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

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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.”

Tools and Materials

  • 25g EZ960™ Sterling Silver Clay
  • Thick paste – any silver clay type will do or make some using scraps of EZ960
  • Syringe – any silver clay type will do
  • Liver of sulphur
  • Extruder with tube making attachment
  • Snake roller
  • Craft knife
  • Cocktail sticks
  • Pointed small clay shaper
  • Tweezers
  • Oil
  • Paintbrush
  • Sanding pads
  • Polishing pads/papers/cloths
  • Vermiculite and stainless steel container
  • Half round pliers

Step 1

Using an extruder with a tube making attachment allows you to easily form a tube for the hoop. This makes the brooch lighter and saves on the amount of material used to make the hoop. Choose a round die which is 3-4mm larger than the central rod on the disc that makes the hole. My die is 5mm in diameter and the rod is 1.5mm in diameter.

Step 2

Oil the inside of the extruder barrel, the die and the hole making disc. Put a large lump of clay into the barrel, assemble the tube maker and screw on the end. Turn the handle and extrude a long tube. Cut it off the extruder with a sharp knife. Form this into a hoop the size you want it and trim off the ends. My hoop has two downward facing terminals but you could also have the gap wider and have the terminals facing each other. Allow this to dry.

Step 3

Trim the ends of the hoop so they are angled facing forward. This will allow the embellishments to face forward when they are added. Using a pointed craft knife, thin out the walls of the terminals from the inside being careful not to go too thin and break the ends.

Step 4

Texture the hoop using thick paste. Drag a cocktail stick in random lines through the paste to form bark like patterns. Do this in small sections on one side so the paste does not dry out before you have made the lines. Allow one side to dry, then turn it over and texture the other side the same way. Make sure the hoop is covered on all sides.

Step 5

To make the pin use a snake roller or a CD case and start with a sausage of clay on a non-oiled surface. Roll a tapered snake thinner than the hoop at the thickest end. It needs to be long enough to be bent over the hoop with the potential to almost touch without restricting movement around the hoop. The sharper end should protrude beyond the gap in the hoop, how long that is depends on your design.

Step 6

Cut the thickest end at an angle and then bend the length so it forms a hook shape with the cut angle facing forward. Embellishment will be added to the flat end to match the terminals. Allow this to dry.

Step 7

When the pin is dry, texture the top and sides of the bend down to the angled end using thick paste and a cocktail stick. Take the texture a little way down the back of the pin but not so far that it will interfere with the action of sliding the pin smoothly through fabric. Do not texture the inside as this will make it difficult for the pin to slide around the hoop smoothly.

Step 8

Take a small ball of clay and form it into a cone shape. Form a pod by pushing a small, pointed clay shaper into the end of the cone and creating an asymmetric aperture with the opening facing forward. Make sure the end of this fits into the hole in the terminal. Form another pod roughly the same size. Allow these to dry and then stick them into the ends of the terminals with thick paste.

Step 9

Make a number of small pod forms using the same method as before. These should be different sizes and shapes to make the overall form interesting. Allow these to dry and then add them to the terminals around the larger pod forms and extending up the hoop a little way. Tweezers help to place these small, fiddly forms. The aim is to cover the transition between the hoop and the main pods so they look like growing forms.

Step 10

Form a number of small balls and poke a dent into each ball with a cocktail stick while they are still wet. Allow these to dry and then stick them into any gaps between pods. Add some paste and cocktail stick texture to the outside of the pods if you like or leave them smooth. Make sure the back gets some embellishment too. When you are happy with the overall design, put it to one side to dry.

Step 11

Use some smaller pod forms and some balls to decorate the front facing part of the pin end and slightly up the bend. Add texture if desired. Use a sanding pad to smooth the pin and sharpen the point. Allow the pin and the hoop to dry thoroughly.

Step 12

Nestle the pieces on a bed of vermiculite or fibre blanket in a stainless steel container. Fire at 1650˚F/900˚C for four hours to ensure the pieces are at maximum strength to bend the pin after firing.

Step 13

Use a brass or steel brush to get into all the nooks and crannies of the pods and texture on the hoop and the pin. Tumble polish to a high shine.

Step 14

Mix up a solution of liver of sulphur with boiling water and dip the hoop and the pin until they are black. Rinse in cold water and then use polishing papers and cloths to shine the high spots of the texture, pods and balls.

Step 15

Assemble the pin on the hoop. Using half round pliers, gently bend the decorated end of the pin so it almost touches the stem but allows free movement around the hoop.

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.

Preparing to Teach From Your Home Studio by Jeannette Froese LeBlanc

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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…

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!”

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:
Website: www.lsabol.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BeadLizzy/
Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/lizsabol_jewelryart/

 

 

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: Liz Sabol Part 1

“Swanlake Pendant” by Liz Sabol is the ninth project in our series and it is proudly presented by Cool Tools using EZ960™ Sterling Silver Clay.  Once again we are blown away by the level of work by this master artist.  In this step-by-step, Liz shares how she creates her Saul Bell Design Award winning work. Liz’s project is so detailed, we had to break her project in two parts.  Click the link at the end of part 1 to go to part 2.

  • The basic idea of Champlevé is a design that utilizes colored depressions in a solid piece.  There are many different methods available to achieve a Champlevé look.  The tools and supplies needed vary vastly for each technique.  You can customize the tools and supplies to suit the equipment you have available, or to the technique you are most comfortable with.  I use oil paint and epoxy resin, but there are many other methods:  vitreous enamel, alcohol inks, colored pencils, gilders paste, acrylic paint, colored resins, and even nail polish!  Continue reading…

Design Challenge

 

In January we put out a call to those interested in a design challenge.  We offered up identical boxes of vintage jewellery making supplies from CJS Sales in New York City.  Each designer received the same collection and could make whatever they wanted to.  The only parameters were:
-You can use the materials you were sent any way you want and with any media. 
-Must use 4 pieces of design kit in your finished piece. (1 piece = 1 bead, 1 component, or 1″ of chain)

Twenty packages of vintage jewellery components went out to artists in 4 different countries!

Our Judge: Donna Greenberg, a mixed media artist from New Jersey.  She enjoys mixing materials, colours, and textures in her jewelry and sculptures in unexpected ways. “Pairing smooth, dull surfaces with a coarse piece of glittering pyrite; delicate pearls perched in a volcanic explosion of highly textured polymer; low end man made materials paired with the luxury of silver or bronze are the kind of studies that gets my heart beating loudly. The thrill for me is in balancing these diverse elements into a cohesive statement.” Continue reading…

Artist Profile – Kim Nogueira by Julia Rai

I have been fascinated by automata since childhood visits to the Science Museum in London. I remember turning the handle on the Archimedes screw exhibit and seeing the little man turn his own handle in time with me. As the water came up through this cause and effect, I was totally fascinated by how that worked. When I first saw Kim Nogueira’s metal clay automata I was blown away by the ingenuity of the technical aspects but also by the stories and themes behind the pieces.

Kim was born and raised in the small New England town of Northampton, MA and now lives in St John, in the US Virgin Islands. “For the past 25 years, this little island has been my home, where I raised my wonderful son,” she explained. “Two thirds of the island is protected by the National Park, and the hiking and snorkeling is fabulous here. It is a very tiny island however, measuring about nine miles by 12 miles. Elevation reaches from sea level to 1200 feet, which if you ever run or walk our annual famous 8 Tuff Mile Race, which runs through the center of the island from one end to the other, you will get to experience most of that elevation change. I have only done this once, and that was enough!”

Continue reading…