We are a community of artists, writers and jewellery makers from around the world. Formerly we were known as “Metal Clay Artist Magazine” which was a magazine that was sold on newsstands and to subscribers in 67 countries! Unfortunately, we were among the many magazines that didn’t survive when our distributor went bankrupt. However, our community of readers, artists and retailers rallied together and we started “Creative Fire” which rose from the ashes of our beloved magazine.
Creative Fire is now in its 5th year online and we continue to grow and add to our collection of articles and tutorials with thanks to our generous corporate sponsors and contributing artists.
We hope you stay awhile and check our huge archive of articles. Maybe you’d like to contribute images for a gallery, or a how-to article?
Tina was born in the US Midwest. “My family migrated west to California, then kept leaning west until we ended up in Hawaii 50 years ago,” she explained. “I went to high school here, then university, and forgot to move on.
I asked Tina about her childhood and education. “As a child I did a lot of drawing and my parents bought me oil paints before I was a teenager, so I have some of those pre-teen paintings around.”
She went on, “I had always considered myself an artist, and did a lot of painting and puttered with various crafts. All through school, including high school, I managed to avoid any science classes, but my luck ran out when I was a sophomore at the University of Hawaii. Imagine my surprise when I took a physics class and loved it! Then I hated chemistry but loved biology. One look through an old, beat up microscope and I was hooked. My background in photography landed me a job in a physiology lab setting up a darkroom, and next thing I know I was studying invertebrate neurobiology. It was recommended to my major professor that someone learn electron microscopy for his projects, so I was sent to UC Berkeley in 1976 for a summer course. That turned out to be the right combination of science, photography, art, and mechanical challenge (I had been building Volkswagen engines for fun and profit), so I’ve been at it ever since.”
What an interesting route to a job she obviously loves. I asked about her about her profession. “I am a scientific research associate, and basically I run a microscope core facility at the University of Hawaii, helping researchers design experiments and acquire images on two kinds of electron microscopes plus a couple of kinds of regular light and laser scanning microscopes.” Sounds fascinating!
Tina has combined her scientific side with her artistic side in style. “For many years I had nether time nor inclination to pursue art beyond making nice electron micrographs of, say, crab neurons. Then Photoshop came along and I tried my hand at colorizing the normally-grayscale electron micrographs. My website, MicroAngela, [editor note, link to website http://www5.pbrc.hawaii.edu/microangela/] still exists in spite of me not touching it for over 16 years.”
I asked Tina about her home and family. “I’ve been married for more than 35 years to someone I still think of as my ‘young local surfer’,” she laughed. “We have a house back in a lush green valley on the island of Oahu where hubby has a well-equipped wood shop and metal shop, and I have a pretty decent art bench littered with three kilns. Our daughter grew up interested in art from a very early age and we indulged her and ourselves by gearing up for a number of different hobbies including beading, painting, photography, baking.”
So how did Tina come across metal clay? “Our daughter has a strong artistic nature, and so while she was growing up we explored a variety of arts and crafts,” she began. “We seemed to spend a lot of time and money at the local bead shop, and we saw demo pieces from a class on ‘Silver Clay’ by a chap named Gordon Uyehara. I was fascinated by the concept and signed us up in late August of 2005. The clay was a little harder to work with than I expected. I finally was able to roll out a bit and press little ferns into it and poke holes, so I had a pair of earrings. I refused to trim them and still have them, cracked edges and all. Never mind they are an embarrassment, I was smitten,” she laughed. “Gordon is a fascinating character and a remarkable artist, and we got along well, so I took a few classes and tried to hone my skills. It seemed like the right thing for me, requiring only a few playing cards, a roller, and an Exacto knife. Right? Right? Minimum of investment? Ha, I have shelves and boxes and drawers of materials for what became my obsession.” I can relate!
She went on, “A few years later I won a book on enamelling and so tried that on silver clay, and I was intrigued with the possibilities of using color, like back in my MicroAngela days. Now I primarily use metal clay to make settings for my enamels. I do enamel on both silver and copper clay, as well as on copper sheet.”
I asked Tina about her workshop. “My husband, who is a cabinetmaker and wood artist, built an art bench for our daughter. Once she moved out, I waited a decent interval – about a day – before moving in on it. I currently have three kilns and enough space to spread out to do both metal clay and enamelling, if I’m tidy. His surfboards hang above it and sometimes I have to move them if the kilns get too hot. In this image you can see most of my workbench, but not the other two smaller kilns to the right.”
Looks pretty organized and tidy to me. Tina explained, “it degenerates into chaos when I’m trying to work on a bunch of pieces against a deadline, but it cleans up pretty fast. It ebbs and flows. There have been times when I’ve spent at least a little time each day at it for months on end, but lately it’s been only a few days a month. I work better with deadlines, I guess!” she laughed.
Tina’s work always looks well designed and with a scientific background, I’d expect a high degree of planning and preparation. I asked her about her creative process. “I plan only in my head!” she laughed. “I don’t make drawings at all, and I have to try to make the effort to document the steps I took to make a piece in a notebook I try to keep. It is the exact opposite of my daily life in the laboratory.”
Living in such a beautiful part of the world, I assumed Tina’s influences would include nature. But she’s taken this a step further than the rest of us. “My main influences are details in nature,” she explained. “Once I started looking at the world through a microscope I realized my little-kid paintings focused on details, like tree bark. Now I have a couple million dollars’ worth of microscopes to see the tiniest things.”
“An example of where I go with this idea is my virus bracelet. I was invited to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) as one of a select group trained to recognize weaponized viruses (long story there). In anticipation I made a bracelet composed of enamels on silver clay of six different viruses as they would look in the technique we were going to be using (except that electron microscope images are grayscale and I used colored enamel). I was happy that various experts at the CDC could recognize the viruses I had depicted, as they were close to anatomically correct! Yes, this is my idea of a good time.”
One of the main features of Tina’s work that I really love is the colour she uses. “I’m smitten with cloisonné enamel these days,” she told me. “Even though I’ve had some training in traditional metalworking techniques, I find it more fun, if more challenging, to make as much as possible from metal clay. The challenge is what I love and what distracts me from ‘real life’!” When I asked Tina what she does to relax she answered, “Enamel on silver clay!!!”
With a full time job, I wondered if Tina has time to sell her jewellery or teach metal clay or enamelling. “My main interest is in creating jewelry or other functional pieces for friends for Christmas. I dislike Christmas shopping and need an excuse to sit at my bench and create.” I can certainly relate to that!
She went on, “most of my pieces are specific to the recipient, so my friend/boss gets pieces depicting Hawaiian monk seals, my pal who works on snails/seashells gets snail pieces, my microscope mentor who documents dozens of nudibranchs gets nudibranchs, and so on.”
She also doesn’t teach. “I currently do not do any formal teaching. Once in a while I spend a day or two with a friend or two, but these days I consider jewelry-making to be my solitary task, a way to avoid interactions with others. That may change when I retire!” she laughed.
I asked Tina if there was a particular piece of her work that means more to her than any other. “I give away a lot of what I make, but my favorite pieces that I’ve kept for myself include the Reef Fish pendant, and the Butterfly Fish pendant, which belongs to my daughter, both of which have settings evocative of the textures on a coral reef.”
Both of these remind me of the adventures I used to have scuba diving on the Big Island of Hawaii years ago. I wear the Ulu (Breadfruit) one a lot. Other adventures on the Big Island included long hikes over old lava beds to pick Ohelo berries to make a special jam for Christmas and crazy interactions with hot lava, not yet immortalized in silver clay.”
Like most of us, Tina has pieces waiting for more work to be done on them. “I have half a dozen enamel pieces from the past two years waiting for settings,” she told me.
I asked her where she sees her metal clay work going in the next few years. “I would like to be able to continue working with metal clay as a way to express my creativity in a way that pleases my friends and family, the main recipients of my work. Ideally, I can parlay it into at least a little bit of money-making should I ever give up my workaholic ways and retire from the university! I still love manipulating the clay, pushing to see what I can make it do, or see what it makes me do. Communicating with others on social media, particularly Facebook, has been fun, educational, and rewarding. I look forward to catching up with metal clay artists every day.”
It was great to find out more about Tina. To see some of her electron microscopy, visit her MicroAngela website, you won’t be disappointed.
Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/people/koolau_arts/ 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.
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.)
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…
I’ve known UK based metal clay artist and tutor Tracey Spurgin for many years, so long in fact that I can’t remember when we first met! Tracey lives in the small village of Walkington in the East Riding of Yorkshire which is in the north of England. Tracey and her husband Steve were regulars at the US conferences that ran every year and which a group of us from the UK used to attend. I last saw them at the You Can Make It conference in the UK in March 2018 and it was good to have a catch up then.
I thought it would be interesting to interview Tracey to find out about her background, so I started by asking her about her family. “I have two adult boys, both in their twenties and engaged to be married,” she began. “They’re both very settled in their careers and have homes of their own. The eldest lives in Edinburgh and the other in Manchester.” Continue reading…
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.
Sourcing beads and jewelry making supplies can be highly addictive. You start with a small collection of seed beads, and then before you know it, you have hundreds of thousands of beads cluttering your design space and getting in the way of your creative process.
Decluttering your space is the first step to a more creative and productive jewelry making operation, whether you design as a hobby or for a living. While you could simply throw all your beads in a jar, you need storage solutions and organization strategies that complement the way you design, allowing you to easily view, select and access your materials. So here are some handy tips on how to keep your creative space tidy. Continue reading…
Last week memories of metal clay conferences started popping up on people’s Facebook feeds. People all over the world have been sharing memories and commenting on how much they miss going to a metal clay conference! Well there’s still time to attend the Metal Clay Artists symposium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina! MCAS is being held August 23-26 at Sawtooth School for Visual Art. You’ll see lots more info on the website https://www.mcas2018.com/
This exciting 4-day event, at the Sawtooth School for Visual Art (SSVA), features the most innovative workshop leaders in a creative environment, sharing inspiration, techniques, and cutting-edge technology with the metal clay community through hands-on workshops, breakout sessions, free Technique Discovery Workshops, Meet and Greet opportunities, vendor shopping, a month-long metal clay exhibit and more! MCAS General Registration is $55 and includes the Product Playground, the Metal Clay Round Table, Vendor Shopping, two Breakout Sessions, an invitation to participate in the “Metal Clay Expressions 2” exhibit, exhibit reception and awards, Instructor Meet-and-Greet, Charm Swap with coffee and donuts, and NEW 2-hour Sunday Technique Discovery Workshops.
The Featured artist this year is Cindy Pope, right now all of her classes on using the Silhouette cutter with metal clay are sold out, however, there are lots of other classes and workshops still with space! Check out these wonderful workshop ideas with many more online. https://www.mcas2018.com/workshops.
I first met Roxan Waluk at one of the US conferences and have followed her work ever since. Roxan told me a bit about her home. “Originally a third generation Texan, in 1983 my husband drug me out to Virginia kicking and screaming for his work. After over thirty years here, we have migrated out to the middle of Virginia’s beautiful wine and horse country. We live in the small town of Delaplane situated about an hour’s drive outside of Washington DC.”
“I live on three acres with my husband Joe, and our four legged children,” she went on. Continue reading…
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…