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Saturday, April 4, 2009

Hadar Jacobson's Class in Bronze Metal Clay


Yesterday was an eye-opener. I had wanted to work on some more bronze clay projects this weekend but I thought I was out of clay (I wasn’t, but didn’t know that at the time) so I called Hadar who lives in Berkeley, is one of the forerunners of metal clay artistry, and has her own line of metal clay.

I ended up, not only going to swing by the next morning, but since I happened to have the day off I was also going to take my first class by Hadar. I had wanted to when I first saw her work and realized she lives in Berkeley, but I thought her classes probably have a waiting list and I’ll be taking my kids to hockey the only weekend I finally manage to get in.

Instead, I arrive late Friday morning for my first informal yet powerfully educational three-hour session.

As usual, I am a total dweeb when I first meet others (I get nervous, what can I say). So Hadar greets me, and in what was supposed to be a question, I guess, she said, “So you’ve worked with silver clay before.” Yikes! No, I haven’t but I suddenly feel like I won’t get to play today if I admit I’ve never worked with silver clay and I’m a total newb to bronze clay. So out of my mouth pops: “No, but I bought a package of it two years ago and plan to open it someday.”

Holy mother of god did I really say that?! Yes, I did. Apparently I have no shame… or something like that. Cause, y’know… OWNING a package of silver clay is practically the same as having worked with it… Ha ha ha!

Then I mutter something else and we move onto the fact that at least I’ve dabbled in lampworking, metalsmithing, and soldering. Whew!

I’m reminded of how I got my current day job… how a co-worker convinced me to lie at the job interview and say that I knew all about computers. I didn’t. I hadn’t the first clue about computers. But he was sure that with his help and my smarts, if I got the job he’d be able to teach me what I needed to know and I’d pick it up before anyone could tell I had no previous experience.

Anyway, back to the studio… I know what I’m doing my second visit there (this Thursday)… I’m spending time drooling over Hadar’s creations which are IN THE WORKSHOP… on two of the four walls. It’s so bizarre seeing things in person that you’ve been bookmarking on the internet because you are saying to yourself: This… This is it… I am finally honing in on what it is I want to be doing. She’s doing it. Wow! Fantastic.

I’m taken back to a time when I was 17 and living in England. It was my first trip to the Tate Gallery (and subsequently the British Museum) and for the first time in my life I was seeing paintings in real life that I’d only ever seen in books (this was 30 years ago… not only no internet, but computers were only on sci-fi movies).

(That last photo is the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum.)

BTW, I spent an hour today trying to think of the name “Maxfield Parrish”. I was determined. I’m not ready to accept memory defeat. I ended up not really remembering, but I had enough clues in my brain to search for the name. Took forever, though. Ugh!

And I don’t know WHERE I saw it precisely, but I do remember seeing a Maxfield Parrish when I was 17 (I spent time in Boston as well as London that year). It was ginormous and was in a room all by itself… a huge, echoey room.

Okay, back to bronze clay…

I have to say a big hooray and sigh of relief when I first started working with Hadar’s clay. The consistency was AMAZING, particularly in comparison with my last adventure with Rio’s packaged clay. The difference was smooth and easy to work with versus crumbling, cracking, sticky, messy and totally getting on my nerves.

So, onto the firing…

Questions I have about the firing schedule:
1) What is the “venting hole” that I am supposed to have open during the first phase of the firing?
2) Does it matter how fast things cool after phase one? Do I let them cool naturally or may I open the kiln door for speedier cooling and if so, how much… a crack… all the way?
3) How “cool” does everything have to be before starting phase two? Do they have to be stone cold?
4) After phase one and after things cool, do I leave the pieces undisturbed or do I remove the ash before moving on to phase two? (Answer)

Although I’ve read bits and pieces of Hadar’s blog previously, I’m taking the time to go through it properly now, from start to finish. I’m also reading her two books.

Wow, that was a lot of babbling and I didn’t even start firing yet. Well, I did, but I didn’t blog about it. So I did the first firing.

First, however, I vacuumed out the charcoal residue leftover from my previous firing:

Then I took my stainless steel container (with my 8 pieces in vertically and surrounded by coal-based carbon) and placed it on kiln posts at the back of the kiln (the “back” refers to the edge furthest from the bead door.

You can see that in my kiln, the heating element is near the top of the kiln so it’s even more important for me to have that container raised up.

In this last photo, you get a better idea how near to the top edge of the kiln my container is placed.

So I do phase one of my firing. Full ramp to 1000 degrees (takes 30 minutes) and then hold there for 20 minutes. Then I shut it off and let it cool. Except that I did crack the lid so I have to find out if that’s a no-no.

I let everything cool down until I could touch it (the container) with my hands. The charcoal was still emitting warmth but the interior of the kiln had cool to about 150 degrees. I need to find out if that was good enough of if everything needs to be stone cold before I start phase two of the firing schedule.

Anyway, I’m working on other things (in the apartment) as my kiln is in phase two of the firing process. This is full ramp to 1480, then hold for 2½ hours.

I’d actually be playing with… er, I mean creating more bronze designs at the moment if I’d have been able to find any distilled water yesterday. Heh. I’ll go to a larger grocery store later today if I have the time and they should have some.

I did make it to an art store where I found a clay shaping tool I got to use (and liked) at Hadar’s studio.

(The one on the left)

I still need to get:

A plastic folder with a clear cover…

A stainless steel sheet to fit over my container ‘cause the one that came with it is WAY too inverted to be useful

Some wet/dry sandpaper (not sure why 9x11”) in 150, 220, and 400

Not necessary to do clay, but eventually I’d like to find some of the same patina that Hadar used that really made the colors pop when she put it on a copper/bronze piece. I asked twice and the name started with a “B” and of course I’m too embarrassed to let on that I forgot… AGAIN… so I’ll have to try to sneak a peek at the brand when I’m there this Thursday.

Hadar mixed her powder up in a stainless steel bowl. I couldn’t find. Hadar mentions stainless steel or ceramic. I wonder if glass is okay.

I also need to go through my box of metalsmithing tools and see if I have a burnisher. I think I do.

Well, I’m going to sign off for now. I’ll come back tomorrow and show you how things turned out.

BTW, of the five charms I made in class for a bracelet project, Hadar kept three and I took two and we’re going to do the same firing schedule and compare pieces so we can see if the kilns are very different.



  1. can't wait to see your creation and THANK YOU for cracking me up!

  2. Very cool. I was checking out her site earlier this week and watched the little video of mixing the clay. Not sure why since I don't have a kiln. LOL! Can't wait to see what you made. I have that same rubber tip tool and love it.

  3. i think i will be stalking your blog. just bought my first pack of bronzclay from Rio on Monday.

    BUT, Maxfield Parrish is my favorite painter, so i might be able to help you find your painting. do you remember the subject at all? it was likely in Boston. maybe at a college bar or dining hall?

    ps)those images of Ophelia have always stuck in my brain, too.