PMC Presents: Soldering Metal Clay Part 2 by Lora Hart

Learning to solder successfully almost every time (nobody’s perfect) is really a matter of learning to control the heat and position of the flame. I’m not an expert by any means. I solder earring posts, jump rings that connect a pendant or clasp to a chain, and jump rings to the work piece itself. I use solder to close bezels and to solder the bezel to a backing plate. I also solder decorative metal clay elements to bezel settings. My work is relatively small in scale, but when I want to solder a larger project, I know a couple of techniques that can help get the job done. And most of all I know my limits. There are just some things that can’t be done with the torch and the skill set I have. (Image: Fabulous finished piece by Lora Hart. “Purple Chalcedony Necklace”)

FUN FACTS

  • Sheet or wire solder looks like any other metal sheet or wire. Be sure to mark it when you take it out of the package. (or just use paste solder like I do)
  • Solder balls up
  • Gravity sometimes allows the solder ball to fall out of position
  • Flux boils (which can also cause solder to move out of position)
  • Solder flows towards heat
  • Solder will not jump a gap
  • Solder can fill a small gap
  • Solder will sink into porous metal clay (and potentially lose the connection)
  • Solder will not flow on a ‘dirty’ surface (clean metal/solder with fine sandpaper or a wire brush)

THE JOYS OF SOLDERITE BOARD

  • Solderite is soft enough that you can push T pins in to support work, push elements into the board to support them, and actually dig shallow grooves to ‘bury’ elements that will allow the work piece to lay flat – a hidden bail or brooch findings for instance.

WHAT’S A ‘HEAT SINK’?

  • A heat ‘sink’ (also called a heat ‘shield’) is a heavier piece of metal used to draw the heat towards it as opposed to a smaller piece that might be in danger of melting. The third hand tweezer acts as a heat sink to protect a thin and delicate earring post when soldering it to the decorative earring piece.
  • You might use the ‘sink’ as a ‘shield’ when soldering the last jump ring on a chain. Position the shield/tweezers below the last jump ring and it will prevent the previously joined rings from melting.

FIT

  • In order for any solder join to be successful, the two pieces/sides/elements must fit tightly together. This means that you might need to file or otherwise alter the shapes of the elements. Always remember to join flat to flat or convex to concave (this is a helpful tip when joining metal clay parts too).
  • When closing a jump ring, the wire may be round, but the cut ends should be perfectly flat to fit together properly.
  • When joining a round jump ring to a flat back of a pendant, file a flat area on the jump ring to create a tight fit.
  • When joining two jump rings to form a figure 8, file flats on each and solder those areas together.
  • There may also be times when you want to use a drill or bur to form a divot to hold a spherical shape.

ABOUT JUMP RINGS

Jump rings must be completely closed, with the ends of the wire flush and fitting tightly together in order for the solder to flow from one side of the wire to the other. Even an opening the thickness of a human hair will prevent the join.

  • Using two sets of flat nosed pliers on either side of the opening, twist and wiggle the jump ring together until you think it’s closed. Now hold the jump ring up to the light to make sure there isn’t even a sliver of light shining through the join.
  • Now that you’ve closed the jump ring so well it might be difficult to see where the seam is by the time you position it on the soldering board. I like to use black Sharpie to mark each side of the join before closing the ring, so I know where to place the solder and where to aim the flame. The marker will burn away by the time the solder flows.

POSITIONING

One of the most important aspects of soldering to get comfortable with is knowing how to set up the objects you want to solder so that their position works for you.

  • Gravity will encourage a ball of solder to drop away from the join when possible, so I try to position ‘things’ as close to the soldering block as I can.
  • If you’re making a chain, and want to solder a number of jump rings closed, just lay them flat on the soldering block with the seams facing you and place the solder inside the ring, behind the seam. This way you’re getting two of the fun facts to work on your behalf. There’s nowhere for the solder to drop, and the heat of the flame is pulling solder through the seam in the jump ring to make a very secure join.

CHAIN MAKING TIP: Only solder half the jump rings closed. Then join two closed rings with one open ring (and solder it) to make segments of 3. Join those segments with more open jump rings and solder to complete the chain.

  • When working with a piece that already has one or more elements soldered to the back side (like a hidden bail or brooch findings) excavate a small cavity in the Solderite board to hold those elements so the piece can lay flat.
  • If you’re putting a jump ring through the hole in a work-piece to act as a bail, the work-piece is probably going to be more secure laying flat on the soldering board, which means that the jump ring will be in a vertical position. Use tweezers to position the seam of the jump ring as close to the soldering board as possible. This way if the solder balls up and falls, it may fall near the seam and still be in the correct position. Alternately, dig a thin groove just big enough to hold the jump ring upright, positioning the join at the surface of the board.
  • If you’re connecting the work-piece to chain, try to protect the chain from the heat (and potential meltage) by laying it under the work-piece (which will act as a heat sink) and away from the heat.
  • You can also lay a sopping wet paper towel over items you don’t want to overheat as you solder. The towel will dry before the edges start to char, and that will give you a bit longer to work on your project.
  • Use props like coins, T-pins, nests of binding wire, sheets of metal (I use small squares of titanium which cannot be soldered) to position elements and tools into a more beneficial arrangement. I sometimes place my third hand on a box lid or book to raise it into a better position.

WORKING WITH THE FLAME

  • When connecting a small element to a larger element (a jump ring directly to a workpiece or an earring post to the earring element) direct the heat onto the larger piece only! The heat will eventually travel from the larger item to the smaller one. When the flux starts to burn off and you see the solder begin to melt, simply flick the flame onto the thinner element to complete the connection.
  • Often I’m connecting jump rings or a clasp to chain, which are all thin, fragile items and prone to rapid melting. In that case I tend to ‘sneak up’ on the solder join by positioning the flame on the corner of the board, or an inch or so in front of the join. The residual heat of the flame will heat the elements enough that the solder begins to flow and ball up. When that happens I aim the flame directly in front of the solder area to complete the join. Sometimes I make a motion that I call ‘hit and run’, whereby I aim the flame on the join and quickly flick it away, then back on the join, then away. In effect I’m heating and cooling and heating and cooling so that I manage to avoid overheating and melting the item.

WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE
When using sheet or wire solder and flux

  • Liquid flux will start to boil, then go white and a little chalky, then turn glassy when the solder is about to flow. The solder will pull itself into a ball, then start to melt by forming a blob (don’t pull the flame away yet), and it will finally flow, looking like a silver stream.
  • If using paste flux – the liquid in the paste will start to heat, may steam and boil (potentially throwing the solder chips out of position), then get chalky and glassy like the liquid flux. The rest of the appearance is the same.
  • Paste solder has the flux built in, so no need to add more unless you’re unsoldering or you just want to protect the work-piece from oxidation (remember fine silver doesn’t oxidize). Paste solder will look a little ‘crispy’, will smoke as the flux evaporates, balls up, starts to melt into a blob, then flows completely.
  • When the solder flows onto a metal clay item, remove the flame almost immediately. One cannot ‘draw’ the solder to follow the heat when soldering to metal clay.
  • Because metal clay is more porous than milled metal, it is suggested that makers burnish the solder site well to close the surface pores in hopes that the solder will not sink into the body of the workpiece. I almost never do this and have never had a piece come apart.

HOW MUCH SOLDER

  • Use the right amount of solder for the job you want it to do.
  • Closing a jump ring requires a ball of solder only about the size of a poppy seed (think of a bagel)
  • Using more doesn’t make a better connection. It just makes a sloppy looking join that you’ll want to file and sand into a prettier profile
  • When soldering a jump ring to the top of a ‘medallion’, using a bit too much solder will allow the excess to fill gaps on either side of the join, creating a ‘fillet’ or corbel shaped support (think of molding in a house), strengthening the join.

‘UNSOLDERING’

  • Sometimes a piece will shift just as the solder flows, or you may decide you made a mistake adding an element, and would like to disconnect the connection you just made. In this case, position the lighter part in a third hand elevated above the soldering block (the bezel wire in the example we’ve been using). Apply flux to the solder join and heat the heavier piece until the solder re flows and the larger item falls off. Use a titanium pick to poke at the item if it’s not easily dislodged.

Note: the two pieces will separate, but the solder will remain until you sand/file it away.

  • Allow a fresh solder join sit still for a couple of seconds, don’t move the third hands or other props you may have used. It takes a little while for the solder to cool and ‘set’. I’ve lost a few connections by moving the third hand too soon and pulling the two pieces out of position too quickly.

SOLDERING A LARGE PROJECT WITH A SMALL TORCH

To solder larger items, one would think you would need a torch capable of putting out a larger flame. But the issue is really the amount of heat that is surrounding the item.

  • Use kiln bricks to build a 3-sided ‘lean-to’ shaped structure to house the soldering board and the item to be soldered. Think of the three-way mirror in a dressing room. Add a ‘roof’ if you have the materials. This will create a kiln-like atmospheres that will hold the heat in a contained area, instead of allowing it to fill the larger room you’re most likely working in.
  • If you own an Ultra-Lite or other small ‘trinket’ kiln, place the work-piece on it to heat, then use your torch to complete the soldering job. The small kiln will maintain the heat in the entire work-piece, so you’ll only have to concentrate on the solder join.

 

YouTube Video Instructors to check out:

https://www.youtube.com/user/katerichbourg/videos

https://www.youtube.com/user/nancylthamilton/videos

https://www.youtube.com/user/AndrewBerryJewellery/videos

https://www.youtube.com/user/1soham1/videos

More photos from Lora’s bench:

Ring on clasp.
Too much solder.
Third hand on buckle.
Solder on bezel.

LORA HART was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, and moved to historic Richmond, Virginia in 2012. Lora is the Artistic Advisor and one of twenty Senior Instructors for PMC Connection. A metal clay artist inspired by historic imagery, Lora’s work has been featured in books, magazines, and calendars and her jewels are sold in galleries and online. As a designer, educator, and creativity coach, her passion for the art and business of jewelry making has taken her across the United States to help other makers explore their own passions, develop their craft and expand their skills. www.lorahart.com @lorahart

PMC Presents: Soldering Metal Clay Part 1- Torches by Lora Hart

Metal clay is a marvelous material. It’s been around for about 20 years and we’re still discovering new ways of working with it. It’s so good that sometimes artists think it’s all they need to use when creating and finishing their designs. Sometimes that may be true, but I learned a long time ago that it’s smart to use the tool that’s best for the job at hand. In the jewelry world, that may mean that a solder join is more durable than one made with clay, or that a attaching sterling earring post would be stronger and more appropriate than just firing a piece of fine silver wire in place.Soldering isn’t difficult. It’s like anything else that has a learning curve, you need to practice, make mistakes, have successes, devise your way of doing things, and then do it all again – as many times as is necessary. “Practice Makes Proficient” is a phrase I like to repeat, not only to my students but to myself as well.In terms of the longevity of your work, joins are usually the first to fail. Un-soldered jump rings actually move a bit as they are worn, so that the combination of friction and movement may cause them to open so the jewelry piece will be lost. Fine silver used as earring wire is very soft and will deform and potentially break if bent and straightened too many times (this is called ‘metal fatigue’). Sterling wire fired higher than about 1250ºF becomes brittle and breaks. Learning how to solder earring posts to the back of a stud, or closing the jump rings that attach a chain to the pendant or clasp will be invaluable. In no time at all you’ll move on to soldering a bezel closed, and then soldering that bezel to a backing plate.  All of which can be accomplished with a butane torch (depending on how large you’re working). This article will describe the basic tenets of soldering and some processes that I’ve developed which I hope will help your learning curve to straighten out a bit.

NOTE: All safety precautions presume that soldering is intermittent and of short duration. If you solder more than a few minutes at a time, you’ll need to do more research into proper safety and health guidelines.

THE SOLDER

There are basically two kinds of solder

  • Soft solder flows at temperatures under 850ºF. An alloy primarily made of copper, tin and lead, soft solder is best left to plumbing, circuit boards, and stained glass windows. Soft solders are not much better than epoxy because they only join the very surface of the material. I even found one article online that proudly described it as “metal glue”! In jewelry making, the color and consistency is also an issue. The lava-like flow of polished soft solder is unattractive and will never be a good color match to silver.
  • Hard solders flow at temperatures above 1200ºF. The specific alloy of silver solder varies between manufacturers, but is primarily a combination of silver and zinc. The ‘harder’ the solder, the more silver it contains, the better the color match. Hard solders work by capillary action, which means that little ‘roots’ flow into the ‘arteries’ in metal that are formed as it is heated. When the metal sections cool, the solder has created an internal bond and two sections of metal become one.

Hard solders come in their own hardness continuum. Extra easy flows at around 1200ºF, easy flows at 1325ºF, medium at 1360ºF and hard flows at 1450ºF. There’s also something called IT solder that flows at 1490º and is primarily used in enameling (enamel flows between 1300ºF and 1450ºF)

  • The liquidus (the temperature when solid metals become liquid) of fine silver is 1760ºF. Sterling’s is 1640ºF. But each metal starts to melt much earlier, and the core structure is compromised sooner than you might expect. Some metal clay artists have been thought to successfully fire sterling wire in place because it “still looks like wire” But the inner crystalline structure has started to change, has been weakened, and makers find that their sterling wire element snaps sooner or later. This happened to me once upon a long time ago, when a charm bracelet with sterling, fired-in-place, jump ring elements starting dropping all it’s baubles.

The general rule is that you want to use the hardest solder you can, depending how many soldering operations are going to be done on a single item. So for instance (in traditional metalsmithing) if you were going to solder a bezel to a backing piece, and attach a bail, you’re performing 3 operations. Use hard to close the bezel, medium to solder the bezel to the backing plate, and attach the bail with easy. But what if you also wanted to set a pearl on a peg, or attach pin findings to the back of the piece? You’re out of solder variations, right?

In reality, solder gets a little bit harder each time it is flowed. So you can safely use each level of hard solder at least three times (and sometimes more) before you need to move to the next level. I’d probably just use medium solder for every join in my previous example. You may never have to use hard solder on a project with only 4 solder joins. But you might WANT to. Why? Because hard solder has more silver in it and is a better color match. If you’re using patina, it may not be an issue.  If there’s a lot of texture in the piece, it’s probably not an issue either. But hard solder also creates the best solder join possible.

There are also a variety of solder types/shapes you can use.

  • Metal solder is sold as wire, sheet, and pre-cut pallions. Note: Metal solder looks like…metal! Be sure to mark it with Sharpie to differentiate it from sheet metal, and mark each grade to tell them apart. Something like black for hard, red for medium, and green for easy. Bend the ends of wire solder to mark them. One bend for easy, two bends for medium, three bends for hard.
  • I prefer paste solder, which is powdered solder blended with flux. Paste solder also comes in easy, medium, and hard. Loaded into a syringe (that’s familiar!), it’s designed to be used with a tiny, metal, syringe tip. Instead of the tip, I just extrude from the syringe, and pick up a small amount of paste solder with a toothpick and place where I need it. Remember to mark paste solder as well! I don’t use hard very often at all, so I don’t do anything but write “hard” with a black Sharpie on the label. I use yellow tape for medium, and masking tape with pink Sharpie for easy. I write the words ‘medium’ and ‘easy’, but still like to color code.  You can use whatever markers you have handy, but be consistent throughout your career.

FLUX

To use solder you also need to use something called flux.  Flux is primarily used to keep metal from oxidizing during the soldering process. There are many types of flux, that we don’t have time to get into in this article – but a few popular paste flux’s are “Handy”, “Batterns”, or “Dandix”.  Popular liquid flux’s are “Pripps” and “Cupronil”. One of the reasons why soldering on fine silver is so much easier – no oxidation! But you still need flux because the solder can oxidize too. So if you’re using metal solder, brush a little bit of flux at the join and on the actual solder pieces. If you’re using paste solder – it’s built in! No need for additional flux.

PICKLE

Pickle is used for two reasons – to remove oxidation, and to remove excess flux. If you’ve only soldered an earring post, or closed a jump ring – that amount of oxidation can be sanded away. No need for pickle in my opinion. But if you also have glassy, hardened flux – pickling it is much easier than trying to grind, sand, or otherwise file it away. If you’re soldering to fine silver – the base piece will have no oxidation. If you’re soldering to sterling silver, copper or bronze clay, chances are good that you can just use your regular methods of finishing. But if you have stubborn oxidation that isn’t coming off easily you’ll need to pickle.

There are a variety of ‘professional’, chemical, pickle solutions you can buy like PH Down from the pool supply or Sparex from a jewelry supply. I choose not to store chemicals in my studio, so I use one of a number of natural, food grade options instead. Are they as good? Depends on what you mean by good. Do they do the job? Yes. Do they work as fast? No. Will they work better if heated? Often, yes.

  • Alum (my current favorite) is available in the spice aisle of the grocery store and is used to make pickles from cucumber!
  • Citric Acid is another cooking additive often used in middle-eastern cooking.
  • Vinegar and salt is another food grade solution that will dissolve oxidation.

All of these work faster when heated (Beware! Hot vinegar smells horrendous). Dissolve citric acid or alum in water until no more will dissolve. I usually heat a small bowl of water in the microwave with the alum in it, then carry that back to my bench and drop in the metal. You can keep it warm by setting the bowl of hot pickle on your coffee cup warmer. You might also want to invest in a mini crock-pot.

  • Because metal clay is porous, the pickle (and patina solutions) may get drawn into the body of the metal. To neutralize it, boil in baking soda and water. (I just soak mine in warm water and baking soda – I don’t boil it, but that’s advice I’ve heard before).
  • Be sure to use either copper or bamboo tweezers to remove work from pickle that you want to use again. Steel will contaminate it and next time you drop in a piece of silver, you’ll take out a copper coated silver piece.

THE SOLDERING STATION

Setting up your first soldering station doesn’t need to be time consuming or expensive.

  • You already have a fire-proof surface in your home! Know what it is? Your stove of course. Hopefully, your stove has a hood that will vent any smoke and fumes to the outside of the house. If it just blows smoke around instead, don’t use it. Just make sure all the windows are open and you’re wearing a mask. Other types of fire-proof surfaces might be a cookie sheet, ceramic tile, fire bricks, cement board or even a pizza stone.
  • Ventilation is very important. Breathing fumes of any kind is not healthy – even the fumes from cooking steak on a grill. As stated above, if your stove hood has a fume extractor, you can use that. Open windows may be adequate, but are better if you can insert a box fan to draw fumes outside. If you aren’t able to use either of these methods, you can buy a small, tabletop fume extractor for around $60.00.
  • Don’t solder directly on the fire-proof surface we were talking about. You also want a soldering board. There are many different kinds of soldering surfaces which have different attributes that aid the soldering process in different ways, but I’m only going talk about a few.
  • My favorite is a soft Solderite board. Solderite is soft enough that you can stick T-pins into it to hold your work, dig small indentations to accommodate something like a bail so the work lays flat, and it doesn’t fall apart or crack with wear like some fiber firing boards do. (I also use a Solderite board inside the kiln)
  • Honeycomb is a hard, ceramic material covered with little holes. The holes help to dispel heat, but are also helpful when stabilizing work with T-pins. I’ve only used these in a class long ago, so have no real opinion on them.
  • Charcoal reflects heat the best, eats up the oxygen and provides a “reducing’ atmosphere for melting metal, granulation, and soldering. I don’t like these because they’re dirty (or maybe they just make my fingers dirty), and break with use. And I just don’t do the kind of work where a charcoal block would come in handy.

My soldering station consists of my Ikea table, a cookie sheet, on top of which I have a rotating pumice pan (I like the Lazy Susan aspect of the pan, and I bought it years ago because I thought it ‘looked professional’), and a couple of Solderite boards that I can stack if I need to for some reason. I also have a table-top fume extractor from Rio (which is great when I remember to turn it on).

I like to sit as I solder, other people prefer to stand. The kind of table you’ll use is dependant on your position. Try both ways to see which you prefer.

Beaducation video – Setting up a home soldering station https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OyhVQkVUqHA

My Pinterest board on Creative Studios
https://www.pinterest.com/lorahart/creative-studios/?eq=studio&etslf=5116

THE FUEL

  • When soldering silver the entire piece needs to be up to temperature in order for the solder to flow. You can’t ‘heat the north’ and then try to ‘heat the south’. So you will be limited in size and weight depending on what you’re trying to solder and what torch you’re using. The beauty of doing simple soldering is that you don’t need an expensive, ‘professional’ torch. Any torch you can buy at the hardware store will do the job perfectly.
  • Butane which burns at around 2500ºF is not only handy for torch firing metal clay, it’s perfectly serviceable when soldering smallish metal elements. The largest item I have soldered without using any other kind of aid was about 2” x 2”. Butane gas canisters can be more expensive to buy than propane or MAPP, especially at the hardware store, and I prefer to buy larger canisters online than I have been able to find at a ‘brick and mortar’ store. ‘Triple Filtered” butane seems to burn cleaner and last longer. I always make sure the torch is full every time I use it. Filtered Butane
  • Propane/atmosphere (air) burns hotter at about 3596ºF and the disposable canisters are easy to find at any hardware or camping store. The olive green camping canisters are shorter and larger around and seemed more physically stable to me than the taller, narrower, blue ones from the hardware store. Same gas, similar cost – just a different profile.
  • MAPP (in a yellow canister) is actually a blend of propane plus propylene and burns the hottest at around 3650ºF.
  • Secure the tall, narrow, bottles of propane or MAPP gas to your table leg with a bungee cord so it doesn’t fall over.

THE TORCHES

  • There are any number of butane torch types. My preferences are the Max Flame for a full, bushy flame to solder larger projects and the Blazer GB2001 for a sharper, pointy flame that’s perfect when soldering jump rings and smaller projects.
  • I suggest a flexible shaft torch head for both MAPP and Propane. If you get a torch that connects directly to the threaded opening of the canisters – you’ll be holding the canister as you solder, which (for me) is awkward and causes hand/arm strain over longer periods. Unfortunately the exact Bernzomatic torch I started with has been discontinued but the Bernzomatic BZ8250HT looks like a good replacement and I’ve heard great things about the EZ/Orca torch.
  • When you’re ready to switch to a gas/oxygen torch (as opposed to the gas/air versions I’m referencing in this article), you’ll be able to look into even more torch options.

 

This video describes the process of setting up and using the EZ torch by Janet Alexander. “It is a nice compact torch that attaches to a small propane canister, like you use for a camping stove. The fuel lasts for quite a long time using it with this torch. Since I travel teaching metal smithing I use this torch for my classes. I can pack it in my checked luggage and then after landing buy my fuel. This torch is good for silver soldering, sintering metal clay, torch firing enamel, and melting small amounts of non-ferrous metals for casting.”

Also a good video by Kate Richbourg.

EXTRAS 

  • Third Hand – This gadget has a heavy base (so it won’t tip over) and a cross lock tweezer connected by ball bearings so you can position it in many ways. The tweezer can hold small items like earring posts, (which I love because my own hand tends to be unsteady and unable to hold a connection). I have two third hands. Couldn’t live without them.
  • Enameling trivet to hold work up in case I need to position the flame of the torch underneath the item. I don’t like the large soldering tripods. Too much metal, and too much of a heat sink for what I do. I just place the trivet on my Solderite board when I need to use it.
  • Titanium picks usually come in packs of three. Solder doesn’t stick to titanium so you can use it to pick up a tiny ball of solder and place it just so, or move a pallion back into place if boiling flux disturbed it, or just push ‘this thing’ closer to ‘that thing’.
  • Binding wire is another fabulous helper to stabilize and hold two or more parts together during the soldering process. You can buy powder coated steel wire at the hardware store to use as binding wire. First use sandpaper to sand all the powder coating off.
  • T-pins, coins, small sheets of titanium and other props all come in handy when trying to find the best way to position your work to make soldering easier.
  • Water based ‘Liquid Paper’ or jeweler’s yellow ochre can be used to stop the flow of previously soldered joins to prevent them unintentionally re-opening.
  • If you don’t have access to good ventilation in your soldering area, you might want to invest in a Fume Extractor. The inexpensive version sucks the smoke (from burning solder) in and sends it through a charcoal filter.
  • Water! Always have water nearby in case you get burned (don’t do that) or to quench your hot work. I use a ball jar, so I can lock it down when I’m not using it. Ask me how many bowls of water I’ve spilled in my career…
  • I keep real vanilla extract in my studio to put on slight burns. After running cool water over the burn, I just spread some extract on the area and let it soak in. The next day there are never blisters, and it doesn’t hurt!

**NOTE**  I was taught never to quench a piece of red hot metal for fear that it may shatter like shrapnel or fling droplets of boiling water onto my body. It just takes a few seconds for the color to fade – indicating that the metal has cooled to an appropriate temperature.

Next week we’ll share more soldering project tips and examples by Lora!  Stay tuned.

LORA HART was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, and moved to historic Richmond, Virginia in 2012. Lora is the Artistic Advisor and one of twenty Senior Instructors for PMC Connection. A metal clay artist inspired by historic imagery, Lora’s work has been featured in books, magazines, and calendars and her jewels are sold in galleries and online. As a designer, educator, and creativity coach, her passion for the art and business of jewelry making has taken her across the United States to help other makers explore their own passions, develop their craft and expand their skills.

www.lorahart.com @lorahart

Artist Profile: Jeannette Froese LeBlanc by Julia Rai

I’ve known Jeannette Froese LeBlanc for a number of years, ever since she launched the fabulous Metal Clay Artist Magazine. The Magazine was a great success but sadly closed after five years. (Digital copies are still available.) I still miss it but Jeannette is now running the awesome Creative Fire website. I wrote artist profiles for the magazine and now I’m writing them for Creative Fire. It’s about time I did a profile on her!

(Jeannette’s Necklace on the last cover of Metal Clay Artist Magazine–a promise she kept to her mother to someday put her own work on the cover.)

Given her many talents and the multiple pies she has her fingers in, I asked Jeannette what she considers to be her ‘job title’. “I’d like to say artist, but I think it’s more of a hyphenated job title…artist-writer-editor-mother-teacher.” See what I mean? It’s amazing that although I’ve known Jeannette for a long time, it wasn’t until I interviewed her for this profile that I found out things about her that I didn’t know.

Based near Ottawa, Canada, Jeannette told me a bit about her family. “I live with my husband, two children and a growing menagerie of pets. We live in a one-room school house…that we’ve added on to over the past 20 years,” she explained. When not working on Creative Fire or her jewellery, Jeannette is a college professor and teaches sociology.

Jeannette had an interesting childhood. “I spent parts of my childhood in three vastly different places, Newfoundland, Eastern Ontario and Manhattan,” she began. “My father was a minister and so we moved several times for his job and my mother’s family is from New York City. I think I was fortunate to experience these places when I did. Newfoundland and NYC are both a part of my heart and soul. When we lived it Newfoundland in the ‘70’s, people still fished.  There were cod out to dry on the rocky shores and wild horses ran through the streets of our town in a cloud of dust.”

She went on, “I went to a really small school and made lifelong friends. When we moved to Ontario I didn’t fit in. I had an accent, my dad was the town preacher and my mom was American, all of which seemed to be fodder for school bullies. Another issue I had was that I was bored in school. The solution was to let me be ‘home schooled’ part of each school year. Really, I went to visit my grandparents in New York City. They were still working, so some of the time I hung out at a very ritzy department store (B. Altman and Company) where my grandmother worked, or with my grandfather who was a building superintendent.  I loved spending days with them, especially with my grandfather in his large workshop. He repaired everything from the building’s boilers, to the elevators, to electrical and other handyman type jobs. I loved all his tools and I’d go with him on jobs. Sometimes the elevators would break down, and he’d ask me to pass him tools. I felt really important being his assistant. He liked showing off to his staff that I could pass him a specific tool.”

You may be surprised to learn that Jeannette was in the army, here’s the story of how she landed up there. “My mom was a college professor and when the arts department had a visitor night, we went and learned about pottery. I was absolutely smitten. I started to look at schools where I could learn about pottery. I was in grade twelve at the time, and I decided I wanted to go to university for fine arts as I also wanted to be an art teacher. But of course, that meant finishing high school…which felt like a jail to me at that point given that I had 2 more years. The previous year, I was an exchange student in France and really enjoyed my time there. It made me want to travel and learn and sitting still all day at my old school was hard. My father proposed the idea that I was either in school or working. Enter Army recruiter. I hatched a plan to join the army, complete high school by correspondence and then go to university for art.”

She continued. “Having grown up believing girls could do anything was I dismayed to be told that my training options were nurse (nope…faint at the thought of blood), Admin…or finance. I took finance as the men were paid in the field, and so all finance clerks had to be combat trained. Luckily, I only had to put in a few years in the finance department when the government changed the rules and women were allowed in combat. Despite my WW2 Vetran grandfather’s advice, I chose to be transferred to the RCR, which was an airborne unit and I learned how to parachute. It was an awesome experience. I sometimes got lost in the view when jumping. In my ‘old age’ my arthritic hips seem to remember every bad landing!”

(Image: Jeannette hand etched aluminum to create an award of service for her grandfather for his years in the military with the Bomarc Missile program.)

Jeannette started her creative journey early. “My mother tells me that I sewed my first Barbie doll dress at three…using her scissors and sewing machine,” she laughed. She never steered me to kid’s art and my parents made all kinds of supplies and materials available for me.” Jeannette told me more about her upbringing. “My family is very creative,” she began. “My father used to make us toys and games by hand. My mother and my grandmothers were always making something be it bread, clothing or playing the piano. If my father had been given the luxury of time in his shop, I’m sure he could have built anything. He made many pieces of furniture and cupboards for our homes. Manses (minister’s houses) were often rather run-down, so he honed his skills rapidly repairing roofs, wells, windows.”

“I learned how to Batik when I was five! When I showed an interest in sewing and was starting to hog my mother’s sewing machine, my dad repaired one that a neighbour had thrown out. It was a black Singer sewing machine that could only sew in forward and reverse…but it was fast!! And it could sew through denim and canvas! I still have it. My father’s mother was a couture seamstress. She designed and made ball gowns and was a wonderful tailor. I started to spend weeks at a time with her and she taught me how to sew. She was very strict. So strict I still hear her voice in my head when I sew and I want to take a short cut. I enrolled in Fashion Design School when I was 21, but left when my name came up for U.N. duty training with the army. When I came back to the school, the program had been cancelled, so I finished my studio arts requirements in ceramics—and then a master’s degree in Education.”

I asked Jeannette when she first found out about metal clay. “I discovered metal clay in an ad and my husband sent me on a certification course as a birthday gift.  I think PMC had been out for a year or two at the time.  My first impression was not good.  I was a professional potter, so in comparison to ceramics I found metal clay to be dry, and brittle. I wasn’t impressed and didn’t do much with it until an artist friend came to visit and we bought a pack of clay and decided to make rings. We torch fired them and hot-damn! I had a ring! I was so pleased, I wore that ring for about seven years straight.”

She went on. “It was at that time I opened a bead store with a classroom space. Jackie Truty of Art Clay USA came up and taught me all I needed to know to offer metal clay classes and I was off and running! Then I wanted more information and there just wasn’t any good sources. I poured over any article I found…but there wasn’t enough. We needed our own magazine! And so, I started Metal Clay Artist Magazine.” (Image: Metal Clay and Glass Cab bracelet.  Glass by Paula Radke, Bracelet by Jeannette, image by Lisa Barth) “Working on the magazine with a fabulous international team was an outstanding experience in my life.  I’ve never met a more generous group of artists.  We produced a top notch publication.  Every issue was really beautiful! I’ve mourned the loss of our magazine and our team for a few years.  It was terrible to lose it the way we did.” [The magazine’s distributor withheld sales and then declared bankruptcy.]

I asked Jeannette to tell me about her studio. “Oh, my studio is my happy place…despite being utter chaos,” she laughed. “I have tried to tame the mess…I’ve even written about the process of trying to clean the mess. I have so little time in there that when I am there I just want to work. Plus, it is cramped as I try to fit jewellery making and sewing and show booth storage and… all in one 12×14 space.  One time I was working at my bench and a friend came over. She knocked on the door…I hollered…she came in…and could not see me. It may be time to cull my collections of materials for future projects.”

I’m always interested in what influences people to make the pieces they create. Jeannette explained what influences her work. “I was a professional potter for 15 years. I could throw a dinner set if needed to make sales, but my real love was hand building. I started out hand building tea pots and then house sculptures. I eventually moved into making tiled back splashes and fireplace mantles. And then I found metal clay. I went from working with hundreds of pounds of clay to mere grams. What started my foray into jewellery was the fact that I felt that I needed some cool jewellery to wear at shows. I started out making raku beads and adding glass and gemstones. But I was never happy with purchased findings and after I saw an article about metal clay, I was curious.”

She went on. “Looking back over my work as a whole, I see that I am repeatedly producing art that attempts to stop time. My jewelry references the art nouveau period and my nature studies capture a time of day or season. I am drawn to collecting memories and retelling them in my art.” (Image: “True North” Fine silver and polymer clay. Photo by Howard C. Davis)

“Currently I’m exploring making tiny buildings on rings out of silver metal clay. I have always loved seeing how themes in architecture stay within a geographic area. For example, in rural Quebec many old farmhouses have roof lines that curve up on the outside edge. An Ontario farmhouse is either built out of limestone or is clapboard and there is a porch and dormers. Being a minister’s daughter, I’ve seen a lot of churches and through art history studies at university I learned about different periods and influences and I became even more fascinated with how buildings are built.” (Image: “SS#15” Sterling Silver)

Jeannette doesn’t only work with metal clay. “When the price of metal clay spiked, and I was trying to recover from the loss of the magazine I needed a creative outlet. My good friend Kathleen Nowak Tucci invited me to visit and enjoy some sun and time in her studio. She was experimenting with aluminum etching. We stayed up day and night for a week to figure it out and then when I went home I spent about six months refining the technique to the point where I am now. I enjoy this process, despite it being very dirty and labour intensive. Now I pair metal clay, aluminum and polymer clay in my jewellery. I make all my own findings and sometimes the focal pieces in metal clay. I have been experimenting with polymer this year as I wanted to add some colour to my work. A few years ago, I used polymer in my work as an accent. Lately it’s becoming the focal.”

I asked Jeannette what she’s currently working on. “My new work has me really excited. I don’t know where I’m going with it…but I seem to be making bigger and bigger pieces. I’m combining etched aluminum, polymer clay and silver.” (Image: Polymer and Etched Aluminum necklace.)

“I also have a line of memory jewellery that I sell through my Etsy shop. I have been very happy with the contacts I’ve made through Etsy, although most customers end up sending me material and payment separate from Etsy, so my shop doesn’t look that active. Maybe it’s the nature of the work. I am sometimes working with original images and documents and the project is very personal to my clients.  A few orders have been rather emotional to make, such as etching the signature and little drawings of a child who had passed away, or etching the images of lost precious pets. I am always honoured to hear their stories and to make these pieces for people.”

I asked Jeannette where else she sold her work apart from Etsy. “I sell through some boutiques and a few local shows.  When I was a potter I did all the big shows…the ones where you build walls, and need a moving van to take your stock. I travelled all over and did them all. But I grew weary of the shows. About 10 years ago I started to notice attendance dropping and sales dropping…and that there were more and more and more shows. So, I pulled back. My criteria for going to a show includes the question of whether I can come home at night and sleep in my bed. I guess I’ve lost my sense of show adventure! I stayed in some pretty awful hotels while at shows so that I didn’t blow all my earnings on where I slept.”

Jeannette told me about a piece of her work that is important to her. “I made a locket out of silver metal clay. The shape was inspired by a coffee pot my grandmother received as a wedding gift in 1938. The art deco curves inspired the shape of the locket. On each side I carved the names of my children. I paired it with large amber beads I bought at an estate sale.” (Photo by Lisa Barth)

Finally, I asked Jeannette what she wants to achieve in the future with her work. “I’d love to have enough time in my studio to find my style and develop a body of work. The magazine was an amazing experience…but it took me so far off my own studio work as there wasn’t enough time to create. And since the demise of the magazine I’ve taken every part-time job I could so that I can pay off the remaining magazine debt and so that I can be home with my children. To me, being creative is like breathing. Without time to be artistic I feel as if I am holding my breath. Fortunately, my kids love art, so we always have something going on and often I’m inspired by their work and the joy they have while they create.”

See more of Jeannette’s work here: https://www.instagram.com/sassyandstella and www.sassyandstella.com

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.

Artist Project Series: Little Red School House Ring by Jeannette Froese LeBlanc

My project is based on a schoolhouse in rural Ontario.  The schoolhouse was built in 1876 and captured my heart as a child.  The school was decommissioned in the 1950’s and purchased at an auction by my mother who then gave it to her father. It sits on 1 acre of land that my relatives had donated for the school.  My grandparents lived in a farmhouse nearby and my grandfather used to give me the keys and I’d ride my bike up to the school…and play inside.  One summer I even conned neighboring kids to come to my school–I was the teacher, of course!  When it came time for my husband and myself to buy or build a house…this was our model and we took as much of the old school to our house.  My dream as a little girl was to live in the “little red schoolhouse”.

In the project I’ll show how I made my ring.  Have fun and design your own dream house!

This project is proudly presented by Cool Tools. (And I thank them and Bill Struve for this wonderful silver metal clay.  It was the perfect clay for my project.  It was strong, but flexible when it was bone dry.) Continue reading…

Artist Profile: Julia Rai

Cornwall based metal clay artist and tutor Julia Rai is well known in the international metal clay community. She founded the Metal Clay Academy and has been writing tutorials and articles for print and online publications for many years. But getting her to sit still long enough to give us an interview has taken nine years!

Julia was born and raised in North London in the UK. “I’m the oldest of three sisters,” she told me. “I always enjoyed doing practical stuff and wasn’t particularly academic. When I got into a grammar school having passed the 11+ exam as it was in those days, I had to study Latin and that was a bit of a stretch! My best subject was English language but not so much the literature side. I preferred to read science fiction and horror books. I did an art CSE and had a very enlightened teacher who allowed me to explore sculpture rather than traditional drawing and painting. For the final exam I made a full sized sofa which I distressed and covered with coloured plaster of Paris so it looked like it was melting. I can’t remember what happened to it!” Continue reading…

Artist Project Series: Penannular Brooch by Julia Rai

.

Cool Tools is proud to present the next artist project in our series.  This time UK artist Julia Rai presents her artistic talents using EZ960™ Sterling Silver Clay.

Julia Rai has been a contributor to Creative Fire (Metal Clay Artist Magazine) since 2009.  We are thrilled to feature her latest project.

“Penannular style brooches have been used to fasten clothing since the late Iron Age. This style of brooch has a loop of metal with terminals or flattened ends and a moveable pin. The pin is pushed through the fabric and the end of the ring goes under the sharp end of the pin. The ring is then turned locking the pin in place. There are a wide variety of designs for the terminals of historical penannular brooches and this is where the fun comes in on this modern take on an ancient design.

I have used a natural theme for the hoop, texturing it to resemble bark. The terminals use pod, fungi and lichen forms and this is echoed on the curve of the pin.” Continue reading…

Preparing to Teach From Your Home Studio by Jeannette Froese LeBlanc

_

SHARING YOUR KNOWLEDGE IS A GIFT.

It is an opportunity not only to pass on important information about your techniques and your chosen media to your students but also to educate them about important topics such as safe working practices and artistic ethics.

(Bright and airy teaching studio of Ann Robinson Davis in Virgina, USA)

LEARN FROM THE BEST
If you are new to teaching, it’s a really good idea to learn from a more experienced teacher whom you admire. Try to find one (or more) who might be willing to let you be their “teacher’s aide” in a few classes. Even if you’re just setting up, tidying and breaking down the classroom, you’ll have an opportunity to give your full attention to observing his or her teaching style and techniques for keeping the class on time, on track and engaged, and for dealing with disruptions or needy students. Then try tandem teaching with another experienced teacher. Guild meetings also are a great place to learn and to share teaching tips and methods. Continue reading…

Artist Profile Wendy Wallin Malinow by Julia Rai

Award winning artist Wendy Wallin Malinow lives in Portlandia, Oregon. “I have lived here all my life except for a brief stint in NYC,” she told me. I first saw Wendy’s work in 2010 when she won first place in the Saul Bell Design Award with a piece of work that was totally different from anything else I’d seen. Colourful, edgy with some hidden hidey-holes which called out to be explored – oh I wanted so much more than the picture gave me! There’s more about this piece later. When I was asked to interview Wendy for this profile, I was keen to find out more about her.

Wendy has an interesting career history which I got a glimpse of when I asked her what she considers to be her job title. “Well, it’s always changing,” she began. “I used to be a professional art director/ designer/ illustrator. Then a freelance illustrator/ painter/ jewelry designer. Now I think of myself as an artist/ designer/ maker.” She also gave me a few fun facts about her previous lives. “I was a disco queen at Studio 54 back in the day AND a deadhead at the same time, briefly was a leg model, and expert sudoko player.” What an intriguing woman! Continue reading…

PMC Presents: Wendy Wallin Malinow

Honey Bee Brooch

I first fell in love with Wendy’s work when I saw it in an ad showing her Saul Bell Design Award necklace in 2010.  Her necklace had so many interesting parts and it told a story.  Over the years Wendy’s work has evolved and become more sophisticated.  Her necklace (shown above) “Thorn Bird” was a finalist piece in 2017. Wendy created a companion brooch and is sharing her process with us. This project is presented by PMC Connection and Mitsubishi Materials.

To begin her project, Wendy sketched ideas.
The brooch and the necklace pendant compliment each other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Artist Profile: Liz Sabol by Julia Rai

Pennsylvania native Liz Sabol is a metal clay artist with a stunning portfolio. She was a finalist in the metal clay category of the Saul Bell Design Competition in 2016 with her ‘Mad Hatter’ cuff. Then this year, her necklace ‘Cheshire Cat’ won second place in the metal clay category and she told me it holds a special place in her heart. “My favorite piece so far is the ‘Cheshire Cat’,” she began. “It’s really special to me, because it shows what can be achieved when you don’t give up.”

Liz was brought up in Western Pennsylvania. “I grew up on a dairy farm with my six younger siblings, and was known for planting the straightest corn rows in the county. You could see from one end of the field to the other down the rows.” She currently lives in Pittsburgh. “I have two great kids, and we all love animals, so we have several different kinds of pets – dog, cats, chinchillas, rabbits, guinea pig, and fish!  The crowd makes our home very entertaining, and never lonely.”

I asked her about her studio as with such a busy household I imagined that a home studio might be a bit tricky. “My studio is in my home, but was scattered all over – garage, dining room, kitchen, basement – complete chaos!  I have been working to consolidate more of the different tasks to the space where my flex shaft is located – a slow process, but turning out to be much more productive all together.”

She has always been creative. “One of my earliest memories is deciding to decorate my bedroom by drawing pictures on the wall, somewhere around 1st grade.  I didn’t want to get in trouble, so I mimicked my younger sister’s drawing style, and well enough that my parents believed they were her drawings!” she laughed.

I asked Liz how she discovered metal clay. “I remember seeing silver clay in the Fire Mountain Gems catalog several years before I started making jewelry,” she began. “I dreamed of trying it someday.  That day came when I was looking for ends or bead caps to complement my lampworked beads, but couldn’t find any commercially available options that worked for me.  So I signed up to teach some after-school art classes to students at my children’s elementary school, and used the instructor pay to purchase a kiln.  The first things I made didn’t sinter correctly.  It was a frustrating month of testing and research before I found a good firing schedule that worked with my kiln.  After that, it was pure love!” Continue reading…