Saturday, 17 November 2012

Making the best of a bad job

I must apologise for my blogging tardiness of late - it's been a combination of not actually having much to say, little enough time for getting everything done and finding the new Blogger interface to be tedious to say the least.  I have started posts on several occasions, but after 20 minutes of trying to post one photo, my boredom threshold is reached quickly.  After all, I could be making something instead which, as we all know, is way more fun.  If I can get it to work, I'll salt a few photos of my recent work within the post, as to be honest, I don't have much else to show you at the moment - I haven't had enough quality time with my camera recently either.

A large circle link bracelet in antiqued copper.

My last post was about the flood we experienced in August and the significant volume of mud it had dumped in our cellar.  As an update, the mud has all now been removed, the cellar deep cleaned and sansitised and an industrial capacity fan and dehumidifier installed to dry out the room.

Being a cellar, the external walls are below ground level and the floor is large stone flags onto what amounts to bare earth, so as the water table has been so high since, it has been necessary to make significant efforts to dry everything - the flood water was over 30" deep and well and truly soaked into the walls.  And the flood caused an assortment of structural movements that have left us with some of this below-ground wall area structurally compromised, so when it rains heavily, the walls seep water.  So until the structural repairs are done, the insurers have said to leave the drying equipment in place to ensure it remains as dry as possible.

A Sterling silver horseshoe pendant, highly polished and worn on silver snake chain.
Unfortunately, the repairs are taking some time to even get started.  Obviously the repair work is being funded by our insurers, but in their enthusiasm to ensure that it is all done properly and to check all the problems thoroughly, we've entertained a number of surveyors, engineers and technicians.  And unfortunately, they have been sufficiently thorough in their investigations to uncover a number of problems, unrelated to the flood, that we now have to fix.  They haven't said it in so many words, but the implication is that they must be done, now we know about them, to ensure future buildings cover.  So whilst we're fully insured and it will cover all of the actual flood damage, we're now faced with a considerable repair bill and upheaval on top of mitigating the flood damage - for other matters that we would have been quite happy to remain blissfully ignorant of. 

Antiqued copper squiggle earrings with long drop Czech glass beads with a Picasso and lustre finish.

On the plus side, we did get a full settlement for all of our lost contents, so have been gradually replacing the items that we need to do so and using the opportunity to do things just that bit better for the future.  When we bought the house, the cellar was already home to some of the departing-occupants junk, stuff that they seemingly couldn't be bothered to move with them.  So over time, we just added more of our junk to it, so that space was never anything more than a rather untidy storage space.  We're determined that it won't end up the same with our second chance down there.

A Sterling silver version of my square chain link earrings.  Mr Boo calls this design my 'Space 1999 earrings'.  I can certainly see that they have a very retro feel to them, but looking at photos from Space 1999, I don't think earrings were a big feature of their futuristic and rather utilitarian uniforms. 

In an effort to start thinking more positively about the area, Mr Boo declared that it would no longer be referred to as 'the cellar' the very word suggests a dark corner somewhat out of sight, but will in future be referenced simply as 'downstairs'.  It's such a large area that it would be a shame, when starting with a new blank canvas, not to put it to better use.   When it was first empty and clean, we stood there marvelling at what a large space it is and how much it would cost us, even if we had room to do so, to build an extension of a similar footprint.  We perpetually complain about not having enough space, so squandering one large room would clearly be silly.

I wanted to make some 'party' earrings for the festive season ahead.  These are Sterling silver with faceted crystal rondells.

So we've decided to use some of the content settlement funds to have the whole 'downstairs' properly wired - at present there are no wall sockets for power at all and only two inadequate light fittings at the bottom.  I'm sure that once the stairs themselves are lit and all of the walls painted white (there were once, in the dim and distant past) and additional lights it will look even larger and considerably more cheerful.  I'm going to have one corner area as an additional work space, where I will do metal clay, polymer clay and enamelling work.   

My greatest sadness about the flood was that amongst the contents lost was my grandfathers woodworking bench and a trunk of his tools - nice quality chisels and the like that no amount of money would truly replace.  We looked to see if they could be salvaged, if only for sentimental value, but they really were damaged beyond rescue and the insurers condemed them.  So I have decided that the best way to do those items justice and in a manner that my grandfather would approve of, is to buy myself some tools that I wouldn't otherwise be able to afford or justify and to use it to the best of my ability to make things with.

I've made a few necklace and earrings sets which might prove good for gifts  - these feature a hammered copper ring hung with a selection of Czech glass Picasso beads.
He was a great and skilled maker of things with his hands so I think he'd think this a worthy solution.  So I ordered a kiln for my metal clay work and take delivery of it on Monday.  I'll have to use it temporarily in my normal work area until the wiring is done, but I somewhat selfishly bit the bullet and ordered it before the repairs swallowed up the funds I'd allocated and the opportunity was lost to me.

Unfired clay pieces waiting for a session in the kiln.  Whilst they look somewhat metallic at this stage, it's purely because I've smoothed the surface to get them as ready as possible before firing.  The bottom pendant piece with the recesses will hopefully contain some coloured enamel in the not-too-distant.

I've been a bit besotted with sculpting flowers on everything recently.   I have a lot of ideas for more sculpted pieces when I will have the means to fire larger pieces, including hollow forms using cork clay.

So in anticipation, I've been working on a few slightly larger pieces that I couldn't fire with my torch and hope to get these fired in the next few days - once I've figured out how to drive it.  I have a head so full of ideas to make with metal clay - and enamel - and maybe even fused glass - that I could do with stopping time for a while whilst I tinker with them.  If only!  {{{{ sigh }}}}

Monday, 17 September 2012

If only I were a piggy . . .

. . . I'd perhaps be a little happier right now.

Actually, apart from about half a ton of mud that's been bagged and is awaiting collection, we think we've largely seen the back of the mud that came to visit us during a torrential downpour a little over three weeks ago. We've had a lot of assorted visits from contents removal crews, mud removal and cleaning crews, insurance assessors, council maintenance managers etc. etc.

As if the distress of the initial damage isn't enough, it seems to be a pretty ongoing battle getting anything resolved properly. The contents removal crew removed 90% of the contents, failing to deal with and itemise a corner full of our muddy junk. Whether they simply got bored, ran out of time, or space in the van, we were left with a pile of muddy stuff that we can't now dispose of or claim for until someone has inspected and reported it to the insurers.

You can see the gaps that have opened up between the flags in our external path. After more cleaning and heavy rain since the photograph, the gaps and recesses are even more evident now.

Likewise with the mud removal, they seemingly only took 75% of it. The window that blew in under the force of the flood had a recess behind it and the crew claimed the detritus in that area was old muck, dead leaves and the like, compressed over time and not part of the flood residue. I couldn't check as they'd taped bin liners over the opening of the lost window to help their drying equipment to work. But when Mr Boo came in and I told him of this, he reminded me that we'd completely cleared it about 10 years ago and put a fine mesh layer under the metal grille to prevent detritus from accumulating - which had been pretty successful. I'd totally forgotten about that at the time.

The horrendous and embarrassing state of our cellar mid-way through the contents clearance. You can see the depth that the mud and water had been on the side wall. The freezer had been floated and moved several feet from its starting position - the level and angle clearly visible on the side. The window that blew in can be seen with bits of jagged glass remaining. There is mud spattered on the brown structures and backboard of the electricity meter left of the window, so it reached just about everywhere.

So on removing the plastic covering we could see that the level of mud in that area was certainly deeper than it should have been. So we decided to clear it ourselves on Saturday - totally underestimating the task. Had we realised just how much deeper it was, we would simply have called the crew back to finish the job. We now have a dozen bags full of heavy mud and silt, we calculate it to be approaching half a tonne in weight. But they can certainly come and dispose of it for me. I think I might submit an invoice to them for 2 workers for 4 hours at whatever rate they charge our insurers. Plus 40 heavy duty bin bags, a bottle of shower gel and some new rubber gloves! It was truly horrible - and Mr Boo did the worst of it.

The area at the front-most point on the property where our path meets the council-maintained tarmac pavement, the edge of which (it never was a good job anyway) has been significantly nibbled away by the force of the deluge. You can see the size of the rocks we retrieved from the garden and pavement, just before the council collected them. The pavement is now marked up with white paint and they're going to put me a proper kerb stone in to form a better step where the edges join.

Saturday proved to be a very hard day physically - whilst the weather was fine, we washed all the possessions from the cellar that we'd opted to keep, that had been piled up in the garden since the initial clearance. By golly, can that mud stick. I variously scraped off and swept up dried mud, washed with a brush and warm soapy water, rinsed with the jet setting on the hose and allowed to dry. At which time, the mud just appeared on the surface again. So my next stage was warm soapy water on a cloth and hosing again. Some things are destined to remain cloudy looking with a fine layer of silt. I think we'll be living with this dirt for a very long time.

Now our attention will turn to repairing the structure. The window area needs replacing at least and the insurers have agreed to allow us the value of the repair towards measures that might prevent it happening again. At present we're looking towards bricking up the window entirely (it brings in minimal light anyway, it's main function for us was ventilation) and filling in the recess outside below the path and re-paving over it. I can't even imagine how much that might cost, so it may not prove to be an option once the quotes are in.

More worrying are the cracks that suggest movement. Several large flagstones outside (and they've been there since 1874) have either new cracks or they've tangibly moved and we have a large crack through the stone window lintel in the lounge, immediately above the window that blew into the cellar. Yesterday we had another torrential downpour and whilst the cellar was starting to visibly dry since blowers and dehumidifiers were installed on Friday, we went down the stairs yesterday to see how the temporary sheeting we'd fixed over the open window was holding up.

Unfortunately, we were met with wet stairs and a puddle at the bottom. It would appear that water is running through an area that was perfectly dry beforehand. There were assorted trickles down the walls and where the stone stairs join the outer wall. So it's clear to us that something has seriously moved. We have a building surveyor coming later this week, so we'll have to await his findings.

Enough of that, I'm bored with it now, even if you've manage to stay with me thus far! ;-)

On a happier note - recent work:

Between brewing up for tradesmen and seemingly incessantly mopping my kitchen floor (I told you that mud got everywhere, it sneaks under dustsheets too!), I have actually managed to make a few new things recently. Because my work area is immediately adjacent to the area the tradesmen have needed access too, I've not been able to get into anything more than I can work with hand tools. I've not wanted to solder and certainly not work with clay with all the dirt around at the moment.

My main focus during available working times has been to look after customers and fulfill orders, so I haven't made much progress with new projects and photographing and listing finished pieces. But I have got my accounts up to date (they were woefully behind) and started on a full-scale audit of my own site - I have a lot of older designs still on there that I wouldn't necessarily mind selling and making again, but I might prefer to re-make plated pieces in Sterling in future etc. So I've been working through my listed items and gradually modifying the details to bring everything up to date. Which has only served to lengthen my 'to photograph' list even further as I want to properly update some of my earlier listings. And I'm only about a quarter of the way through it.

I've gone a bit squiggle-tastic with recent work - once I work a shape or idea, my mind runs rampant with further related ideas, so I do tend to work in themes for a period of time. Once I'd settled on a method and sizes for making these squiggle shaped links, they lent themselves to a variety of pieces and worked especially nicely in bronze, which I left polished and bright in these particular earring designs.

I then wondered if I could link them together as a bracelet, much as I do with my leaf spiral shapes. I wasn't entirely sure that it was working as I made the first one in copper, it didn't look as nice as I'd hoped. But once I antiqued it, it totally came alive. It looks significantly better with some form than it had in its initial polished format.

My obsession this particular week is Egyptian Coils - I've sold a couple of pairs of earrings I made some time ago, so decided to re-make some more for stock and re-photograph them. I've just finished a bracelet too, so I'll show that once I've antiqued it. The clasp on that gave me more trouble than usual and I'm still not entirely satisfied that it can't be done better.

I love making a clasp that follows the same structure and patterns as the rest of the piece - ending the design then just plonking a toggle or clasp on it always feels like a cop out to me, so I feel the need to make the clasp an integral part of the design. With the Egyptian coils, the hook was easy, a suitable loop for it proved more elusive. I'm close, but haven't yet got that buzz of satisfaction when you know you've nailed something. I like that a metal bracelet in wear can move around however it wants and the clasp area won't be obvious. I like them to blend into the overall effect as seamlessly as possible. Beaded ones don't need quite the same attention as the pattern is more varied to start with.

I made this copper clay pendant a little while ago, the top of which I angled, intending it to hang directly on chain. It didn't work as well as I'd envisioned it, twisting a little in wear, so it went into my procrastination box (it's another function of my 'to photograph' box) awaiting a suitable Eureka moment. I was working on a clasp arrangement for a customer to add to some ribbon herself, working out how she could do it herself without suitable tools and during that process, I wondered if this design might sit better on ribbon.

I dug through my stash and found a piece I had squirreled away from SowZerE Designs and the colours were a really good fit with the colours of the bead in the central section where they'd come together. Just stringing it on the ribbon still didn't work well, so I made a bud-ended collar for it and now it works. I'll make the necklace to length when someone buys it, the ends are just temporarily in place for the photographs.

I'm very short of bracelets in stock, so have been working on some beaded ones too. I spiral wrapped these sesame jasper ovals as their shapes are a little uneven and it compensates for that irregularity.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

I have a date tomorrow with mud

Heavy showers were forecast during today - fairly typical August weather in Lancashire, unfortunately. And right on cue, it started raining quite heavily as I was eating a somewhat late lunch.

As I listened to it getting heavier, I decided to check if it was splashing in through the open backdoor and as I was greeted by a patch of wet floor, I mopped up the wet patch and pushed the door closed, expecting it to be temporary until the shower passed. There was nothing especially noteworthy at that point - within 15 minutes that had changed considerably.

It progressed to raining substantially and then there was a flash of lightning. As I started clearing away my lunch dishes, braced for the imminent thunder, I spotted a large spider walking down the inside of the kitchen window and decided to catch it and put it outside - when I reached the window, it was evident that the rain was significantly heavier than I'd realised as I was greeted by the sight of the garden completely under a deep layer of muddy brown water a mere handful of minutes after there hadn't even been a puddle.

It was running like a river through the garden and over the low perimeter wall like a waterfall - as the stones at the base of the perimeter railings are about 10" or so deep, that must have been the minimum depth of the water.

The muddy rock-carrying water hurtling at speed past the front door.

I was now aware of the sound of running water and dashed to the front door, wondering whether it was wise or not to open it for a look out, so I cracked it very gingerly and was met by a torrent of incredibly fast moving water running down the path around the house and lapping over the front door step, just breaching the deep metal channel in the doorway. It was rumbling and rattling with the sound of rocks and debris being carried along in the stream of mud.

The water and mud poured over the pavement, garden and front path, deep enough to totally obscure the structures and differentiation between the levels.

The mud flowing through the garden a little while later once the peak level of flow had subsided a little.

I stood in the lounge and was aware of the sound of running water underneath me - I'd totally forgotten about the cellar underneath the house. I cleared the area at the top of the cellar steps so that I could open the door and peer down and was almost afraid to look. I could hear very fast running - no; gushing - water and a lot of crashing and banging. I shone a torch down the steep steps and could see muddy water lapping against about the fourth step up the stairs - the large marbled square above is a heavy kitchen worktop which had been stacked several feet away - now floating and bobbing about in the deep water.

I decided that there was nothing whatsoever that I could do about that and I'd just have to let it be and whatever happened happened. As I walked away I heard a large crash and a lot of banging and at the time, I thought it was just something large falling over, but we later saw that it was the window smashing inwards under the force and weight of the water and mud.

The cellar has an external window, but it's below ground level and there is a recess in the path around the house to allow light into it and there is a grid within the path covering this 'hole'. As this structure was right at the point where several flows of water converged, the large recess around the window obviously rapidly filled with water and the weight of it was clearly too much for the window frame and surround to hold. We can't yet fully assess the damage as everything is covered in mud, but can see shards of glass sticking out of the frame at one side and splintered wood on the other.

The entire events described above lasted for a period of no more than 15 minutes, from pushing the door closed as the rain increased and splashed my flooring to realising the extent of the event occurring and being largely helpless to mitigate the damage. After about 45 minutes of a pretty substantial thunder storm it eased and the flow of water slowed, only to return in another pulse a couple of hours later as people were assessing the damage and starting to clear up.

Locals and a couple of council workers built me a little wall at the end of the path (which goes round our house and the rest in the row) with sandbags and buckets of stones that they gathered from the middle of the road as the firemen had been up the top of the hill to source the deluge of mud and rocks and found that one of a pair of fishing lodges had burst it banks in spectacular fashion and it was their assessment that the second was close behind and if we got more rain of that magnitude overnight it certainly wouldn't hold. So the wall was to protect against a second potentially catastrophic event overnight. Thankfully although it rained several times overnight, it was rather more subdued than earlier downpours.

After the water subsided, it has left a layer of mud over everything in the area - my garden is going to need quite some cleaning. At the other end where the flow entered the garden, the gravel covering it has been swept away, even stripping back and displacing the liner fabric underneath and gouging a hole in the mud beneath.

The water levels have now subsided, but in its wake is a lot of mud, rocks and debris and the cellar (which thankfully has a large drain in the floor, at least some of the source of the flooding initially) is now under about 8" of stinking silty mud - all our considerable amount of junk (and thankfully, that's mostly what it is) that's stored down there has been tossed about it the torrent and left in a scattered filthy mess - and the prospect of trying to sort it out doesn't exactly fill me with joy. Mr Boo declared "I know I was overdue for clearing out the cellar, but this wasn't quite what I had in mind."

So my day will be filled with buckets of mud (I don't actually know where to start - how does one dispose of tons of mud?) and phone calls to insurers - suddenly the prospect of photographing and listing a lot of jewellery which had been my plan for today, seems far more attractive than it usually feels!

Post script:

It transpires that the deluge of mud and water wasn't from the fishing lodge (although it certainly overflowed), but purely the volume and force of rainwater, with nowhere else to go, cascading down the hillside above, dragging anything loose it crossed with it. The private drive to a large detached house much higher up has been removed down to the gas and water mains and most of that earth and gravel is what is now in our houses. The council have done a Sterling job this morning, using diggers and flat beds, to remove the bulk of the debris from the public roads and pavements and it looks significantly better than it did. They have removed many, many tons of mud and rubble.

It looks like we might avoid having to deal with the worst of the mess ourselves, it seems that the insurers employ specialist clean up companies for just such tasks, who have the right gear to do it quickly and efficiently and they'll also assess what needs replacing for the contents claim.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

New adventures in bronze

Apologies again for the tardiness of my blogging recently; sometimes events just run away with you despite the best intentions. Thankfully, it's in large to being busy with orders, so I'm certainly not complaining. I still have a collection of photos from our holiday in June to post, but I haven't even looked through them all yet - I have a lot of the Olympic torch, but they'll need some editing as many are poor due to atrocious weather and the resulting low light levels.

Having done a considerable amount of work in copper, I don't know why I haven't worked in bronze - I think it perhaps looks even nicer left bare than copper does as it's a nice rosy warm gold colour, at a fraction the price of gold and you can do things with it that you can't with gold plated or filled.

Please click on any of the photographs to see a larger view.

Large feature bronze earwires with deep pink dyed stabilised Tiger Eye beads, wrapped on ball ended bronze headpins.

I did get a small sample some time ago to check how it melted etc., but never really had the spare funds when ordering wire to add some bronze to my basket. But as I was placing a large order for copper wire, thought I'd buy a small quantity each of a few common gauges to see how it worked.

One of my molten bud designs featuring lots of glossy molten bronze buds trapped in a double wire wrapped loop. The bronze does seem to take on a slightly pinker colour after heating than the raw wire, even though it's been extensively pickled and tumbled.

I've thoroughly enjoyed working with it - it's harder and springier than copper and a bit tougher on the fingers to work with, but the results are worth the effort. It especially melts nicely to make ball ended headpins and the molten 'raindrop buds' that feature a lot in my work. It also takes some more hammering to form shapes, but that means you have a little more control over your finesse, as it's slower to take form.

I got these gorgeous turquoise coloured translucent torpedo shaped semi precious beads with a square cross section and they look lovely with the bronze. I'm not sure what stone they are, but they look similar to some hemi-morphite that I've had before.

I was curious as to how it would oxidise and antique and finally got to try that with a few early samples I'd done just for that purpose. To all intents and purposes it oxidises just the same as copper - I did both copper and bronze pieces at the same time and at the point they were fully darkly oxed, they looked exactly the same.

Some turquoise magnesite beads with bronze headpins and earwires, after antiquing.

Once removing some of the darkness, the more gold colour of the bronze was evident and the antiqued appearance of finished pieces was much the same as copper, just with a slightly more yellow base colour. In fact, when they're first polished, the bronze and the copper look very similar, but copper mellow warmer within 24 hours of the initial polish, where bronze retains its initial bright appearance for longer.

A large faceted amethyst spiral wrapped in bronze, then antiqued.

I have some antiqued gold chain and wondered how well the antiqued bronze would match with it, so put together some earrings featuring some turquoise magnesite cubes on bronze balled headpins and the antiqued gold chain. After polishing, the two metals are a slightly different tone, but this is more evident in the photographs than in the actual jewellery when viewed life-size.

I think there will be a lot more bronze in my portfolio in future, it has been fun to work with it and I have no idea why it has taken me so long to get around to it.

Other recent work:

This pair of earrings were one of those designs that emerged from a problem-solving session and one that my sub-conscious largely worked out without seemingly much conscious intervention. The solution flirted away at the corners of my mind, tantalising me with snippets of thoughts that took a while before they popped into my mind, fully formed.

I had a particular brief from a customer and it became evident that I wasn't going to be able to do exactly what she wanted - which was something very small and fine and in copper and I didn't think that the idea she had would be sufficiently robust, so I'd been trying to combine methods that would give rise to greater stability at the small scale required.

These earrings resulted from that thought process and were somewhat at a tangent to the initial thinking and I don't know why I haven't tried something like this before. The outer diameter is a smidge over 15mm (0.6") and they're about 3mm (1/8") wide and once inserted in the piercing, they pretty much close around the lobe and look like a complete loop in wear. My methodology needs a little further thought as the pair I made in silver highlighted an issue that I'd simply been lucky with on the two successful copper pairs I've made.

The silver pair have been made for a gift, but I shall be making myself a pair too.

As is often the case, once I make a design, my mind either gets fixated on making more of the same, or lots of variants come to mind. I'm perpetually striving to find different and interesting ways to make nice beads into everyday earrings, as alternatives to straight headpins. I've spent quite some time in perfecting a method for combining my rosebud knots with beads and have a pile of new beads waiting to get some of this same treatment.

And finally . . .

I am often heard to curse at how my lovely, albeit tiny, garden gets ravaged by snails - my plant selection is heavily informed by what they don't like the taste of. I have a gorgeous stripy hosta that looks like the leaves were made in lace. Only this last couple of weeks, I had to abandon a beautiful new mauve Campanula that was razed to a few tiny spiky stems in a few days. My husband came in from the garden commenting that the snails had seemingly got it and I replied that they had indeed pretty much had all the open flowers. "When did you look at it?" asks he . . . "there aren't even any leaves left". Looks like Campanula are off the list too!

Now normally, the snails only do their damage after dusk and when I feel brave I go out after dark, armed with a torch and re-locate a few to improve the odds for my blooms, but I went out one afternoon and there was this big bugger, brazen as you like, gorging himself right at the top of my poor bedraggled hosta.

And something pretty to calm you after that horror . . . that's better!

Tuesday, 10 July 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!


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