13 Mar 2017

Spring is finally visiting

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.    Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

I am delighted to see that spring has finally come knocking at my front door.  She hasn’t however just crept along timidly, hoping not to cause too much fuss, she’s banged repeatedly on the knocker and is wearing her brightest finery.  I even saw my first lambs yesterday, so that was a treat too.

It’s one of my very favourite times of year, when the usually scrubby patch of grass [read that as more moss than grass] outside our front door is solid with spring flowers.  I’m pretty sure that they’re usually more spread out, in that the snowdrops are usually past their best by the time the crocuses emerge and they then overlap with the daffodils.  But at the moment, they’re all in full bloom.  There are even daisies amongst them already.

In fact, I thought the snowdrops had taken a battering in recent storms and were certainly finishing blooming, but a whole raft of new flowers have emerged this week, so it seems that it was only the first flush that were done.  There are some, thankfully still in bud, yet to enjoy.

What could be more cheerful after a long winter than seeing this vibrant splash of colour and a bee busy at work.
What could be more cheerful after a long winter than seeing this vibrant splash of colour and a bee busy at work.

I must start keeping a record of what blooms when, as I’m sure it must vary quite a bit year on year, depending on how severe the winter weather was.  I’m also pretty certain that winters are nowhere near as severe as they used to be – I know that we get a fraction of the snow we have had in past years.

I’m not sure this is entirely good for nature, I think some species need a good hard frost as part of their cycle and I feel this may be why for the last few years, my smaller daffs, often flower just above the soil, without ever growing proper stalks and developing the height that they should.  It feels like they haven’t been allowed to sleep and then woken properly.

We had a lovely day earlier this week, when the wind finally dropped enough to try and take some photos – delicate flowers like snowdrops quiver significantly even in the slightest breeze.  I caught it just on the right day – the warm sun caused the crocuses to open wide and they were pristine and new and I was delighted to see several industrious bumble bees.  I wasted more time than was decent to try to capture one particular character who was very keen on the snowdrops, but he was a large chap and heavily laden with yellow pollen caught in his furry back (you can see him in the banner image at the top) and every time he landed on a snowdrop, his weight caused the flower to drop violently earthwards and dump him onto the grass.  He valiantly kept trying though.  The crocus shape was more suitable for him and I did manage to catch him visiting them.

Recent work and gallery:

Pink bronze earrings, initially inspired by a couple of my favourite jewellery designers; Archibald Knox and Georg Jensen. I started with an idea and before I knew it, it had taken on my own style anyway.
Pink bronze earrings, initially inspired by a couple of my favourite jewellery designers; Archibald Knox and Georg Jensen. I started with an idea and before I knew it, it had taken on my own style anyway.

My husband was working away for a few days recently and I consequently had a really exceptional time getting lots of work done. I was really in the zone and had few interruptions, so made significant inroads into my ‘to do’ list. It was a most enjoyable and satisfying time.

So I now have a pile of finished pieces and some fired metal clay components to make into something and I’m just getting them all added to the web site and for sale.

Having sold several polymer clay pieces recently, I decided that I hadn’t played with polymer clay for a while, so a session was long overdue and I already had some ideas tucked away that I wanted to try.

I decided to start simple initially, to get my eye back in and also used some old baked pieces to try carving designs into. I’d done some rudimentary carving on metal clay and to make texture plates, but carving into polymer clay is most enjoyable. It’s just the right texture and density to carve easily and smoothly, but hard enough that it doesn’t slip away from you too fast, as some of the softer texture plate materials can do.

I do however need some better carving tools, what I’m working with is decent enough to let me try it, but not fine enough to turn tight curves, so my designs are somewhat limited.

The blue green earrings in the gallery were made with a mix of clays to give rise to a semi-translucent clay with fibrous inclusions. I thought they had the look of carved jade and having looked at carved jade netsuke I saw that a lot were teamed with red beads, so I thought that this would be a nice way to finish these earrings, so have paired them with Brecciated jasper beads; a combination I’m certainly going to use again.

21 Mar 2012

New adventures in Precious Metal Clay

As mentioned in my last post, I was about to start tinkering with precious metal clay – copper clay specifically.  I have resisted somewhat so far for a few reasons; firstly, I wanted to ensure I’d already got a good grasp of basic metalwork before I went off on that particular tangent, I felt it was important for me to understand metal fairly well in order to get the best from it.

 My collection of first finished pieces using PMC/copper clay.   Two textured heart pendants with earrings, a ‘painted’ leaf pendant with bail, a fancy beadcap over a teardrop shaped glass bead, copper washers separating faceted carnelians, plain bead caps with large labradorite beads and a ring featuring little leaves and bud.
A highly polished and textured heart pendant and a little leaf pendant made by painting clay paste over a real leaf and adding a bail – which I did between layers of paste to integrate it fully on the back.

Secondly, I felt the silver clays were too expensive to just tinker with and until recently, copper clay, which I felt would work well alongside my other work, could only be kiln fired – and that wasn’t going to be practical just to try it out.

But when I saw a new copper clay on the market that could be torch fired, it felt like a good time to at least give it a try.  I already had a series of designs and ideas in my sketch book, as well as components to supplement other work that I just couldn’t buy or easily make by other methods.  So I hoped that it would work as well as the ideas I had in my mind and having never even touched any PMC before, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect and although I’d done a lot of reading, planning and thinking, I did open the packet for the first time with a few little butterflies in my tummy.

Rings are one of the areas I want to pursue more as I have all sorts of ideas for them – but I need to make several first to work out the correct sizing allowing for shrinkage etc.
I’m somewhat disappointed with how the ring looks in the photographs at this scale, as it looks very polished and pretty cute in reality and the photos really don’t flatter the texture of the copper clay at all.

I perhaps should have started with a few simple shapes or test pieces, but I had so many ideas filling my head, that I just dived in on working on something from the outset – I think I personally learn best and am most productive when I actually make something proper that I fully expect to finish and to work properly.

I’ve never been able to find solid copper bead caps the right sort of size for many of the things I make, but using copper clay will allow me to make my own to fit perfectly.  These are simple and quite small ones – the biggest drawback is the time they take to fire properly and the necessity to only work on a couple at a time when torch firing.

It proved to be a very steep learning curve, from how quickly the clay dries, to how brittle and easily damaged it is in clay form and how long it takes to fire and sinter properly and how bloody hard it is to get the firescale off!  Funnily enough, some pieces come clean with the first dunk in hot pickle, others resist everything from repeated pickling, tumbling and wire brushing and had to be hand polished clean.

This fancy bead cap was made from a sketch I drew some time ago – and proved a steep learning curve.  I fired it according to the packet instructions and I don’t think this was long enough as the lovely little feature collar I gave it chipped when first tightening the wire wrap against it (I took it apart, trimmed the collar down and re-made), suggesting that it was too brittle and not sintered for long enough.  I’d be afraid that the points might break off, so this will remain in my personal collection.

The oxidisation process is a little different too – I’ve oxidised and antiqued very many pieces of copper – but the PMC doesn’t take it evenly, or darkly and the LoS solution goes cloudy and pink making it hard to even find small pieces in it.  And some pieces were almost polished clean again after a quick tumble.  So that part clearly needs more thought too – having thought that I’d settled on a very reliable method that always gave good results, clearly PMC copper will need a slightly different technique from raw metal.

I absolutely love working with it – it’s nowhere near as messy as I was expecting, having seen many illustrated tutorials where the copper clay artist illustrated had stained brown fingers and all their tools were stained and messy too.  I found it much cleaner than I was anticipating and it didn’t even really stick much to anything other than itself – it worked very much like polymer clay, but needs to be worked quickly.  I found that for the most part, I didn’t need to add any sort of release to my tools.

I like that I can refine the shapes at the clay stage and get it close to a finished surface with much less effort than with the finished metal.  I like that I can either just roll it back up and start over if it doesn’t work, or grind it up and reconstitute it if I don’t like it once dried – so there’s much less wastage than other techniques.  It drills and carves easily when dry and I’m really looking forward to putting some of my design ideas into practice.  I’m already delighted with how it’s worked and can’t wait to make some more pieces.

These earrings are perhaps my favourite finished piece – I made the undulating textured washers specifically for a design I had already made other polymer clay components for, but when fiddling with them to see how else I could use them, I loved how they looked with these Carnelian faceted rondelles, so I’ll need to make some more for my other project.

The one thing that I’m not entirely happy with is that it doesn’t photograph well.  The clay-like texture persists on the surface a little, even after firing and polishing.  When seeing even highly polished pieces in photographs, little speckles of texture dominate every surface, especially when seen on-screen so much larger than life-size – as tends to be the case when showing jewellery items in photographs.  I was very happy with the finish I got in some of the pieces after a little polishing, some before and some after firing, yet was bitterly disappointed with how they looked in the photographs, so this might need a different approach too.  So very much to learn, but it will be a lot of fun to do so.

12 Mar 2012

Revisiting Polymer Clay

Some time ago when I first became aware of what was possible with the relatively new precious metal clays on the market, I resisted the temptation to do down that route as I had the very strong feeling that I’d get totally enthralled with it and at the time, only being readily available in silver, it might prove to be an expensive obsession.

Please click on any of the photographs for a larger view.
Four rough un-finished pendants made from a simple cane in dark red and gold with small areas of black and crackled gold.
I had some already crackled sheets remaining and decided to use them up on some simple ‘faux dichroic’ pendants, but most of them had dried too much already and were far too fragile, so I made some more as I hadn’t yet used the green pearl ink I had bought some time ago for the task and had plenty of silver leaf left too.  Most of these are baked with a clear glass like layer of embossing resin to further enhance the glass-like look.

Instead, I decided to tinker with the rather less expensive polymer clay – initially, to see if I had the dexterity and necessary skills to potentially work with PMC.  But I soon got hooked on it in its own right, I especially love that you can mimic natural materials like stones and wood and the infinite variety of colour work possible with it.

I made several pieces using a faux speckled turquoise technique, having seen a fabulous [real] stone like this in a piece, but I think I possibly made the brown matrix areas too distinct.  Some of these will be used with some copper clay components I have in mind.

I’ve only ever really scratched the surface of what’s possible as I only have a small area to work in and it’s necessary to work cleanly and I need to clear the area of metalwork clutter for a working session.  If I had a larger working room, I might dedicate an area to it and immerse myself even further into the possibilities.

I did a lot of polymer clay work in the past, but as other work had taken hold, I hadn’t returned to it for a while, but I’ve also now found a copper PMC that can be torch fired, so all the sketches and ideas I have for PMC might finally get the chance to take form as it’s affordable enough to be worth trying and would fit really well with everything else I do and the style of my work.

This faux turquoise technique used a turquoise ‘basalt’ stone textured clay [with fibrous inclusions] which I made a simple cane of with a black edge and formed a sheet that looked like speckled turquoise. 

Before I started on my ideas, I wanted to get out all my polymer clay tools and see if I was suitably equipped and do a little more work with it to get my eye in again and re-hone the skills I had before.  I also wanted to try out a few prototypes in polymer clay before committing ideas to metal.  I realised that I had quite a lot of open packets of clay that I wasn’t sure how well it would age being stored for a while, so thought it was an ideal opportunity to use up the open materials, get my eye in and make some prototypes too.

This batch were a little disappointing, using a natural stone effect clay in agate and basalt finishes.  The little pebbles top right are for a specific design I have in mind with copper clay components, I bought this clay specifically with the design in mind – a copper and turquoise re-working of a design I’ve done in silver and black.

The prototypes will stay under wraps until the metal clay versions are finished and then I’ll blog about them all together, but suffice it to say that I am delighted with the progress so far and can’t wait to get to put them into practice with the metal clay – I just hope it works as well as the prototypes did.

I did manage to make a significant amount of pieces and components for more extensive projects.  The simple ones are now almost finished, but some will be used in conjunction with PMC components later too, especially the larger faux turquoise pieces.

The crackled ‘dichroic’ pendants have been fitted with Aanraku bails intended for genuine dichroic glass pendants and have been sanded and extensively varnished to seal everything in and protect the finishes.  The embossing resin looks very good when first done, but it’s very soft and scratches easily without being varnished, so it needs that additional step.  I’m going to keep a couple of these for myself as I wanted the green specifically to match a shirt I have that colour and a couple are intended for gifts.  But now I have to find the time to photograph and list them all.

I used one of the smaller pieces of faux turquoise on an adjustable ring, a style that I’ve simply not tried before, but I quite liked the result.
24 Sep 2008

Serendiptitous jewellery making


I’m currently working like something possessed, in order to prepare for a large art and craft market I’m doing this coming weekend. I have much more space than a normal craft fair table, so am spending a lot of time putting together display materials and trying to get more organised. I spent so long at my last craft fair taking pieces out of ziplock bags to put on display that I swore I wanted to do it better next time.

I’m not convinced – at all – that I’m achieving that. Yet.

But in the process of finishing various part made pieces – and components like pendants – to display, I ordered some more antiqued copper chain and decided to try some ball chain at the same time. When it came, it was rather chunkier than I’d envisioned – despite being fully aware the size. It’s funny how often components you buy are a completely different size when they arrive, despite knowing their size and checking against a ruler, your mind just forms a picture at completely the wrong scale.

The ball chain was going to be the wrong weight for the pieces I had in mind, but on my work mat was a polymer clay pendant that I’d put ready to finish with one of the chains and this looked pretty good with the chunkier ball chain. So I dug around in my box of polymer clay pieces to see what else I had that might work.

You know how it is – and I don’t suppose I’m unique in this regard – you make some pieces that are too good to discard, but you somehow can’t make quite work. So you put them aside for another day. I found two other pendants that fell into that category, so made some double wrapped loop bails with co-ordinating bead details and antiqued the copper to match the ball chain and made three brand new pieces from pendants I hadn’t previously known quite what to do with.

Sometimes serendipity gives rise to the most pleasing results. So don’t panic, those part made pieces you put aside until inspiration strikes, may someday take on a new life. When the time is just right.