Aug 21 2011

Upcoming Special Workshops in January-February 2012

The first 5-day intensive I will be teaching next year at my studio will be on January 7-11. By popular demand, the focus will be pictorial and architectural jewelry, but mokume-gane may be covered as well. We will make at least two pieces, one flat and one 3D. The flat pieces involve using perspective, while the 3D involves constructing hollow forms, including rings. Here are some samples (more available here). To sign up for my January Intensive Workshop click here.

Pictorial (flat)




Is there anybody out there?

Person looking out


Architectural (3D)


Room and view

Houses with sea


Moon and door


Bronze house

Holly Gage will be coming to teach two workshops at my studio in February.

First workshop: Ever-Changing World: Kinetic Jewelry
February 11-12, 2012, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Personal memorabilia and the theme of moving on in an “ever-changing world” will become the inspiration for the elements in your kinetic necklace. The technical portion of this project is inspired by constantly changing designs in wind kinetics and wind sculpture. We will push it to the limits as we explore free moving parts, riveted connections, and the mesmerizing sub-patterning created through this process to make a beautiful piece of jewelry that makes a statement.

Bring a piece of personal memorabilia that has meaning to you. Anything can be used as inspiration, such as a pattern on a piece of cloth, a trinket, or a picture. This item is meant to stimulate your creativity, so no anxiety necessary.

$30.00 Kit supplied by teacher: stencil paper, tracing paper, pencil, sandpaper, 3M polishing papers, polishing cloth, sterling wire 14g.

Class includes all basic tools needed for class. The only things students need to buy are: PMC3 25g, fire in place gems (optional). Also optional: Your own personal tools, magnifying lens, Ott light, etc.

A gourmet lunch will also be offered for purchase.

Kinetic movement web

Kinetic movement web

Kinetic movement web

You can sign up for Holly Gage’s Kinetic Jewelry Workshop by clicking here.

Second workshop: Jewelry that Rocks!
February 13-14, 2011, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Exploring Art, Design and Line through Music
2-day workshop – All levels of ability

Music is a powerful trigger to our senses. Music can have energy and movement and emotion. For this lesson we will let different musicial selections guide the way as we explore design and line and transform the musical melody into an inspired pair of earrings or pendant.

The jewelry will be made with a Music CD set in a frame of fine silver. The techniques learned include cutting the CD, riveting, polymer plate making with an emphasis on how line is used to create motion, tension, drama, and direction in your surface embellishments.

$30 Kit supplied by teacher: photopolymer plate acetate, 20 g sterling wire, sandpaper, 3M paper, polishing cloth

Class includes all basic tools needed for class. The only things students need to buy/bring are: PMC+ 28g, recycled gaming or music CD (also available for purchase). Optional: your own personal tools, magnifying lens, Ott light, etc.

A gourmet lunch will also be offered for purchase.

Green-red CD necklace

CD Pendant

Gray CD earrings

You can sign up for Holly Gage’s Jewelry That Rocks Workshop by clicking here.

Holly Gage of Gage Designs creates contemporary jewelry and teaches her unique techniques both with a gentle blend of art and soul. Through traveling classes and master workshops that are available in the U.S. and abroad, Holly brings her innovation and creativity, as well as her gift of helping others find their artistic voice. She is a full-time Contemporary Jewelry Artist, Certified Metal Clay Instructor, and Jewelry and Metal Clay Conference Speaker. In addition, Holly holds a BS degree in Fine Art and Education. Her jewelry and articles on techniques and design can be found in over 45 regional and national publications including the Best of America Jewelry Artists, PMC Guild Annual Volumes 1-4, Metal Clay Artist, and Jewelry Artist, among others. You can find more information about Holly’s jewelry, classes, awards, shows, and numerous free tutorials on her website.

Aug 16 2011

SpeedFire Cone System

I’ve been getting lots of emails asking me if my clay can be fired with the SpeedFire Cone system. My answer was always “Unfortunately not,” because the SpeedFire system has no digital controller, and there is no way of knowing how much gas is left in the tank. “Unfortunately,” because not everyone can afford a digital kiln.

I’ve just come back from teaching a 4-day workshop at The Greater Philadelphia Metal Clay Guild, hosted by Holly Gage. Holly had the SpeedFire Cone system and thought it might work for firing base metal clay. It was totally her idea. I thought: what is there to lose? And we tried. Before I go on, please bear in mind that I am not recommending anything, at least not yet; I am just telling what happened.

While I was teaching, Holly was reading the instructions and setting up the system. I prepared 3 test pieces. Two of them I made according to the suggestion for test-firing in my Instruction Manual, and the third was a cane-slices piece, about 10 cards thick.

We did not use the cone system as instructed. We removed the screens, and fired inside the cone rather than on top of it, with the bowl sitting directly on the burner. We used a little stainless steel bowl (typically used for cat food), filled with carbon. The pieces were positioned vertically in the bowl.

Bowl on burner, front view

Bowl on burner, top view

We put the cone on top of the bowl and turned the system on.

Cone on bowl

We tried to set the temperature for the first phase. After the pyrometer reached 1000°F/538°C it suddenly went back to zero, and we realized that the metal wire that connects the thermocouple to the pyrometer had melted. So, we removed the pyrometer and the thermocouple altogether.

After 30 minutes we turned it off and let it cool down. That didn’t take long. Then we proceeded to the second phase, and fired for 2 hours. There’s no telling what the temperature was. The valve of the gas tank was open all the way. Since this tank is supposed to last 3 hours, it seemed the appropriate amount of time for a full firing cycle.

Here are the results:

SpeedFire results 1

SpeedFire results 2

Full sintering, no under- or over-firing. What a surprise!

There is a lot to be tested yet. I am wondering whether this kind of firing can be done in just one phase. I also don’t know whether the temperature can go high enough for firing steel clay on its own, or how to regulate the temperature to fire White Bronze. If you have the cone system, it will help a lot if you do some experimentation. The more information I have, the better I will be able to report reliable schedules. By the way, this system fits the blue propane tank as well. I just don’t know yet how long it will last. To reach higher temperatures, we can try Mapp gas; this tank fits as well.

Now for a pre-announcement of a future class. Holly Gage will be coming to my studio to teach two different 2-day workshops. Between our schedules, one possible date is in February. Valentines Day is on February 14. What I am asking now is: Who would like to take a class but CANNOT make it on Valentine’s Day. (The class is over by 5pm so there’s still plenty of time to celebrate.) Please email me directly with your answers: More details to come.

Aug 5 2011

Pearl Grey Steel XT – Follow-up

Testing and playing with Pearl Grey Steel XT has brought me back 14 years, to when I first learned about silver clay, and it felt like the sky was the limit. I now find myself re-making in steel pieces that I used to make over and over again in silver, as if the possibilities can never be exhausted.

PG XT is similar to the first generation of silver clay in consistency, shrinkage, and firing temperature. It is also tough and hard to break in the green state. Those of you who were around back then probably remember the word “forgiving,” that was widely used to describe how it felt working with it. For me it meant that it was a medium I didn’t have to fight with. I enjoyed the touch of it in the wet and dry state, and I knew that even when it went wrong – cracked or slumped in the firing process – it could still be repaired. I felt it could be trusted. This is how I feel now about Pearl Grey Steel XT. I don’t worry much about the firing process; when fired at 1650°F – 1700°F (900°C – 925°C) (brick kiln), 1730°F – 1780°F (943°C – 970°C) (muffle kiln), the results are pretty predictable. Although it combines well with other metals, I enjoy it by itself.

Note: there was a mistake in the firing temperatures listed on the last page of the manual; I’ve now corrected the error and re-posted the manual. Please correct it or re-print the last page.

Here is one of the first attempts:

Chain-Circles Necklace

This was done using textures with a smooth, low relief. I find that this clay performs best when all or part of it has a smooth, matte finish. The color is silvery gray. Heavily textured pieces would look too dark.

I made a piece similar to the Miró pin project in my book: The Handbook of Metal Clay: Textures and Forms. This time I did not texture the surface. After firing I sanded and matted it.

Miro Pin

And a belt ring, with no texture at all (I am still wearing my steel rings and they are not deformed or rusted). Rings like this (not hollow) shrink about 3.5 sizes. I made it size 11 on the step mandrel to get a 7.5 ring.

Belt Ring

After making this ring I couldn’t resist going back and trying my hollow, architectural rings.

House Ring

Here is a top view, just to get the idea. I wouldn’t call it wearable, but I had so much fun.

House Ring

This is the “Village” ring.

Village Ring

And here it is next to an old silver “Village” ring. This may give a sense of the color difference.

2 Village Rings

The silver ring is on the right. This hollow ring did not shrink as much as the belt ring, but I haven’t found consistent shrinkage yet for hollow rings.

This is my “Table with Cherries”:

Table with Cherries

The cherries are half-drilled carnelian beads. I find the red color stunning in combination with steel.

And next, to a silver “Table with Cherries”:

2 Table Rings

Some tips about working with Pearl Grey Steel XT:

– Watch flat pieces as they dry. Flip them over when they start to curve. It won’t take long – they warp less than the earlier generation of Pearl Grey Steel.

– Burnish pieces before firing. It makes the sanding easier after firing and also highlights imperfections that may cause trouble after firing. It’s easier to fix now than later.

– When making rings, don’t wait for them to dry completely before you take them off the mold. They shrink tight around it and are hard to remove.

– When firing rings that are not hollow, like the belt ring, set them on a fiber paper covered with a thin layer of carbon. The carbon underneath the ring allows it to slide as it shrinks, and minimizes distortion.

Ring in Carbon

Roll a strip of fiber paper or ceramic tape and place it inside the ring to prevent carbon from getting inside the hole and deforming it. The fiber is soft and will not stop the shrinkage.

Inside the Ring

Hollow rings don’t seem to be affected much by the carbon.

Inside Carbon

Good luck!