Monday, September 12, 2011

Sterling Silver Clay

One of the things I have been dying to try ever since the article came out in Metal Clay Artist Magazine is Lisa Cain's recipe for sterling silver clay.  But I didn't have any PMC Pro and I didn't have an extruder.

Then I went to Haystack and met Lisa and she talked about the sterling silver clay, which, again, made me want to try it.  I did have the PMC Pro, as it was one of the suggested items for the Haystack class, but still no extruder.

Ever the problem solver, I remembered a comment Lisa made during her discussion saying it was too bad there wasn't a mini bread kneader machine we could use instead of the extruder.  Then a light bulb went off!  Of course!  I had made many a pie crust and similar items in my food processor.  And it so happened I had a mini food processor/chopper that I never used.  So I dug it out and gave the recipe a whirl, so to speak.  I followed everything in Lisa's instructions, with the exception of the extruder.  Instead, I sprayed the processor bowl and blade with some Cool Slip and broke the piece of clay into small bits and ran it through the food processor until the bits balled up together.  And then I broke it up into pieces and ran it through again.  I'm not sure how many times I did this, but at least 10 times.  Then I wrapped the clay up and let it rest overnight.

The next day the clay was a joy to work with.  It had a very creamy feel and didn't seem to dry out quickly at all.  I made a test slab, two cards thick, and a ring mini-mosaic ring.  The base of the ring was three cards thick with little mosaic pieces (two cards thick) attached with slip.  The ring sanded wonderfully, but it broke.  I think this was less the fault of the clay and more a matter of me squeezing a bit too hard on the ring.  It broke cleanly, though, and I repaired it with slip.

I fired it according to Lisa's directions, which is a two-part firing.  I didn't let the piece cool much after the second firing because I was too excited to see how it came out.  So I dug it out of the carbon with my long-handled tweezers and quenched it.  It looked much like fine silver PMC does right out of the kiln, but it was grayer in color.  It brass brushed well.  I tumbled the ring for about an hour and the photos show the result.  I have not yet patinaed it.  I have tried to pull the ring apart to test the joins I made when it broke.  I can't get it to pull apart with my fingers.

The test piece bent well and didn't crack or break, unlike the PMC Pro I used earlier, which was very brittle and easy to break (and I followed the firing directions to a T).

I am very happy with the results.  I didn't measure the ring pre-firing.  I made it very big, keeping in mind that Lisa's article says the shrinkage on rings varies widely.  It shrunk about five sizes, I would estimate, judging from the mandrel I formed it on (which is larger than any ring sizer I have).  I have always worried about rings and their durability in PMC.  Now I can make them in sterling.  Other than rings and cuffs, I would probably stick to regular PMC because it does take quite a while to make the clay.

Thank you so much to Lisa Cain for the hard work she put into this recipe and all the testing.  Her directions are very clear and easy to follow and it's thanks to her that the ring came out so well!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Haystack Wrapup

Wow!  The summer has gone by in a flash and so did my week at Haystack.  Even Hurricane Irene, which ended up being mostly just wind in that part of the state, couldn't keep me away.  Unfortunately, some people did get held up due to the hurricane.

This year we had a wonderful teacher, Patrik Kusek, and our TA was Lisa Cain.  I have admired their work for years and it was like meeting a couple of rock stars for me!   Patrik's teaching style was such that I immediately felt comfortable.  Our focus was to be on our artistic voice, which is a challenge for me, not having come from an artistic background.  We did several exercises to bring out our artistic voice and help foster creativity.  It made me feel much better when Patrik said that he didn't used to consider himself artistic and when I found out Lisa creates many of her pieces without first drawing them out, as I often do.

We learned a lot of dry construction techniques, and even with those I have used before I found new and easier ways to work.  We also used found objects, something I do very little of.  I tried to push myself to do things differently than I normally would and the pieces I made are a bit different than my usual work, I think.

We worked on shadow boxes to practice dry construction techniques and as a way to showcase things important to us.  This piece is called "Haystack 2011".  The texture on the front is carved into the dry clay and is meant to look like the wood boards that are used on the interior of all the buildings at Haystack.  The "window" is the shape of the buildings.  The back is made with a texture that I thought looked like rough waves.  I thought that was appropriate considering we arrived during Hurricane Irene (which really wasn't much in that neck of the woods - just a lot of wind).  In the window, I embedded a tiny piece of green sea glass I found on the beach the morning after the hurricane.


We also made rings - something in which I need practice.  My first ring is also my favorite piece of the bunch.  Patrik showed us a mosaic ring he made out of many different bits of textured clay.  This is my version of it, set with a very large cubic zirconia.  I love this technique and I think I will do more.

The other ring I made is called "Trash and Treasure" and was inspired by another walk on the beach.  I was picking up bits of broken shell, sea glass and other things I thought were pretty when it crossed my mind that those things I considered "treasures" were or had been trash to someone else.  If you enlarge the picture you will see have embedded sea glass, tiny shells and bits of sea urchin shell in resin.  On the bottom are bits of a piece of partially burned newspaper that I found in the woods on the same walk.



I also made a pair of earrings with the same theme.  

Continuing with the found objects theme, I decided to use a piece of mica given to me by one of my classmates to encase a luna moth wing I found earlier this summer and have been keeping in my flower press ever since.



This piece is large - nearly three inches across.  It looks simple, but a lot of work went into the shape and size of the frame, as well as the consideration of the best way to showcase the wing.  The mica was split in half with a layer under the wing and a layer over, sandwiched in between the frame and the backing and then all layers were riveted together.  It holds the wing nicely and the mica gives it a sort of sepia look.

Haystack is such a beautiful place.  I don't think anyone could go there and not be creative.  I hope I stretched my artistic wings a bit.  I know I will use many of the brainstorming techniques I learned from Patrik!  We also made a mobile with words to describe our artistic vision.  I will keep mine right on my work table to remind me of Haystack and the themes I want to keep in my pieces. 

One more year until the next class!