Metal Clay 101 – Firing Metal Clay – by Katherine Prejean

Depending on the type of metal clay you are using, from original fine silver to base metal clays, there are a number of options for firing. This may include anything from a kiln to a simple hand-held torch.

One of the processes of creating jewelry with silver metal clay that got me addicted was the ability to use a something as simple as a butane torch for firing. In as little time as two minutes, I could have a beautiful pair of earrings or a pendant ready to wear.

TORCH FIRING — —

When teaching a beginner class, I only demonstrate torch firing as a way to help the students understand how easy it is to set up your metal clay studio with minimal cost.

There are a lot of U-tube videos on metal clay, but one of my favorite ones on torch firing is by Jeannette Froese LeBlanc https://youtu.be/OwwZ3RnkEHw.

Here are some additional tips to remember when torch firing your metal clay.

1. Always make sure you are in a well ventilated area and that your piece is not too large or complex. (These need to be fired in a kiln for a longer period of time.)

2. Allow your work to air dry overnight or place it on a coffee warmer or dehydrator until thoroughly dry. One of my favorite ways to test if the piece is dry is to place it onto a small mirror and wait 5-10 seconds, if there is condensation on the mirror when you remove the piece, it’s not quite dry yet.

3. Once the piece is thoroughly dry, place it on a soldering block or fire brick. My torch station consists of a ceramic tile under the brick/block, which is then set on either a fireproof surface or something that can be singed (like a piece of plywood).

If you are working on the kitchen counter and the piece rolls off the block you don’t want to scar the counter-top. I always have a fire extinguisher in easy reach.

4. Light the torch and hold it so the flame is nearly vertical with the tip of the cone, about 3/4″ away from the work. Within a minute, the piece will be enveloped in a soft flame as the binder burns away. Your first instinct is to pull the flame away from the piece. Don’t do that! The flame will soon go out by itself. Within another minute the piece will start to glow red. Continue heating until this becomes a bright and luminous color. At this point, glance at a clock.

5. Hold this color as uniformly as possible for at least 2-3 minutes (glancing away periodically to relieve your eyes). When the time is up, turn off the torch and allow the piece to cool at least until the red color is gone, at which point it can be quenched or left to air cool.

KILN FIRING — —

As I began to create more complex metal clay pieces and increased my production, I realized that my best option for firing was with a kiln. Utilizing a kiln allows me to fire larger pieces (in excess of 1”), as well as groups of smaller items, like earrings. This frees up my time up to get back to creating.

As with torch firing, I always ensure my pieces are completely dry. All types of metal clay can be fired in a kiln. As long as the kiln can ramp up to the required temperature (as high as 1650 degrees F (900 degrees C) for silver metal clay and can hold that temperature for anywhere from 10 minutes to 4 hours, it can be used for firing metal clay. Programmable kilns allow you to set the time and temperature for firing, which removes any guess work. It’s important to check the clay manufacturer’s time/temperature requirements to determine how high and how long clay must be fired.

The main issue with using a kiln, is that you want to make sure the temperature readings and hold times are accurate. If metal clay pieces are under-fired (fired at lower temperatures or for a shorter period of time than required), then they will not be fully sintered and will be subject to breakage. Alternatively, pieces fired too hot will melt. Kiln temperatures can drift slightly over the life of the kiln. So if you find that you are having firing issues, it is a good idea to test the actual temperatures in your kiln using a handheld pyrometer and compare that to the read out on the kiln’s display. This may result in the need to adjust the temperature (higher or lower temperature by as much as 25 degrees) or period of time (longer or shorter hold time).

I always place my work on a kiln shelf that has been elevated with kiln stilts. This allows the heat from the kiln to travel up, down, all around the pieces. I never place my pieces directly on the kiln floor.

Because metal clay may sometimes slump, flatten or warp as gravity acts on the metal during firing, it important to support the piece to help it retain its shape. If you are firing a complex piece (curved or shaped) that needs support, there are several ways to preserve the shape of your piece. The most common varieties of support are a fiber blanket or vermiculite. Vermiculite, which is a naturally occurring material, is my choice of support for my metal clay. It is easy to find – I buy mine at a local garden center and it works well. I just place it in a crucible and place my metal clay pieces on the vermiculite and fire. You can also place vermiculite directly on the kiln shelf. Fiber blanket can be used to support whole pieces. It can also be placed in negative spaces for support of hollow forms.

My final note on firing metal clay is on Safety:

You should always fire in a well-ventilated area or outside. If you’re torch firing, wear cotton; synthetic materials can melt and stick to the skin if burned. Tie back your hair, wear closed-toed shoes, and don’t wear loose-fitting clothes.

If you’re kiln-firing, follow the kiln manufacturer’s specifications on creating a safe firing station. My kiln is in my garage and placed on a concrete block kept well away from the wall of my garage. I always have a fire extinguisher close by when I’m firing either by torch or kiln.

About the author:  Katherine lives in Southwest Louisiana and is a PMC Connection Instructor. She is a member of Louisiana Craft Guild and her class offerings range from introductory classes to Certification. Katherine teaches in her home studio, as well as at the New Orleans School of Art and Craft in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Katherine is one of four founding members of the L’ esprit du Metal, Louisiana Chapter of the PMC Guild where she serves as Treasurer and Secretary. Her jewelry can be found in several galleries both in Lafayette & New Orleans, LA including Sans Souci Gallery, Lafayette Art Association Gallery, Hermann-Grima-Gallier Historic Houses Gallery in New Orleans, LA.

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. Continue reading…

INTERNATIONAL EXHIBITION IN FRANCE: Metal Clay

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.

AUSTRALIA
Kim Booklass –  www.facebook.com/KimBooklassWearableArt

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.”

Continue reading…

“Can I make a living doing this?” by Jeannette Froese LeBlanc

A few months ago we ran a survey for our readers and there was a reoccurring question about whether one could make a living being a jewellery artist.  Some people asked specific questions wanting me to talk to a certain artist and find out what they made in sales vs how much they spent on materials.  Other readers were not as specific but there was an overall hope that there was some magic path to follow to full-time employment at a jewellery artist.

The answer to the question is, Yes, you can make a living as a jewellery designer.  But be careful how you define living!  Many people have a vision that a full time jewellery artist designs jewellery and people buy it.  But the path is more complicated than that.

Being self-employed is tricky as you wear many hats.  Artists have to be able to handle marketing, business accounting, sales, shipping and receiving, customer service, inventory control, as well as design and manufacturing of your jewellery. When your desire is to create, stopping to look after marketing and accounting seems like it is taking you away from what you love.  But it is those exact things that are keeping you working in your studio!

A jewellery artist needs to be able to self-promote on social media and have a web-site to show off their portfolios of work. Networking events are opportunities to meet new collectors and to show off your work. I personally find this part hard.  I’ve worked for years promoting other artists, but always fall short when showing and talking about my own work.

But, all that said, many artists ALSO have jobs outside of their studio.  Many work freelance jobs, taking on teaching and some have full-time employment. Most artists need to be good at budgeting as self-employed artists do not have pensions, medical plans or sick leave.

Another thing about being a self-employed artist–there is no time off.  It is hard to balance home life and work life.  I try to take advantage of blocks of time and get a task done from my to-do list. I keep a notebook and write down items as they come up. (I know there are fancy apps you can use on your phone.) I’m hoping I’m more productive by knocking off something from my to-do list here and therefore creating time off to be with my family.  But shutting off the list and being present is something I’m working on!

In conclusion, yes, you can make a living as a jewellery artist just don’t lose sight of making a life while you make a living.

Jeannette Froese LeBlanc is a studio artist living in rural Ontario.  She walks the fine line being making a life and making a living–trying to balance life as an artist and a mother.  Currently she is working on a new line of jewellery using metal clay and mixed media. To see more of her work please follow her on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sassyandstella/

Artist Profile – Marco Fleseri by Julia Rai

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…

Metal Clay 101- Embedding wire in PMC

Embedding wire in PMC

Whether you need to create a simple loop to hang an earring or you need to string together a complex network of components, embedding wire in PMC is an essential design technique. When working with PMC, always use fine silver wire and make sure the wire is clean by running it through some clean folded 320 grit sandpaper.  To insert eyelets, small loops, or prongs, slightly flatten the part of the wire you plan to insert in the clay and rough up the surface with a file to give more tooth for better grip. Insert the wire carefully into the wet clay, pull it back out dip it into the paste, and then reinsert.  Remember, if you are inserting a loop, be sure to embed the bottom 1/3 of the loop.

If you are laying wire through a piece (for example, making a clasp) make your piece in two layers. When the pieces are dry, sand a groove into both halves and then generously cover both with paste. Lay the flattened wire into the groove and sandwich the pieces together. This will eliminate the bump from the wire.

With a little practice, the addition of wire to metal clay designs can expand your creative horizons tremendously!

Ruth Greening
Having a lifelong love of art, Ruth has a diverse background that includes air-brush painting, Australian cake decorating, stone sculpture, lapidary arts, and fine wire wrap settings. Ruth is self-taught and enjoys learning from renowned teachers by attending classes taught in a wide variety of jewelry art disciplines.

Her introduction to PMC was a dream come true – to be able to work in silver with a true freedom in design. But the best reward is being able to share and enable others to create their own works of silver art through her role as a PMC Connection Senior Instructor.

 

Artist Project Series: Marco Fleseri

This project is the third in a series presented by Cool Tools.  A dozen artists will present projects that showcase their personal style and artistry using EZ960™ Sterling Silver Clay. Come and enjoy this unique opportunity to look over the shoulder of some of the world’s premier metal clay artists as they work.

Marco Fleseri presents a project that artists of all levels will enjoy. By combining fine silver with the metal clay he has taken away many issues with shrinkage and it makes the project more economical too!  Enjoy and feel free to share your results with the artist.

Cuff Bracelet Project by Marco Fleseri
This is a how-to guide for creating your own version of my cuff bracelet which I called “Nelumbo vertabralis.” Inspired by vertebrae and lotus flower petals (“nelumbo” is the genus name for the lotus family of plants), this bracelet has an architectural quality while still looking very intentionally organic / biological.

For this bracelet I used EZ960™ Sterling Silver Clay, which is a premixed formula that can be fired in one stage on an open shelf (no need for carbon). Continue reading…

Top 5 Questions You Never Ask Artists, Makers, & Designers by Genevieve Tucci

Are you guilty of asking one of these questions at a craft show, on Etsy or to a creative acquaintance? You may think nothing of it but trust me, it made an impression.

Where do you buy your supplies?

It can take years to find a good supplier or that tiny company with the good stuff. Unless you are close friends with the artist/maker, they are not going to let you in on the secret and it hurts our soul a little each time you ask.

How much did it cost to make?

While you think you are being sneaky, we know you are trying to figure out how much we are making off each piece. Would you tell a complete stranger your yearly salary? I think not.

There is a very large consumer base that believes if you pay for more than the cost of materials, then you are getting screwed over. If you want cheap, go to Walmart. If you want original & handmade then pay the asking price. It is probably priced too low already.

How long did this take you to make?

This is potentially an innocent question but more often than not, it’s used to gauge how much the item is really worth.

Less time ≠ less expensive. It may have only taken 30 minutes to make that ring but it took years of practice and probably weeks of research to figure out a new technique making that ring stand out from others.

Can you copy this for cheaper?

No, no, no, no, no.

Not only is it ethically wrong to copy another person’s design but it is hurtful that you even asked when we have worked hard to develop our own style. Anyone who agrees to copy another person’s work is a fraud and should be burned at the stake. (Can you sense my hatred for copy cats?) A true designer will send you on your way back to the original designer and then try to burn a hole in the back of your head with their eyes.

I LOVE your painting/wreath/photography!!! You know if you sold it for half the price, I could afford it and you would sell a lot more. (Technically not a question but I am still including it.)

Ladies and gentlemen, I am going let you in on a little secret. Everyone can not afford everything. I know. Crazy. But really, this should never ever come out of your mouth much less typed out and sent through text or email.

Makers, artisans, photographers, designers, etc. What question drives you crazy? I’d love to hear in the comments!

Genevieve Tucci Raised in Baton Rouge as part of an entrepreneurial and artistic family, my passion for creating began at a very early age in my mother’s art studio where I would sit every evening watching her paint, sculpt and design. I was extremely fortunate to attend Baton Rouge Magnet High School which offered stagecraft as an elective. Mrs. Ory, a saint in her own right, gave me confidence and the foundation to safely use powerful saws and tools while my mother gave me the confidence to learn any skill. After graduating LSU with a degree in Arts Administration, I strived for daily creative outlets in order the escape the 9-to-5 and this was also the time my husband and I bought our first home. It meant all the home projects I had been looking forward to could finally happen! It also meant my husband could get me power tools for Christmas, and I would be okay with it.

Visit Genevieve online at her blog or Etsy shop:
http://allprojectsgreatandsmall.com
https://www.etsy.com/shop/GenevieveDesignsBR