Here are the dogwoods and lenten rose that were tumbled all night . . .they are now polished to a high mirror finish–nice, bright, and clean! I will keep a couple of these like this and then I will oxidize others for some color and play with the details. I am really inspired to use one of them for a ring.
I’ve shared a little about how I do my leaves and flowers, but thought I would share my success in the studio from this morning. One of my absolute favorite techniques is working with the metal clay and pasting it to a consistency that works for whatever organic I am using. There are many things to consider . . so here’s what I did today:
First step is to find those treasures in nature. I picked a couple of small branches from my apple tree (crab apple, I believe) and put them in water immediately. You want your organic piece to be as fresh as possible. If you are driving along, bring some paper towels and plastic bags for things you find. You can wet the towel in the bag and keep the flower or plant going till you get home. I often do this on my travels to and from shows. I’ve picked up moss, cotton bloom, cotton leaves, acorns, pine cones and such.
Next, you want to pick the best of the bunch you are working with. For this round, I was looking for the smaller baby leaves to use for earrings and rings. Then I picked a couple of larger leaves for pendants. As I’ve said before, spring is the best time to pick flowers and leaves. They are new, strong and fresh. You want leaves that are strong and I like keeping the stem to use as my holder as I paste the leaf.
I begin with a light coat of really watered down paste so I can see what the leave will do. Some leaves are just not cooperative–those that have VERY high finish/glossy (like magnolias) or leaves with lots of fuzzy surfaces. This leave always does well as it has a nice textures with lots of vein structure. Work with the natural folds of the leaf as you continue the layers, because as the leaves dry, they will begin to curl–you can work with some curl, but if it curls too much you risk cracking the paste as it drys.
I ended up putting about 4-5 layers on these this morning. I used my cup warmer and put my paper plate right on it to speed up the drying process so I could do more layers. The quicker you begin the layers, while fresh, the better the results. Paper plates are GREAT and are easily moveable in the studio space.
Back to work on my dogwoods for last week. I decided to put on a few more layers and dried them on the warmer. Then I began my hand torch work. I’ve actually did a video of this and will post it later this weekend so you can actually see the action. It is important to keep things safe, so I put my firebrick on my tile which is then on a pottery turn wheel so I can move the whole thing easily while torching. I use a small, hand butane torch.
After firing, let it cool and then test it against glass to make sure the silver is solid. You’ll hear that lovely “ding” sound and all is good! I use a medium and small steel brush to gently brush away ashes, flecks and the white from the pasting–you’ll reveal the silver when you do this. Some folks like to leave use this technique for a matte finish, which is fine. But I like working with glossy finishes and for me, tumbling the silver gives it strength and you can be sure all the paste and ashes are gone. I also love the dogwood flowers, because if you’ll look closely at the third picture above, you’ll see the honeycomb like texture of the burned out seed pods. Cool!
They are now all getting a bath in some steel shot, burnishing fluid and water in a my heavy duty tumbler. I am going to let this tumble for most of the day and then we’ll see what happens next! Look for my video in my next post!
I often find many of my organic pieces in the spring when they are fresh and new. It is best to work the clay into a paste that matches or is supported by the actual item you want to make. This process takes time, patience and practice! It is almost intuitive when you have to decide just how many layers a piece will take. Dogwoods are one of my favorite flowers to work with. This year, instead of picking just one or two larger ones, I went earlier and picked about 9 really strong “baby” ones. I find that using distilled water and glycerin will thin down the paste really well–but you have to keep it mixed thoroughly. Also, in these slow economic times, I save all my silver “sawdust” and make paste out it. This last batch made up about 6 oz which saved me over $180 in supply! But, it took time and patience to get the consistency right and the paste smooth. Also, be sure to have the right brushes to really apply the paste in all the nooks and crannies of an organic piece.
This shows you the current collection of dogwoods I am working on. I paste one to two layers each time I’m in the studio. You can speed up the drying process by putting on a cup warmer and then paste again. How many layers? Well, until you feel that it will be strong enough during firing! That’s the art part, not the scientific answer.
Here are my lenten roses from our new yard that I thought I would try. Much larger and the first couple of layers of paste didn’t take well–but I pressed on and kept working it and after you get about 4-5 layers of dried paste, it becomes easier to bulk it up.
I’m still working on these pieces but here is one of the roses that I finished for the last show . . .
I hand torch the organic pieces to control the amount of time and burn and also do some flattening in the process to make sure the finished piece doesn’t have sharp curves or edges–also filing after firing helps in this area. I don’t drill a hole until it is tumbled after firing to harden the actual metal. With this rose, I oxidized with coffee and liver of sulfate! Awesome midnight colors came to surface with a light polish and paired with a black steel hammered chain.
If the organic makes it to the show looking like this . . . well . . springtime beauty is well worth the wait in my opinion!
My first attempt to mix metals prior to firing really turned into a disaster . . .at the time of fabrication, that is. I created a solid copper cuff with a light raised texture to it and then did a few pieces of very thin bronze clay and attached them with slip to the copper cuff. My goal was for the bronze to sinter in with the copper cuff during firing.
Well, when it came out of the kiln, the copper cuff was beautifully solid, however the bronze attachments did not sinter on the surface, only on the bottom. Sighing, I decided to use my pick and drill and take off all the charred remains of the burned bronze and try smoothing out the metal that did melt in. I used one of my strongest drill sanders and proceeded to smooth it out and it suddenly became an interesting abstract pattern.
I am looking and at this and wondering if I could really make this become something special instead of a trashed scrap. I continued to buff, sand and smooth with the pattern and then tumbled it overnight to really give it a good finish. Guess what? It was really cool looking at that point. To make it even more exciting, I used my finger and pasted in a patina guilders paste to make the effect of “weathered” copper–it really was a worked over piece! After sealing and buffing, I was like . . .WOW! This is a really cool bracelet.
It was one of the first pieces that sold at my last show . . .what a great way to learn the process of just giving in to the way the piece is headed and not always my preconceived idea of what it should look like. And the woman that put it on, it was a glorious feeling of joy and accomplishment! She looked awesome in it!
Front view of the piece (can you see the bumps of bronze?)
Back view of the piece–smooth beautiful copper
Not only did it fit her perfectly, but the colors were FANTASTIC!
I plan to share with those that are interesting about my process and journey as an artist and how I love to design and create interesting and one-of-a-kind pieces. My goal is to bring joy in all my work and to share what I learn and pass that knowledge on. I hope you will enjoy being a part of this journey and thanks for being interested! By the way, this is one of my pieces from last year which proved to me that I simply cannot sketch my designs–my work is very organic and I’ve learned how to keep it that way. More about my processes in future posts!