The ocarina is an instrument that still remains beautiful today but connects us to the very roots of art and music. With this project, I will share how I make a whistle from metal clay, and then tune it to create a musical instrument.
Project: Carrie Michael
Photos and illustrations: Carrie Michael
Editing: Joy Funnell and Jeannette Froese LeBlanc
Imagine chatting about the history and the future of jewelry design while sitting in a warehouse stacked floor to ceiling with boxes and boxes of mostly vintage beads and jewelry making components. What an astounding wonderland of inspiration! I metwithCarlandElyseSchimel,co-ownersofCJSSalesinNewYork City, one of my favorite places to head for a creative boost.
(Image: Wire wrapped stone necklace design by Carl Schimel.)
The CJS Sales warehouse is located on 36th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues in New York City. Savvy jewelry designers can spend hours poring through this extraordinary trea-sure trove that holds literally millions of vintage beads and jewelry making supplies with limitless design potential. The Schimels are constantly seeking out great buys on anything that might be used for making jewelry and accessories.
“We bought a chandelier store that went out of business…[and] a rhinestone factory. We try to keep things that will be inspiration for people and [are] also unusual and different. We price at what we bought it at, so you can get quality vintage parts that are not found on today’s mar- ket at great prices,” said Elyse. To help designers compete and allow their work to stand out, Elyse and Carl sell only to wholesale customers who come to the warehouse. “We do not sell on the internet or show broad images. We do this to protect our buyers. Our customers are very knowledgeable. We believe in promoting design- ers, fostering new ones, to give them an edge.”
(Image: The Milwaukee Sentinel – July 31, 1969)
As a jewelry maker, I marvel that Carl stayed constantly ahead of the curve with his fashion-forward jewelry designs for more than 50 years. It was fascinating to listen to him talk about why he created the line and the manufacturing hurdles he had to overcome to get “Kim Crafts- men” jewelry out to buyers.
I was curious about how the Kim Craftsmen showroom and design space morphed into this vast warehouse of jewelry making supplies.
Elyse explained, “When Carl was liquidating [his jewelry manufacturing business] I started cold calling people. He thought it was cute [and] he was giving me a 100% commission. I started to bring in big accounts, he started to buy [at] fire sales and we started a wholesale liquidation business.” Carl adds, “If I had to describe the business I’d say it is a designer’s quarry. Designers come here to dig out treasures.”
I can personally attest to the digging! When I pay Carl and Elyse’s warehouse a visit, I come prepared by dressing as if I were to go climbing, I bring a rolling suitcase (after one visit where I lugged 30 lbs of beads in a shoulder bag thirteen blocks in NYC) and of course water and a cell phone—in case I get lost or to keep track of time. Losing a day in here is an easy thing to do!
As Elyse showed Art Deco glass beads, unfinished brooch components from the 1950s and mouth-blown glass beads, her father talked about how the artist’s hand should be apparent in his or her work. Carl used the term analog to explain how he worked. “To me [using] a pencil is analog. When you write with a pencil there’s pressure, there’s a difference in how it looks. You can write the same thing ten times…it will be the same each time but [also] different. When I caged stones using wire wrapping the concept being used was ‘mass individuality’; everyonecould have a caged stone but all of them were different.” Today he is intrigued by the idea of what he might have made if metal clay had been on the market when he was making fashion jewelry. “What happens is, as an artist you use the materials that are available at that time in the best ways that you can. But can you imag- ine what Alexander Calder would have done if [metal clay] had been available to him?”
Elyse models one of her father’s body jewelry pieces. This image is reminiscent of a photo from a 1969 newspaper article about his work.
Calder, a world renowned sculptor best known for inventing the hanging kinetic sculp- ture form known as a mobile, had a tremendous influence on Carl’s jewelry design. “When I got his…enormous book of jewelry it showed him working in his studio…a lot of his style of jewelry was much more understandable to me. He wasn’t using goldsmith tools, sized for jewelry making. His tools were large anvils with heavy handles, blacksmith tools, as he was used to making large mobiles and stabiles so there’s immediacy to the way Calder worked, and it showed in his work. If you look at his pieces, there’s a freshness still to his work. You can feel the hand, the way he twisted and moved to create his pieces. That’s analog!” Carl exclaimed. “You can always recognize his tools…for example if he used a hammer with a scratch on it, it would show on his piece like a fingerprint.” Carl went on to explain how metal clay is analog. “It is hands-on. In an age where a tremendous amount of design is going digital, the look is just opposite—180 degrees opposite. I’m sure [the artists using digital design tools] are very, very fine designers. It doesn’t look like jewelry that I’m used to. Metal clay takes me back to when we made jewelry. And we wanted to call it ‘Artistry in Metal’ because at that time, in the 50s and 60s and 70s, bench designers sat down and worked with the material, they under- stood the material. Metal clay is another vehicle for artists to express themselves. It is a phenomenal material….”
(Photos of jewelry by Kim Craftsmen, a company owned by Carl Schimel and his brother.)
I couldn’t agree more! Combine metal clay with some of the vintage beads and findings at CJS Sales and you’d have an exquisite combination of a modern material matched with vintage beads. If travel to New York City is not an option, seek out your own local charity, “antique” shops, or online for vintage elements to add to your own jewelry. When I find my creativity waning, a visit here spurs new ideas in new directions. It is like going to a museum for in- spiration, except that here you can take home the items that inspire you and use them in your work! Elyse showed me old pedals from a ma- chine. I forget what machine they were for because I was focused on the typeface used for the logotype imprinted on them! Inspiration for a new line of necklaces, perhaps? Now how to explain to the TSA agents at the airport that I need to bring home a half dozen metal pedals even though I have no idea what they are for!
CJS Sales: www.cjssales.com, 16 West 36th Street, 2nd floor, between 5th and 6th Aves., New York, New York 10018 (212) 244-1400
It is very hard for some artists to write an artist statement and it is sometimes equally hard for others to read. It is easier to write a bio and to tell others where you’ve been and what you’ve done. But it is so much harder to explain why.
Having an artist statement prepared is a great way for customers to connect with your work and it gives shops and galleries “sound bites” to use to promote your work. After having suffered through the agony of writing my own artist statement I can tell you that the most important thing about an artist statement is the process of writing one. I found it helped me sort out my own artistic history and methods. It has helped me to clarify the direction of my work and it has jump started a new body of work. Despite already knowing how important one was to have, it’s not something I’d written for myself.
I rewrote my artist statement. (After I raided my kids’ trick or treat bags, walked the dog, tidied my studio…procrastination is one of my rituals before writing.) I read some guidelines about artist statements and I started over. I hope my new version is a real artist statement. And I hope that when you need to write one you can remember that they are very hard for most artists to write—give yourself a break.
Wet, 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.
The 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!
Dona’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.
Last month we ran a survey for our readers and there were some really great comments and questions. One theme that repeated itself was about “making a living” at selling your work.
Here are a few of the reader questions: “How can I make a living at my art?” “How do you balance a personal life, regular work and creative time?” “Does anyone make a living selling metal clay jewelry?” “Can you make a living as an artist when you work with metal clay? This question could be asked to any “regular” person, like you and me ;)!”
I could have asked any of these questions! So I’m not the expert with the answers. But I have done a bit of research and I have some resources to share. The first thing I’d like to address comes from a conversation about these very topics with my father. He told me to “never pay too much for an income” and to “make a life, not a living”. Sage advice from a person I admire. I think his words address the question someone had about balancing work life and creative life. You can become a slave to your work even if it is your calling and by consequence miss out on family and friends. Many artists throughout history have sacrificed for their art. I have struggled with “work-life-balance” myself. I’ve had to choose what is the most important–not just to me but to my family and so creative time often gets missed even though working in my studio is like breathing for me. I decided that I’d never regret giving the time to my children. They won’t always be around but my many unfinished pieces of “art” will be there.
Question: “Does anyone make a living selling metal clay jewellery?”
Yes, I think there are artists who do! However, given that the job of “artist” lacks a regular pay check, artists have to rely on many revenue streams. Artists living off their craft work hard at marketing their work, they sell on many platforms such as shops, online and shows, they teach, and most have varied jewellery lines and some sell products. I would encourage you to find artists pages online, their sites and so forth and see how hard they work at “making a living”.
Question: “I would love to ask many of the high profile artists for more detailed information on how they achieved such name recognition/built their business in this community. And, if it supplies their full income, possibly even in the absence of a lot of travel teaching.”
This short talk by Paul Klein about finding your niche, removing obstacles and finding a mentor provides a great answer to the above question.
“Artist and career advisor Paul Klein emphasized the importance of being different. He insinuated that distinctiveness generates sales–even more so than quality. “Can’t all of us name artists who are doing really well monetarily, whose work we think sucks?” The branded artist doesn’t necessarily produce better work, but more bankable work.” Quote from this article in Forbes.
In “Part 2” I’ll find answers to the questions about the nuts and bolts of business such as inventory, tracking, descriptions of work.
My closing comment is to be yourself. I know that sounds so cliche. But it’s so true. I’ve been looking at metal clay jewellery for over a decade. (gasp) and I can almost without fail look at a photo of a piece of metal clay jewellery and tell you the name of the artist (and if I’m wrong–usually that person was the “inspiration” for the work). We need more work that stands out. In another article I found on Forbes by Jessica Hagy she shows why weird can be bankable. Yes…be weird, but let your own distinct artistic voice show in your work!
Image credit for opening image: Location Pillar in the stairwell of the UT Austin Art Building was up for two weeks
Jeannette Froese LeBlanc is working on becoming a distinct and profitable jewellery designer. From her studio in rural Ontario, Jeannette tries to balance life as a mom of two (very) active children and earn a living from her jewellery. You can find her work online and in several boutiques. www.SassyandStella.com
In Gordon’s project, he shows how to make a Pangolin ring. It is an awesome piece of jewellery modeled after a very interesting animal. His project is quite timely too as countries have started to come together to sign a trade ban on Pangolins. (NY Times article.) Learn more about this animal. (Telegraph UK article.) 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.”