Monday, October 31, 2016

10.31.16 On my own with the clay...

When I started down this path of taking classes and making jewelry - the primary objective was to LEARN and make jewelry that I would want to wear.  The expansion in to creating gifts for family and friends, much less pieces for sale, was so far off on the horizon that I could never have imagined being here in just under two years.

I realized early on in my adventure in metalsmithing that this is a physical endeavor - and just being in a class, taking notes and creating one or two class projects is not enough to cement a technique (at least for me).  Between my 101 and 201 Fabrication classes, I made a point of getting to open studio almost every week to work on my skill - having more jewelry was just a happy byproduct.  Now that I've finished my second metal clay class - and have all of the nifty components to work with - I decided to spend some time doing just that.

My original vision for the small Texas charms was earrings - simple ones with a jump ring at the top of the panhandle.  However, the charms are so thin and delicate, that there is really no good way to attach the ring securely - so I'm going with Plan B - making Texas "Posey Pendants".

I started playing around with ideas similar to the pendant I made in class on my kitchen table, and then went back to the studio with a plan.

Back at the bench, I decided to make two more pendants with metal clay components.  Another "posey" pendant, and the Heart of Texas and got to work.

I went ahead and fused down two twisted wire frames, and decided to work on the Texas pendant first.  I had played around with leaves on either side of the stone, but decided to use small flowers instead.  For the posey pendant I used one of the "cinnamon roll" roses in the center, and put medium sized flowers and leaves around it.

I thought that I had everything fused down solidly - but lost a couple of granules along the way (they're so tiny - you'd think they'd be the easiest to fuse - but they are not) - so had to go back and reattach them - but overall, I was happy with my work.
I opted use lapis cabochons - rather than moonstones - to add some color, and because for the Texas one, I wanted to invoke the state flower - bluebonnets.

I'm certainly going to make more of these - they are fun - and still have a LOT of small metal clay components.  I haven't decided if I'll put them in the shop, or hang on to them to give as gifts...but I'm probably going to look for some other stones to add some variety to the finished pieces.

So watch this space for more adventures in metal clay (I'm hoping I can talk the Creative Side folks into some "open studio" type clay sessions, since I don't have the tools for this, either)...and be sure to check out Vickie Hallmark's beautiful work - her pieces inspire me to be a better jeweler.

Until next time.

Monday, October 17, 2016

10.24.16 Argentium, revisited

On Sunday morning, we returned to the studio to find all our clay pieces turned to silver (even if I know how it happened - it's still kind of magical).  Now it was time to start putting all those little shiny pieces together and MAKE SOMETHING!

After taking a week long argentium class with Ronda Coryell, and working almost exclusively with the metal for the past several months, my comfort level was much higher for the second day of class.

Like Ronda, Vickie really likes argentium for its ability to fuse, and its low tarnish properties.  Because argentium melts - or flows - at a lower temperature than fine silver, the two can be used together, and the argentium will flow to fill in and hold the metal clay pieces when they are placed on wire or sheet (and you add heat with a torch).

Vickie said the best part of working with the clay, is that once it is all fired you can "play around with the pieces" and the possibilities are almost endless.  I knew I had far more components that I could use in one day at the bench - so I focused on completing at least a couple of surprise...earrings.

I had made the little Erlenmeyer flasks with my daughter in mind - and I made two sets, because I figured that worst case (if I melted something), I'd at least get one pair of earrings for case, we'd both have a pair.

I started playing around with adding small jump rings and granules on and around the flasks to create "bubbles".  My final design included 3 sets of  bubbles for each flask - which would be fused down on to argentium sheet.

The process of fusing down all the parts was very much like making Ronda's granulation earrings (which I liked so much, that I did a one off in turquoise - and I've worn them all summer)

I've gotten pretty good at controlling the torch, and while working with the components made from metal clay is different from just fusing argentium, I was able to watch the metal and successfully build four earring charms - no melting!

I also wanted to create earrings from the Heart of Texas charms - but fusing - or even soldering - small jump rings to the Panhandle proved to be beyond rather than melt one of them, I just set them aside for the time being.  I'm sure I'll come up with a way to put them to good use.

After the earrings, I decided to work on a more complex project - a pendant - with several small metal clay components, not just one.  Again - the trick is managing the heat and getting the argentium and metal clay to fuse together.

Using two of the small flowers, and two leaves, I began building a floral pendant with a bezel set stone.  I was able to get back to the bench just a couple of days after the end of class and finish the pendant.

I made a jump ring out of twisted wire, to match the pendant, then followed Vickie's instructions for finishing. I used liver of sulfur to get the patina, then carefully removed it from the flowers, granules and the twisted wire with a fine silicone polishing tip.

I'm really pleased with the end result - and hope to incorporate metal clay embellishments into some of my work going forward.

Until next time.

10.17.16 Hallmark Greetings

Photo credit: Vickie Hallmark
I first encountered Vickie Hallmark, and her beautiful jewelry, in a wonderful Facebook group called Aspiring Metalsmiths - which describes itself as "a friendly and supportive place to talk metal, share business and technical advice, show off your work, and have fun."  I have found that to be completely the case!

Last March she posted a picture (on the group page) of these fabulous mountain laurel earrings, made with precious metal clay and argentium wire and sheet.  About that time, these bushes - with their deep purple flowers - were beginning bloom and to fill the air with their fragrance (which smells a lot like grape Kool Aid), a sure sign of the arrival of spring in Texas. 

As I am want to do, I sent her a message and said "are those for sale?".  She replied yes - and after a discussion about size (she's tall, and prefers longer earrings; I'm short and, well...) I bought the small pair, with lovely rose cut amethysts.

Fast forward 6 months, and I've had the opportunity to take a class with Vickie and learn how she combines fine silver metal clay and argentium in her fabulous creations.

She brought in two trays full of examples (it took more than a little willpower not to add to my ever expanding earring collection) - which were truly inspiring.

Vickie's jewelry is unique - she works in BOTH clay and argentium.  She forms small, detailed components from clay, then combines and layers them together before fusing them to argentium to make finished pieces. She spent a fair amount of time on the first morning talking about the properties of metal clay and demonstrating a variety of techniques for working with it.

At the bench - there was a detailed handout and a complete set of tools for both clay and metalwork.  As I always do, I took a photo of the bench set up  - because it's always helpful to be able to go back and reference the tools I used for a class.

I was glad for the review - because it had been over a year since I too my first metal clay class with Lorena Angulo. Turns out - I remembered more than I expected to (or maybe I am just more familiar with the whole jewelry making process) - but the result was that I felt much more confident working with the clay this time.

Vickie encouraged us to "make as many pieces and components as possible" so that we could use them both for creating pieces on the second day of class, and in our future projects.  In an effort to be a good student - and because I don't have the set up to work with metal clay outside the studio - I used up my entire 25 gram packet making Erlenmeyer flasks and Texas charms along with lots of tiny hearts and flowers!

At the end of the day, all of our clay pieces went into the kiln - to be fired at 1640F for two hours.  The firing burns away the organic binder and leaves behind solid, fine silver (99%) components.

Until next time...when I'll tell you how the pieces turned out - and all about the second day of class.

Monday, October 10, 2016

10.10.16 Shop Local: Dian Malouf Trunk Show at Russell Korman on October 14

I had so much fun doing the series of "Shop Local" blogs last year in advance of the holidays that I have decided to do them (at least some) again.  I know it SEEMS early - but - it's October people, and it's even cooling off a little bit here in Central Texas.   The first show on my radar is coming up this week - Dian Malouf at Russell Korman Jewelers from 10 am - 6 pm this Friday.

Photo courtesy of Dian Malouf
According to her bio, Dian Malouf began "looking for a large (really large) sterling silver and gold ring, she never found one. So she designed one for herself."  A woman after my own heart!  She is a 4th generation Texan who has been designing jewelry - and manufacturing it in the USA - for three decades.  Her website says that her jewelry is made "one piece at a time" (just like mine ;-) from silver, gold and precious stones.

Photo courtesy of Dian Malouf

This week she is bringing her gorgeous, sculptural jewelry to Russell Korman in Austin for a one day trunk show.  I love her use of stones with silver - and I am particularly partial to her heart shaped pieces - like the ones shown here with blue lace agate.

Photo courtesy of Dian Malouf

Her rings and bracelets are clearly designed for mixing, matching and stacking; and these mother of pearl bracelets can be customized with the beads of your choice.

While many of her pieces run into the hundreds of dollars, her "Go Girl" rings (which she regards perhaps her most rewarding personal experience) start at a very affordable $80.00.
Photo courtesy of Dian Malouf

These rings are designed to help women to "hang in there" regardless of circumstances. The "Go Girl" ring has raised thousands of dollars for breast cancer research, and has become a comfort to many breast cancer survivors and others who have hit a bump or two in the road of life.  Each ring also comes with a personal note from Dian.

So - if you are looking for jewelry that really makes a statement - for yourself, or as a gift - I encourage you to go visit my good friends at Russell Korman Jewelers and take advantage of this opportunity to shop for some wonderful, unique pieces.

Until next time.

Monday, October 3, 2016

10.03.16 She was organized to the end...

Here at my house we have a dark, and somewhat twisted sense of humor - I attribute that largely to the influence of my mother.  I also inherited her deep desire for order and organization.

My family likes to joke that when I leave them, my epitaph will read:

Beloved wife, mother, (and grandmother, I hope - if my children are reading this).
She was organized to the end.

Initially, I tried to argue and threatened to cut them off as my heirs if they did this - but on the advice of multiple lawyer friends, I've given up that fight.

So, you ask, why am I sharing this with you? Because honestly, they are right - and I really do embrace my penchant to have a place for everything, and everything in its place - and one of my wonderful blog readers asked about how I organize my jewelry.

Recently, Janet wrote -

I find myself looking forward to your blog posts. They're thoughtful and amusing. I usually learn something and come away with a smile on my face. This made my whole week!  She went on to ask some questions, so I'm going to answer them.

I have been wondering how you organize your earring collection? 
The short answer is with a label maker and lots of small ziploc bags.  Not just earrings, but every piece of jewelry has its own small bag.  Most of my earrings are in 2x2 clear bags, larger things like brooches, necklaces and bracelets are in bigger bags. 

I use my label maker to put the name or an abbreviation for the jeweler plus the item description on each piece, and I place a small tarnish protection square in with each item.
Photo credit:

A few things are in the original pouches from the jeweler - if they provide some protection from tarnishing, but I like the clear bags because it makes it very easy to find what I am looking for.

The bags and little squares can be purchased on Amazon, craft sites like Etsy, or at Rio Grande Jewelry supply.

What do you do when one of a pair of earrings breaks or gets lost?

It depends. Fortunately, I haven't lost too many earrings over the years. 

If it's something like a stone falling out of a setting, or snap bars no longer staying latched, and I like the earrings (and they have value - sentimental or monetary), I will take them to master jeweler Chuck Schaffer at Russell Korman and have them repaired.  Why don't I do it myself? Because I'm NOT an experienced jeweler, and if it's worth repairing, then it's worth having it done right.

If they aren't repair worthy, I might take the beads off of the wire or out of the setting they are in and toss them into my bead box and put the settings (if they are silver) into my recycling scrap.  I do the same thing with inexpensive chain - if the clasp fails, or a link breaks, I assess whether it is worth it to attempt to do the repair myself (I could put on a new clasp with a jump ring), cut the ends off and use the chain elsewhere, or scrap and recycle it.

For a lost earring, there's not a whole lot to do - unless perhaps you could convert the bead or dangle to a charm or pendant if you really like it.  In an effort not to end up with a single earrings, I tend to opt for screw backs on expensive things like diamond studs, leverbacks on gemstone dangles, and make use of lots of silicone nuts on my earwires. I particularly like these 5mm ones from Amazon.  It took me a long time to find them - and now I order them 100 at a time.

How do you part ways with earrings? I find that over the years there are earrings that suited me well, but then 5, 10, or 15 years later, they don't. Does that happen to you, and what do you do?

Honestly, it doesn't happen very often.  Take these glass Donald Duck earrings, for example.  My family went to Walt Disney World in 1978 and there was a person making lampwork beads that looked like all the Disney characters.  The last time I wore them was probably when my (now adult) children were in elementary school - but I keep them nonetheless because they hold fond memories.

Before I started doing metal work, I would go through periods of making beaded earrings - and after a while I just got tired of them - so I offered them up to my friends to make room for new things.

I posted pictures of the ones I no longer wanted on Facebook, and said first to claim them gets them - with only one requirement - the recipient had to post a selfie wearing the earrings.  It was quite a lot of fun - so much so that I did it a several times.  At this point, I don't have any more earrings I want to give away.

I've put a few truly "vintage" pairs up for auction on Etsy, and still others I've disassembled to reuse the beads or findings - especially if there was a really unique earwire.

Other than that - I really don't part with my jewelry.  I've handed off a few things to my daughter, but mostly, I just keep it - which means I've got 40+ years of accumulated baubles, each in their own little bag.  Even if I'm not wearing it, each piece holds memories and occasionally I find that after not wearing something for years, it's suddenly back in style, or just right for a new outfit.

Thanks for the great questions - I hope the answers are useful - or at least entertaining.  It means so much to know that you all are out there reading what I write.

Until next time.