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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Metal Clay Tubes, Hollow Forms and a Shadow Box Pendant, And Keeping Cool in the Heat

The Process

Working on a piece today that may require repairs.

I really like working with steel metal clay, but it has some limitations and/or differences to working with other clays.

There seems to be a very big and rapid shrinkage factor during the drying phase (prior to firing). This causes thin pieces to crack, rip, and warp more than I’ve seen with bronze or copper clay.

As you know, I’ve been working on hollow forms. Mostly two structural walls with one or two flat panels (sometimes I like an open front, like a shadowbox).

Although I feel I may have more luck with smaller pieces, I seem to want to make BIG pendants lately. Today, my starting wall is 8 centimeters. Wish me luck.

The design I had in mind that I wanted to try today is similar to one I did last week, except I want an actual circle shape rather than a more amorphous shape. I want little circles inside of it so I’m practicing tube making.

The hardest part of making a tube shape, for me, is ending up with a smooth unnoticeable seam.

Here you can see the tubes drying (on previously oiled dapping pegs). I dry them upright in the open air for a bit before putting them on the mug warmer.

After they are completely dry, I remove them, cut off the ends, and have a look. Very easy to tell on which side of the tube the seam overlap was.

After some sanding it’s a little more evened out.

I cut the tube into numerous sections, make my two large circle walls, lay everything out on the table and decide to change my design.

Instead of having a backing surface, I’m going to try just having the two circle walls and the tube circles dispersed in random order between them.

Here’s what it looked like before going into the kiln.

I have a few ideas for a complete necklace look, but let’s see if the piece comes out of the kiln in a usable fashion.

BTW, The kiln is done in a few minutes, but I’m leaving it in, to cool down naturally (without even opening the door). So stay tuned tomorrow if you are as anxious to see the result as I am.

The Results

I’ve been talking about hollow forms and shadow boxes and I don’t think I even showed you what I made yet. Here are the recent offerings (click on a photo for larger and more images).


We had a family of about six foxes come and play in the water bowl we leave out for the wildlife. I snapped a couple photos of the kits.

This was our weather today…

Here’s how some internet critters have found ways to stay cool…

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Copper & Bronze Crop Circle Necklaces and Selling on the Square Market

Misc Biz Info

Have you heard about Square’s new market for selling?


The Results

Made three necklaces from my “crop circles” line and sold two. Here is the remaining one (click photo for larger and additional images).

And two other mixed metal pieces (bronze, copper, steel)…

Friday, June 21, 2013

Beginning Work on Steel Metal Clay

The Process

For the moment, I’ve wrapped up my experimenting with Hadar’s latest clay, Smart Bronze (does not require pre-firing). I decided to keep one of the pair of earrings shown in my last blog post. I also made these and gave them to a friend.

Then I moved on to experimenting with steel . I don’t mind a two-phase firing schedule, but I wanted to pick just one clay to start teaching with and there’s a lot about steel that I like.

Here’s a photo that shows the shrinkage, both before and after firing.

I really like Hadar’s hollow donuts and shadow box pendants, so after firing some simple test pieces I decided to start there.

Was a really tough combo with steel because of the shrinkage rate while drying.

The surface part of the beads kept ripped (mostly during drying, occasionally during firing).

And still I plugged along, determined to master it somehow.

I have one “still needs to be polished” pendant that I’ll list soon. And my second piece (fingers crossed) I’ll now about in an hour or so… the kiln just ended.

Along with the 1700 degree shadow box in the kiln as I type is a lentil bead (I can’t tell you how much I love the shape of lentil beads). The texture on that might be rather shallow. Just a note for next time. But mostly I’m practicing making bails.

Well, that’s about it for tonight. Since some people seem interested, I’ll continue to post the results of my metal clay experiments.

I hope some of you are taking advantage of the low silver prices!

The Results

Here are three simple beaded bracelets that are leftover from the show in Shasta.


Here’s a fun article: 12 Most Striking Tendencies of Creative People

The following photos have nothing to do with the above-mentioned article.  I just like them because they show the nice side of humans.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Non-Sintered Metal Clay, First Experiments with Smart Bronze, and Mirror Finish Sanding Results

The Process

Most of my time of late has been spent experimenting with various techniques. Yes, more so than usual.

I’m spending a lot of time with Hadar’s clay so that when I start teaching, I’ll have a good handle on the many techniques and clay combinations.

The one this week is Smart Bronze. A one-stage firing clay that produces results that I feel are identical to the look and feel of 12k gold.

Here’s what the bronze looks like before and after some heavy duty sanding (120 grit drum, then 240 grit drum, then 240 grit paper, then 400 grit paper, then 600 grit paper, then 1000 grit paper, then 2000 grit polishing pad).

Oh, and here’s an example of what metal clay that is not fully sintered looks like…

The Results

Here are some examples (the necklace is not for sale, but the earrings are):


Saturday, June 1, 2013

Someone is Selling My Handmade Jewelry, Etsy Digital Downloads… Instant Tutorials, Yay! Also Minimalist Mountain Scene Necklaces

Misc Biz Info

I just updated my Etsy tutorials so customers get instant download (without having to wait for me to email them the file). This is a great feature, Etsy. Thank you! If you want info on it, click here.

Twice in the past week, I ran across someone on a forum bringing up the subject of their handcrafted jewelry being resold by a previous customer.

There are many scenarios this can take:
A) Previous customer needs cash so has to sell off some of their personal collection
B) Previous/current customer buys things from you and sells them to others
1) Mentioning that you made them
2) Not mentioning anything about who made them
3) Saying she/he made them her/himself
C) Someone uses your photos to “sell” items online. When they get a sale, they purchase your item and ship it immediately to THEIR customer (or they have you unwittingly drop-ship to their customer).

In scenario “C”, I see two things wrong. First, if he/she is selling your items for a profit, you aren’t charging enough to begin with. And second, this person is using your photos without your permission. That’s about it. On some selling sites, they may be breaking TOS (terms of service) by not actually having the product in the listing in their actual possession.

In scenario “A”, I don’t see much harm. Sometimes we have to part with things we love because we have unexpected bills. I just feel badly for the customer who has to sell off her collection/items.

In scenario “B1”, it’s cool that she/he mentions who made the pieces, but if she’s making money off of your jewelry, YOU AREN’T CHARGING ENOUGH.

In scenario “B2”, it’s her/his prerogative to give credit to the original maker of the jewelry. I really don’t take offense to someone reselling my jewelry and not mentioning that Laura Bracken made it. But again, this is a sign that I’M NOT CHARGING ENOUGH.

At this point, if the piece is selling for more and NOT being attached to an artist’s name, then you know for sure the sale price has nothing to do with brand. At this point it’s just about the materials and the design. And if she/he’s getting more than you did (with NO NAME attached as the maker), then YOU could have been getting those prices too. The only “unless” I’m going to use here is: unless you sold it when silver was $5 an ounce and silver is now $30 an ounce, etc. In that kind of case, yes, materials can appreciate in value over time without an artist’s name being involved.

In scenario “B3”, we have some uncoolness. People should not be selling other people’s work and saying it’s theirs. We still have the other factor, though… you’re not charging enough for your jewelry.

So here’s how I see it…

1) I’m not going to worry about people reselling my jewelry, other than to take note if they’re consistently making more than I am. At which point I need to rethink my pricing calculations.

2) If someone uses my photos without permission, I’m going to try to go legal on their ass (as much as I can without stupid expenditures, because at the end of the day I must choose my battles).

3) If someone sells my jewelry saying THEY made the pieces, I will probably do the same thing I did in #2.

How can I prevent most of these scenarios?

1) Price well.
2) Watermark online photos (I don’t do this because I’m not overly concerned about it at the moment)
3) Stamp my pieces with a maker’s mark.

These aren’t iron-clad solutions. They’re just things that you can try in order to prevent some of the scenarios you might not like.

The most important thing, though, to avoid having others selling your jewelry for more than you sold it for is for you to sell it for “the right price” in the first place.

The right price is a mythical creature, though, so you will have to make your pricing decisions based on factors that are important TO YOU and go from there. In other words, some people figure their own labor at $10/hr while others figure in $50/hr. Some people want a hobby and others what a profitable business.

Get serious about knowing what your skill level is by knowing your market inside and out. Always know your materials’ cost. And value your time and expertise.

Most of you already know I sell a pricing calculator (still only available for those with Excel… works on PC’s better than on Macs). I’m giving you my Etsy link because of the instant download thing.

I use my calculator on everything I make. But (as stated in the Excel file), I take into account things like not counting all the hours when I’m learning a new technique, changing my hourly wage based on if I did the work or if I subbed it out, etc.

I often have people say to me both:
“Why is this so expensive?”
“Your prices are too low!”

Only I know how long it took me to make something. Some of my items are experimental, some are like production work, some take weeks to finish, some required me to take expensive classes, etc. There are lots of factors that others don’t always know about in regards to what we make. I usually just smile and say, “Mm.”

Anyway, I’m sure any one of us could write a book on the subject, so I’ll get off my opinionated soapbox now.

Thanks for listening!

The Results

Here are three minimalist (you KNOW that’s one of my favorites) necklaces. Two in bronze and steel, the other in copper and steel. They’re stylized mountain scenes.

You can click on any jewelry photo to see if the piece is still available. To see everything that is currently available, click here.