1 May 2015

It felt like summer for a moment

It’s a strange moment when you realise that the sound of nature is the sound of millions of animals, birds and insects desperately trying to get laid.  Unknown

A week or so ago we had a spell of the most gorgeous warm sunshine.  It was unseasonably warm and it felt like summer had arrived – the days felt a decent length, with lighter evenings, after the clocks had gone forwards a couple of weeks earlier.  I took my work outside at any opportunity and sat doing my polishing in shirt sleeves – an unexpected bonus for the middle of April.  Although it’s slightly incongruous to sit out with tulips in bloom and no leaves on the trees.

We often get early warm periods like this, lulling us into thinking that summer has actually arrived, then as quickly as it arrived, it vanishes again and we’re reminded of just how early in the year it still actually is.  I went to post some orders today, grabbing an opportunity of dryness between wintry showers and really regretted not putting on my gloves, as I walked to the letterbox.  My afternoon sojourns to polish in the garden bathed in sunshine felt like an especially surreal and distant memory.

Orange-tip butterfly looking for a girlfriend as soon as he emerged for the season.
Orange-tip butterfly looking for a girlfriend as soon as he emerged for the season.

Whilst sitting outside during this nice spell, I was aware of how many insects were now active, presumably spurred into activity by the rise in temperature.  Nothing evokes the idea of summer quite as readily as the sound of insects busy at work and I had several treats during this period.

Left you can see an Orange-tip butterfly I photographed in the garden.  It flew past me and I dashed to grab the camera and by the time I found it and got it ready, he had settled on a climbing hydrangea I have growing up the end wall of the garden.  I took the photograph and was annoyed that a plant label was reflecting the sun and dominating the frame, so as I adjusted my position to try and photograph him with a better background, my moving shadow must have spooked him and he was soon off over the wall and away.

Ironically, that in itself turns out to be the interesting point.  I wasn’t wholly sure of the name of the species, so turned to my books for confirmation.  And there I read that male Orange-tip butterflies emerge in April and their first task is to find a mate.

There were a number of the same species of hoverfly active too, the first I've seen this year.
There were a number of the same species of hoverfly active too, the first I’ve seen this year.

The lady Orange-tips aren’t actually orange, they’re grey where the lovely chap above is orange and consequently, the males, in their quest for a girlfriend, land on anything white hoping that they’ve found a willing female.  He returned to the garden briefly several times during the day, variously landing on lightly variegated leaves and the same obviously enticing plant label.  I hope he was successful at some later point.

I’ve always been fond of hoverflies and keep some plants in the garden that I know they favour.  I love the way they drop their undercarriage to land and they don’t bother you, sting or bite and I’m happy to have them visit the garden.

There were several of these large hairy bee-like species and they alternated between hovering in the air in the sunshine and washing their legs on the tops of leaves.  Love was clearly in the air as we saw several coupled as they hovered, which must be quite a feat in itself – presumably they find it safer to be airborne whilst distracted and vulnerable rather than a potential double meal for something if they landed to get down to business.

The intense colour of these tulips really comes alive when backlit by sunshine.
The intense colour of these tulips really comes alive when backlit by sunshine.

My work this week:

I’ve revisited some of my ‘classic’ designs for some new variations recently.  Some pieces continue to sell well even though their first incarnations were early in my career and I seem to have been working on several of those again recently – although I do perpetually hone the designs as my technique and workmanship improves.  There are some designs that as soon as I get back in stock, they’re gone again.  The earrings below are a variation on the rosebud knots that I’ve now done in many different formats and even as I made these, I had a subsequent idea for a bracelet link, which I’ve just started making up.

Rosebud knot looped link earrings featuring intensely coloured raspberry jade beads.
Rosebud knot looped link earrings featuring intensely coloured raspberry jade beads.

 

'Coil on coil' pendant featuring a lovely delicate aquamarine jade bead with a lovely marbled texture.
‘Coil on coil’ pendant featuring a lovely delicate aquamarine jade bead with a lovely marbled texture.

 

A new variation of an early design which I used to wire wrap with copper, but these now have the flowers ball riveted with silver.
A new variation of an early design which I used to wire wrap with copper, but these now have the flowers ball riveted with silver.
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.