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.
25 Feb 2015

Snowdrops, paper roses and daisies

It is a delight to me at the moment that I have an especially good showing of snowdrops outside the house.  Obviously, being bulbs, they’re natualising and gradually increasing year on year, but this year, the conditions must have been conducive to them thriving and I have quite a decent patch of them in the patch of grass right outside my front door.

I've had a good showing of snowdrops this year and you can see the splash of purple of emerging crocuses.
I’ve had a good showing of snowdrops this year and you can see the splash of purple of emerging crocuses.

They’ve always been a favourite and I feel as though I’ve planted quite a lot of bulbs over the years, so it’s a joy to me that the effort is finally paying dividends.   One patch of a large species was planted as a single bulb some years ago, the only one to come up again from a pot of commercially grown flowering plants I received as a gift.  So it’s fabulous to now see around 25 flowers bobbing their heads in the breeze in that particular spot.

Over the last few days the crocuses have joined them and whilst they’re only just starting, it always feels like spring and summer is on its way once we see the splashes of purple and yellow amongst the grass.  The daffodils are a way off yet, although when visiting our son in Liverpool three weeks ago, the park near him had full patches of daffs already in full flower.

Paper roses (and daisies)

I've designed all of the elements in this decorated gift box; box, flowers and leaves.
I’ve designed all of the elements in this decorated gift box; box, flowers and leaves.

Flowers have been on my mind quite a bit this week as I’m still having a lot of fun tinkering with my Silhouette cutting machine.  Whilst there are a massive amount of commercially available cutting files to buy – and largely pretty inexpensively – if you want to use them in any way commercially, you’d understandably need to buy the appropriate commercial licence.  But as I’m having so much fun playing with the Studio software that comes with the machine, I’d rather create my own original designs and once you have a decent grasp on the concepts and drawing with vector graphics, it’s pretty easy – and more importantly, great fun – at least it is to me!

A paper wild rose with leaves, used here to decorate a shallow gift box for jewellery presentation.
A paper wild rose with leaves, used here to decorate a shallow gift box for jewellery presentation.

With my interest in nature and also gardening, the construction of flowers and how to re-create them out of paper is my latest obsession.  I love the idea of using a flower and leaf arrangement to decorate a gift instead of a more conventional gift bow, so I’ve been working on a number of flowers that work well when laid flat in this manner and have possibly spent more time than is decent studying stamens and petal construction.

My two favourites so far are the daisy and wild roses shown adjacent.  Their structure makes them easy to mimic in paper and I think the results are fairly realistic.  The rose petals can be made more natural looking, as I’ve done here, with the application of a little additional colour – so having cut out the basic petal shapes out of a pinky cream coloured paper, I made up some dilute water colour and brushed it onto the outer edges of the petals.  They take on even more life once you curl and shape them before assembling the flower.

I've also designed the cut file for these shallow boxes, suitable for jewellery.
I’ve also designed the cut file for these shallow boxes, suitable for jewellery.

I also wanted to consider different box designs too.  I always gift wrap the jewellery I sell and am pretty settled and happy with how I do things already, but there are occasional situations that call for something slightly different.  Sometimes a large beaded pendant for example, might cause a bulge in a flat envelope, so something with some depth or a gusset might suit better.

The same consideration for commercial use applies, so I was keen to design my own, this freed me from licencing restrictions and also ensures that I got boxes and envelopes that were perfect for my own personal needs.  The boxes shown above are my own design – square in shape – these are about 75mm (3″) square and 17mm (0.7″) tall.  They have internal flaps to keep the sides pretty, add strength and prevent the contents from straying out and a little thumb notch to aid opening.

Wild roses come in a wide range of colours, but I think the pale pink with tinted petals are my favourite.
Wild roses come in a wide range of colours, but I think the pale pink with tinted petals are my favourite.

I’m currently toying with the idea of selling some of these items as finished products.  Due to the way postage is currently priced on size as well as weight, selling gift boxes assembled would be cost-prohibitive, but maybe selling them flat might work, they’d only need the application of a little glue to finish them.  But the flowers are perhaps a better prospect – I could sell them made in batches, of 6 or 8, in one of my flat postal boxes and let the buyer use them however they wished; for decorating wedding favours, gift boxes etc.  Once I’ve finalised my designs (my roses have a number of stamen designs as you can see right and I still don’t know which I prefer) I might try this out with the roses and daisies.

Digital paper – who knew?

It was also a revelation to me recently to find that you could buy digital paper – who knew such a beast even existed!?  But once I’d bought a couple to try, I was hooked on those too. I’ve bought fancy papers for making boxes and envelopes before, but in a (usually quite expensive) pack there are inevitably some designs you don’t like so much, so printing your own from a digital collection ensures that you can use the ones you like as much as you want and ignore the rest.

I've designed all of the elements in this gift box; box, digital paper and flower.
I’ve designed all of the elements in this gift box; two part box with lid, digital paper and flower.

There are some truly gorgeous designs available and also, many are very inexpensive.  But these too are understandably only available for personal use, so I’ve also tinkered with my own ‘paper’ designs and printed onto light card for making boxes.  I don’t think I have quite the flair for this that the paper designers clearly have, but I like the idea that absolutely everything in the photos shown are totally original and I’m free to use them however I like.

Now if I could only get the Silhouette Studio software to play nicely and not totally hog all of my computer resources when it’s open, I’d really be having some fun – it does tend to suck the joy out of being creative when you have to keep rebooting the computer!    Grrrr!

10 Jul 2012

Bringing copper clay to life

Firstly, I must apologise for the delay since my last post, but between health issues, our annual ‘summer’ holiday (I use the word advisedly, it didn’t feel much like summer in the storms) and being kept busy with some lovely custom orders, time has simply got away from me.

As I promised that I’d post this subject some time ago and I’ve already prepared the photographs, I may as well continue and complete the post, even though some considerable time has passed since I said I’d be doing so.

I’m going to show the many stages it takes to make a jewellery set like this from copper clay.

As previously posted, I’ve really been enjoying working with copper clay, a somewhat new adventure for me. I resisted for some time, until I felt I’d mastered sufficient skills with actual solid metal before taking myself off on a tangent. It’s an amazing medium, it allows you to achieve results that would be either very difficult, time consuming or even impossible with solid metal forms. I read an article by an experienced jeweller that said she used PMC for things that she simply couldn’t do by other means – as a supplement to metal, not instead of. So that has been my thinking with it thus far. To try things that I couldn’t otherwise accomplish. Hark at me, like I’m an expert. Far from it, I’m learning at a very steep rate and still have a long way to go.

Whilst it’s amazingly good fun to work with and you can do really interesting things with it (and I’ve only scratched the surface so far) – I don’t feel it’s a short cut to quick or easy results either. It still takes a lot of work to get good results. I suspect in my case some of that is related to the fact that I’m torch firing and not using a kiln – it takes longer to fire the piece in that each one has to be done individually and I suspect that the firescale on the copper I’m using is possibly deeper – and more time-consuming to remove too.

I thought I’d show some work-in-progress photographs of the various stages that a piece has to go through, not as a tutorial in any way (I’m simply not qualified yet to try and impart information on this subject), but purely as an insight as to how much work a particular finished piece represents. The particular design of the pieces indicated is a rather simple technique, pieces that incorporate sculpting and assembly of components can take much longer.

Most of the photographs are of a particular earring and pendant set, although some of them were taken retrospectively with another piece as I simply decided later that I’d missed some stages worth including.

The clay is rolled out to the desired thickness on a non-stick sheet, in this case, using some sheets of plastic as my spacers.

I imprinted the sheet of clay with my chosen texture – in this case, a spiral I formed with a piece of wire.

The shapes are then cut out of the sheet and shaped and formed, as desired, whilst still moist and pliable. They then need some time to dry enough for further handling. I choose to do some of the further work before the pieces dry to the stage of becoming brittle. At this stage it is certainly more clay and less metal (despite the rather incongruous sensation of being cold and metallic to the touch) and I liken it to dry pasta – firm and robust enough to handle, but you could just break it with your fingers if you chose, so it does need some care. I like to drill my holes and refine the shape a little whilst it’s dry to the touch, but not dry enough to fire – it simply seems more brittle to me by the time it reaches that stage.

The left hand earring piece as I formed it initially from the moist clay and the right hand one is after some filing, rounding of corners and refining the shape and surface – as you smooth it, it does take on a more metallic appearance.

At this stage, I leave them on wire mesh to dry really thoroughly for at least a couple of days. I’ve had some pieces crack or pop during firing and the manufacturers advise me this is the rapid vapourising of any tiny water molecules remaining within the clay as I bring it to the flame to fire it. I’m not convinced that moisture is entirely to blame for all my cracks (and I’ve made some modifications in my workflow to address the issue), but I think it must certainly have been in the piece that popped loudly and broke away surface pieces as soon as it got hot.

I fire each piece individually with the torch, in accordance with the recommendations for the particular product I’m using. I can manage either a single large piece or a couple of smaller ones in each firing. I work in reduced light so that I can monitor the colour of the metal and the flame.

After firing and quenching, my lovely smooth piece of clay looks pretty terrible – the firescale on the surface will need removing – and this is perhaps the most tedious stage of the process, although some trial and error has established a pretty good routine for me to get it clean again with minimal elbow grease. First I pickle and then tumble the pieces extensively to bring out the shine of the metal now revealed after burning off the organic binders.
Of course, the metal clay pieces are only components and I also need to make the accompanying metal parts too – in this case, I decided to go for some fancy feature earwires with a co-ordinating decorative spiral. I also make all my own jump rings and clasps for finished pieces.

The earrings are as such now complete and I’ve antiqued them to bring out the lovely aged warmth of time-worn copper, which is my own personal preferred finish for copper. I’m next going to add some colour to this particular set and after some earlier trial and error, had decided that antiquing first and then applying the colour gave the most pleasing end result. Before colouring, I removed the copper clay charms from the earwires to protect them.

I’d originally had it in mind to combine the copper clay pieces with enamels, but whilst researching types and materials, came across the US made product Gilders Paste, which sounded even better for what I had in mind. It’s a solid opaque and intensely coloured wax type substance that comes in little tins and looks for all the world like old-fashioned shoe polish. It can be used and applied just about any way you can think of – you can do anything from rubbing it on with your finger to airbrushing it on as a wash mixed with a solvent. I decided that a short cut-down and very inexpensive paintbrush allowed me to stipple it well into the recessed pattern areas, giving good coverage.

It’s specifically for colouring metal, but can be used on many other suitable surfaces too. I’ve found that it seems to work very well on the less metallic and shiny parts of the clay that were impressed and therefore not as subsequently highly burnished smooth. Still maintaining some of the porosity of the original clay texture gave it a good key to adhere to. I think for a good covering on the metal surface, it would need roughening to give it a better key and would lose some of the metallic sheen and therefore may not be quite as attractive for the effect I was after. On solid metals, I found that it scratched off too easily, but it adheres well to the rougher texture of unpolished clay areas. Solid copper would need a texture for key to work reliably – but I have some ideas for that too.

Once allowed to dry for a number of hours, the piece can be rubbed clean and finally polished – the Gilders Paste is robust once dry and should last well in wear. On these pieces, I stippled both a verdigris turquoise with a darker metallic green to give the appearance of patina but I didn’t want a solid single flat colour. The photo below was taken between wiping off the excess from the surface before fully dry and the final buffing and cleaning.

Some finished copper clay pieces using Gilders Paste for colour:

And finally . . .

As I’ve been typing this, with the TV on in my office, the weather man declared that some places in Britain today (the 10th of July, may I remind you) were actually colder than they were on Christmas Day! So you can see why I had some reservations about declaring our most recent holiday to be our summer one!

7 May 2012

Woodland pretties

We did one of our favourite walks this Sunday, one we can do from the front door. Our son was visiting for the day with his girlfriend and it’s a pretty spot at this time of year, so was an ideal pre-lunch appetiser.

Please click on any of the photographs for a larger view. If your browser has the option to open the image in a new tab, you’ll get to see them at the size I prepared them.

Added later: I finally got to identify this plant, it just didn’t appear in any of my wildflower books – it would appear that it’s Water Avens (Geum rivale) a member of the rose family – I was wrongly thinking it was a geranium/cranesbill variety.

My husband and I did the same walk last Saturday and then it was bitterly cold in a very brisk wind (and we were jolly glad of hats, scarves and gloves) and was threatening rain the entire time and did in fact make good on that threat as we walked the last 20 yards to the front door. We’d commented that there were likely to be a lot of bluebells and that they were only just starting to flower.

After a week of sunny spells and lots of rain, they’ve positively romped away this week, along with several other woodland pretties; there were splashes of blue, pink and yellow amongst the gorgeous vibrant spring green emerging foliage and unfurling fern fronds. It was significantly more colourful than a mere 8 days ago.

It’s one of my very favourite things, to see woodland flowers at this time of year, before the greenery has really taken off and hides some of the more delicate ground-hugging species.

The walk was pretty dark initially, but as we returned, the sun came out again and I was able to grab a few photographs toward the end of the walk. If we get a nice spell this week, I’ll walk that way on my own and spend more time getting some closer shots, there are some side paths that meander through the trees, so I can get deeper into the woodland and closer to the patches of bluebells.

The primroses are a slight cheat in that I took these photographs earlier in the week. I especially like this patch as they’re growing on top of a wall, so I don’t need to grovel in the mud to photograph them and I also get to smell them too – they have a lovely delicate fragrance, which we don’t always get to appreciate as they grow so low.

My work this week:

I’ve finished several pieces – and that’s the fun part – getting them all photographed and listed isn’t quite as much fun – but something I will have to face in the next few days. I was in the mood for making something with beads – after I’d bought some very pretty colours on Etsy for use with copper. Although, as luck would have it, I didn’t use as may of those as I started out expecting to – I veered off on a tangent somewhat.

I was looking for some components in my box of assorted things that didn’t quite make it into a finished piece yet and a combination of shapes falling together in front of me gave me the idea for this wrapped wire loop bail – allowing me to combine a spiralled wire bail loop with a large eye to decorate with beaded dangles. The central focal bead is an odd colour, it looks very orange in daylight (and my daylight photography light) and yet quite a buttery yellow in artificial light – and in which light, the greens I accented with the faceted Czech glass donuts are rather more prominent too. I topped it with a copper clay bead cap and matched it with a pair of delicate green beads on some matching chain links.

These eye links are a shape I made often, early in my jewellery making career, as fancy headpins, but I was trying to fashion an art deco/nouveau stylised rose for a particular idea and these came back to mind. So I’ve put together 3 hammered links in these antiqued copper earrings.

Another variant of the wrapped loop bail eye, adorned with assorted purple glass and amethyst beads and a single flower-imprinted dangle, made in copper clay.

I used the same ‘eye’ links in these feature earwires for these copper clay spiral oval earrings.

My next blog . . .

. . . will be a work in progress (WIP) report on this necklace and earring set. They’re made with copper clay and wire, then antiqued and coloured. I’ve taken a series of photographs as I made them and want to show the amount of work and processes involved in creating pieces like this.