23 Nov 2016

Christmas 2016 leaf earring giveaway

One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day.
Don’t clean it up too quickly. Andy Rooney

I saw this quote and it made me feel all warm and fuzzy.  There really is something truly special about sitting amongst a pile of wrapping paper and tangles of curling ribbon, drawing straws as who should leave to the put the coffee on and contemplating that one of you really should hit the shower some time soon and what time does the turkey need to go in?  I think perhaps it’s my very favourite part of Christmas; being in my own home, in my nightdress, with my family beside me.

A very close friend of ours passed away a few years ago, having been bravely battling cancer for many years.  She went away somewhere fancy one Christmas and when I asked if she’d enjoyed it she said “don’t ever go away for Christmas, all it did was make me realise that the very best thing about Christmas – and what makes it Christmas – is being at home”.

Christmas gifts for my customers:

Air dry clay leaf earrings, varnished with a metallic shimmer and hung on bronze earwires.
Air dry clay leaf earrings, varnished with a metallic shimmer and hung on bronze earwires.

To thank my wonderful customers for their very valued support during 2016, I will be giving away a pair of entirely hand crafted shimmery leaf earrings with bronze earwires on all orders over £18.

I have individually sculpted the leaves from air dry clay, then sealed with several layers of varnish, with a little metallic shimmer. (This renders them splash proof, but I wouldn’t recommend showering or swimming in them).

They’re hanging from hand crafted scrolled bronze earwires and are incredibly light and comfortable to wear. They drop around 35mm (1.4″) and are around 15mm (0.6″) wide. Each leaf has been individually shaped and they’re put together in co-ordinated pairs.

They’re all gift wrapped in tiny Christmas pillow boxes ready for giving – or for keeping as a treat for yourself. Earrings will be sent whilst stocks last or until the last Christmas postings.

New Facebook page:

I decided recently that, as many technical discussion resources that I previously enjoyed had moved to using the Facebook platform, maybe it was finally time for me to give in and sign up too – having resisted for many years.  So I now have a Facebook page in my arsenal, so you’re welcome to visit me there too.

It does actually have a nice easy interface to make quick posts and add photos etc., so I think I may well use it as a supplement to longer articles posted here on the blog.  My page is linked to from the top of both the blog pages and my on-line shop.

Recent work:

A gold bronze pendant with little softly shaped reservoirs filled with coloured resin.
A gold bronze pendant with little softly shaped reservoirs filled with coloured resin.

I’ve been thinking lately about adding more colour to pieces. I’ve always fancied enamelling, but other than heat sources, I have no other equipment, so would need to start from scratch. And if I don’t like it, or am not very good at it, that’s wasted expenditure.

I saw an article recently on UV resin, which sounded very promising. As a trained illustrator, I already have a good assortment of pigments that sounded like they’d be suitable (just a little trial and error would be necessary, to select the best to use) and I already have a UV light source that I use for photopolymer plates, so outlay would be minimal to have a tinker. The long cure time for conventional 2 part resins has put me off before.

I did a few tests and selected the best pigments to try and used this piece I made in bronze especially to take colour in the raised cells. It was really enjoyable selecting and mixing colours and curing them under the UV light. They go under the light as a sticky coloured gel, about the consistency of nail polish and come out from under the light, looking exactly the same, glossy and liquid, except now they cell contents are absolutely rock hard. I was quite magical and now I can’t wait to try some more.

I’m in the process of photographing several new pieces to list in the shop in time for Christmas, but some of the latest pieces are shown in the gallery below and I’ll add to it shortly as I have more photos.

Newest pieces are always shown on the front page of the shop in the Latest Products section – newest at the top.

Recent work gallery:

 

31 Oct 2016

Adventures in Aussie Metal Clay

Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty, and persistence. Colin Powell

I’ve posted several times previously on my exploits with the creation of metal clay jewellery. Metal clay is, as the name suggests, a clay-like medium composed of metal particles, an organic binder and water that can be worked and formed as a wet clay, further honed in a dry state (such as components assembled for composite pieces, like many of mine) and then is fired in a kiln at very high temperature to magically become a solid metal creation. There are now a significant number more clays than even when I started, from base metal clays like copper, bronze, iron, steel and brass to various precious variants of silver and now gold.

Antiqued copper contoured leaf earrings on feature earwires.
Antiqued copper contoured leaf earrings on feature earwires.

Not only are there many different metals (and many tones or colours of bronze and coppers etc) but there are many more brands on the market too – with new ones appearing regularly. If you’re feeling truly adventurous, there are even recipes to make up your own.

Each clay has its own properties and some are best suited to particular types of work. I’ve routinely used several brands for different styles of work. You need to work a little with the clay to find out its particular personality and to decide how it best fits into your designs – knowing which one is best for each piece. It’s also true to say that I’ve tried several that I couldn’t get on with, that either didn’t suit my work or were inconsistent for getting reliable results with, so were abandoned.

Fine silver daisy pendant with an inset cubic zirconium gemstone and matching earrings.
Fine silver daisy pendant with an inset cubic zirconium gemstone and matching earrings.

I recently noticed that one of my suppliers was stocking a new-to-the-UK clay range from Australia; Aussie Metal Clay. There offer a significant range of clays, but the ones being stocked here in the UK at present are a range of bronzes in their medium fire range.  The features of the clay looked very interesting and the examples of finished pieces I’d seen made with it were impressive.  So after a little research, I decided to try a couple of colours.  They make a standard clay and a super flex variant of each colour.  As I was hoping to cut some pieces with the Silhouette cutter (that has featured in previous articles as a tool in my jewellery making and design work), their recommendation was to use the super flex, which is what I’ve been working with.

As this clay range is new to the UK and people like myself are only just getting to know it, there is less information available than for other longer-established brands, so whilst I don’t normally talk specifics about materials and suppliers, I hope that posting some more details of this particular clay might help other artisans like myself whilst researching and considering it.

Working the Aussie Metal Clay:

The dry AMC super flex clay can be cut with scissors, scalpel and cutting machines.
The dry AMC super flex clay can be cut with scissors, scalpel and cutting machines.

I’ve very much enjoyed working with the clay, it has properties and features that suit my work really well and as I’ve had excellent support from the proprietor Roslyn Bailey and metal clay artist who works alongside her in developing the clay range, Kim Morris, I’m happy to endorse the product and put some information out there to help others.

The two clays I’ve worked with feel the same in use, so I won’t bother distinguishing them.  The clay is supplied as a dry powder that you mix yourself to a clay with water – this means that if you buy a 100g packet, once mixed, you get something like 130g of usable clay, justifying the slightly higher initial price than pre-mixed clay of the same initial weight.

The dry super flex clay was cut on the Silhouette for these two pieces and the tube bail was rolled (very gently) from dry, cut clay.
The dry super flex clay was cut on the Silhouette for these two pieces and the tube bail was rolled (very gently) from dry, cut clay.

The super flex variant also comes with a little sachet of a gel-type substance that you mix into the dry powder before the water.  It mixes together very easily and you quickly have a workable clay.  My own practice is to mix the clay, then knead it with a palette knife on a glazed tile to mix it thoroughly and then let it rest for a little while and fully absorb the moisture before using.

It rolls out nicely and takes texture very well, it doesn’t stick to your fingers or tools.  It has a lovely smooth silky texture which feels very fine and is a pleasure to work with.  It retains its workable moisture level better than any other base metal clay than I can think I’ve used before and I don’t often need to add any more water to it.

These Poinsettia style earrings were designed and cut with the Silhouette cutter from dry clay 2 cards thick, then tiny rolled balls separately appliqued. The dragonflies in the background had wings cut with a craft cutter.
These Poinsettia style earrings were designed and cut with the Silhouette cutter from dry clay 2 cards thick, then tiny rolled balls separately appliqued. The dragonflies in the background had wings cut with a craft cutter.

Occasionally if you’ve been fiddling a lot and maybe re-worked it several times, it starts to feel dry, but I just pop it into my storage box (I keep it in a little dish inside a larger airtight container that has a moistened pad inside, away from the clay) and paint a little smear of water over it and leave it to sink in, then re-knead it before use.

I can roll tiny smooth round balls with it and it makes a nice rolled snake too – which in the super flex variant, I haven’t needed to moisten before I curl and shape, other than for the tightest of coils.  I’ve been able to roll thin sheets with it that can then be cut with either the Silhouette cutter, scissors, scalpel and I’ve even used craft punches and decorative scissors.  It can even be rolled (if eased very gradually and with care) in its dry form.  Kim Morris gave me a super tip that really works; if the clay has been in its dry form for a while, the flex properties diminish a little, but putting it in the fridge overnight restores its flex.

Reconstituting dry clay:

I also found that it reconstitutes really well.  My own method is to pile up any scrap and failed elements and loosely break or chop them into smaller pieces and spray them with water, leaving it covered, to soak in for a while.  I then roughly mix it and cover with thick plastic film and roll it out and gather it up again repeatedly, at which time it probably still has dry lumps in, which will show as paler patches.  These get gradually smashed up as you roll, probably requiring the addition of more water – a little at a time. A couple of rolling sessions later you will have a workable clay.  If it was really dry clay, I tend to leave it overnight to fully absorb the moisture into the organic binders and then re-knead with a palette knife before use.

Many re-constituting techniques talk of grinding the clay back to powder in a coffee grinder or the like, then sieving it to get out impurities, but I’ve never had a problem with any clay using my technique; it saves on wastage, doesn’t fill the air with dust and as I don’t use much oil or lubricants with it, feel that the clay remains pretty pure – although I don’t use sanding dust as I think this will have particles from the sanding medium, but I do use anything I’ve carved or trimmed and drilling swarf.  I have workable new clay with minimal fuss.

Kiln firing specifics – overcoming firing issues:

Whilst I had good success straight away with several Aussie Metal Clay pieces, some have been less than spectacular.  I had several assorted issues and it was obvious that some pieces simply weren’t sintering fully.   Base metal clays are fired in 2 stages; firstly to burn off the organic binder particles (the water should already be fully evaporated, clay should be fired totally dry) and secondly to fuse the remaining metal particles together as a metal piece.

Sintering is the process whereby the loose metal particles just start to melt on their surface, allowing adjacent particles to bond together, forming a cohesive metal structure, but short of actually melting.  This is why metal clay shrinks during firing, firstly you remove the binder and then fuse the metal particles into a closer solid texture.

The inadequate sintering I experienced manifested itself variously as warping and slumping in thinner pieces, resulting in distortion and some cracking.  The thicker pieces simply crumbled on the surface when I started cleaning them up after firing.  Any remaining binder will prevent the metal particles from fusing to each other and if burn off is irregular across the piece, warping and cracking will occur.  Some of the thinner pieces (mainly a Silhouette-cut bezel – partly the fault of the design too) simply snapped off – no doubt still too brittle where not sintered fully.

I contacted AMC and Roslyn Bailey was very patient with me, working through a series of potential solutions and it became evident that it was the burn-out stage of the firing that was the culprit and she made some suggestions to try.  If the organic binder isn’t fully removed, it will remain in the final piece, preventing the metal particles from bonding to each other properly, so this stage is vital to get right.  I was able to put into action her suggestions – and thankfully, it worked beautifully, addressing the issues I had.  Everything came out fully sintered and with negligible distortion – and that was more down to the design of that piece than the firing schedule.

Burn out – stage one firing on kiln pillow:

I made several test pieces of different thicknesses and also repaired one of the earlier pieces and re-fired that.  It was Ros’s suggestion to fire the pieces on kiln pillow (on top of the carbon) to improve airflow around the piece during burn-out and after discussion we also decided to try reducing the temperature of stage one but increase the hold time.  The kiln plug was removed to vent the kiln during the stage one burn-out.

In this initial test firing, I used brand new activated coconut carbon to eliminate any potential issues with pre-used carbon, in a stainless steel firing pan (I gave up on flake free foil containers some time ago, I’ve had more consistent results with all clays since) in a Paragon SC2 kiln.  The clay was AMC medium fire super flex in Desert Sun.   Stage one was ramped at Spd3 (1000°F / 555°C per hour) to 400°C and held for 50 minutes.

When the kiln had cooled enough to be safe to work with,  I covered the pieces with kiln paper where there was texture and the wren pendant with holes in (see photos in the Gallery below) I tented with a folded piece of no-flake foil, something I’ve been doing successfully for some time.  I then covered everything in more carbon and the pan lid and replaced the kiln plug.   After success with the kiln blanket below pieces, I’ll possibly use this in future above pieces too, in place of the paper or tent, as their only purpose is to keep carbon out of texture or holes that can cause cracks if it wedges in crevices as the piece shrinks during firing.

Stage 2 was ramped at Spd4 (1500°F / 833°C per hour) to 780°C and held for 3 hours.  The kiln was left to cool to about 200°C and then the pieces removed.   I’ve not been quenching the AMC pieces, I let them cool on a ceramic tile. The appearance of the pieces immediately out of the kiln and then after polishing and antiquing can be seen in the Gallery below.

This is a perfect example of a failure being a positive and valuable learning exercise – often it’s the failures that we learn the most from.  Without a negative initial outcome, I wouldn’t have sought out assistance, thereby learning an improved technique, which in turn will result in better work overall long-term.

Addendum on Antarctic Moonlight MF clay:

Aussie Metal Clay medium fire superflex clay in Antarctic Moonlight. The earrings have been paired with polished Sterling silver earwires and rivets and the flowers are copper.
Aussie Metal Clay medium fire superflex clay in Antarctic Moonlight. The earrings have been paired with polished Sterling silver earwires and rivets and the flowers are copper.

I’ve since done a similar firing with one of the other medium fire clays from Aussie Metal Clay; Antarctic Moonlight, which is reputed to need a slightly lower firing temperature due to the higher tin content with it being classed as a more silver coloured bronze.  I did the same basic firing as for the Desert Sun, as outlined above, but lowered the temperature in stage 2 by 20°C to 760°C, still holding for 3 hours and this sintered perfectly. 

It is also worth noting that as Antarctic Moonlight is a white bronze, with a higher tin content, it’s significantly more brittle and pieces need to be a bit thicker to be robust enough for wear.  The AMC recommended minimum thickness for Antarctic Moonlight is 5 cards thick (approx 1.25mm).  I cut some small test pieces using the Silhouette that ended up just under 0.7mm thick, totally forgetting about the thickness recommendation and whilst they fired nicely, I was able to just snap them in my fingers, even though they were solid metal right through the breaks that polished to a shine later. 

The thicker pieces in the batch came out really nicely and feel very robust indeed.  So bear this in mind, the Antarctic Moonlight won’t be suitable for bezels or prongs that might need moving later to set stones etc. and I doubt it would manipulate successfully if you wanted to straighten any warping or movement during firing.

Aussie Metal Clay kiln test gallery:

Photographs to illustrate the kiln schedule and technique described above, using Aussie Metal Clay’s medium fire super flex clay.  There are more details in the captions of the photographs.

Recent work gallery:

I’ve finished several new pieces recently, including a couple of new twig necklaces (well, a necklace and a pendant) featuring tiny hand sculpted naturalistic details.

 

15 Apr 2016

It’s April, what happened to the weather?

The Eskimos had fifty-two names for snow because it was important to them:
there ought to be as many for love.
Margaret Atwood

With the longer evenings since the clocks went forward, last Saturday was the first day that we had the opportunity to visit our favourite spot at Beacon Fell in the early evening.  We’d been on a visit to family and thought we could come back the ‘scenic’ route and whilst it was likely to be far too cold for a picnic and the timing might well be wrong, we packed a flask and books, thinking we could at least enjoy the scenery for a while and have a little peaceful interlude.

This little chap and several mates dashed to the fence to see us as we passed and weren't spooked at all. If it hadn't been lashing down, I would have got out of the car and tried for some better photos.
This little chap and several mates dashed to the fence to see us as we passed and weren’t spooked at all. If it hadn’t been lashing down, I would have got out of the car and tried for some better photos.

The weather in the morning had been glorious, despite a frigid wind, but the forecast clearly showed it worsening as the day progressed, but we were determined to get out anyway.  It didn’t give any indication however of just how badly it would worsen.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen weather quite like it before.

It was spotting with rain as we closed the miles to our very favourite spot and the intensity increased to the point that by the time we came to a standstill, we were reduced to a robust negotiation as to who should venture out to the back of the car to fetch the flask and our books.  My husband grabbed the bag he thought everything was in, which thankfully at least included my pocket camera and the flask.

The rain increased still further and we commented on how it was now clearly sleety – from the way it made little bumpy splodges on the car windows.  Then there was a gentle thud on the roof of the car and then another.  We demisted the windscreen, wondering what it was and could clearly see great big dollops of snow in amongst the rain.

It was the oddest phenomena.  Sometimes in summer when it rains very hard, you get a lot of leaves coming down with the rain, torn straight off the trees by the ferocity of the raindrops.  At a glance, this looked similar, but the lumps among the raindrops were big white dollops of snow, big enough to look like leaves and to make a sound when they hit the car.  Normally rain is all of a similar texture, with largely evenly sized droplets, but this was torrential and substantial rain, with visible lumps of snow falling at the same time.  The snow pieces were at least twice the size of a 50p piece and dropping slower than the rain around it, drifting down at a leisurely pace.

The rain that fell that day had great big lumps of snow in it and as the cloud lifted, we could see that more of it had been snow at slightly higher levels. I felt rather sorry for the tiny lambs out in the sudden blast of cold and unpleasant weather.
The rain that fell that day had great big lumps of snow in it and as the cloud lifted, we could see that more of it had been snow at slightly higher levels. I felt rather sorry for the tiny lambs out in the sudden blast of cold and unpleasant weather.

I variously tried photographing and videoing this strange weather experience, but nothing I got could do it justice, so you’re just going to have to take my word for it.  We listened to the Grand National horse race on the radio, then concluded that it was at least improving a little, the sky was tangibly brightening and the cloud lifting – at the zenith of this weather, the hillsides adjacent were completely hidden, but as they re-appeared, they were dusted with snow.  Not something I would have put on the list of things I might have expected to see today.

We headed home whilst it was still light, hoping that the better weather to follow would show itself so that we could enjoy the scenery on the way home.  There were at least some new lambs in the fields now, having not yet seen many, so I did manage to snag a couple of photographs and you can see above how wintry and cold the weather had been.  I must admit to being a little concerned at the tiny new lambs shivering away in this unexpected wintry snap.  The following day was thankfully sunny and spring-like, so I’m sure that they enjoyed that much better.

My work this week:

I worked several existing designs for orders and to replenish stock and made one or two variations of ‘classic’ designs that I have in shop that have sold consistently over the years – spiral earrings for example, have always been a favourite and I made a couple of pairs of un-hammered simple spirals.  As with all seemingly ‘simple’ designs, poor workmanship has nowhere to hide, so you have to work with care.

 

16 Mar 2016

Coiling copper and spring sunshine

She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbour:
“Winter is dead.”

A. A. Milne, Daffodowndilly, When We Were Very Young

I saw my first ladybird of 2016 on a gorgeous sunny spring day in early March. Obviously catching some rays to warm and wake up.
I saw my first ladybird of 2016 on a gorgeous sunny spring day in early March. Obviously catching some rays to warm and wake up.

My husband and I have been laid low by one of those especially horrible winter colds that happens about once every 15 years.  A particularly nasty variant that kicked the stuffing out of both of us for around 6 weeks.  Whilst we both experience long-term chronic health issues, we’re not ‘poorly’ very often and neither of us take much time off work for illness.  But this episode has caused us to merely exist for all of February, having started at the end of January and extending now well into March too.

So we’ve done a lot of treading water and not made much progress beyond concentrating on getting from one day to the next. And we largely shut ourselves away in an enforced quarantine, as we certainly didn’t want anyone we cared about to suffer with it.

We found a very quiet spot to eat some lunch in the car and just enjoy looking out at the spring sunshine.
We found a very quiet spot to eat some lunch in the car and just enjoy looking out at the spring sunshine.

But I think we both are at the tail end now (I think I’ve progressed a little faster, my husband had surgery just before it took hold and certainly had two separate colds in the same time) and can start looking forwards again and think about a bit more than just going through the motions.

Thankfully, after we’d met our commitments this weekend, the weather forecast was supposed to be decent and we decided to take advantage and just get out for some fresh air – we’ve long wanted to, but this weekend was the first time that we had the energy to make that desire to do so, into reality.

I know that we both seriously enjoyed it and I’m sure it did us both good too.  There’s been talk in the media lately of the value to health and well being of green spaces and spending time in nature, but this is something I’ve known since childhood.  Fresh air, sunshine, good food and quality sleep – Mother Nature’s healers.

My first lambs of spring 2016. They were very new and clean, but Mum, understandably, wasn't keen on me getting too close.
My first lambs of spring 2016. They were very new and clean, but Mum, understandably, wasn’t keen on me getting too close.

We didn’t do anything particularly energetic, but the spring sunshine felt wonderful after what has felt like a bit of an enforced curfew – just hearing the sounds of the countryside and breeze through your hair on a particularly nice spring day was most rejuvenating.

It makes me long for the long days of May and June when we try and get out as much as we can after work to enjoy those extended evenings – I think that’s perhaps my favourite time of year.

The area we travelled through had a lot of livestock in the fields, including some fabulous long horn cattle, which I wasn’t able to photograph due to the narrow nature of the lane and an impatient 4×4 driver behind us, but there were a lot of heavily pregnant ewes.  I finally saw my first lambs of this spring, two youngsters just tucked inside the perimeter wall of their field, so I got out of the car quietly, hoping to snag some photos, but Mum really wasn’t keen and promptly took them away, so all I got was retreating bottoms this time.

Gallery:

I’ve popped the photos from above, plus a couple more into the gallery below, including a couple of new ones from this week.  They each have captions to describe them.  You can click on any of them and it opens a pop up window and you can scroll through the full set.

My work this week:

Coiled copper teardrop loop earrings.
Coiled copper teardrop loop earrings.

I have a number of designs that feature either twisted wire or coils of wire and it has been my practice to use a small cordless screwdriver to give me the twisting/coiling action.  It needs a power tool that’s capable of a gentle start and slow speed.  I’d been using an inexpensive and very small hand unit that worked a treat for this, but it has been in its death throes for some time and I knew it wouldn’t be long for this world, despite giving me long and valued service.

But my father came to the rescue with a more substantial cordless screwdriver that had a failed battery and he adapted to run from the mains instead. It works an absolute treat and the additional size and weigh allows me to use it standing on its big heavy battery base, freeing me from the need to hold it up as well as co-ordinating the trigger finger and guiding the wire etc.

A longer teardrop of coiled copper wire in these antiqued copper earrings.
A longer teardrop of coiled copper wire in these antiqued copper earrings.

It has an accurate, well aligned chuck, which is especially valuable when coiling wire and it starts up lovely and gently, making for much easier coiling, less wire wastage and reduces the amount of swear words uttered.  I’ve enjoyed using it so much, that I replenished my stock of coiled wire lengths for regular designs and was able to make longer pieces than I have previously, so I put together some new teardrop loop earrings, as shown.

I see some wire twisting in my near future too.