Mistakes, Art and Learning

Inevitably, working with any media in art you will always make mistakes . . for that matter, we make mistakes whenever we are doing things because we are human.  While some mistakes in my field can be costly (silver clay fired incorrectly, copper didn’t melt, shattered glass in the kiln) it can also be a new direction in the process of the creation.  Just this week, I’ve been trying out some new techniques–adding dichroic glass to my silver work, melding white copper with regular copper and working with sheet metal clay.  So, out of the new techniques I was successful with 2 out of 3.  The melding of the two coppers didn’t go as well as planned.

Both copper clays can be combined and fired simultaneously, which opens up lots of creative ideas.  My shaping and sanding when well, however, I made a rookie mistake–one copper cuff I rolled out too thin–when working with metal clay, it is best to keep your bracelets or cuffs between 5-7 cards thick.  Otherwise, you invite cracks and splits when the firing happens–I lost one of the cuffs due to this very reason.  The second cuff was certainly thick enough however, my design was too deep into the clay and allowed natural cracks after the clay dried which I tried to repair.  Most of the time, I have success by shaping the cuffs before firing.  But, you can also shape the cuff after the firing.  This time I shaped the cuff and discovered that the imprint lines of my design caused cracks.

The good news . . I can still salvage parts of this thicker cuff.  Sawing off the cracks and doing some extra sanding with my dremel will create two new pendents that will display the two types of copper.  Due to my other pieces needing my attention these will wait till later.

Here is another failed attempt at blending coppers.  My mistake here was making the base too thin to support the white copper on top.  While this one didn’t turn into anything, it was still a lesson learned!

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Paste, and more Paste, please

Spring has sprung again and that means time for my yearly collection of blossoms and leaves.  Still waiting on my dogwoods to bloom, but have started on some leaves for earrings.  When working with metal clay paste, you have to be sure your organic materials are strong and the ideal size for jewelry.  My collection every year begins with this one simple rule–collect multiple branches and blossoms and then find the right ones to work with back in the studio.  Of course, I work in volume during Spring for the whole collection of my organic pieces for my shows, so I have to make sure I have plenty of paste.

While you can always go the easier route and impress your organics into the clay itself, I find that using the actual organic in the process brings a nicer depth to the piece.  It does require patience and diligence to paste the 20+ layers of metal clay paste but the end results are worth it.

Because of the cost of the silver clay, I have learned to reclaim all my shavings, bits of clay that have hardened and pieces that just didn’t work for me before I fired them.  I keep an ongoing collection of my dust and powder from sanding pieces before firing. That’s some valuable silver in all that dust.  Keep it in a dry, air tight container so that you don’t collect dust and junk flying around our air.  When you have enough (I usually use about 6 oz or more of collected material) then you are ready to begin making the paste.  I always buy the ready made paste for each season and then I keep all the jars to use for my reclaimed paste.  Here’s the process:

Gather together the following tools:

Mortar and Pestle (for grinding and mixing), pallet blade, water, PasteMaker by Sherri Haub, Glycerin, by Cool Tools, empty jars for storing paste, mixing bowl with airtight lid (I use the Glad ware bowls) and your reclaimed dust!IMG_1829 (2)IMG_1830 (2)

Your material will look like this when you start–lumps and broken clay pieces.IMG_1831IMG_1832

Keep grinding to reduce your material to powder or small particles.  Use a razor blade to help break down the small pieces into even finer pieces.

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Once you’ve achieved a fine powder, put in mixing bowl and add several drops of the PasteMaker as well as the Glycerin.  You can certainly use water (distilled) as well, but I find the glycerin makes the paste very smooth.IMG_1836

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Keep adding the glycerin, the PasteMaker and/or water to keep developing the powder into clay.  Use lots of motion with your mixing and keep cutting into the paste with your blade.

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The mixture will eventually look like this–really work this with your blade–then you’ll see the paste getting better and better!  At this point, develop the paste to the consistency you want to work with–thinner or thicker–all based on the organic you are pasting to make this decision.

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Once you’ve worked the paste to your chosen consistency–simply place the paste into your empty containers.  I don’t clean them at all–I just scrape out the leftovers to my powder mix and reclaim it all!

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As you can see from the pictures below, I had several types of organic to work with. And plenty of paste to go around. Have fun and feel free to experiment as you now have more material to work with that you already purchased!IMG_1816IMG_1818 (2)

And that tool goes there . . .

After being on Hiatus for a while and getting back into my workshop/studio I realized it was time for an update.  I’m all about organized space and this is especially true in the studio.  There are just too many things that I use that need to be convenient and connected to my work flow.  Being a mid-level manager for many years in corporate America, it was critical to keep all my files, resources and more in the perfect spot in my offices so that I could be my most efficient.  While my middle initial is “E” and stands for my middle name “Eve”, I most often refer to it as standing for “Efficient”. . . .that’s just how my brain works when it comes to work!

When we moved into our new house several years ago, I was beyond thrilled to have a dedicated space for my workshop.  We are blessed with a large finished basement that we have all broken up into “creative areas”–my husband’s wood working tools and sawdust, my MIL’s office and sewing area, and my studio.  Basically, I extended my current setup to include double the space and work surface area.  Most important for me was the ability to have my kiln in the studio with me, yet in an open space to allow for heat “space”.  I was able to include another table and keep my photo area still next to the one window.  I began my jewelry making area in the corner of my very small kitchen at my old house and I used a large part of the back porch for firing torches and kilns.  To have everything in one area for me is luxury at its best for my work.  The only thing I would ever add is a work sink but with no plumbing in our basement that’s something I’ll have to do without.  But I make it work with my “wash tub”, rags and distilled water.

Here are some views of the improved space:

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Here is the entry into my space . . .my brag wall is important to remind my of past success and to keep me focused on doing my very best with each piece.  My main work station is the table with extra lighting for those very small details when fabricating and assembling my pieces.

 

 

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As you go past my work table you’ll note the extra shelves for my clay work and an idea board on the wall.  My great window which gives me great light for my photography.  Another board up on the wall into my new space.

 

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Over to the left of my studio space . .more shelves–can never have enough.  I love the ability to see all of what I have since I collect so many things over the past years to use.  The tall shelf is basically current work stuff–my resources, office supplies, pricing materials, and working trays of pieces.  The shorter white shelf and the table next to it is my sanding station/cleaning station.  I do all my sanding of metal clay away from the primary work space due to the dust and and mess.  I keep separate sanding sponges, cloths and sticks for each metal clay so not to mix the dust particles.  I also collect the shavings to make into paste and more clay (especially the silver).

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A closer look at the photography station.  Most of it is just sitting there.  The exact set up includes using the light boxes and lights and different backgrounds.  I use the materials from  Modahaus Tabletop Studios.  A truly compact and simple set up along with a good photo app from my IPhone.  I used to use a basic digital camera, however the new technology and the camera apps are quite cost effective and give you great shots.  Just be sure to learn all you can about positioning and lighting your work as well as know what your camera can do.  If this is your business, you need to understand that photos of your work are the only representation you have to jurors and buyers.  Photos can make or break your appearance.

 

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This was my most important update, to have my firing supplies within the studio.  I added this table to the backside of my space and left it wide open to give the kiln free space at it heats up to 2350 degrees!  My tumbler, charcoal pans, enameling stands all make up the rest of the table space.  Another reason for a separate work area for firing gives me space as the charcoal firings can be messy with the dust.  Also, freedom to work my handheld torch with my enameling into metal is important.

So, here is a glimpse of my work space and where I dream, design and do!  Everyone has unique spaces and unique work habits that are just right for you.  In fact, a funny aside from my corporate days.  I was the training coordinator for my area and had dedicated space to conduct the training classes.  One day, setting up for a new class, I was walking around the room with a Kleenex box looking for the perfect place to set it.  My HR friend walked by and was questioning me about why I was taking this task so seriously.  I remember stating to her that there is a spot for everything and that your space and how it was arranged makes a big difference in how your learn.  She simply smiled and shook her head.  Understanding the importance of space and where things work best it not simply a fantasy.  It is a skill that you can learn and an important part of your productivity.  While you could argue that “my messy office works for me”, one only has to look at your production and results to determine if that really is true.  For me and my creative muses, my studio/workshop works for me!

Back in Business

Last weekend marked my return to the show circuit after missing out this past Fall season.  I appreciate all the warm prayers and comments regarding my health–I’m slowly on the path to full recovery.  Blessed by my CEO (hubby who Carries Everything Out), I am able to get back to my love for creating fabulous and joyful pieces to wear.  Lots of new ideas coming for the late Spring/Summer collection.  Winter in Georgia has been rough and unpredictable so I’m ready for warmth and sunshine!  Please continue to check my evolving show schedule for 2015.

I would also love to start a gallery of my customers who love their piece.  If you are so inclined, please send me your picture! I meet several of my return customers last week and they shared with me their continued joy of having one of my pieces.  Sometimes, though, because every piece is unique, I forget the exact look or what the piece was.  So, help me out and send me a few pictures.

Here are a couple of ladies from last year:

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I will also continue to share some of my knowledge with this blog.  I believe that all artists should share their techniques and methods to inspire future artists.  Also, it’s always fun to see how your piece was fabricated and made special!

Hiatus

Well, my friends, just a quick note to let you know that I am officially on “hiatus” from my studio in order to have my knees replaced.  Wow, that sounds really weird, but something that I’ve been waiting for a very long time.  Without all the details, I was diagnosed at an early age with degenerative arthritis (after my third baby was born) and from then on it has been hard to manage.  The knees have been the hardest hit.  So much so, that I’ve had to be in a wheelchair this past year.  YUCK!  Not my best fashion look!

However, I have so many new ideas for my new collection that I hope to have ready by spring 2015.  I hope to hit the show circuit again and to reconnect with you, my artist friends and new clients.  Thank you for the support you’ve already shown me in the past!  

And, even if it is not for me . . .please support your local and independent artists–with the holiday season just around the corner we need to be sure that we fill our homes and give our gifts from the soul and creativity of so many people that produce their own art, soap, painting, jewelry, clothing, and the list goes on and on!  By supporting your local artist you are contributing to the great American dream of business and keeping our economy where it should be.  It is certainly my greatest pet peeve since becoming an artist over 18 years ago–I value each and every piece of art/product that I’ve collected over the years and I know what it means to put in the hard work and share it with others.  Please pass it on!

Thanks!

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The Art of Edutainment!

I just returned from the North Georgia mountains as the visiting artist for the weekend at Unicoi State Park & Lodge in Helen, Georgia.  One of the reasons I love being an artist is for times like this.  I am the only artist on site and I am able to demonstrate my enamel bead making for anyone who wants to watch.  Once I turn on the torch it seems to attract many eyes, especially those of children.  The flame dances across the copper tubing and while I apply layer and layer of glass, the whirling colors begin to show and the bead becomes alive.  After I turn off the torch, I explain what is happening to the bead as how the colors will continue to change as they cool.  I love what I do and I love to share my art with every one.  Bead upon bead was added to my small box to show and tell to others what I was doing there in the main lobby of the lodge.  I also have the opportunity to show off my current collection in the enamels, the metals and stones.  I am a gallery, a teacher, a sales person and an artist.

Many will disagree about demonstrating your art at a show or otherwise.  Once you make your pieces, some would say, then you should use the time to sell your work and talk about it.  While this may be fine for most folks who set hard-core goals for their sales, I certainly believe that there is room for more than that.  Some artists believe that you are the  “edutainment”  for the crowds of potential buyers for free.  As a teacher myself, I don’t see it that way.  I prefer to see it as a way to connect to potential customers about your work.  I know no one can repeat the kind of work I do, therefore I am not concerned about copycats.  However, I do want to share my gift and having a heart for learning, why not?  Certain shows are not an appropriate venue for demonstrating artists.  However, other shows or solo visits have advantages that you can’t use in the bigger shows.  You have time to talk and expand on your work with your demonstration.  You get to relate to something that customer is sharing and try to fit their need or desire with your work.  Even just getting the many comments of “how beautiful!”, “lovely”, or “I wish I had the money to buy your pieces” are part of an important process of feedback for your work.  For me, I work alone in all aspects of my design and fabrication.  It is great to get out to a show and hear that people “get” your work or how much they appreciate it.  Feedback is critical for anything you produce and as an artist, there is a part of you that is in every piece you make–of course, you want the warm fuzzies!

I often hear (especially in my art category), “did you MAKE this?” with an incredulous look on their faces.  Often, I just smile and start my usual dialogue of what I do and how I do it.  At a demonstration, the action certainly speaks for you.  Watching me complete a bead within 5-7 minutes and to see instant results of the raw bead, they really “get” my art!  And, I find they appreciate it even more.

Aside from the benefits of demonstrating my work, I have to admit that I also love the fact that I can produce enough beads in just one day’s demonstration for my next collection of enamel jewelry.  Not a bad trade-off to actually work and show off what you do AND be productive for your next season of shows.  Works for me!  I am blessed enough to be able to demonstrate my bead making two more times this summer–at the Butternut Creek Festival in Blairsville (July) and another gig at the Unicoi Lodge in Helen (August).  Maybe you can drop by and learn some art and we can talk and relate in a leisurely way.  Sounds like a great way to spend a hot summer day!

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I made 43 beads during this demonstration!

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And the winner is . . .

. . . Black!  Yes, I am very pleased with my test shots for the gradient black backgrounds.  Much more polished and professional, which is important for securing a spot in a juried show.  Most juries have only 4 to 5 shots of your work, so it must stand out!  I struggle with showing juries my work in just 4 slides due to the fact that my work is extremely varied and unique.  While I’m happy with the black backgrounds, I still need to work on correct lighting.  My silver pieces seem washed out and they reflect easily.  Ways to reduce reflection include making a white poster board to house your item and cut a hole in it to allow your camera lens to “see”.  I like using the diffused light from the Modahaus Tabletop Photo Studio and their Steady Stand Kit.  These pieces are simple in design, yet ever effective.  You can learn more about their products at  www.modahaus.com

Here are a few of the successful shots from this week:

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You will probably note some of the various lighting attempts.  I will continue to hone these skills and play with natural light as well.  But, I love seeing the pieces against the black.  It works well for all the metal clays.