Artist Project Series: Dino Bracelet by Gordon K. Uyehara

~ Cool Tools and Creative Fire are proud to present another project in this series by Gordon K. Uyehara.  Gordon’s work is always interesting and his projects are sure to inspire artists from all levels.  Having a chance to look over the shoulder of Gordon as he works is a treat for metal clay artists worldwide. 

Dino Bracelet by Gordon K. Uyehara
What does one do with two leftover pieces of double-knit Viking weave chain? Dig it out of the drawer after many years and make a bracelet. I envisioned a focal piece and end caps created out of silver metal clay. Although it seemed rather straightforward at first, I encountered some challenges along the way. I detail them below. You may choose to steer around some of them.

I learned how to weave the chain in a workshop many years ago, and unfortunately, I don’t recall how to do it. However, I do recall we used a starter wire shaped like a flower and a wooden dowel to weave around. The chain was pulled through a vinyl drawplate (made out of cutting board) with different size tapered holes. This was for drawing down the diameter of the chain. The source book was, “Great Wire Jewelry” by Irene From Petersen. With a little imagination this project can be modified to work with other types of chain or cord. It is a good idea to peruse the entire project instructions first before proceeding.

Materials and tools
FS999 Fine Silver Metal Clay 50g
Crossing needle file, lettering tool, or scribe
Carving tools (optional)
Curved drying form or smooth coffee mug
Sandpaper and sanding paper (400 and 600-grit)
Clay shapers
Vermiculite and fireable container or thick fiber blanket
Toothpicks
Paintbrush
Common metal clay tools
Soldering supplies (optional)

Process


1) Sketch out the design of the main focal piece and for the end caps. Note that end caps for Viking weave chains are usually cones with a hole at the end to pull wire through for looping around clasp findings. I decided to make life more difficult; more on this later.


2) From the sketch, create a template with cardstock. In regards to sizing, remember that the clay will shrink between 10 and 15 percent. I actually scanned my sketch and recreated it in my vector illustration program. If you do this, it is easy to create different sized printouts. If you have a cutting machine, you can create your stencils on that. See below, the template with a modified skull sketch.


3) I used the same template to create a base and then again to create a frame. I placed the 5-card thick base on a curved (oiled) drying form and then joined the 3-card thick frame to it while the pieces were still wet. This requires a gentle touch to avoid marring the pieces. Note that pieces won’t match up exactly because the thickness of the clay is not taken into account when using the same template. I.e., the edges will need to be sanded later to even them out. You can also dry the bottom first and then add the wet frame or paste together after both are dry. Another way to create a similar effect is to roll the inner shape (made out of card stock) onto the clay thereby impressing the middle section and then cutting the frame outline out around it.


4) For the skull, I pasted down a 3-card thick piece of clay in the outline of the fossil. I then sketched in features with a pencil after drying. Gradually I carved out the main shapes first with my crossing needle file. I.e., I worked on the general shapes first and then worked on the smaller and then finer details. I also alternated between the file and sandpaper (often rolled) and toothpicks to achieve the design. The good thing about metal clay is if you remove too much, you can always add clay back in. Since this piece is curved, do not apply a lot downward pressure while scraping away clay; think side to side more and you can avoid cracking your piece. If you don’t feel like carving, you can create a focal design in other easier ways. For example, a molded form could be used instead.


5) I carved some design elements into the frame. Pencil it in and then score it with a sharp pointy tool and then refine the line with toothpicks. Run the edge of a small piece of sandpaper through the line to refine it.


6) Using paste, I painted the areas around the fossil to make it look “earthier”. If, after drying, you see brush strokes you would like to disguise, let some water run off your clean brush on to the surface and gently disturb the brush marks. Wick off excess water with a drier brush tip. Re-dry.


7) Add rings on the back to act as chain guides. One mistake I made was thinking the clay wouldn’t stick to the oiled dowels. This particular clay did. So I remade them 3-cards thick with non-stick (Telfon) worksurface wrapped around the dowel. This made them a little too big, the second mistake. I also should have angled them at opposite angles so the chains would have more tension on them; more on this at the conclusion. They are about 3/16-inch wide. After drying and refining, I pasted the chain guides into place.


8) The end caps are essentially an open-ended box with a tab. Size it according to your chain thickness although later the chain ends can be squashed with pliers for fitting. You may prefer to make or use commercial cone ends because they are easier. The chain is simply secured with a wire, pulled through the cone, and then wrapped around a finding on the other end. What I did requires soldering or perhaps it could have been done with riveting. Use paste if necessary to join the walls of your end caps. Add decorative elements after refining the main shape. I used 3-card thick pieces of clay, except for the side that serves as the clasp catch, that piece is 4-cards thick. The top, tab portion with the hole was dried curved.


9) Since this was my first time using this clay, I fired one end cap first in vermiculite according to the included firing schedule. As a precaution, I put a little fiber blanket into the opening in case of slumping. Looking back, I don’t think that was necessary. After firing, the main focal piece can be brushed but do not brush the end pieces that will be soldered. Brushing closes the surfaces pores that may lead to ugly moisture blisters during soldering. I used a brass brush with a little soap and water.


10) After firing the pieces, determine how long the chain lengths should be and carefully trim them down. Remove any loose wires. Use a small length of sterling wire to secure the ends together.


11) Burnish the interior of the end caps where solder has to flow and hold the chain ends. Check how the chain ends fit into the end caps. Use pliers to compress the ends if necessary. I found it difficult to get enough surface contact for soldering the caps on, so I soldered a small sheet of sterling onto the ends of the chain. Then I flowed some solder onto the sheet where it contacts with the inside of the cap. Remember to flux the sterling parts as normal and only the areas on the fine silver end caps where you want the solder to flow (same area you burnished). I only pickle the parts where flux was applied rather than the whole bracelet. Be careful not to overheat the thin wires.


12) The catch is cut from 24-gauge sterling sheet and shaped with round-nose pilers. Shown below is the general shape of the clasp. Use a file to round out the edges. Adjust the clasp so it doesn’t slip out easily.

13) I used a brass brush and water to shine up the bracelet. Then I applied a liver of sulfur patina. To highlight the detail, I then polished with a Sunshine polishing cloth. For the back side and chain, I used a pro polishing pad to help lighten the darkened areas faster.


Conclusion:
The soldering exercises loosened up the stiff chain more than I had anticipated. This was probably due to annealing. As a result, the focal piece moves around more than I’d like. To counter this, I fashioned a slim, removable clip to keep tension on the chains. I created this out of a 24-gauge sterling strip. A drill bit and chain nose pliers helped in shaping the clip. Had I angled the guide rings in the opposite direction, perhaps this wouldn’t have been necessary.

Finally, I am not totally enamored with the clasp. While it works, I think a box clasp would be great. However, that is a much more involved process and something I leave for the future or for you.

Gordon K. Uyehara continues to be a metal clay artist. In Hawaii, he seeks the wondrous in the mundane because he thinks it is there. He shares his findings on social media with the quite unfounded belief it is raising the collective consciousness. Some ideas venture out of his head and eventually manifest themselves as silver, bronze, or copper art. He strongly dislikes doing the dishes.

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. Continue reading…

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

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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.” 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!” Continue reading…

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…

Artist Project Series: Kim Nogueira

This special series of projects by master metal clay artists is proudly sponsored by Cool Tools. (Please note: click on images to enlarge.)

The beauty and enchantment that I am surrounded by here on this extraordinary planet keeps me feeling like I never grew up. I share this child-like feeling of awe and wonder with others by adding the surprise of movement to my jewelry. I hope you give it a try too!

For this advanced project, I will be making a hollow form box pendant with a side lever that creates a seesaw movement of two figures inside. In mechanical terms, this is a fulcrum; in jewelry terms, it’s magic!  The pendant has a back panel that can be removed by a screw. Read through the instructions several times to get an idea of the steps involved and the design possibilities, considerations and challenges to watch for as you construct the piece. Continue reading…