Monday, 26 March 2012

Maybe that was summer?

Here in the UK we've just had an unseasonably early warm spell - wall to wall sunshine with lovely warm temperatures and the summery feel was further enhanced by the start of British Summer Time when the clocks are put forward, giving us longer evenings in which to enjoy it all.

It does tend to lull you into thinking that summer has actually arrived, but the ice on the car this morning soon put that idea to bed. But it did present an ideal opportunity to make a start on my post-winter tidy of the garden and start preparing it for summer and we took the opportunity yesterday to take a proper day off and escape to the Lake District for a day in one of our most favourite places.

Please click on any of the photographs for a larger view.

I love this particular spot, the lighting is always lovely as the path meanders through the trees, but it's hard to do it justice; sometime you just have to be there.

We usually spend a long week over the Easter period up there and always very much look forward to it through the winter months, but this year we're having to fore-go it for a variety of reasons; but largely because my husband has to undergo surgery shortly and they've scheduled him for next week, just before the Easter bank holiday weekend.

The sun was rather hazy initially as the early morning mist burnt off the sky, but through the trees that did give everything a lovely glow.

In order to minimise the time off work at a busy time of year and to protect his regular salary, we've decided that taking some of his recovery period from his holiday allowance is a better use of the time on this particular, unusual, occasion.

So, mindful of not being mobile for some time and not getting such an opportunity again for a few weeks and the really glowing weather forecast, we set our alarms early on Sunday morning, packed a picnic and headed to one of our favourite spots along Thirlmere near Keswick. The roads were decently busy on the way up and we expected a lot of other people to have had the same idea and thought it might possibly be busy, but we pretty much had that particular place to ourselves. In fact, we didn't pass another soul on our favourite lake-shore walk - we usually pass at least a couple of local dog-walkers, who love that spot as much as we do.

As the afternoon drew on, the light had a fabulous golden golden glow.

So, it couldn't really have been much better for us. If I'm really picky, the sunshine was hazier than it had been the day before when we worked in the garden and the modest spring cold I have was seemingly further irritated by tree pollen, but on balance, it was a pretty fabulous day. We did all of our favourite things - walked amongst trees, listening to the birds, took a few photos, ate a good lunch sat outside in sunshine, snoozed a little, read a little, walked some more, ate some more and headed home to a great nights sleep after all that fresh air. For me, life doesn't get much better.

The day had started with a decent breeze, but by early evening, it had either dropped or changed direction and Thirlmere was beautifully calm and the reflections were quite fabulous.

Further work with Copper Clay this week:

I'm really enjoying my continuing tinkering with copper clay this week - it has been a steep learning curve and it is evident that my tried and tested routines and methods with copper sheet and wire will need some revision when using the clay for components, but it does add a lot of new facets to what I can achieve and opens up a whole host of ideas to try - like my mind doesn't already overflow with more ideas than I have time to make reality.

Copper clay flat 'button' beads given an uneven shape and a light imprint of a flower design, double wrapped on a balled headpin.

Wednesday, 21 March 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.

Monday, 12 March 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.


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