A Lack of Focus

IMG_25051“A Lack of Focus” by Jeannette Froese LeBlanc

“I’m not going to limit myself just because people won’t accept the fact that I can do something else.”― Dolly Parton

I love that quote. I started to think of it this week when a friend who was visiting my studio remarked that I have “so much going on” and that I should just pick one art media. ~Maybe. That does seem logical. Even the head of the ceramics department at the University of Regina would agree with my friend as he said the same thing to me 24 years ago. Well his words were harsher, “You’ll never have a career in the arts if you don’t focus.” I did focus. I focused on ceramics. Loved it. (Ended up as a potter for 15 years.) But I also enjoyed the painting classes and photography classes I took along with my major. Looking around my studio it seems I never was able to focus on one thing, to fit into one media. I have a painting easel, canvases, a sewing dress form, a potter’s wheel and kiln, a sewing machine, a grinder, sheets of glass, beads by the pound and a jewellery bench….

While I was a “potter” by definition, I enjoyed slab work which led me to take courses in architectural ceramics–and make fireplace mantles. I also loved raku and for many years was a “production raku potter”. But slowly jewellery eeked into my life. First I started to make raku fired beads. Then I learned new ways to string them and new ways to finish necklaces and brooches. Soon my pottery booth at shows was split between hand-built raku sculptures and raku jewellery.

Enter Metal Clay. After working with 50lbs of ceramic clay at a time, teeny tiny amounts of metal clay was an interesting change. Making my own findings and jewellery in metal clay to compliment my raku beads became my new passion. As many of my readers know I started and ran a magazine devoted to metal clay jewellery. I was an artist in search of such a resource and with none available, I started the magazine. Metal clay still holds my attention 7 years later, and I have a large part of my studio set up for making jewellery. I also have a few sewing machines and shelves of fabric in my studio. I merged the two studio spaces this summer during my “60 Day Studio Challenge”. This is what my friend was passing a comment about…How could I work on two such different things? Didn’t I need to focus? Her questions made me wonder, “Am I less of an artist due to this perceived lack of focus?”. For me one media seamlessly flows into another.

The artists I would like to question are those who make the same things…for decades. I know several potters from when I was a ceramics major…who are still using the same glazes and making the same forms. How is it possible not to go crazy doing that? I don’t see having a single focus as being an asset for an artist.



Kilns: Fiber or Firebrick?

Kilns: Fiber or Firebrick?
By John S. Hohenshelt

There has been much discussion regarding the differences between brick and fiber kilns in light of the introduction of bronze and copper clays into the marketplace. This article explains the differences in these two insulating materials for kilns in relation to the firing requirements of the different metal clays.

The ceramic fiber kilns were designed originally to fire silver clays. Low-fire silver clay formulas can be fired successfully in less than 30 minutes, and kilns were developed to take advantage of this feature. These kilns use high temperature ceramic fiber with embedded elements. The fiber has very low thermal storage, which means it does not take much heat energy to heat up, and stores very little heat energy when fired. This characteristic of ceramic fiber kilns (also known as muffle kilns) allows more of the heat energy generated to heat the firing chamber and the metal clay instead of wasting it on heating the walls of the kiln. It also allows the kiln to cool faster, with the result that pieces can be both fired and cooled quickly. Most of the silver clay formulas currently available can be fired and cooled in less than 30 minutes.

Most firebrick kilns cannot perform these firings as quickly as the fiber kilns, so artists cannot fire as many projects in the same amount of time in a firebrick vs. a ceramic kiln. Also, firebrick kilns take longer to cool to a temperature at which an artist can remove the metal clay comfortably. Fiber kilns have shown their ability to fire hundreds of loads reliably year after year.

During the past two years, bronze and copper metal clays have been introduced to the marketplace. These clays require much longer firing than the low-fire silver clays. Firing cycles can be as long as ten hours, including long hold times, and require controlled cooling rates. Ceramic fiber kilns with embedded elements are not the best choice for firing these base metal clays for two reasons. First, the fiber does not store thermal energy (heat) as well as insulated firebrick for these long hold times. Firebrick kilns’ superior ability to store thermal energy allows firing temperatures to be maintained for prolonged periods while using less electricity and requiring less time with the elements running. It also allows the kilns to cool down gradually, at a controlled rate. Second, heating elements have a limited lifespan that depends on the amount of time electricity flows through them. The longer firing cycles for base metal clays shorten the lifespan of the elements more quickly, so the elements will need to be replaced more often than fiber kilns that are used for firing silver clay in shorter cycles.

As an example, a silver clay artist who does 200 30-minute firings in a year runs the kiln for a total of 6,000 minutes or 100 hours. A bronze clay who fires in 10-hour cycles may fire only 100 times, but puts 60,000 minutes or 1000 hours of wear on the elements. The bronze clay artist ends the year with only half the number of firings as the silver clay artist, but ten times the amount of wear on the elements and the kiln!

It’s similar to what happens when you drive a car. A 30-mile trip puts much less wear on the car than a 600-mile trip. Just as it is the total number of miles, not the number of trips, that takes a toll on your car, it is the total number of hours, not the number of firings, that puts wear on your kiln.

When the elements wear out on a firebrick kiln, they’re relatively inexpensive to replace. Replacing the elements in a fiber kiln can be costly, because the elements are embedded in the fiber muffle and the entire muffle must be replaced.



To summarize, a fiber kiln with embedded elements is the best choice for firing silver clay. They can be used to fire bronze or copper clays, but doing so will significantly reduce the number of firings before the elements (and, therefore, the muffle in which they are embedded) need to be replaced. A firebrick kiln is the best choice for firing metal clays that require long firing cycles. Firebrick kilns can be used to fire silver clay, but the total firing time will be significantly longer vs. fiber kilns because of the slower heating and cooling rates. The best choice for you will depend on the type of metal clay you use most often.

Hohenshelt_John_July09_W1John Hohenshelt began working summers at Paragon Industries at 13 years old.  He performed almost every job in the production facility from operating machinery, welding, crating, to stacking kilns.  After attending university (B.A. in Mathematical Economics and M.A. in Political Science, Juris Doctor.) He spent three years as a Captain in the U.S. Army. In 1998, he returned to Paragon Industries to work as a plant manager and learned electrical engineering and product design from his father.  In 2001, he was named President of Paragon Industries. http://www.paragonweb.com



Article reprinted from Metal Clay Artist Magazine Vol. 1 Issue #4.

Beginner Project: Go-Go Silver Earrings by Jeannette Froese LeBlanc

finished Here’s an easy project that teaches you many useful skills for metal clay jewelry making.

  • How to use metal clay tools, including slats, roller, templates, textures and butane torch.
  • How to properly handle metal clay for ease of use and to economize the material.
  • How to incorporate other jewelry making techniques with metal clay.
  • How to enjoy  metal clay!

Hollow Barrel Beads by Jeannette Froese LeBlanc and Margaret Schindel

10393547_10152501674108157_5796246438284297048_nProject and Photos by Jeannette Froese LeBlanc. Step-by-step instructions by Jeannette Froese LeBlanc and Margaret Schindel

This tutorial shows how to make the textured barrel beads as seen in the image of the mixed media necklace. Barrel beads use very little clay, yet have a lot of volume. And since they are not formed over any sort of burn-out material (i.e. wood or cork clay) they can be fired with a torch rather than a kiln.

When I finished making some barrel beads for this project I thought I needed a “beauty shot”; a photo that would inspire others to want to try making these beads. That was my “rabbit hole”! A month later…I strung this necklace. The other beads in the necklace include round bronze and silver beads, silver bead caps, vintage red plastic beads, rubber beads and rubber cord. It’s a real mix, but it is fun and that’s why we make jewellery!


Photography: The Live Model By Marcia B.


_MG_8662_Retouched-3c_RGB[Editor’s Note: When we started to put models on the cover our readers noticed!  The first issue with a live model featured a beautiful cover photograph of Kathleen Nowak Tucci’s piece Unidinia on a live model. This eye-catching shot generated so much positive buzz in the forums and on Facebook, we decided to go in-depth for our readers and ask a photographer for her point of view on jewellery photography.]

Shooting fashion and beauty is a creative endeavor that entails exploration in order to attain a meaningful photographic expression.

When producing a shoot as a photographer/stylist, I start off with a concept. Along with the input of my creative team, I let the photo-shoot process take on a life of its own to see what can be accomplished. First—I scout a model that suits the look I am aiming for. 1_Photography_Marcia 34221In terms of styling—with the established concept in mind, I proceed in getting the right clothing and accessories to accomplish the planned look. I then consult with my make-up artist for complimentary beauty looks to match the concept. It’s an enjoyable process that allows freedom to transform ideas into even greater ideas. Last, I seek a location that coincides with the theme of the shoot. Finding the right location with the right amenities for make-up, hair and wardrobe prep can be tedious at times. It is very exciting when all components come together on set and the creative process comes alive. When shooting, I keep my concept in mind and continue to evolve as ideas arise on set. Continue reading…

Collaborate, Connect, Communicate: Three Goals of the Impact Artist Project


2nd Place winner in the Metal Clay Category of the Saul Bell Design Award 2015 is Holly’s necklace, “Je’taime, – Dual Flame.”.

Holly Ginsberg Gage has had a busy year. She won Second Place in Metal Clay at the 2015 Saul Bell Design Awards and now she is heading up IMPACT Artist Project: International Metal Clay Project Advancing Creativity and Talent. Holly has set up a 25K fundraiser on Kickstater to fund the project. We caught up with her during her fundraiser to hear more details.

Holly tells us that if 25K is raised that it will be just enough to launch the project, “25K is the bare minimum to get us out the door with our most basic goals, which is growing the resources on our website, and maintaining the forum, IMPACT Activity programs and Rewards, and free webinars.” If 50k is raised with Kickstarter, Holly will give away a free book to everyone that has donated.   “The Journey of Self Discovery Through Metal Clay, This book is yet to be published, and will be given away as an e-book.” Continue reading…

Bill Struve’s New Invention: 3-D MetalCreator

Bill at Metal Clay Mojo 2015Every once in a while, if we are lucky, we meet someone who is truly a giving person. Someone who doesn’t expect something in return. Most of us know people who will look for the “what’s in it for me” before they give, such as: a tax receipt, their name listed on a donor page or carved onto a corner stone. But then there are those who quietly give. In the artistic community, artists are often preyed upon to “give” and “donate”. But in this case a scientist and an artist are giving to artists! Bill and Lacey Ann Struve are well known in the metal clay community. They have invented and produced several base metal clays under their company Metal Adventures and now they have a new invention to share with the artistic community. Continue reading…

How to Take Your Studio on the Road.

Tintype_photoboothIt’s true that traveling to take a class to learn a special technique can be costly, but I encourage everyone who can to do so once in a while. Meeting other artists and taking part in a class led by an instructor with whom you haven’t studied before will help you step outside your comfort zone and encourage you to try new things. I have traveled long distances to attend classes several times, and I’ve learned a lot about how to make the most of these experiences. Continue reading…