Jun 28 2009

Questions about the “Collage Pendant” and “Fused Glass” Postings

Following the postings entitled “How to Begin” and “Using Metal Clay with Fused Glass” I was asked a few questions. Since they were asked several times, I am answering them here.

1. Is it possible to make this project with copper and silver?

First, it is possible, but not in the way that this project is described in my book. Copper and silver don’t stick together. They will separate after firing. They have to be connected in a mechanical way.

Second, unlike copper and bronze clay, either the copper or the silver has to be fired first. They cannot be fired together as clay.

2. Can it be done with silver and bronze?

No. The piece is most likely to end up as an unrecognizable yellowish blob.

3. What is the stone and how is it set?

It is a lab-grown green garnet, availbale from www.gemresources.com. It was set while the texture was still wet, pressed down as far as possible below the surface.

4. What is this texture?

It’s the lid of an orange juice carton. I used it directly, without making a mold first.

5. How did you make this texture?

By stamping the clay repeatedly with a coffee stirrer.

6. Why should the backing layer be made out of copper?

Bronze clay shrinks more than copper clay. If the backing is made out of bronze clay, the flat piece is most likely to curve. When bronze clay is laid over copper clay, it “stretches” itself to the dimensions of the copper.

7. Why dry the backing layer first?

Unlike with silver clay, cracks are most likely to form on the backing layer if it is not dried first. The cracks may show either before or after firing.

8. In the fused glass pieces, is there an opening on the back?

The back is solid.

Jun 26 2009

Using Fused Glass with Metal Clay

My knowledge about glass fusing is limited but a lot of the students that I have taught over the years are glass fusers. Naturally they wanted to combine their glass work with metal clay. In most cases they ended up constructing a bezel for their glass from low-shrinkage silver clay fired at a low temperature.

But how do we do this with base metal clay, which has to be fired in carbon? The temperature is too high for the glass and it gets pitted by the carbon (I have tried).

Here is my suggestion, and I would love to hear what you think about it and if you have further ideas: fire your copper and/or bronze piece first, leaving a space, or more than one space, for the glass. Then fill these spaces with your glass, and fuse it in open air as you would naturally do. There will be a black coat of oxidation on the surface of the metal, which can be removed by buffing or sanding.

You may get good results right away, but it is also possible that the glass will cab and pull away from the walls of the space in which it is laid. In this case, add more glass, or just clear glass, and re-fuse.

Here are the first results of my student, Ann, who experimented with this technique:

Glass fused in fired copper

Glass fused in fired copper

It seems to me that this opens up a lot of possibilities. In many pieces of jewelry that combine glass and metal, the role of one of them seems less important. Sometimes the glass is just an accent in an elaborate metal construction, and sometimes the metal is just a frame for a beautiful glass cab. Using this technique of preparing the metal part first may make it possible to create pieces in which the glass and the metal play equal and complementary roles.

Jun 26 2009

How to Begin?

Since I teach at my studio on an ongoing basis, beginner students often arrive who have never touched metal clay before. My first impulse is to hand them a package of silver clay. But then I look around and see everybody else in the class working with either copper or bronze clay, and ask myself: why start with silver? Just because historically it was there first? Wouldn’t it make more sense for a beginner to start with cheaper materials, so they can feel free to experiment without the fear of ruining or wasting precious material?

So now I work with beginners on bronze and copper clay projects, and it turns out that they are a lot less hesitant to work with these clays than students who have been working with silver for a long time. It’s not surprising, because beginners don’t have to deal with change, and change can be intimidating. I see people with unopened jars of base metal clay still working with silver. And I see people who work with bronze clay but have not opened their copper jars yet. So what do we do to overcome this anxiety? Where do we start with this new medium, which doesn’t seem to be going away?

I say: start with what is most familiar to you. Make something that you have made with silver many times and you feel confident about. There is no better way to learn the differences between the clays. For my beginners I hand out the very same project that I have been teaching to beginners for the past ten years with silver. This is the first project, “Collage Pendant,” from my first book: The Handbook of Metal Clay: Textures and Forms. There is hardly any way to go wrong with this project, and it sets them on the right track. It has occurred to me over the yeas that maybe I should change the first project, but the feedback from my more experienced students has always been: “Don’t fix what ain’t broke.”

So: how to go about it? First, here are a few tips for handling the clay:

1. Don’t mix more than a third of a jar at a time. A small amount is easier to mix and the consistency is likely to be much better. [Edited April 5, 2014] Because the ingredients of the clays may not be evenly distributed through the bottle (even when shaken), it is recommended to mix clay a whole bottle at a time. When stored properly, it will last for a long time.

2. When the weather is warm, cool your distilled water in the refrigerator, or drop a few ice cubes in it. Once in a while roll your clay to a thin layer, spray it with the cold water, fold it and roll it flat again.

3. Don’t leave your clay unsealed or exposed to the sun.

What are the differences between silver and base metal clay when making the “Collage Pendant” project?

1. You can use both copper and bronze clay in a single piece.

2. As your backing layer, always use copper clay.

3. Dry the backing layer before placing the overlays.

4. Watch the backing layer while it’s drying and flip it over as soon as it starts to warp. Keep flipping until it stays flat, or tape it to the work surface.

5. After placing the overlays and drying, check for cracks in the backing layer and seal them.

6. It doesn’t matter which clay you use to seal the gap between the layers.

7. Make a copper bail to match the copper backing.

8. After firing and finishing, use liver of sulfur sparingly, just enough to paint the background brown. Then burnish the high spots. You can use Baldwin’s Patina instead.





Pieces in progress

Pieces in progress

Jun 21 2009

Third Rock (Free Project)

This project was making its way into my upcoming third book about mixed metal jewelry from metal clay, but then I realized that it’s a variation on the “Sliced Rock Dangles” project from my second book: Silver and Bronze Clay: Movement and Mechanisms, p. 21. So I decided to post it here. This time it’s called Third Rock.

This project starts after step 4 of the “Sliced Rock Dangles” project is complete. We now have a set of 3 open rock parts, which are the top, middle and bottom of a rock.

5. Create three such sets, from silver, copper, and bronze clay respectively. (All of the photos in this posting show the copper rock, except for the photo of the finished earrings, which shows all three metals.)

6. For each of these sets, lay the open side of all three rock parts on a layer of the same clay, 3 cards thick. (In other words, the three silver parts should be laid on a silver layer, the copper parts on a copper layer, and the bronze parts on a bronze layer.)

7. Cut away the excess clay from around the thirds, and dry.

8. The two end parts of each rock are now closed hollow forms. Now close each of the middle parts by placing it upside-down on another layer of the same clay (silver on silver, copper on copper, bronze on bronze), 3 cards thick.

9. Cut away the excess clay from around the part.

All three parts in each set are now closed.

10. Drill 2 holes through one of the end pieces. Repeat this step with the rest of the end pieces.

11. Drill 2 holes through the sides of all three middle pieces (silver, bronze, and copper).

This is how the parts can be assembled.

The necklace version shown at the top of this posting was assembled using beading wire and spacers. And here is the earring version:

Jun 4 2009

Addition to My Travel-Teaching Schedule

Another class has been added to my travel-teaching schedule this year. The class is in Brighton, Michigan, at Brighton Beads. The dates are February 28-29, 2010. You can sign up on the website (www.BrightonBeadsandMore.com), or contact Nancy Garber by email at BrightonBeads@live.com, or by phone (810-844-0066).