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!”
Liz’s work bursts with colour, beautifully blended and with great depth. I asked her to tell me a bit about her process. “My current work could be described as a form of cold-enamel Champlevé. I wanted to find a way to bring my unique drawing and doodling styles to the clay, so I developed a process to make molds from my art with plexiglass, and apply color and resin. The result is a fantasia of flowing metal lines and color.”
The fairy tale and fantasy which inspires some of her work is particularly evident in the piece which was a silver award winner in the Italian A’Design Award and Competition in 2017, ‘Sleeping Beauty’. “For my Champlevé pieces, I always sketch out the design first. Sometimes I start with a concept, idea or feeling, and sometimes I just start doodling. I can see very clearly in my mind what the final piece will look like, so I don’t make models. If a very complex piece doesn’t quite work out as well as expected, I just call it a prototype.”
Liz uses a number of techniques in her work. “When I first started out working with metal clay I found it really frustrating trying to achieve a smooth mirror finish, so I took some metalsmithing classes to learn other techniques that would help me get the final results I was looking for,” she explained.
“I make my bails in clay. Using sheet and forming would be faster, but I find the bronze stock does not match the bronze clay color closely enough. I am starting to make a variety of clasps and slides as well. I made a metal clay chain once, but that was very time consuming!”
She went on, “I don’t like to fire stones in place because it limits the metal work I can do after firing and the gemstone varieties. Sometimes I make the bezel with clay so that it is more integrated into the piece. Other times, I make a traditional metal bezel and solder it on after.”
Liz is currently developing an approach to teaching metal clay. “I just started teaching metal clay to a friend a couple months ago. No specific curriculum – I just focus the instruction around whatever specific piece she wants to make that day. I find that I’m thinking outside the box more, and trying new techniques in the process of figuring out the best way to show her how make her piece.”
Thinking about her busy home, I asked Liz what she does to relax. “Drawing new designs, trying new techniques, research, buffing jewelry on the polishing arbor, reading, watching TV, and the occasional Candy Crush fix. Maybe too much relaxing?” she laughed.
I asked Liz if she sells her pieces. “I sell my work at a couple of arts festivals, shops, and some private events. I plan to expand into more galleries and boutiques, and to open an online store soon.”
I asked Liz what she’s currently working on. “Circles are my favorite shape, as reflected by most of my pendants,” she began. “To mix it up, I’m exploring some more organic shapes. A couple new pieces along this line are in the design phase – Swanlake and Hanging Garden.”
Finally I asked her where she sees her work going. “Bigger and better!” was her simple reply.
See more of Liz’s colourful and interesting work online at the following places:
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.