Artist Project Series- Kathy Van Kleeck

Strata Ring by Kathy Van Kleeck is presented by Cool Tools and is part of a special series of projects designed by metal clay master jewellery makers.  Kathy’s unique style and openness about her process is as refreshing as her jewellery.

(Note: click on images to enlarge)

The inspiration for this ring was born out of my curiosity about how thin I could work with the new EZ960® Sterling Silver Clay and still maintain structural integrity.  Favorite themes in my work are repetition of form and layering of elements.  The image of stratified layers came to mind and creating this effect in rings seemed like a good place to start.

I started off making what I call “washer” rings, thin and flat, but with my signature “wonky and weathered” edges.

Wearing a loose stack of the new “strata” rings worked just fine, but as a project to share seemed a bit lackluster.  The idea of joining the rings via rivets, one small to stabilize the stack and one large to secure the group, seemed like it would be visually compelling, not to mention good fun.

Tools and materials needed:
– 25grams of EZ960® Sterling Silver Clay; use some clay to make a small amount of slip
– basic metal clay tools: craft knife, needle tool, spacer cards, roller, sanding paper or salon board
– hole punch tool
– disc template
– ring sizers
– brass brush
– hammers: ball peen (small and large if you have it) and planishing or riveting, leather mallet
– needle files
– jewelers saw
– sterling silver tubing
– tube cutting gizmo (optional, but handy)
– center punch or small dapping tool
– steel bench block
– ring mandrel
– liver of sulfur

Before diving in, decide on a size for your finished ring.  There’s a couple of things to consider, shrinkage of the clay and the thickness of the inner core rivet.  The inside of the core rivet will be the finished size.

1. For this ring, I’m aiming to have a finished size 6 ring and am starting off at a size 13 (sounds crazy, right?), internal diameter is 13/16” or 21mm on my template.
I weigh out 4 different size balls of EZ960 as I want each layer to be a bit different.  I have four pieces, starting at 5 grams, going up to 5.8 grams.
2. Before rolling out the clay, I like to let each piece dry a bit, yielding more irregular, less perfect, edges.

3. Roll out the rings at 3 cards thick.
4. Use the template to make sure you’ve got about a 1/8” or 3mm edge for the ring shank and enough depth at the top for the small stabilizing rivet.

5. Using your knife, cut out the center of the ring.  Gently clean up the inside edge and set aside.  Make three more rings with the same shank dimensions, but varying tops.  This will give the finished ring the stratified look we’re aiming for.
6. Allow the rings to stiffen up just a bit.  After the rings are more stable, align the shanks and stack the rings in a visually interesting order.

7. Lay down the stack on your work surface and decide where you’d like to place the small stabilizing rivet.  Remember to place the small rivet above where the core rivet will be and not compromise the edges.  I chose top right.  Push your needle tool through all the layers to mark where to cut the rivet holes.
Separate the rings and punch out the hole for the rivet.
(Image) My little hole punch tool is a sterling tube crimp bead stuck on the end of a bamboo skewer.

I punch out holes while the clay is still somewhat damp, allowing me to smear the edges for a more organic look.

When the rings are fully dry, clean up any rough edges and then fire according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

The rings may have wafted up a bit during firing.  If so, stack them together and gently flatten with a leather mallet on a steel bench block – don’t want to wipe out any of those nice “crunchy” details!

8. Use a brass brush or fine sand paper to lightly polish the surface of the rings.  I chose to patina and lightly polish the rings at this stage, but it can wait until the piece is completed.

9. Aligning the rivet holes, assemble the rings into a nice stratified order.  Slide the sterling tube into the holes, using a bead reamer to refine or widen the openings if needed.  Make sure the tube fits snugly in the holes.

10. Extend the edges just past the openings and mark the length with a fine Sharpie.  Use a jeweler’s saw and tube cutting gizmo to cut the sterling tube.

Clean up the sawn edges of the tube with the bead reamer and file or salon board.

11. To set the rivet, use a center punch or small dapping tool to roll around each inside edge, flipping the stack, gently stretching one side, then the other.  Go back and forth several times.  Once the tube has been flanged out and stays in place, with a small rivet or ball peen hammer, start widening the opening a bit more.  Back and forth and gentle hammering is key.  When the edges are nicely flanged, begin flattening the edges with your hammer.  Again, flipping the stack back and forth, gently flanging out the rivet until it’s flat and even on both sides.

12. With the rings secured, measure the depth of the stack to determine how wide to make the core.  Remember to account for shrinkage and that the core has to fit inside the ring stack.  My ring stack is about 3/8” deep, so I’m going to make my core ¼” wide.

13. There’s a variety of ways to make the core. I highly recommend using some form of ring sizer. I’m lucky enough to have the old ceramic ring sizers which are super easy to use.  Cool Tools sells ring sizer pellets and molds which are equally handy.  You can also go back to your plastic template to estimate the size.

Remember that the core needs to fit snugly inside the ring stack.

14. I use a size 8 form to make my core. Make a size guide with a strip of paper.  Roll out and texture a 2 card thin strip of EZ960; the width should be what is needed for the core and long enough to get a slight overlap when wrapped around the ring form.

15. For forming, wrap the textured strip around a larger (forming) ring core with a paper overlay, overlapping the ends, textured side in.  Make a diagonal cut through the strip, then score and slip to join the two edges together.

Set aside to dry, then refine the seam and edges if needed.  Before firing, be sure to look for any small cracks and repair with thick slip or clay as needed.

16. Place the inner ring on the desired finished size (sz 6) ring core and fire.

After firing, use a brass brush or fine sand paper to lightly polish the fired core.


17. Slide the core into the ring stack.  You may need to do a bit of refining with files or a salon board to fit the core snuggly into the stack.

The core should extend about 1mm on each side of the stack.

To secure the core, use the largest ball peen hammer or a larger dapping tool and very gently begin to flange out the core.  Go back and forth between the two sides, carefully hammering out the edge of the core, keeping the core centered in the ring stack.  Keep working back and forth until the edge is flat on both sides.

18. If needed, file the edges of the core to be a bit more flush with the ring stack.

19. Patina with liver of sulfur and finish by polishing with fine sand paper.

For a more complex design, consider making additional layers with resin.

Caveats and side notes on creating the Strata ring:
One of my questions about working with the new EZ960 was whether it would lend itself to forging and using as the core rivet in my design.  Turns out, it has similar forging limits to other versions of metal clay.
My first ring design had a much wider core with a more irregular “wafting” edge.  This core was also a bit thicker.  As I gently hammered to flange out the core, it began to split and crack.  The core had shifted as well and wasn’t evenly set on both sides.

Always being one to look at errors as opportunities, I kept working on the core.  I got the edges flat and then filed down all the snaggy bits.

I also seriously underestimated the starting size for the ring and ended up with a size 4 ½ instead of the size 6.  But that’s what test pieces are all about!

I love the look of this piece as it very much fits my urban primitive aesthetic, but decided as a teaching project I would make another, more traditional looking ring.

For the second attempt, I corrected the sizing and also made the core thinner. Everything seemed to be working as planned.  But as I was flanging out the inner core, a couple of cracks began to show.  I filed down the edges and continued to hammer only to realize one of the outer rings had cracked.  It must have happened before firing without my noticing as I’m sure the core setting process wouldn’t have caused the crack.

Undeterred, I once again chose to look at my error as an opportunity.  I pulled out my super thick PMC3 lavender slip paste and filled in the crack in the ring and also the small cracks along the edge of the core.  I fired the repairs at a lower temp of 1200F for 1 hour so as not to damage the sterling silver tube rivet.  I had to do two rounds of “spackling” and firing to fill the gap, but I’m quite pleased with the results.

So when a project doesn’t quite go the way I originally planned, I don’t despair amid the lemons.  I see those lemons as pure potential to make something more interesting … like lemon chiffon pie or lemon mousse or lemon custard!

About the Artist:

Above all else, I am a maker … my life’s passion, my raison d’être.  Supporting and defining that passion is my craving for simplicity, simplicity and finely crafted wares created with equally fine ingredients.  From my home and its décor, my clothing and shoes, to the food I eat and the dishes and glassware on which it is served, in all things, lovingly wrought simplicity.

So, it’s really no surprise that my jewelry and design philosophy is an extension of that craving.  While pondering all of this, and being the visually oriented person that I am, I began to think of my design philosophy as a house constructed by a trio of inspirations.  There is a solid foundation of “God is in the details,” thank you, Mies van der Rohe, with walls informed by Occam’s Razor (I paraphrase) “the simplest answer is usually the best answer”, all under an exquisitely imperfect wabi-sabi roof.

A beautiful structure that translates into jewelry and accessories that are free of superfluous details, grounded in a rugged simplicity, comfortable, effortless.

I started making jewelry in 1994 and through the years I’ve assimilated a diverse range of influences and interests into a distinctive jewelry style that I call Urban Primitive. I’m primarily self-taught via lots of how-to books and seem to have a gift for design and composition.  For close to 20 years, my primary medium has been fine silver PMC.  I began working with the original PMC in 1998 and it was love at first touch.  My favorite thing about metal clay is how I can form each component by hand, pinching and nudging shapes, smearing and rolling edges.  My fingerprints are visible in each piece, quite literally, the hand of the maker.  In the last few years I’ve added bronze and steel metal clays to the work.  Now I’m thrilled to add EZ960.  It promises to be an exceptional addition to my maker’s tool box. 

Kathy Van Kleeck, designer / maker

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