Retreat, Within

My next step, after watching a metal clay piece disintegrate , will be to jump back in, digging in my heels, and master this thing.  Ironically, “master” has been the big word lately in most of my metal clay conversations.  So, Master is just exactly what I intend to do because I will be registering to complete the Masters Registry program, Level 1, check it out here.  In this program, you must make ten projects according to specified criteria to receive the Level 1 Certification.  I am not trying to prove any level of competency but to engage in a meaningful experience and learn as much as I can about metal clay.  And I certainly do not feel I am anywhere near as proficient as some others starting this same journey.  For me this trip is about learning.  It will involve lots of experimentation, lots of online tutorials, lots of classes with accomplished mc artists, and lots of focus.  This means my sales end will be minimized and my energies directed at “mastering” the art of metal clay.  Right now I’m collecting inspiration pieces, connecting with others involved in the Masters Registry program, and picking my projects. Once I get a good grip on the projects I plan to do, I will send in my money to register and be on my way.  The journey has officially begun, it may be a roller coaster ride or a smooth ride,  but for sure it is the right direction for me.  Now, on to narrow down my projects.


Baffled by Clay

My lasted clay experience was with Hadar’s Smart Bronze.  Being the “step skipper” that I am, I chose to mix the entire vial at one time, which was 50 grams. However, I can go through 50 grams of clay pretty fast especially when testing.  First of all, I made a mistake with the water and my clay was a little wet, more like homemade peanut butter. Other than amt of water, I followed the directions for mixing and resting.  Of course with the excess water, I needed to add more powdered clay which I didn’t have because I used it all.  Lesson learned there.

I made my first piece which was pretty thick, 1/4″ or so and about the size of a belt buckle.  It was nicely textured on both sides and had an embeddable bronze  prong setting in it.  I wasn’t  ready to try firing stones until I had at least done a couple of pieces.  Anyway, it looked nice, gray hands aside!  Although I do like the clay in the dried form, the wet was not so easy to work with but that was probably my fault.  Moving on… I let this air dry for what started out as 3 days but due life and it’s other demands, ended up being 2 full weeks.  Felt  nice and firm, very easy to work with at this stage.

I then made a couple of test strips and three small pendants in a mold.  The clay still a bit wet but easier to manipulate after resting for 2 weeks, wrapped in plastic and in a sealed jar.  These pieces dried for two days.

I test fired the test strip and it was very pitted, but a lovely texture, I tend to prefer organic, natural looks.   (Pictured below).  Firing schedule was as prescribed ramp 1400, hold at 1470 for 2 hours, covered in charcoal in ss vat, no lid in SC2 kiln.  I was happy!  I was ready to fire the other pieces but  a bit concerned because the oval pendant was a lot thicker than the other three pieces. I decided to take a chance.   So now for the main show and firing my big thick piece along with the smaller round pendants…

Ramp 1400, hold 1470 for 2 hours…the large thick pendant disintegrated, the smaller  fired fine except I lost some detail on two.  I can’t figure out why the larger piece evaporated, so to say, and the smaller pieces were fine.  The clay had to be evenly mixed, because I did it all at once, one big blob of clay. Two variables were the drying time and the embeddable prong.  Maybe, forming the piece with wetter clay could be a factor as the clay rested for a couple of weeks before being used to for the three smaller pieces.




Gallery Exhibit

As a member of the Artisans of the South Carolina Cotton Trail, some of my work will be featured in our exhibit at the Art Trail Gallery in Florence, SC during January.  Most of my show pieces for this exhibit are made with cotton pearls, made from compressed cotton and coated with a lacquer finish.  Come join us at our opening reception on January 10, 2014.image

New Kiln, Big Batch

With the new kiln, a Paragon SC2, I’ve been stock piling my bronze pieces so I could fire one large load. Somewhat a success, but I did loose two pieces, both of which seemed to pull apart/break at a narrow point. Maybe due to shrinkage factor.

This batch was made with Fast Fire Bronzclay. The focus was on getting the firing schedule right. There were a variety of thicknesses, shapes, and designs.  All pieces were air dried for three days and fired in the SC2 kiln. I did a full ramp to 1525, held for 2 hours and 25 minutes and left to cool over night. It was not fully cooled by early morning so I carefully removed them to a water bath.  I used a lid on the stainless container and used Magic Carbon.

I’ve discovered with earlier firings, that the bronze has a distinct ring when if fully sintered, as it hits the counter. All pieces except two had that ring. I’m not sure if it is because they are not solid pieces or if the thickness where clay overlaps has not sintered. I plan to fire them again to be sure they are ready.

You can see the pieces that separated or broke on the far right.  Next step is polishing and cleaning.

I’m thinking there were three big mistakes.  1) firing with lid on container; 2) prolonged cool period; 3) order items were placed in container.  Will be seeking other’s advice.

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At the bench again!

imageSo now I’ve finished my second lentil bead and now I’m thinking the polishing, buffing and finishing is the most challenging. I ended up doing a lot of filing, sanding and more sanding on the finished piece. It isn’t perfect but I like where I’m going with this style bead.

Inspired by Laura Bracken’s blog in which she chronicles her experiences with metal clay, both the good and the ugly, I’ve decided to keep track of my next metal clay project.  I’m more motivated now that I have my new kiln but, also, a little intimidated. That digital programming stuff!

For my next project, I’m planning to work the greenware until it is PERFECT, as everything I read says that is the easiest way. Another lentil in the making.

To stir things up a bit, I spent Saturday in a metal clay class with Karen Simmons and now I love silver clay more, again! Learned lots about which stones I can fire and some really cool techniques for setting cz in silver clay. Mastered the ring sizing, well at least until I see if this next project fits. There are all sorts of shrinkage issues depending on clay and you have to allow for that. Karen’s method gets you really close and with the tapping to enlarge or refiring for a “little” more shrink, I can get pretty close.

What I have realized is that bronze clay, though easy to form, mold, carve and shape, it is much more difficult to work with during the firing phase, but I still love the rich heavy feel of bronze.