Wednesday, June 2, 2010

PMC Classes: The Whats and the Whys

You may have heard about PMC (Precious Metal Clay) and want to try it.  Or maybe you haven't heard of it but would like to make fun, nature-inspired silver jewelry.  Either way, a  PMC class may be just the thing.  I offer two types of classes:  A short, fast-paced workshop in which you come away with a piece or two of nature-inspired jewelry and a full day in-depth class which will give you the information and foundation you need to work with PMC on your own.  The shorter workshop is perfect for someone who is unsure about trying PMC and in this blog post, I will discuss some of the things that we do in those classes.  After that, I will tell you why I think you should take a class (other than the fact that it's just plain fun!)

For an explanation of what exactly PMC is, you can go here.  To see how you can go from a small lump of clay to a beautiful pendant  and a pair of earrings, you can follow along with me here.  

The 3 1/2 hour workshop is just enough time to make a necklace and perhaps a pair of earrings using your choice of natural items.  My favorites are leaves and flowers and for this blog post, I have chosen leaves to make a pendant and those little whirligigs that fall out of maple trees (I think) for earrings.

The reason I like working with PMC so much is you can use almost anything to create textures.  There are several ways to get the texture onto the clay, depending on what you want your final result to look like.  I'll show two of those.  In the first,  I will use the most straightforward:  Impressing a leaf directly into the clay.   In the shorter workshop, we focus on just making impressions in the clay like this example. 

First, I choose my leaf.  I'm honestly not sure what kind this is.  I pick leaves everywhere if they have an interesting shape or texture.  I found this one in a friend's yard.  Using about one-half of a 6.3 gram package of PMC3, I roll out a slab of clay.  Placing the leaf carefully on the clay, I roll again impressing the leaf into the clay.  I use a template to cut out a shape I like, in this case I chose a teardrop, and I cut a hole for hanging later.  At this point, I pull the leaf off with tweezers, but leaving it on won't hurt.  It will burn off during the firing process.

Because it is a little more complicated, the process of using molds is not covered in the shorter class.  I will use the other half of the clay to make earrings out of the whirligigs (from now on, I'll call them pods because whirligigs is just too darn hard to type right).   My plan is to make a pair of earring dangles that look like actual the actual pods, rather simply pressing them into the clay as I did with the leaves.  To do this, I first must make a mold of the pods and I do so with a two part silicone mold compound.  This compound is used by taking equal amounts of each color and kneading them together until they are one uniform color and then pressing the pods into the mold.  Once the mold is cured (about 5 to 10 minutes), the pods are removed and you can see the perfect texture left in the compound.  
To make the pods, I simply roll out slab of clay and press it into the mold.  I flip it over and remove the clay and cut around the pods.  I have added rings on the top because I don't want to put holes in the pods.  

Once both the pods and the leaf pendant are dry, I clean the edges up a bit and they are ready for firing.  This is the part that is like magic to me.  After as little as ten minutes in a kiln, what went in as a dry piece of clay that looks more like ceramic than silver, comes out of the kiln as a pure silver piece. 

In a class, we would then finish the pieces, polishing them as much as each student likes and using liver of sulphur to accentuate the texture if  so desired.   Using jumprings to attach the earrings and pendant to ear wires and a neck cord, the student will now  have earrings and a necklace that are original and sure to be noticed.

If you have heard of PMC, you may have read articles, books, blog posts and tutorials on how to use it.  You may have even seen videos.  There are tons of them out there by some very talented PMC artists.  So you wonder why you should take a class like this if you can find all the information online for free.   That's a very good question and I have what I hope to be a couple of very good answers to that.

In a class, you are working with less pressure.  Most people who have worked with metal clay will tell you that opening that first package of clay is a bit stressful.  How are you supposed to get jewelry out of that lump?  Reading all the books in the world isn't a substitute for a good live demonstration and the ability to ask questions.  Because you will have them.   Trust me.  What's the best way to cut something out?  What do you do with the clay you aren't using?   What if I make a mistake? You will learn lots of tips and tricks that you may find online or in books, but it would take you a lot of reading to find some of those tips.  I am still learning new things all the time.

Secondly, there is the cost of purchasing all the tools you will need to work with the clay as well as some sort of firing option.  In most classes, especially beginner classes, all the tools are supplied for you, as well as the clay.  You don't have to worry about which tools are the best or how much clay to buy because it's all there ready for you to start playing with.  And chances are the teacher will have his or her own collection of stamps, molds, templates and textures that they have amassed over years  to which you would also have access.  If you decide after taking a class that PMC isn't really your cup of tea, you aren't stuck with a bunch of tools you might never use again, but you will still have a piece or two of really nice jewelry (that you can tell people you made yourself) for probably less than you would pay to buy the jewelry outright.

If you fall in love with PMC like I did, you will leave knowing that if you spend the money on tools and books it won't be wasted and you will also have an idea which tools you liked the best. In the full-day beginner's classes, I offer the tool kits used in the class for sale and I give a demonstration of torch firing, the least expensive firing option available.   My goal is that you will go away with the information  you need to work with PMC on your own.  The short workshop I offer is quick moving and doesn't offer as much background and foundation information for working with clay outside of the class as the full-day class, but it's a lot of fun and a great way to make a gift for someone.

And now that I have described a class, showed you what you will make in a workshop and given you the reasons I believe it's best to take a class before first working with clay, what are you waiting for?  Find a class and sign up today!   I have the following classes coming up and I'm working on scheduling more so you can keep an eye out on my schedule page.

Nature-Inspired Jewelry Workshop
Saturday, June 26, 2010 from 10:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
at Sweetland Retreat, Manchester, Maine

PMC for Beginners
Thursday, August 26 from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
at Woodlawn Museum, Ellsworth, Maine

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