Artist Profile: Martha Biggar by Julia Rai

I always think of Virginia based metal clay teacher and artist Martha Biggar as part of a team – Ed and Martha go together like ham and eggs – for the US readers – or tea and crumpets as we say in the UK! I’ve called her a ‘metal clay teacher and artist’ but Martha describes herself slightly differently. “I usually think of myself as an artist/educator/farmer, but maybe renaissance woman would be better…” she told me.

It’s not often that I meet someone who still lives within a stone’s throw of where they were brought up, but Martha is an exception. “I grew up on the family farm that touches the one we own today in Draper, VA,” she began. “My husband Ed, a glassblower, and I travel and teach both glass and jewelry.  Although I sold my cow herd in 2013, we still have donkeys, horses, and a couple mules.  We raise specialized vegetables for the farmers markets and chefs in our area, including figs, asparagus, and assorted varieties of cherry tomatoes.”

Not surprisingly, her first memories of being creative involve animals. “My earliest memories involve drawing horses as a very young child,” she said. I asked her how she discovered metal clay. “I taught middle school art in our county, and as is required in Virginia, I had to take classes every five years at least in my field. Since I didn’t want to write reports, I generally went to Arrowmont in Tennessee, where I took my first class in metal clay in 2000 from Linda Kaye-Moses. I had seen metal clay advertised by Rio Grande and wondered about it but was concerned about the cost of a kiln. So, I figured I would try it out and see if I liked it. If I didn’t, my family would have a vacation and I would have Christmas presents. But I did, and promptly went home and purchased a kiln. My first piece was a 1-inch square that Linda always taught to beginners, I still have it.” I guess it was a lean Christmas that year!

If you follow Ed and Martha on social media, you’ll know about their creative space, The Shedio. “We have The Shedio, made by the construction class at our high school. Not big enough at 10×16, it has plenty of outlets dedicated for kilns and a hood for Ed’s glass work space. It is very chaotic especially if we are in and out for traveling.  But we both seem to manage.”

I asked Martha about her own creative process. “As a general rule I don’t sketch for myself,” she told me. “I sometimes make my own templates and draw them. Even though I draw well it’s not part of my process.” She went on, “Since Ed is so involved in glass, it was only natural that I should include glass in my work. I am not especially fond of dichroic glass, although I do like and teach fusing. Many of my pendants capture leftover bits of marble or goblet cane.”

Glass and silver pendant by Martha Biggar

I asked Martha if she has a style. “I think the most recognizable part of my ‘style’ is that I like clean finishing,” she said. “I use different grits of sanding pads to accomplish this and finish my semi-production pieces as nicely as the one of a kind items.” And what influences her work? “My two main influences are my faith and the natural world around us,” she began. “Many of my pieces reflect the many images of crosses. And, although some would say those two viewpoints are against each other, growing up as we did depending on weather and the land is something that is ingrained in me. Beautiful textures that come from plant or other natural forms are commonly mixed with cruciform shapes in much of my work.” Martha has a great example of these influences in her work. “This is one of my favorite pieces, a Jerusalem Cross made of Original PMC and PMC+ (which gives it the gentle curve). The back texture is from a skeletonized leaf.”

Jerusalem Cross by Martha Biggar, photographer credit Robert Diamante

I know that both Ed and Martha teach so I asked her to tell me more about that. “We teach both privately and at venues such as Bead and Button and Glass Craft. I enjoy fusing classes, photopolymer plates, and beginner metal clay classes.” They also sell their work. “We sell locally at our Farmers Markets, as well as regionally such as the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center in Abingdon, VA, and through the galleries and Fairs of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, based in Asheville, NC,” she explained.

With teaching and selling as well as farming, Martha has a full and busy schedule. I asked her what she does to relax. “Read, play with the animals, be outside.” she said. Not too surprising given her background and environment, so I asked her to tell me something that we might find surprising about her. “One summer in college I saw a poster for classes at Harvard University. One of my instructors helped me and I received a grant and studied there for six weeks in the Masters of Landscape Architecture program. Loved it!  And the Boston Pops too!”

I asked Martha what she was currently working on. “Here is this Celtic Cross made from Cyprus Clay.  I saw a blacksmith friend make a larger version from three straight pieces of steel; I went back to our demonstration booth and replicated it in silver. I truly enjoy working with the Cyprus, its flexibility allows the clay to be bent and then reshaped in wet form.”

Martha is about to embark on an exciting new challenge. “I am on track to become a certifying teacher for the new Camp PMC, Mitsubishi’s new certification program,” she told me. “I told Ed the other day that this has been a dream for years. As far as making goes, I’d like to take three to six months and concentrate on creating a larger body of one of a kind pieces, probably in series, and not concentrate so much on the bread and butter pieces.” When I asked her where she sees herself going with her metal clay work, her answer was simple. “Onward and upward…” That’s good enough for me!

Finally, I asked Martha about her online presence. “We use a Facebook page as a ‘plog’, a photo blog. This shows our jewelry and glass of course but also glimpses into our everyday lives. One of these days I’ll get a real website back up and running…” To find out more about Ed and Martha, and what goes on in The Shedio, visit the Facebook page here – www.facebook.com/theshedio

About the author: 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. You can find Julia at her school in St. Austell, UK www.csacj.co.uk

Artist Project Series: Peacock Ring by Armelle Burbaud

    Peacock ring 

Cool Tools and Creative Fire are pleased to present another project in our series of works by master artists. This tutorial is a gorgeous peacock ring by Armelle Burbaud.

(Version française cliquez ici.)


“I love sculpting birds, both because I find them quite moving and because they are a nice pretext to create movement. And since I love spending hours refining the sculpting part and carving with a scalpel to eventually let emerge the quivering feathers – and since I love rings … here is a tutorial which allowed me to incorporate those two passions of mine… a peacock ring!”

Continue reading…

Artist Project Series: Une Bague Paon par Armelle Burbaud

Cool Tools et Creative Fire ont le plaisir de présenter un autre projet de notre série d’œuvres de maîtres artistes. Ce tutoriel est un magnifique une bague paon par Armelle Burbaud.

   Bague « Paon »

J’aime beaucoup sculpter des oiseaux, à la fois parce que je les trouve émouvants et parce qu’ils sont un joli prétexte à créer du mouvement. Et comme  j’adore passer des heures à fignoler la gravure et creuser la pâte avec un scalpel pour voir apparaître le frémissement de leurs plumes – et que j’adore les bagues …  voici un pas à pas qui m’a permis de lier ces deux passions : une bague paon !

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Artist Project Series: Ann Davis “Columns” Pendant

[Cool Tools and Creative Fire are pleased to present another project in our ongoing “Artist Project Series”. This time master artist Ann Davis took up our challenge to design a unique tutorial using FS999.  Thank you Ann for your creative and fun project!]

The mystery and mystique of columns seems to infuse all parts of human history. Sumerians had them, Minoans had them, just about everyone did. There are even some Stone Age columns, admittedly more lithic, rectangular, or kind of ax shaped at Gobekli Tepe.  So they kind of started out stone and then were wood or whole trees turned upside down and planted in holes. Premium stone eventually replaced wood ones, fluted columns are said to simulate tree bark. The representations of columns on early Minoan seal rings, have people dancing around them, makes you think of Maypoles:) The Greeks and Romans took it to the next level, erecting victory columns, highly decorated with statues of heroes on the top. Columns are said to represent the bridge between heaven and earth, important buildings, shrines, and the Egyptian Djed pillar, stability and the spinal column. To me the column represents knowledge, written records, ancient alphabets.

There are so many  archeological sites with columns, standing, fallen, broken. I really like the broken ones, they speak to me of past civilizations. Something epic enough happened to break a column. Makes you wonder. I love a good mystery!

I have 4 fluted and twisted columns holding  glass shelves in my living room.  There are two columns on an antique linen cabinet complete with brass finals, along with 2 brass Nikes in my dining room. I also chose a Doric column to replace the old wrought Iron trellis on my front porch, it supports a Trumpet Vine that spirals up to the roof, the August humming bird’s delight!  Did I do all that on purpose…no not really it just happened, apparently I love a good column. Continue reading…

Artist Project Series: The Tree of Tolerance by Trish Jeffers-Zeh

Cool Tools and Creative Fire are pleased to present a new tutorial by Master Artist Trish Jeffers-Zeh.  This in-depth project is both an artistic and creative soul journey.

“Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the wrong. Sometime in life you will have been all of these.” ― George Washington Carver

My work and designs are highly influenced by my need to find peace in an often hectic and uncompromising world.  Hence, I headed into the studio, followed my intuition and “The Tree of Tolerance” was born.

At first, I had a totally different design in mind. However, once I sat at my bench gazing outside, the stately Elm tree in my front yard drew my attention.  After all, it would be her leaves, skeletonized and carefully collected by me for their lacey, intricate beauty of imperfection.  They were to be central as my bail, texture, and theme for the ceramic pendant.  When I am creating to release my worries, it becomes a meditation or prayer.  It is at these times I let go and trust my intuition.  The works that manifest while under this influence are most often admired by others and are prime examples of my yearning to grow past the techniques I have learned.

The elm is often associated with Mother and Earth Goddess, strength, communication, relationships and its essence energizes the mind and balances the heart.  It attracts love, protects and aids in sharpening intuitive instincts.  Elm is the arbitrator that listens without judgement.  Most mature elms of European and American origin have died from Dutch elm disease, even though they had a long history for their tolerance to thrive wherever they were planted.  Thankfully disease resistant cultivars have been developed that are as tolerant to various growing conditions as their forbearers were before the dreaded disease.  The Tree of Tolerance represents the seed that I hope is cultivated in all of us so that we may lead with compassion. Continue reading…

Part 2: The Tree of Tolerance by Trish Jeffers-Zeh

Part 2: The Tree of Tolerance by Trish Jeffers-Zeh

NOTE: *Click on photos with the black frame for a detailed slideshow of steps*
All images enlarge when clicked on.

Step 10: Tree Details.

It’s Tree time again! Using only the syringe with the 14ga/olive green and 18ga/light green tips I began to add layer upon layer blending each one to create my tree relief. This took some time, which is no issue to me since I’m very process oriented.  With each added layer I used both number 4 and 1 paint brushes as my sculpting tools.  I kept adding to achieve the look I wanted the tree to have.  This was one of my most favorite steps of the project as each layer the tree came more and more to life.  In watching the video you’ll see little tips on how to maneuver the brush to sculpt. Before I add more branches I proceed to set the stone.  In doing so this will give me a visual on how much more I want to build up the branches of my tree.

Step 11: Setting the Stones.
Setting the stones first step for putting it into place had already been accomplished when I placed a concave dome in the doughnut center and drilled the hole. I wanted the stone recessed, however I still wanted to raise it up a smidge so I made a seat for it. First dampening the area I would be laying a syringe line around the cleaned up opening.  Using the 14ga/olive green syringe tip I extruded my line around the perimeter of the hole and used the fine tip brush with water to clean it up and blend the fresh clay. Continue reading…

ARTISTS PROJECT SERIES: “Love Heals” by Lorena Angulo

Cool Tools and Creative Fire are proud to present another project in the “Artist Project Series”.  Thank you Lorena for this beautiful and detailed pendant step-by-step. (Please note that you can enlarge all photos by clicking on them.)

Love Heals

This necklace is inspired in the mini niches you can see around Mexico where you can add symbolic objects to protect yourself and your home. Niches also display objects that have a special meaning, in this case a Milagro Heart and the birds.

As the title says, Love Heals, we all have to be surrounded by love to protect us and heal any wounds we may have. Live your life with Love and respects for others, this will enriched you.

With my project I want to inspire you to create a niche with an object that has a strong meaning for you and your life. Continue reading…

Artist Project Series: Nesting ring by Tracey Spurgin

 

Nesting Rings

Level: Intermediate

UK Jewellery Artist Tracey Spurgin is the next master to present in the “Artist Project Series” proudly presented by Cool Tools.  Tracey has challenged metal clay artists to create a nesting ring and shows us step by step in close up photos how to create two beautiful rings. This Nesting Cocktail ring is a stunner, the design allows you to wear each of the two rings individually as a stand alone, or simply nest them together to make one statement cocktail ring.

Materials:
EZ960 Sterling
1 fireable square 6mm gemstone
8 x 1mm fireable faceted gems Continue reading…

Artist Project Series: Creating A Vessel Pendant By Janet Harriman

 

Many times we set out with an idea of how we expect a project to turn out.  In this article Janet Harriman takes you through her plans and what she expected and how she repaired and recovered her piece.  Thank you to Cool Tools for sponsoring this project.

I had a young apprentice who insisted that I try silver metal clay. As a metalsmith with a fine arts background, I was a snob. But just for fun I did try the clay, worked with it for years and then I ended up demonstrating at the National PMC conference at Purdue University. Metal clay is a tactile pleasure. It is magic. Continue reading…