That’s good enough for me!

Finally, I asked Martha about her online presence. “We use a Facebook page as a ‘plog’, a photo blog. This shows our jewelry and glass of course but also glimpses into our everyday lives. One of these days I’ll get a real website back up and running…” To find out more about Ed and Martha, and what goes on in The Shedio, visit the Facebook page here – www.facebook.com/theshedio

About the author: Julia Rai is an award winning artist, teacher and writer well known in the international metal clay community. Her work has featured in a wide range of publications and she writes regularly for print magazines and online. She teaches in her home studio in Cornwall and travels to teach by invitation. You can find Julia at her school in St. Austell, UK www.csacj.co.uk

Cyprus Copper: Celtic Cross by Martha Biggar

Inspiration Cross by Carson Sams.

Part 1: Experiments with Cyprus Copper

Here’s the back story to this unusual Celtic cross:  while Ed and I were working glass at the State Fair of Virginia, we met a nice young blacksmith named Carson Sams.  Carson did regular demonstrations during the ten days of the Fair, as did we, and we got to know each other pretty well.   I watched his demonstration of this cross and was floored by his techniques.  He started with three straight lengths of steel; the first piece he heated and beat and heated and beat until it became a ring.  The next piece he beat into a U-shape, and then he assembled the three pieces, as I’ve shown here, and beat the U-shape down to lock them in place.  This he called a friction fit.  He finally added through rivets to keep the shape in place.  He used his riveting hammer to add the texture at the end of each bar, flaring the ends as he hammered.

I was so fascinated by this process that I went back to our tent and made a small one out of silver metal clay.  I’ve done a few more small scale pendant pieces out of silver, but wanted to do something in a larger scale and so decided to give the new Cyprus Copper a try.  The only real modification I made to Carson’s basic technique was to start with a donut shape for the rounded part instead of a straight length.  I used a bit of slip to connect the pieces before firing, and used faux rivets to continue the design.  This takes a little patience and practice to get to work out, but is worth it in the end.

Now for our take on Cyprus Copper clay, developed by Cindy Silas and distributed by Cool Tools.  On opening the package, we noticed that the clay is triple-sealed and is fresh and soft to the touch, conditioning well.  The working period seems long, and, after resting in the packaging or our homemade humidor, pieces that are balled up to reuse come out pretty soft.  A big plus is that Cyprus Copper retains its shape when cut and doesn’t stretch, unlike some other copper clays.  Another benefit of working with Cyprus Copper is that it fires at a much lower temperature than other coppers on the market.

Test Strip.
Test strip earrings.

We encourage you to always make test strips when you fire base metal clays, even after you determine the best temperature for your kiln.  We make our test strips as pairs of simple dangle earrings, and place them near the center of the box of carbon.  After firing and cooling, remove these with tweezers, and if more time is needed the rest of the box is not disturbed and can be refired.  We generally use the late Bill Struve’s water test to check for sintering:  mix a drop of dish soap with ½ cup water, and then place a drop on the surface of your metal.  If it is completely sintered the drop will not be absorbed; the dish soap acts as a surfactant and lets the water wet the metal.  If the water sinks into the strip, you know it is not sintered and needs to be tucked back into the carbon and refired a bit hotter.   Pimples or pits are a sure sign that you fired too hot, hopefully not the entire box though!  Keep detailed records of your firings; you will notice changes in your kiln over time and you can compensate as you watch those changes.

Like most base metal clays, Cyprus benefits from a first, open firing (recommended on a wire rack but we used a kiln shelf with no problems) at 650F for 30 minutes.  Second firing, buried in coconut carbon, is 1600F for 3 hours.  Although Cyprus recommends a full ramp, we used a more conservative ramp of 800F per hour with great success.  We also recommend the coconut carbon for all our base metal firings.

Part 2: Step by step: Celtic Cross Pendant

You will need basic metal clay tools:  roller, slats or playing cards, scalpel, pin tool, circle template, cards for templates.  We often use some sort of neutral texture on the back of our pieces, in this case a strip of wallpaper in a woven texture. (Click on images to enlarge.)



Step 1:
Trace the provided pattern to make a larger cross. Or, reduce on a copier to make a smaller version.  Notice that we often cut patterns out of playing cards, they are stiff enough to use as a template, and cheap enough to cut several if needed.  I often transfer these templates to plastic after I work out all the kinks of a design.






Step 2:
Condition your clay: roll several balls of clay and store in the original packaging or a homemade humidor.  There are several versions on the market but you can make a simple one like ours with good plastic wrap and a sealable container.  Note that the sponge is below the plastic wrap and the clay is above it, never touching, or you have instant “mud”.  I always condition all the clay in a package; once the packaging is opened it never seals back up quite as well.  The sponge can be checked weekly and rewetted as needed.  Personally I keep my base metal clays in the refrigerator since my feeling is that it forms better when cool.





Step 3:
Assuming you are making the larger version, roll out the clay to 1.5mm, which are the purple slats from a slat set. This is about 6 cards thick; noting that cards vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and also change thickness from use.  You can use a thinner roll if you are making a smaller version, but I’ve not used anything thinner than 1mm (blue slats).











Step 4:
Cut the donut shape first and let it dry a bit before cutting the two strips. This will make the assembly easier.  I have let it dry completely (as in the next day) and that is acceptable but it’s harder to get the donut to soften up when the strips are put together if it’s that dry.  Note that we seldom force dry our work.






Step 5:
Cut the two strips next; I’ve adjusted the shape at the end of each strip to resemble Carson’s shaping with the hammer. Generally when we roll clay we roll a bit and turn 90° and continue rolling to make a rounded shape from which to cut.  But when cutting longer skinny pieces, rolling in one direction is best.   Cut the longer strip first, and let it sit for 15 or 20 minutes before cutting the shorter strip.  Once you cut the shorter strip, fold it immediately into a U-shape and be ready to start assembling.  Do not worry about rough places at this point.






Step 6:Looking at the pictures for reference, place the smaller strip inside the hole of the donut piece and thread the longer strip through. Note that the length of the top of the longer piece should be similar to the lengths of the shorter, horizontal, piece.






Step 7: Bend down the shorter horizontal arms to lock all the pieces in place. This is known as a friction fit.  If Cyprus Copper was not so flexible, I doubt seriously we would be able to complete this part of the project without a lot of cracks.






Step 8: I cut a simple template shape for the bail out of a playing card. Roll out 3 cards thick and cut based on the template.  Wet the surface and bend around a playing straw.  Tap the ends together, wait a few minutes, and slip onto the cross piece.  Check to make sure you don’t see any of the bail from the front.











Step 9:
Next day, after the piece is dried, I began cleaning up the edges. You can see several different versions here, one is whittled with a scalpel, one is smoothed with sponge pads but uses a carving tool to create a texture on the ends of the cross members.  Your piece can be as rough or as refined as you like.  Sometimes I whittle the donut piece before it is assembled so that the design is continuous.










Step 10: Firing time: I used the firing temperatures that are furnished with Cyprus Clay.  The only things I did were to lengthen the rate of ramp to 800F per hour instead of full ramp, and extend the time of the second firing to three hours.  You may call me cautious with these schedules, but I often fire pieces for students that are a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and thicknesses.  So my theory is to fire for the largest/thickest pieces in the box and everyone’s will be successful.






Step 11: After firing, let the box cool to below 300F. Why?  The carbon serves to bind oxygen and keep your piece from oxidizing.  If you take them out too hot, oxidation will occur and all your trouble with the carbon will be for naught.  Pieces may then be brushed to remove excess carbon, and finished as desired.  Most of these pieces were tumbled to add a high shine; the one on the left has a simple brushed finish.  I do not personally use any type of sealant on bronze or copper pieces; that is your choice.  I do tell customers that the metal color will soften with age and give instructions on keeping a shine if desired.

Step 12: To close, let me say that I’m really enjoying working with Cyprus Copper for several reasons:  nice color, ease of firing, lower temperature required, and flexibility!  I look forward to testing every new clay that comes along; I know there’s some I’ve missed, but I will say that I will be using a lot of Cyprus Copper going forward. We hope you will try this clay, experiment a bit on your own, but most of all have fun putting your own personal twist on this and other projects.

Martha Biggar: Martha and her husband Ed share a studio in Draper, Virgina.  They also offer small and private classes available www.facebook.com/theshedio

Artist Profile: Armelle Burbaud by Julia Rai

Armelle Burbaud

I love the work of French metal clay artist Armelle Burbaud. Her sculptural pieces are complex and so beautifully rendered. And what makes them all the more extraordinary is that they are mainly made in bronze clay with all its inherent issues.

Armelle was born and brought up in Paris, France. “I was born in Paris and spent all my childhood in a suburb just outside the city,” she began. “Even if it was a place with some greenery, in the end I longed for the quiet of the countryside. Now, however, if the truth be said, I miss Paris. It was so easy to go and see performances and exhibitions, or just stroll in the streets, and I loved that. I do get to go there still from time to time, but it’s not that easy when you live in the provinces.” Continue reading…

Art Moment: Melanie West

I have been a *huge* fan of Melanie West’s art for years.  Her work reflects her unique vision of Nature.  Here are just a few samples of her happy, whimsical and awesomely unique jewellery. Please visit her website to learn more about Melanie, her jewellery and her classes.  http://www.ravensclay.com

Plasma and Cells BioBangle

Hand formed, carved and laminated polymer and epoxy. Features Melanie’s signature polymer cane work.

Magenta and CellsHand formed, carved and laminated polymer and epoxy. Features Melanie’s signature polymer cane work.

River Rock Bead Necklace in neutral colorsHollow form beads with hand pigmented translucent polymer cane work.

polymers, silicon, neoprene, magnets

Torque Necklace #2Hand formed, carved and laminated polymer and rubber with magnet clasp. Features Melanie’s signature polymer cane work.

Artist Project Series: Peacock Ring by Armelle Burbaud

    Peacock ring 

Cool Tools and Creative Fire are pleased to present another project in our series of works by master artists. This tutorial is a gorgeous peacock ring by Armelle Burbaud.

(Version française cliquez ici.)

“I love sculpting birds, both because I find them quite moving and because they are a nice pretext to create movement. And since I love spending hours refining the sculpting part and carving with a scalpel to eventually let emerge the quivering feathers – and since I love rings … here is a tutorial which allowed me to incorporate those two passions of mine… a peacock ring!”

Continue reading…

Artist Project Series: Une Bague Paon par Armelle Burbaud

Cool Tools et Creative Fire ont le plaisir de présenter un autre projet de notre série d’œuvres de maîtres artistes. Ce tutoriel est un magnifique une bague paon par Armelle Burbaud.

   Bague « Paon »

J’aime beaucoup sculpter des oiseaux, à la fois parce que je les trouve émouvants et parce qu’ils sont un joli prétexte à créer du mouvement. Et comme  j’adore passer des heures à fignoler la gravure et creuser la pâte avec un scalpel pour voir apparaître le frémissement de leurs plumes – et que j’adore les bagues …  voici un pas à pas qui m’a permis de lier ces deux passions : une bague paon !

Continue reading…

Artist Project Series: Ann Davis “Columns” Pendant

[Cool Tools and Creative Fire are pleased to present another project in our ongoing “Artist Project Series”. This time master artist Ann Davis took up our challenge to design a unique tutorial using FS999.  Thank you Ann for your creative and fun project!]

The mystery and mystique of columns seems to infuse all parts of human history. Sumerians had them, Minoans had them, just about everyone did. There are even some Stone Age columns, admittedly more lithic, rectangular, or kind of ax shaped at Gobekli Tepe.  So they kind of started out stone and then were wood or whole trees turned upside down and planted in holes. Premium stone eventually replaced wood ones, fluted columns are said to simulate tree bark. The representations of columns on early Minoan seal rings, have people dancing around them, makes you think of Maypoles:) The Greeks and Romans took it to the next level, erecting victory columns, highly decorated with statues of heroes on the top. Columns are said to represent the bridge between heaven and earth, important buildings, shrines, and the Egyptian Djed pillar, stability and the spinal column. To me the column represents knowledge, written records, ancient alphabets.

There are so many  archeological sites with columns, standing, fallen, broken. I really like the broken ones, they speak to me of past civilizations. Something epic enough happened to break a column. Makes you wonder. I love a good mystery!

I have 4 fluted and twisted columns holding  glass shelves in my living room.  There are two columns on an antique linen cabinet complete with brass finals, along with 2 brass Nikes in my dining room. I also chose a Doric column to replace the old wrought Iron trellis on my front porch, it supports a Trumpet Vine that spirals up to the roof, the August humming bird’s delight!  Did I do all that on purpose…no not really it just happened, apparently I love a good column. Continue reading…