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

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. 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.

 

Metal Clay 101- Carving Metal Clay by Dona Miller

mountain-ring-wet-carvedWet, dry, push, pull. Whatever method you choose, with time and a little practice you can create beautifully carved metal clay.

Carving in wet clay can give you curved edges and a sculptural feel. (See opening photo.) The clay is wet and the tools used are generally soft and rounded.  Wet clay added to wet clay can be shaped by pushing the clay into place.  Large amounts of wet metal clay can be cut off and small amounts brushed off with a wet brush.  Often artists working “wet on wet” will simply brush each side of clay to be joined with a swish of water from a paint brush. Just about any tool can be used with wet metal clay and most people like to use traditional clay carving tools. In general carving wet clay involves a pulling technique, where the tool is being pulled toward you to remove clay. Another way to think about it is that the clay you are removing is moving toward you. Fortunately, clay carving tools are readily available and inexpensive.

catbones-broach-dry-carvingThe method that I prefer is carving dry clay, which creates crisp, clean lines even on textured surfaces. (See Cat Tail Brooch photo.)I use micro wood carving tools to do this. When using a wood carving tool, you will be using a pushing motion to remove clay. The clay you are removing will be coming off the tool in front of your tool. Keep in mind, you can achieve a slightly different result depending on whether you carve into leather hard or fully dry clay. Fully dry clay will create more resistance which can give you more control, especially when you are first starting.

I generally use a pencil to draw my carving lines if I am doing a detailed carving or I want very crisp, specific cuts in my clay. If I want a more organic look, I will only mark starts and stops for my lines. I will then do a very shallow carve to create a guide for the tool when I am carving deeper. This allows me to move the first cut along a line, easily seeing my marks in front of the tool. After the shallow groove is in, I let carving tool to track in the groove while making the deeper cuts.

The trick to nice clean carvings is to remove a little clay at a time. You can always remove more clay, but it is often difficult to cleanly add clay back where you have removed too much. Also, make sure your piece has good support under it where you are carving. If you are carving a domed piece, leave the piece on the form while carving.

As always, safety is key when you are carving. Clay carving tools can be sharp and pointy and can easily injure if you are not paying attention. If you are using wood carving tools, note that these are extremely sharp and placement of your hands so the tool is always moving away from your fingers is important.

Once you have control of your carving technique, you can carve shallow, intricate designs. You can also take a completely different approach and create negative spaces by carving all the way through a layer of clay to make an open space. The sky’s the limit. Enjoy!

donaDona’s love of jewelry began as a child, sitting on the floor for hours with her mom’s jewelry box. She began designing her own jewelry in high school and spent time studying the work of a jewelry designer and family friend. During her career in high tech, Dona traveled the world fascinated by the cultures and their use of color and texture.

After leaving the high-tech world, Dona returned to her love of jewelry design. Her work is influenced by the places she has lived and traveled, bringing the textures of nature into her designs. Her love of stones is featured in her one-of-a-kind pieces which showcase the stones she has collected.

Dona currently teaches classes in jewelry design and techniques. Her students continue to be an inspiration to her, fascinating her with the unique perspective each student has conceptually and artistically.
Dona is an award winning artist. Her work is featured in stores and galleries throughout the Northwest and in print.

Metal Clay 101-Syringe Extrusion by Teva Jane Chaffin

Chaffin RingsThe syringe is my go-to form of metal clay for many techniques and applications. Not only is it great for setting cubic zirconia (smaller than 3mm) but also for creating texture and pattern.

unnamedOne of my favorite uses is creating a filigree-type tree of life. I also use as a fill in for seams or gaps that may appear when creating dry construction pieces. Using steady pressure and a moist brush for smoothing will make a smooth join.

Holding syringe(1)Holding the syringe – Avoid a death grip!
It is important to hold the syringe in a way that is comfortable for you. My recommendation: grasp the syringe barrel using four fingers of your dominant hand and place your thumb on top of the plunger. The “wings” of the syringe will rest on top of your index finger. Use wrist movements to guide the direction of the syringe.

Cutting the tipTo trim or not to trim the tip:
The amount of the tip you cut off will determine the size of the line to be extruded. The more you cut, the large the line. It can be useful to have multiple length tips available for a variety of uses. Be sure tips are on a syringe and kept moist in a cup of distilled water or a syringe saver in between uses. Continue reading…

Metal Clay 101: Metal Clay “Snakes” – What Are They Good For? By Delia Marsellos-Traister

There are so many creative possibilities with metal clay. One opportunity is to roll coils, or as many of us lovingly call “snakes”. Coils may be used for bails, decorative accents, or as a primary part of a piece.

Right off the bat, let me tell you, that rolled coils, are stronger than syringe coils. There is more metal content by volume in lump clay then there is in syringe clay. This extra strength comes with a trade-off, though. Coils take a while to dry when compared with a rolled-out, flat, piece of clay due to the extra volume. Give coils a good hour to dry in air. If after ten minutes of air-drying, your coil seems stable enough to put in a dehydrator or on top of a warmer, then go ahead and do that. Take care that you don’t move your coil too soon. Otherwise, you risk flattening one side or picking up texture from the tray.

OKAY!  Let’s go!

IMG_3089 Continue reading…

Metal Clay 101- Paste: “The Thick And The Thin Of It” By Lora Hart

CompletedRepairIt happens to everyone. – both novices and masters. You’re working on a special piece of metal clay, and snap! Something breaks. Or you’re putting together a bead and can’t match the pattern at the seam. Or you simply want to join this element to that one. The most common response to any of these (and a million other) scenarios is to reach for that little pot of slip. Continue reading…

Metal Clay 101: Rolling Textures by Kris Kramer

index1 When I rolled my first textures in metal clay, I was excited by the results and truly amazed at the level of detail the clay picked up. Then I moved on to a stage where I noticed tiny cracks in the clay, which left me rolling a texture more than once to get the results I wanted. Time went by and I began to notice double imprints or shadows in the designs, then various depths to my textures that I also didn’t like. I was evolving into a metal clay texture aficionado. Continue reading…

Metal Clay 101: Moisture Retention and Storage By Kris Kramer

Since the finest creations are made with the freshest of clay, keeping your clay fresh is critical for a good result. Moisture keeps binder in the clay at its peak performance, allowing you to best texture and join clay in your beautiful creations.

Everyone develops his or her particular way to store clay for the short- or long-term. Here are some tools and processes to know about while you develop yours. Many of these tools can be purchased or homemade.

While Working — Parked Clay
Never, never leave your clay out exposed to air while you are working on a creation. Continue reading…