25 Mar 2015

Paper becomes metal

A house with daffodils in it is a house lit up, whether or no the sun be shining outside.   A.A. Milne

My husband had a couple of days holiday to use up before the end of the holiday year, so we sneaked a couple of days off and hoped to get some time outside in the spring sunshine.  We did manage that and jolly lovely it was too, but for an assortment of reasons – apathy largely – I didn’t get any worthwhile photos to share with you.  I had it in mind to post some cute little spring lambs, but the areas we visited were only just starting to lamb and the ones I did spot weren’t in a place where we could stop for photos.  So they will have to wait until another day.

Tulip bud, all bulbous and soon to burst into colour.
Tulip bud, all bulbous and soon to burst into colour.

As you can see above, the little Tête-á-tête daffodils in my garden are now in full bloom and are an absolute delight – so cheering to see out of the window.  I love any daffodils, but am especially fond of these compact little ones, perfect little miniature specimens.

I also have tulips starting to emerge too.  Whilst I love the blooms, I also enjoy the buds before they open – they’re often spherical and bulbous and amongst the leaves make lovely abstract shapes, especially if you can catch a few raindrops sitting on the leaves.

Because I have a tiny garden, when my bulbs are done, I pull them up and dry them ready to re-plant in autumn and then put my summer bedding in the same pots.  Consequently, my bulbs end up totally mixed up from one year to the next, so I’m never quite sure what any one individual bloom will be like, or any pot arrangement, adding a tiny frisson of excitement as they open.  Maybe I’m just easily excited.

 My work this week:

I’ve posted previously about the wild roses that I’ve made in paper, designing and cutting the components using the Silhouette Studio software and my Portrait cutter.  Whilst assembling one to stick onto a gift, I wondered if I could use the same basic structure with copper clay to make the same sort of flowers in metal.

I know that a lot of metal clay workers use the Silhouettes to actually cut thinly rolled clay for complex features like bezels and that was certainly one of the reasons I wanted the machine for myself.  But to date, I’m still having fun using the software and machine to make my own textures and design elements and I haven’t even tried cutting clay with it directly yet.

One of the original paper wild roses, alongside its metal counterpart.
One of the original paper wild roses, alongside its metal counterpart.

I wanted the roses to be fairly substantial in size, which would necessitate a decent thickness of sheet clay to work with, almost certainly beyond the cutting capacity of the Silhouette and I also wanted to shape the petals as I worked too – best done with wet clay.

A lot of the charm of actual wild roses is the curl and random shapes of the petals themselves and in this instance, I didn’t feel they should be too uniform in shape.  So instead, I used the cutter to create a template which I could cut around manually, allowing me to form each petal the same basic shape and size, but individually contoured, to give them the same natural variation you’d experience in real flowers.

Wild rose pendant in antiqued copper.
Wild rose pendant in antiqued copper.

The metal clay as a medium also allows a slightly different approach to details too – so the centre of the flower is more anatomically realistic, where the paper version is more of an impression of a real flower.  I did actually make the flower in pretty much the same way as the paper versions, in that I made each petal and allowed them to dry, then refined and assembled them onto a small circular base, adding the centre details last.

The large pendant has a simple loop on the back to hang from the chain, I didn’t want to bail, in this instance, to detract from the details of the flower.

Wild rose pendant made in copper metal clay.
Wild rose pendant made in copper metal clay.

Having made the large pendant, which is around 42mm (1.65″) in diameter, I wondered if I could work a smaller rose, to use on earrings etc.  I approached this slightly differently due to the size, creating my own cutter for the basic shape of the petals.  Other than that and simplifying the centre a little, the process was much the same.

With this pendant, I’ve applied the smaller wild rose to a basic textured circle frame, accompanied by a few rose leaves adjacent.  I have some other variants in progress to make into earrings, but at this point, my kiln was full anyway, so I have a second batch of pieces to fire shortly.

Circle pendant made in copper clay with a wild rose centre piece with accompanying leaves.
Circle pendant made in copper clay with a wild rose centre piece with accompanying leaves.

 

The wild rose circle pendant prior to firing.
The wild rose circle pendant prior to firing.

It is my habit with all metal clay work to keep a very detailed record of all pieces.  I keep a kiln log of the firing itself, with photos and measurements recorded in a separate log.  That way I know what brand of clay was used for a particular piece and when and how it was fired etc.  As I always like to see other artists pieces in progress, I’ll post a couple of pre-firing photos too.

Wild rose pendant in its finished state immediately before firing.
Wild rose pendant in its finished state immediately before firing.
6 Mar 2015

Mother Nature knows how to cheer us up

Spring is Nature’s way of saying “let’s party!”   Robin Williams.

I had always planned to make a large painting of the early spring, when the first leaves are at the bottom of the trees, and they seem to float in space in a wonderful way. But the arrival of spring can’t be done in one picture.  David Hockney

I discussed in my previous post the fabulous showing of snowdrops I have this year.  Unfortunately, they’re now passing their best and the first to flower are now withering, but I can still enjoy them for a little longer yet.

A little splash of cheery sunshine in my otherwise largely dormant garden.
A little splash of cheery sunshine in my otherwise largely dormant garden.

I also mentioned that the first crocuses were also emerging, adding a much needed and appreciated colour amongst the grass at the front of the house.

Yesterday I had one of my weekly chores to attend to – fetching the wheelie bin from outside the house and putting it away.  I always keep a selection of planted plots in front of them in a vague and largely ineffective attempt at bin-subterfuge, so it’s a tad tedious to position the bin and replace them all – especially in bad weather.

How fabulous is the curled structure of these crocus petals with their tiny delicate stripes.
How fabulous is the curled structure of these crocus petals with their tiny delicate stripes.

Having done that, I decided, as the sun was briefly out between showers, to survey our tiny walled garden and get a bit of much-needed fresh air.  I’d done the same task a few days ago, so wasn’t expecting any surprises, but was delighted to find that a good number of my bulb planting was reaping rewards with quite a few crocuses in flower and even a handful of the Tête-á-tête daffodils already in bloom – where a mere few days ago, they looked to be well off showing any colour.

I’ve always held the view that spring bulbs are Mother Nature’s way of cheering us up after the cold and lack of colour in winter.  She’s jolly clever; it works a treat.  I love this period where the worst of winter is behind you (but may yet come back for a bite) and the whole of spring and summer is ahead.

I couldn't even begin to catch the fabulous lustre of these purple crocuses.
I couldn’t even begin to catch the fabulous lustre of these purple crocuses.

I took some photographs, largely to cheer me up if nothing else. I suspect, if you want to trawl back through my posts, that you’ll find that I do this every year.  But it was quite breezy and the sun that was out when I set off to grab my camera only lasted about 2 minutes after I fired it up – so the photos aren’t quite as cheery as they would have been with sun on them.

It has been my habit for a few years to make a mental note of the time of day that the garden blackbirds noisily roost each evening – I used to actually document it for a while.  In the depths of winter if can be well before 4pm and last night, I noted that it was the first evening that it was after 6pm, so it felt like another little milestone towards summer was passed – the evenings are tangibly lengthening now.

My work this week:

These Carnelian and Butter Jade beads look like berries.
These Carnelian and Butter Jade beads look like berries.

I’ve spent a great deal of my working week spiral wrapping various gemstones for bracelets and necklaces to commission.  I’ve also made a couple of new ones for sale.  I loved how these deep red Carnelian and lovely fresh green butter jade looked together; like berries at differing stages of ripeness.

In fact, I’m only even getting chance to write this post as I’m giving my fingers a rest between sessions of polishing.  I find the bit that suffers most is my left thumb, in trying to keep a tight grip on the piece that my right hand is busy polishing – the smaller the piece, the greater the discomfort.  I’ve tried an assortment of gripping devices and methods over the years, but there’s nothing that can match the subtle changes of grip and positioning that the human thumb can manage.

beads riveted to hammered copper paddles.
Large Palmwood saucer beads riveted to hammered copper paddles.

Whilst ordering some of the gemstones I needed this week, I decided to try some wooden beads my supplier had to offer.  Wood has the advantage of being very light compared to gemstones and glass and for earring wearers like myself that can’t get on with weighty earrings, means that I can offer something quite chunky in size that is still comfortable to wear.

I paired these gorgeous Palmwood saucer beads with some hammered copper paddles cut from thin copper sheet and they’ve been riveted in place with balled bronze pins.  I chose bronze as the colour, once it’s been melted, is quite close to the colour of copper anyway, but the bronze makes an especially nicely round ball when melted and is lovely to rivet with.  The beads were called saucers, but they’re rather more like shallow bicones as they’re quite tall at the centre hole, which isn’t obvious at the angle shown.

30 Jan 2015

Etched copper earrings

As a follow up to my previous post, I’ve now finished another couple of pairs of copper earrings that I’ve etched using a design resist that I’ve cut in vinyl using the Silhouette cutter.

Etched copper earrings, cut into a fan shape and given a slight curl.
Etched copper earrings, cut into a fan shape and given a slight curl.

It gives a different type of etch from previous results obtained with printed resists, where more tiny detail and texture was possible – if you could print it and it would transfer to the copper, it could be part of the design.  But the Silhouette cut resists are much more black and white and bold clear lines.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all, just different.  I’m really enjoying thinking about what might work and drawing designs in the software.

I’ve barely even touched on working from my own sketched designs, I still have a head full of ideas to work through using vectored drawings created from scratch in the software.

Fan shaped copper earrings featuring delicate scrolls, inspired by Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau lines.
Fan shaped copper earrings featuring delicate scrolls, inspired by Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau lines.

These fan shaped earrings feature delicate curls inspired from some Arts and Crafts Movement designs I was looking at – with delicate and elegant lines – and I tried to capture some of that feeling.  The fan shape was one I’ve drawn in my sketchbook many times to use with metal clay, but not found it easy to get the delicacy of shape that I envisioned – it always seemed to come out too clunky.  Being able to draw the shape in software and then use it with quite thin copper sheet (to keep such large earrings light), allowed me to realise the idea rather better – so it’s always worth holding on to some ideas until all the right elements come together.

 

Geometric design inspired by a glimpse of some 40 year old wallpaper.
Geometric design inspired by a glimpse of some 40 year old wallpaper.

This pair of oval earrings were born as an idea whilst watching a home improvement programme on TV – where they showed a room that hadn’t been decorated since the 70s.  There was some garish geometric wallpaper on one wall and I only got a glimpse of it, but it sparked an idea for some overlapping shapes.  My son commented that they had a retro feel, so I explained what gave me the initial idea and he said that he bet that the wallpaper in question was orange and brown – and it was indeed.

I’ve always favoured my copper to have a polished finish and put a lot of effort and dirty fingers into achieving it. But I decided with these etched pieces, to leave them with a darker more satin surface, it seemed fitting for the designs.

I was also concerned that the flat even and very reflective surface of the polished copper sheet might present a glare hazard to anyone talking to the wearer if they caught the sun as the earrings jiggled as they moved.  I wouldn’t want to be responsible for giving anyone spots before their eyes!

Etched copper earrings with a deep patina and satin surface finish.
Etched copper earrings with a deep patina and satin surface finish.
Retro style antiqued copper oval earrings.
Retro style pattern etched into antiqued copper oval earrings.

 

 

27 Jan 2015

My first pieces utilising the Silhouette

I mentioned in my last post that I was a new owner of a Silhouette cutting machine and having great fun with it.  My initial intentions were to use it as a supplementary tool for my metal clay work – for making texture plates, stencils and actually cutting design elements directly from thinly rolled clay itself.  But the more I read about it and watched YouTube tutorials of it in use (before I even got it), the more I realised it was an incredibly versatile piece of kit and I knew it would be well used, for a variety of different types of work.

The various stages of the copper etching process.
The various stages of the etching process; vinyl resist, clean copper plate, newly etched copper sheet, cut and polished earring shapes and at the front, a finished pair of antiqued copper earrings.

Whilst I’ve certainly made great headway in the metal clay direction, already having made several new texture plates and templates (and many birthday cards and gift boxes), the more I work with it, the more ideas it sparks – and it was such a tangential thought that has kept me occupied for the last few days.

I’ve spent time in the past doing salt water etching and whilst I loved the results and enjoyed the process, a key element to the success of the pieces I was etching was an old laser printer that I used for the resist designs – making a black and white print onto coated paper and then ironing this resist design onto the prepared copper surface – in itself, a very tedious and haphazard process.  But my old printer started giving progressively inferior results and once I got a new (to me) laser printer from Freecycle, I decommissioned the old machine.  But modern machines don’t use the toners that worked so well with such processes, so my etching was put on hold as newer techniques got my attention.

A newly etched piece of copper just marked up to cut into a pair of earrings.
A newly etched piece of copper just marked up to cut into a pair of earrings.

But having cut out some designs in adhesive vinyl to use as opaque masters to make photopolymer plates, I wondered if the vinyl itself might stick directly on copper to act as a resist – it stuck so cleanly to clear acrylic that I thought it was likely it would stick well to copper too.  So I dusted off my etching equipment – luckily all put away together and complete – and gave it a go.

It works a treat – better than I dared hope.  Etching is one of those processes where 90% of the effort is in the proper preparation – you simply can’t cut corners or try to sidestep any stages.  The better your preparation, the better the results are likely to be – that effort really does pay dividends.  So it can take a frustratingly long time to get to the good stuff and the fun part.

The very best bit of course is peeling off all the protective stuff you’ve stuck to the copper to prevent the non-design parts etching, to see if it worked.  You can’t get a proper idea of the success of the etch until you see it all – sometimes a piece that looks good initially is spoiled by an edge of the mask lifting and leaving a streak of erroneous and unattractive etching where it’s not wanted.

Obviously, preparing a graphic to use in this manner requires some time in the Silhouette software, but I’m really enjoying that aspect of the work – drawing all of the designs shown myself from scratch as vector drawings.  It has allowed me to revisit design ideas in my sketch book that I’d struggled to realise with other methods.

Newly etched raw copper design, ready for cutting into a pait of earrings.
A newly etched copper design for a pair of fan shaped earrings. I made these curly tendril shapes after looking at some gorgeous Arts and Crafts pieces and wanting to capture some of that feeling.

It also requires a slightly different thinking and the vinyl resist is of a different nature from a graphic created to print out – you don’t want delicate details unattached to other design elements, or overlapping so that they cut bits off each other and you don’t want lots of tiny holes between elements that will make it tricky to get a clean result without any rogue bits of sticky vinyl.  You also need a good mix of dark and light areas to give a balanced result.

But this has been a most enjoyable and bonus diversion – I’d never even considered etching in my deliberations over the Silhouette – even if I never use it for anything other than birthday cards and etched designs, it will totally justify my family’s investment in it for me.  Not to mention that I’m truly enjoying working with it.

My first finished pair of earrings - featuring a delicate leafy design I drew myself.
My first finished pair of earrings – featuring a delicate leafy design I digitally drew myself.
The top of the etched earring required a little thought for the design of an earwire that would allow it to move freely, not just have a huge round eye.  I settled on a little hammered scroll.
The top of the etched earring required a little thought for the design of an earwire that would allow it to move freely, not just have a huge round eye. I settled on a little hammered scroll, which allowed me a longer teardrop loop.

I’ve also really enjoyed working with the design software and find it very powerful for creating what I want – you just need to think about the structure of a shape and which drawing tools will create the shape you want.  I’ve always been fascinated with the regular repeating patterns in Moorish architecture and I’ve done a bit of tinkering with patterns formed from a repeating element – the geometric tools within the Silhouette studio software make such tasks a doddle and it’s astonishing to me that moving a shape just a little, creating more overlap or rotating the angle can give rise to an infinite number of different designs from a few simple shapes.

Geometric patterns formed by using either very regular o totally irregular shapes to create repeating patterns.
Geometric patterns formed by using either very regular or totally irregular shapes to create repeating patterns.