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…
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.
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.
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!”
I love texture and anyone who knows me knows my work typically features lots of it so when I first saw Kris Kramer’s work, I was instantly taken by the fabulous textures she uses. And the haunting faces of the animals in her work are so full of feeling. Kris is the owner and artisan at Kris Kramer Designs.
Kris lives in Whitefish, in northwest Montana, which is about 30 miles from the Canadian border. “I live with a little dog, Rose, in a wooded area in a small tourist town that offers recreation all year round. My daughter lives about 120 miles away, and we visit each other often.”
I asked her where she was brought up. “I was raised in Illinois and Wisconsin,” she told me. “I lived in New York in early school years and worked in northern Minnesota in summers during high school.” Continue reading…
Swedish metal clay artist and designer Anna Siivonen has a very distinctive style which makes her work endlessly interesting if a little disturbing at times! She’s uncompromising in her subject matter and is equally comfortable producing cute or disquieting pieces. I’ve never met Anna but have admired her work for quite a while so I was really interested to find out more about her.
“I live in the suburbs of Stockholm in my grandmother’s old house,” she told me. “I live with my man, daughter, and cat. I work from home and spend most my days creating, dancing, doing yoga and hanging with my family. My childhood home is just a few kilometers from here and my mother still lives there.” Continue reading…
As soon as I saw Polish artist Iwona Tamborska’s work, I knew I had to find out more about her. As a fan of fantasy, myth and fairy tales myself, her work really spoke to me. I asked Iwona what she considers her job title or profession to be. “That is a very good question as I noticed it is quite hard to explain,” she smiled. “I usually start with: ‘I am an artist and work with metal.’ If someone wants to know more, I continue: ‘My works are usually minimal scale sculptures and often have a use as jewelry’. I used to try to use the term ‘art jeweller’, but somehow people had the wrong idea of my work.” Continue reading…
At an invitational gallery show in France, Metal Clay jewellery by seventeen international artists is featured until June 11th. The show is the dream project for artist Angela Baduel-Crispin. PÔLE BIJOU GALERIE in Baccarat, France will display the works for the next four months. Are you unable to travel to France to see the show? We have a virtual tour of the show. The artists’ pieces and information is organized by country.
This exhibition is the first of its kind. It focuses on giving visibility to both this relatively new material and to artists of international renown who have pushed metal clay to it’s highest potential! Seventeen international artists (all women) each with her own their different styles and techniques. 70% of the work in the show is jewelry and the other 30% or so is composed of objects in metal clay. We were very thankful that number of artists were invited and submitted their work for the show. Selection was strongly based on originality of the work and technical proficiency.
The show started on January 16th and runs until the 11th of June. The official opening was on February 9th.
Tribal Warrior Woman symbolizes Every woman, at once simple and complex, guarded and protective, secure and vulnerable, functional and decorative. She stands strong, fights fiercely for her own, opens herself with love, enfolds all into her armour for both defense and nurture. Her chains are not only the ties that bind but also the connections between women around the world. Made from the very earth of Australia, Warrior Woman is accompanied by Wolf, a symbol of her visionary creator, loyal yet fierce protector/companion giving both strength and worldly knowledge.
Like every woman, Warrior Woman gives pieces of herself to nurture and enhance others, remaining whole in and of herself. Appearing to be nothing more than a statue, her armour is symbolic and trans-formative, revealing interconnected pieces of exquisite jewellery. Functional and decorative pieces include her arm guards becoming earrings; her shield, a stick pin; the bow and arrow across her back, a bracelet.
Warrior Woman was sculpted completely by hand from Aussie Metal Clay. Unlike traditional metalwork in which precise measurements remain true, metal clays shrink varying amounts during both drying and firing stages. Using five colours in two different firing temperature ranges, Kim combined beauty and functionality, seamlessly fitting the jewellery pieces, while accounting for the differences in shrinkage, malleability, and strength of the two High Fire colours of the armour and three Medium Fire colours of the body, the like types fired together. During her creation, Kim also perfected a unique metal clay glue enabling finer, more delicate pieces to be invisibly affixed.
Kim, a lifelong Australian, has been a renowned designer of dog jewellery and accessories for many years. She pioneered personalized pet sculptures using traditional metal casting techniques. A new world unfolded when introduced to metal clay. “Knowing No Boundaries” Kim’s motto, encourages her to be an innovator in metal clay. Warrior Woman’s inspiration appeared as both form and symbolism in a dream, with a personal message about life’s battles. Kim relates, “Sculpting Warrior Woman pushed me to areas I had not ventured before. She helped make me into the sculptor I am today, and for that I am forever thankful to her.”
Chicago based jewellery maker Marco Fleseri has been working with metal clay since 2003. “I made some crude dangly shapes and textured them using the point of a toothpick,” he told me. “I knew it had potential, particularly for creating things that would be difficult or impossible to produce using previous/ traditional methods.”
I asked Marco about his earliest memory of being creative. “When I was five years old I made some blobs that I thought resembled fish, using a papier-mâché I had fashioned by soaking crumpled facial tissue with glue. I sculpted the shapes and let them dry. I was later dismayed when I put my ‘fish’ into a bowl of water and they dissolved.”
Marco’s studio is in a building with other artists and I’m always interested to find out how organised other people are. “My studio is usually somewhat organized, unless I have several projects happening simultaneously.” I can relate to that! Continue reading…
I’ve been an admirer of Cindy Miller’s work for a long time so I was really happy to have the opportunity to find out more about her for this profile.
(Photo: “Branch with Labradorite and Drops” Necklace by Cindy Miller)
Raised in Alabama, Cindy is now a full-time studio artist. “I’m single and live in Athens, Alabama with my Maine Coon Cat Taz – she’s a big girl and ‘helps’ me a lot,” she smiled. “I have also been adopted by several feral cats that live in the neighborhood so I always have an escort to my car. I live on the Tennessee River next door to my sister and her husband. They have created a beautiful retreat at the river and being there is very relaxing.”