Monday, February 9, 2015

2.9.15 Waxing and waining

Photo credit: Courtney Gray Arts
If you ever wondered why that piece of custom jewelry you covet is so expensive, I can now tell you with certainty - it takes talent, time, materials and equipment and a lot of skill.  I recently scratched the surface on some of those skills in a two day lost wax casting class at Creative Side Jewelry Academy in Austin. It was something I had wanted to do for a long time, and it was fabulous.

I first met Creative Side's owner, Courtney Gray, at a small holiday art fair a few years ago. We had a lovely visit then, and taking one of her classes went immediately on  my "to do" list.

In addition to creating custom jewelry, including especially beautiful engagement rings and wedding sets, Courtney wanted to teach and mentor other jewelers, so she started CSJA.  Since our initial meeting, her school has had great success, and recently expanded - there are two bench studios, each with a dozen seats, and jewelry artists from all over the country come to teach and learn.

Photo credit:
Metropolitan Museum
It took me a couple of years to find the time to get there, but now that I'm an empty nester, it was much easier to commit to a two day, ALL DAY class.  What I didn't realize, was that I was also signing up for a significant two day physical workout.  One does not simply sit down with an idea and voilĂ , a piece of jewelry appears - no - there is a lot of WORK involved in making art.  Courtney describes each piece of lost wax jewelry as a "small sculpture" - and after two days, my arms certainly felt like I'd created something big.

Lost wax is a technique that has been used to make objects - small and large - for centuries.  One of the most famous lost wax casts is Degas' Little Dancer.  Made in very much the same manner as the jewelry we fabricated in class - it was first carved in wax, cast in bronze, finished, and a mold was made from the finished original.

My workspace
The class ran from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. for two consecutive days.  We started the first day, as does anyone embarking on new knowledge, learning about our tools and materials.  When we arrived, Courtney went over all the tools we would be using - the first day for wax, and the second day for metal, and made clear that they needed to be kept separate.

With an understanding of the tools, we got to work on our designs. 
My final sketch

Initial transfer to wax
After finalizing a sketch, we used a charcoal pencil and traced on to both sides of a piece of tracing paper. 

Then it was time to prepare the wax by covering it with a generous layer of china white grease pencil, and transferring the design to the wax block so that we could begin carving......

The first phase of carving
The finished wax
and carving...

It took a full day to move from concept to a wax rendering to be placed in the casting flask. 

Even with the carved wax, it was honestly hard to visualize the pendant in silver.   I felt like I'd learned a lot, but had my doubts about how it would turn out, especially because I don't consider myself to be a particularly artistic person.

But I had already decided that if I am serious about making a foray into the jewelry world, I need to understand how the fabrication process works - and the knowledge I would be taking away from the class could well be more valuable than the tangible finished product.

Until next time...when I'll share just how things turned out.

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