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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Metal Clay Kiln Conniptions and New Jewelry Including Unisex Boho Bracelet

Made a couple of new bronze clay pieces yesterday and fired one to test things out.

Because I’m pretty sure my kiln is running hot, I lowered the temperature (but too much I think).

My last batch of bronze clay had charcoal embedded into the pieces, leading me to believe I had over-fired.

So I fired phase one at the recommended temp, but lowered phase two by 50 degrees.

The test failed (not fully sintered, I’m guessing). I’m adding a bit of repair clay to the piece and re-doing phase two firing, raising temp to 1460 (1470 is recommended… I had tried 1420).

I don’t think I’ll fire any other pieces until my external pyrometer arrives and I can test the temperatures.

In the meantime, I want to do some testing in the same manner that Hadar tests kilns when she’s doing traveling shows. So I made a couple pieces… bronze, copper and copper/bronze combos.

They may have to wait until the end of the month for firing, though, because I’m out of charcoal.

That means I have to buck up and get back to experimenting with silver.

Okay, just got my large lentil bead out of the kiln (for the third time). I’m sorry I didn’t get a photo of the piece that fell off and what not. Slight headache today… not thinking clearly.

I’ve only just brushed it off (Dawn, water, and a brass brush)… I’ll show you the results tomorrow (even if it’s still problematic).

In the meantime, here are some things I’ve created. As usual, you can click on any photo to go to the listing, except for the silver beads which are already spoken for and the bronze earrings with the green pearls which already shipped out.

These are fine silver 11x11mm.

Handcrafted Necklace Set of Bronze Lentils, Huge Russian Serpentine Squares, and Annealed Lampwork

Handcrafted Earrings of Orange and Red Enamel on Sterling Silver Earwires

Handcrafted Bracelet of Abstract Fine Silver Centerpiece on Leather Cord in Unisex Boho Style

And here’s all the non-jewelry news:

My Orchid has buds on it. Yay! You have no idea what that feels like to a confirmed plant killer. I’m so excited. I was really amazed and pleased with how long the flowers lasted on it when I bought it, but as winter approached, the last of the petals fell and I spent the next six months with a 2-foot tall stick in a pot.

For lack of any initiative to find something new to read, I went back to something from my childhood… Mary Stewart’s Crystal Cave.

On more than one occasion, I’ve gone back to re-read something I thoroughly enjoyed when I was younger and unfortunately I was often underwhelmed.

So far, however, I’m totally loving the book as much as I did the first time. Yay!

For tv viewing (although it’s not really tv… it’s Netflix and Hulu), I’m watching Dr. Who and Sherlock. Can’t wait to see how he explains this one. My brother had a pretty good theory… we’ll see. Although the previews for next week’s Masterpiece show was NOT for Sherlock. Ack! What?! When will the next episode be?!?!?!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Further kiln adventures... and Organizing my workspace

Update to the kiln issue.

I’ll be ordering an external pyrometer. My additional two tests came out fine.

I did a full ramp to 1550 with 45 minute holding, then a full ramp to 1550 with 2 hours holding. The kiln only took about 55 minutes to ramp up and the two test pieces that came out were great.

The first test piece was a small thing I’d made out of silver about five years ago… a scrap more or less... that I’d never ground up and reconstituted.

The second test piece was using my leftover clay from the beads I made yesterday. I decided to turn it into a twofer test. I’d been wanting to see what translucent enamel looks like on texture pure silver, so I made a small shape with texture.

And here’s what it looks like enameled (yes, I was going for a two-tone effect).

After all that, I almost forgot that I actually DID have a couple of finished pieces of silver that needed to be fired. Done and done… I’ll tumble then patina them when I get back from the gym.

Now onto another subject…. BEING ORGANIZED.

Here are two things I did recently to help me stay organized. When your work space is limited, you have no choice but to be scrupulously organized.

First my friend and I had an “enamel” day where most of our work time was spend firing enamel onto small copper disks and gluing them to the tops of the enamel jars so we have examples of the true colors.

If I start working with silver, I guess I’ll have to do similar sample tests.

I only have a couple translucent colors (in the back row), and I had the idea to show them directly on the copper as well as on top of a coating of white enamel. But look… all the ones I did like that cracked and fell off. I don’t know enough about enamels yet to understand why.

By the way, if you’re wondering about the “L” on the lids… it’s so we don’t get the jars all mixed up when I go over to a friend’s house who has the same type of enamels.

The other thing I did to organize my workspace was huge… both literally and figuratively.

I can’t tell you how much I love this set-up. And I love how transportable my “project” boxes are. If I’m going to a friend’s to work on patinas, I just grab the patina box and away we go.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

PMC melting in my kiln

This makes no sense to me.

Several years ago, when I fired my first ever batch of silver metal clay, I went with the “optimum” recommended firing schedule of 1650 for two hours.

The things that came out of the kiln after that firing were sad, burnt, melted pieces of silver.

Sort of put me off working with silver metal clay for awhile. A long while.

The next couple of times I tried silver, I used a reduced heat.

When I’d mention to people my “silver melting” episode, they’d look at me kind of like, “You just didn’t know what you were doing. Silver doesn’t melt at 1650 degrees.”

So last night, I decided to be brave. After all, it’d been YEARS since that episode. I read… from about six different sources… that 1650 was optimal and safe since silver melts at 1763.

Please note, my kiln (Jen Ken’s AF3P 11/4.5 Glass Fusing & Bead Annealer Kiln) maxes out at 1700 (supposedly). 1700 is the top temperature of that kiln… so what the heck is going on?

Programmed the kiln for a full ramp to 1650 with two hours of holding time. I knew something wasn’t going right when it took 3½ hours to reach 1650. And sure enough, when I removed my test bead from the kiln, it was just a melted blob of silver. AAAAAhhhh!!! What is WRONG with my kiln?! How can my silver be melting in a kiln whose top temperature is below silver’s melting point.

Well, obviously my kiln not only goes up to (and possibly over) 1763, but it does so while lying to me and telling me it’s holding at 1650.

Here’s last night’s bead, before….

And after…

Here’s the other side of it… you can see where I took a burnisher to it (in the center) just to confirm this ugly white lump was indeed pure silver.

Apparently this is weighing heavily on my mind… had a restless night of kiln dreams (with a cat thrown in for good measure… not in the kiln, just in the dream).

So first thing this morning, I pull on some sweats and head outside with one more test bead. I program the kiln for a full ramp to 1550 with a 45 minute holding time (this is just a test, not a bead I want to keep).

And I sit there… waiting and watching. So far so good… it took the kiln 54 minutes to ramp up to 1550.

Fingers super crossed that last night was a fluke (for the supremely long ramping time) and that I’ll find a good temperature to fire my future silver at. And yes, for the record, you MAY end a sentence with a preposition… it’s like lane-splitting (when a motorcycle goes between two cars in adjacent lanes)… there is really no rule/law against it; it’s just assumed it’s wrong/illegal.

The 45 minutes went by quickly… and out of the kiln comes a perfectly decent looking test bead. White, not misshapen. Yay! And hallelujah!

Which leaves me to wonder (‘cause I can’t think of anything else) that maybe my kiln freaks out when it’s pushed near its limit.

I’ll probably do some more testing until I find the perfect “place”.

One other theory could be that my kiln runs about 100 degrees hotter than it says it is. So maybe firing at 1550 is really firing at 1650… and firing at 1650 is really firing at 1750.

I’m sure there’s a way to test the interior temp of a kiln (last time I asked someone they said, “That’s why you have a pyrometer in your kiln.” Not helpful.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A few new jewelry items and updates on Monica

A couple weeks ago I was practicing with wide band, cold-riveted rings.

The plain one sold, but the Anne Klein watch face ring is still available (click the pic for more info).

Then, in preparation for my PMC course, I played around with some fine silver. Click a photo for more info.

Made this charm bracelet with fine silver hand-carved petroglyphs and artisan Lampwork glass beads on sterling silver chain.

For friends and family, let me share a few recent photos of Monica and her goings-on.

Senior prom.

5000 people ran the Alaska Heart Run (the largest 5K run in Alaska). Mon finished third in her age range.

Winning the overall championship trophy for local teen body-building competition.


And making leis in Hawaii (she’ll be back in California this weekend).

Monday, May 14, 2012

Rio Grande's PMC Certification Course

This past weekend, I took a three-day PMC certification course through the Rio Grande program (not easy to find on their website, IMO, unless you know to look under “Rio Rewards” in tiny print at the bottom of any given page of the Rio Grande website).


I was thinking it would be a great class to take because of all the skills I’d learn in 21 hours (three 8-hour days with lunch breaks) and as a bonus, I’d have a teaching credential (assuming I passed).

My only two concerns were: My attention span seems to have a time limit on it. When I’ve taken classes before (like at B.A.B.E .), I tend to get dopey after about 4 hours… hard to concentrate and keep my focus.

My second concern was my lack of skill and experience with PMC. Taken right from Rio’s site, “…this certification is intended for the experienced PMC enthusiast who seeks the recognition that a standardized level of expertise offers”. And, “Students should have considerable working experience with the product and should be comfortable with techniques such as joining, slip joining, hollow forms, ring construction, rolling out equal thicknesses of clay, stamping textures and working with two-and three-dimensional forms.”

Yikes! In no way would I consider myself “experienced” in PMC, nor do I consider myself to have “considerable working experience with the product”.

Here’s a good example of my experience: About ten years ago I bought a package of silver metal clay. It sat on my shelf, intimidating me for another five years. Finally, after taking classes in Bronze Metal Clay, I decided to try the silver. I made a few pieces, sold them… and that was it. One package!

Through the remaining years, I’ve purchased silver metal clay when I saw a price I couldn’t pass up. But the packages still remained unopened. Too precious to use, know what I mean?

I always figured that when I got good enough with bronze and/or copper metal clays, I could try silver again. If I had more skill there was less possibility of wasting the precious silver clay. And please don’t tell me I can send the pieces in to a refinery. I appreciate the help, but if you compare the prices of silver clay (1 ounce= $60) to the market price of silver (1 ounce - $28… and you won’t get that much either), you’ll see it’s not a tempting proposition.

But apparently the day never came when I thought I was skilled enough to begin using my silver. I did pull out the bronze and copper clay once a year or so, but I never dedicated enough time to it to learn anything properly.

Some of you know I recently changed the course of my life and now have more time than before (huge understatement) to pursue jewelry-making excellence.

In preparation for the course, I started making some bronze pieces. I wanted to try some of the techniques I was supposed to be familiar with according to the course instructions.

Then, in a blazing light of bravado, I also opened a package of PMC and gave that a go.

One of the skills I was supposed to already possess was knowing how to use slip. Hm… okay, so I opened the sealed container of slip that I’d purchased several years earlier and… ha ha ha… out pops a dried lump of silver clay, hard as a rock. Laura! See what happens when you wait this long to use these things?!?!

Unfortunately I’m not alone. There are countless jewelry makers who have purchased packages of silver metal clay and then do nothing with them because they’re intimidated by the process (well, the process combined with the reminder of how much they paid for the silver clay).

Although I trusted the Rio program to only use qualified teachers, I did want to see what kind of work our teacher ( Patrik Kusek ) did. Wow! One look at his jewelry showcase and it was a no-brainer for me. I signed up for the class immediately.


Turns out both of my fears were unfounded. I was alert and focused through the entire three days.

And skill level doesn’t seem to matter. There were eleven students in my class. Some had pretty decent experience with silver clay, others (like me) had minimal experience with metal clay, and still others had zero experience with any metal clay whatsoever.

When you see, then, what each of us produced at the end of the three days, it really is a testament to Patrik’s amazing skill as a teacher. EVERYONE produced high-quality, great-looking pieces of jewelry.

Just learning a few special skills, tricks, and techniques makes a huge difference.

I have a ton of books on PMC, but there’s a completely different kind of learning when you take a class and/or work hands-on with someone else.

In the Rio course, you’re supposed to complete seven specific projects, but we got to do eight because we were also testing PMC Sterling Silver.

Your fee ($420-$495, depending how early you sign up) includes all the PMC you’ll need for the projects and a nifty set of tools to keep. Other tools (like ring mandrels, pliers, etc) are available to use during class.

Patrik kept us all on schedule. I thought that was an amazing feat in itself. Everyone completed all the projects, this included firing and finishing.

Through working on the eight projects (photos below), we learned how to:

  • Keep your clay moist while you’re working with it
  • Finish (polish, patina)
  • Add texture to a finished (meaning already fired) piece
  • Make precision shapes
  • Make seamless joins
  • Figure out ring sizes, adjusting for different shrinkage levels
  • Connect, dry to dry, wet to wet, or wet to dry clay
  • Deal with cracks or divots
  • Add eyelets, screws, and soldered findings to pieces
  • Use syringe paste
  • Use PMC paper
  • Make bails
  • Embed stones/CZs
  • Use slip, how to make slip, and how to make slip oil paste
  • Incorporate kiln blankets into the process
  • Carve
  • Troubleshoot various scenarios
  • Keep rings from shrinking beyond your desired size (or how to fix them if they do)
  • Mix different PMC products
  • Hammer on a ring mandrel or bench block
  • Add patina
  • Reconstitute dry clay
  • Recycle powder and leftover clay into like-new state
  • Use different sanding products
  • Make earwires
  • Straighten pieces that curl during drying
  • Add gold-plating (aura 22)
There was more, but you get the idea.

Another thing I liked was that Patrik showed us lots of ways to do things “on the cheap”. You don’t always need the latest and greatest fancy tools to get the job done. You’d be surprised how many household or otherwise easily available and inexpensive items can be incorporated into your PMC jewelry-making experience.

That being said, Patrik also didn’t snub the use of purchased, specialized tools. You can work any way you want with any thing you want. If there was a tool we were leaning about or how to use, Patrik gave us information on where to purchase it ourselves.

Copious note-taking was key for me.

A demo takes place (where the teacher demonstrates one part of a project), then we all go back to our tables and work on that. If you don’t take notes during the demo part, you may (like many in class did) sit down and start working only to ask a few minutes later, “How were we supposed to attach this part?” Or “Did he say we use PMC+ or PMC original for this?” Or “Do I do this first, or this first?”

Even those of us who filled pages and pages with note-taking still asked the occasional question. I can’t imagine trying to remember all the steps without the notes. I referred to mine constantly.

The three days was filled like that… demo, work, demo, work, demo, work…


Rio is in the process of changing their teaching program a bit, so some of the projects shown on the website are morphing into other projects. For example, the lentil bead shown on the site has changed into earrings that were each half of that lentil. However, since you learn to make the lentil bead first, it was sort of like a two-for.

And I love lentil beads!

The projects listed on the Rio site (as of this writing) are:

Saucer Bead: “This project teaches you to make a coreless hollow form and surface ornamentation.”

That’s the one that I said transformed into earrings, but the technique is still as described. We learned to make a coreless, hollow form and added surface ornamentation. Here’s mine...

Double-Fire Ring: “This ring project offers one approach to sizing, shows how to set a heat-resistent [sic] stone, teaches double firing, and includes the use of PMC Paste.”

Here’s mine…

Relief Pendant: “This pendant starts with a reusable relief die, then teaches the immediacy of creating impressions. It also demonstrates carving into dry PMC.”

Ours were made into tie tacks rather than pendants. Here’s mine (I stopped the patina process in the orangey-red stage, if you’re wondering why it looks rusty)…

Tetrahedron: “This interesting brooch teaches how to assemble dried elements of PMC to create a planar form. It also includes the use of PMC Paste as a glue, and teaches students how to attach a pin finding using conventional soldering.”

We had the choice of adding a pin back, a bail, a jumpring, or drilling holes. I opted for the holes. I really liked this project and was very impressed with how precise everyone was able to get their shapes/corners. Patrik really is an excellent teacher.

Woven Earrings: “These very wearable earrings demonstrate another way to use PMC Paper, and along the way teach about delicate control, drilling, and doming.”

We had a choice of making them into triangles or rectangles. It was nearing the end of the course and I was getting tired, so I opted for what seemed simplest and went with the rectangles.

Band Ring with Gold: “This ring demonstrates the use of PMC 3 to make a ring and the use of PMC Paper as overlay embellishment. The ring is torch fired, then further ornamented with Aura 22 gold.”

I love the simplicity of this ring. Now I will be brave and open the package of Aura 22 I purchased about 8 years ago. BTW, the gold you see inside the ring band is merely patina. As with the tie-tack, I stopped the process before it got to the blue/dark stage. The Aura 22 is only on the squares on the front of the ring.

PMC Pen: “This culminating project allows students to reuse many of the techniques taught in the preceding projects. Students will make a functional item, work to a specific size and create threads for after-firing connections.”

This project used up an entire 28 gram package of PMC ($60 just for the clay, last time I checked). But imagine how cool it is to have your very own one of a kind pure silver pen! I decorated mine with Gingko leaves.

The final project was testing the new (fairly new, anyway) PMC Sterling Silver Clay. We made simple band rings then carved designs into them.

And that about wraps up my adventures in Rio Grande’s PMC Certification course. I couldn’t be happier that I decided to do it and I look forward to putting my learning to good use now.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

In the midst of metal clay class

Finished with two of my three days of metal clay class.

Coming home the first night really brought back memories of my previous 10 years when it was:
Work all day at the office
Come home and get the kids to hockey
Come home again and make jewelry/prepare orders
Fall asleep exhausted
Do it all over again the next day

I LOVELOVELOVED raising the kids and I’m glad I was able to have them play hockey for 10 years, but that kind of schedule really takes a toll on me.

I’m so grateful that, for now, I’m able to do what I’m doing… spending every day learning and creating.  I’ve had a couple of opportunities recently to teach some jewelry-making, so I’ll looking into that too.

Anyway, back to class… we have three more projects to finish tomorrow and if everything gets done and fired, we’ll then be graded (or reviewed).

Although I love lampworking and polymer clay and forging metal and enameling… I feel a special affinity for metal clay... so wish me luck!  :-)

Alright, talk to you soon!