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Friday, December 13, 2013

Finally Awesome Sintering, The Wisdom of Project Runway, The Value of Production Work, and Sharing Time

So what are the best ways to test metal clay for optimal… optimal everything.  Optimal sintering, optimal strength, optimal good looks.  

When I last posted, I was running some test to determine the highest temp I could go for phase two of my firing schedule because I believe finding the highest temp where your piece still looks good is better than finding the lowest temp where you piece appears to be sintered.

Until convinced otherwise, I believe pieces can appear fully sintered based on superficial tests/appearances and conversely, fully sintered pieces can appear unsintered based on tests that may have nothing to do with sintering.  I also feel like the porosity of a piece diminishes with higher temps.

Anyway, got the results of the final test strip from my last batch of tests.  It was only one piece, 7-cards thick.

Ramp 1                         500°F/hr
Holding Temp 1          1420°F for 1 hour
Carbon Under              ½ inch
Carbon Over                ½ inch
Ramp 2                        full
Holding Temp 2          1460 (was previously 1470) for 2 hours

Everything seems okay.

Between that last test and now, I discovered that I was using an out-dated instruction manual for Hadar’s clays.

So now, instead of a slow ramp for phase one, I’m going to do a full ramp, but only to 1000°F where I’ll still hold for an hour.

I’m keeping the carbon under and over the same.

Between then (I wrote the above back in November) and now, I’ve had continued success firing with the following changes from before (way before, when things weren’t going well):
1)  I only use ½ inch (or maybe a smidge more) of carbon under the pieces
2)  Holding temp for phase 1 is 1000 degrees

Earlier this week, I ran my first mixed metal test and it’s the first time the pieces EVER came out flat and showing no signs of over-firing with phase 2 being only 10 degrees less than the instruction manual.  Could having a thick layer of carbon beneath the clay have THAT much to do with changing the firing temps?

Anyway, I finished my year-long course and am now a fully accredited teacher of Hadar’s clays and techniques.  I hope to start classes after the new year.

Here are a couple of my latest pieces.  Those who follow Hadar’s books may recognize some of the techniques used to create these.  Everything you see here is stuff I’ll be teaching (in the Sacramento area).

BTW, the texture on the first pendant was made using one of Hadar's new molds.  If you're interested, you can purchase the mold from her site.

Project Runway Wisdom and the Color Green

On to other things.  You all know I watch Project Runway… never miss it.  On the latest episode one of the designers made a green dress and the adviser said something like, “Oooooh, green never sells.  Haven’t you noticed there’s never a green dress on a magazine cover?”  Hm… this reminded me of something I heard a long time ago in one of the beading forums… that green is the hardest jewelry to sell.

I was shocked.  Do you have any experience with this?  Do you agree?  Disagree?

So when I heard it again, in reference to clothing, I wondered… maybe there’s something to this.

Speaking of Project Runway, here are some things I’ve learned from the show over the years that relate directly to being a jewelry artist:

  • Be recognizably you… people should be able to see your work and know you are the artist
  • Catch people’s attention… well constructed is great, but your work also needs to be eye-catching
  • Make do… be willing and able to change direction should the design or circumstances call for it
  • Be able to explain… if Tim Gunn (or anyone else) asks you about your design don’t say “I don’t know”
  • Get out of your comfort zone… if you’re good at everything you do, you’re not pushing yourself to new heights or challenging yourself enough

Production Work

A couple of things happened recently to make me realize the value of production work.  I think there was something inside of me that equated production work with assembly line work, and it’s done me nothing but a disservice.

I have recently been discovering the value (and trust me, it’s INVALUABLE) of doing production work.

When I tried to learn to solder, it was hit and miss.  I soldered like one or two days, every couple of years.  No wonder my soldering skills were so lacking.

A friend was recently telling me about when he was learning to solder.  He was told to put 100 fluxed silver disks onto his soldering block, and place 100 solder chips onto those disks, and then to start with row one, column one and solder an earring post to each and everyone one of those disks, just one after the other.

By the 100th disk, he was much better at soldering than when he started.

The value of practicing a skill over and over when first learning it is something that can’t be over estimated.

I recently had occasion to make 100 pair of earrings… so that’s 200 of the same thing.  From me.  The person who can’t even stand to make ONE pair of earrings because it involves repeating something that I just did… once.

So here I am, committed to making 200 of the same thing.  

200 times:

  • Measure and cut a wire
  • File the cut ends
  • Shape the wire into a spiral with two extra curves
  • Hammer the spiral
  • Measure and cut another wire
  • Wire-wrap a bead onto the spiral
  • Polish the spiral
  • Attach an earwire 

84 down,116 to go...

Was it boring?  Mostly.  But becoming a better jewelry maker isn’t all about keeping myself entertained.  Did my skill improve?  Most definitely.  Anything else?  As a matter of fact, yes.  As I progressed, I found better ways to do things.  Slight improvements to my methods happened here and there.

In 2014, I plan to continue my explorations in production work, balanced with my usual one of a kind, time-consuming pieces.

And Photography

It’s not just about jewelry-making either.  I’ve been pretty slack on listing anything new for a month of so, so today I had like 17 or 18 pieces ready to list.

First, I decided not to struggle with photographing.  I just shot everything on a plain light gray background.  I realize the pieces would “pop” more if I used like gradient or all black or all white, but I just wasn’t in the mood today to face any disappointment or antagonistic responses from my camera  So… basic photography.

One close-up shot of each piece from straight overhead.  One angled shot of each piece showing the back and the entire necklace chain.  And one shot of each piece on a model for size reference and drape.

I got all the shots of all the pieces done (shot and edited) in a couple hours.  To say that’s a new record for me would be a huge understatement. 

As I go on, I will try to improve my photography, but for right now, simplicity is my friend.  Either way, production in photography is key.  No more taking an hour just to shoot one piece.

Sharing Time: Metalsmithing Videos, A (Gentle) Rant About Pricing, and Where to Find the Christmas Lights

Sharing time includes links I’m passing along to you that were brought to my attention from one of the social media sites I frequent each day.

George Goehl has tons of metalsmithing tutorials published on YouTube.  Check them out here.

Liz Smith wrote this blog post that sparked a lot of agreement by some of our SRAJD members.  It starts out: “I've been thinking lately about pricing for handmade goods. It's so tricky, one of the hardest things to calculate for makers and the first question they ask every handmade selling guru…  And it leads to the question of what to say when someone requests a discount.  To read the blog post, click here.

Totally off topic, but still important… here’s a great website that shows you where the big Christmas light displays are in your area.  And here’s a site specifically for California.

Alright, that’s it for now.  Back to work.  See you soon!


  1. Laura, I love the final picture! I actually like "prodo". It allows me to accomplish a big goal in a series of defined smaller goals, so even if I only get all the wire cutting done, at least it feels like a "win". It's much harder to get that winning feeling with individual items as they just feel undone until ALL the steps are finally complete. Plus, prodo mode can be good for when creativity is taking a break.

  2. Love that you share your metal clay experiments. I'm taking notes. ;) And after looking through hundreds of photos in hundreds of shops...I love simple! Your photos are great as they are.

  3. Beautiful work, as always. I still have three nearly-full canisters of Hadar's clay that I bought thinking it'd be relatively easy and then never touched again once I was proven wrong ;) This inspires me to...maybe start thinking about...inching closer to...looking at those canisters again. Haha.