Sunday, September 11, 2011

Is this Sweet or What?

Found this recently while researching web info for a talk I'll be giving. It's amazing what random things I am led to on the web when I swear I'm doing legitimate research!

The Anonymous Hugging Wall
Check it out for yourself here.

Where's a picture of that rabbit with the watch from Alice in Wonderland when you need it?

I can't even begin to express how stupidly busy I've been since summer started.  I foolishly thought I'd have all this time to work on new art and I foolishly thought I'd be able to accomplish it while taking a welding class and teaching 2 classes of my own, one of which is still fairly new so I had to make lots more samples than I already had.  AND, the MAC decided to turn their museum shop into an artist's cooperative and I applied in both photo and metals and got both accepted so I had to get work ready: files to the printer, jewelry cleaned, glass for frames, frames, display material, yadda, yadda, yadda.  And I have freelance webwork in there. Oh, and did I mention that full time job I still have?  And to top it off, I've missed every show deadline that I wanted to make for fall. Oy!!!!!

Anyway, enough kvetching.  I have loads of photos of work, play (we did go to Vegas-first timers) for a few days thanks to the gracious invitation of dear friends Becky and Marilou, and interesting things lined up to blog about, so stay tuned.

One thing that I recently did was buy a truly ergonomic keyboard by Kinesis.

Looks weird, right?
Being on the computer all day at work with a cr*ppy old standard keyboard was making my thumbs numb and not helping the tendonitis or arthritis and even my old old old MS natural keyboard wasn't helping so I did what I always do and went researching on the web for something truly ergonomic.  There's not much out there that is touted as truly ergonomic but this keyboard got consistently good reviews from programmers and professionals who sit in front of a computer all day.  So, despite the hefty price tag and steep learning curve to re-learn where the "Enter", "Space", and "Backspace" and oh-so-many-more keys are I went ahead and ordered one.  I am slowly typing on it as I write now and  I have to say that my hands don't feel better (the tendonitis seems to be kicking in and my left thumb feels a little numb) but I'm hoping that's just because I'm struggling to type being so thrown off by the unusual design. Most reviews on Amazon said the learning curve was 1-2 weeks.  Wish me luck.....

Sunday, July 24, 2011

While I'm still strugglingto catch up....

I came across this nifty art piece involving knitting:
365 Knitting Clock

Click here to view the article. The link is to an article rather than the artist's website because the article has way more info and photos. You can view the artist's website here.  The clock knits a 2 meter long scarf in a year. What a great concept.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

This is neat for web/ graphics AND metals!

If you've been reading this blog at all or actually know me, you know I have my multi-armed Hindu goddess arms in many, many fires.  Well, in my search for web background inspiration I cam across these two sites:

The first site, ColourLover, allows you to create your own patterns and colorize them and/or search through thousands of already created patterns. Whatever you create goes into the pattern database so it can be used by anyone else who comes across it or knows its precise name.  And you can re-color it to whatever color scheme you like, then right click to save it to your computer.  The same goes for the Japonizer but has a limited number of traditional patterns to choose from in the gallery.  But here's the kicker.  Not only is this great for all the web people out there, but metals people can use it to make patterns for PNP to etch their own custom patterned sheet!  How cool is that?????

Thursday, June 30, 2011


Sorry, it's been a bit hectic this month.  On top of the day job, I'm taking a welding class, teaching 2 night classes and working on a website (one in earnest and several in the pipeline) and there's been some celebration of some kind (Father's Day, our wedding anniversary, etc.) almost every weekend and all of the above combined has banished my personal creative time to the far corners of the universe.  And I was sick for a bit, too, which slowed me down.  When it rains it pours :-)

Classes will be over at the end of July and so will the web project (keep your fingers crossed) and I'm taking some vacation days so I will plan on getting back to the blog et al soon.  Hope your June has gone well and if you live where I do that you are staying cool!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Crackle Enamel

My student Diana Pettiti studied for a number of years with an old-school group of enamelists in California before moving to Phoenix and she brought to the class some techniques I'd only read about and had never tried.  Diana was so great about sharing what she knew and letting me photograph the process.

So, what is crackle enamel?
Here is how I understand it (and please feel free to correct me if I get any of this wrong): the crackle effect is produced using a base coat of enamel with a very low co-efficient of expansion (which means it flows/ moves readily sooner than other enamels would at the same temperature) with a finely powdered liquid enamel on top.  Thompson Enamel makes a crackle base in clear, white and black.  Diana used the Liquid Form Enamels as the top layer (NOT the Liquid Form Brushable Enamels- I don't know what the difference is but they are separate in the Thompson catalog).

Diana is using Clear Crackle Base for her project

You need to prepare your metal as usual for enameling: metal should be grease free and free of scale if using copper and if you want to make sure your enamel stays clean. Do your counter side completely- if you know you are going to have 2 coats on the front, go ahead and do 2 coats of counter now.  Clean your front side then sift a nice even coat of the crackle base.  Depending on how thickly you sift, you may need a second application.  You don't want this layer to be super thin because you WANT it to MOVE.

Sifting the Crackle Base
Fired to maturity- The Crackle Base behaves just like any other
transparent enamel on copper so fire it normally

Next, you need to mix the liquid enamel in a small open mouthed container like a Dixie cup or condiment take-out type cup.  You mix with distilled water, no Klyr-Fire, around the consistency of tempera paint.  The enamel should coat the mixing utensil in a thin opaque layer.  You don't want it too watery or too thick. If it's too thick it may not split.

Buy Liquid Form Enamels in powder form so you can control the water content

Mixing the enamel- stir with a solid object to reduce bubles

Your metal with the crackle base should be prepped and ready to go before you start mixing the liquid enamel so once the liquid enamel is ready, pick up the crackle base piece and hold it from the underside.  You are going to pour the liquid form over the piece to coat the surface completely and you will need to be holding it so you can tilt it around to facilitate the coating process. Shake off any excess.

The piece has been coated and now Diana is letting any excess drip back into the container.
You can reuse the material if it dries out. Just add water and re-constitute.

Once the piece is coated, set it on a trivet to dry, which will take quite a while because the entire top surface is saturated with water.  You can place the piece on top of a hot kiln to speed things up or use a heat gun from underneath to dry the enamel quickly without reaching firing temp. I'm impatient so I like to do this a lot. Once you are absolutely sure all the water has evaporated, you can fire.

The kiln needs to be hotter than normal- ~1600F

You are going to fire in a HOT kiln.  For this process to work, the crackle base has to really move. You normally fire for about the same amount of time but really it just depends on when you see the cracking effect or not.  This is a somewhat capricious technique and if the base layer isn't thick enough and the top layer not the right consistency, the kiln isn't hot enough, etc. it may not work.  It will take some trial and error to really be able to get reliable results.  But oh, what results!

Right out of the kiln and look at the glow on the metal

As with most reds, the liquid form enamel comes out of the kiln looking black

Starting to "color up" as I like to say

The Liquid Form Enamels are opaques so what you see is what you get with their colors.  They can also be mixed to make new colors and used in painting techniques where they produce a water-color like effect.  One thing Diana did learn in my class is that if the crackle effect isn't as dramatic as you like, you can stick it back in the kiln and sometimes get a little more out of it.  If it doesn't work at all, then 1 of the 3 aspects (kiln heat/ time, crackle base ratio, liquid enamel ratio) is off and if it's definitely not the kiln, then it's one of the other 2 and you just have to start over.

I do need to add the sample size used in this demo was a 2 inch domed disc. Diana says the crackle also needs gravity and area to help it move so the effects may be reduced on smaller or flat pieces. I tend to work on smaller, flatter pieces and I find that adding a little more water to the top layer mix helps in achieving a crackle effect when base coat thickness, piece size and gravity aren't there to help you.

Monday, May 23, 2011

I'm going to re-title my enamling class "Enamels R&D"

Enameling does involve science, but it's not math.  It's more like chaos theory....
I don't have anything more to add, really.  If you've ever done it, you know what I mean.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Student Work

I have had some wonderful students over the years and I wish I could say I chronicled all their work in my classes but I've only recently (in the last year) started taking photos of what they are/ were working on.  So I'm going to share here (and continue to do so) some of the wonderful work they've created.  I received some photos from the students themselves, which is always a great treat.

Bracelet by Linda Rhealt

Second bracelet by Linda Rhealt

Linda's work area

Enameled "flowers" in the garden by Al Streyfeller
(Those are live ducks, by the way)

More enameled "flowers" in the garden by Al Streyfeller

This was some of the collection Dona Kahler made.
She's an amazing stained glass artist (among many other achievements!)

Judith Lupnacca- wonderful person and open to the many surprises the glass might provide

 Three beautiful pieces and I can't remember whose they are!  Please, let me know!

Diana Pettiti

Another amazing piece from Diana. This was raku'd with white as a base.

More to come!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Computer Aided Design

I haven't talked much about the digital side of my life except to announce when I got a photo in a show but it's not for lack of plenty o digital stuff going on in my life.  I am preparing a web design proposal and while looking for color schemes (I get ahead of myself frequently) for this client I stumbled upon this nifty little website/ app:
Color Scheme Designer

Here's what it looks like
I highly recommend you check this out if you are a designer/ need ideas for color combination/ whatever.  You can select a bunch of different color scheme options such as complementary, triad, analogous, etc. and you can preview a web layout with "Light Page Example" and "Dark Page Example" buttons in the lower right below the combination box at right.  You can adjust the hue and tint, adjust for colorblindness and more.  It's pretty awesome.  Just FYI :-)

Monday, May 9, 2011


What is flux?  For the metal smith, flux is an oxygen inhibitor.  That's really it.  When metal containing copper (which is sterling silver, alloyed gold and brass) is exposed to heat and air at the same time, it oxidizes and creates a scale layer that solder cannot attach to.  Solder is also made up of silver, copper and zinc and so it also needs to be protected from oxygen while it is being heated.  Flux goes onto the piece while it is clean and cool and forms a glassy barrier when melted which air cannot penetrate until it is finally burned away through extensive heat exposure (i.e. you've been heating the piece at high heat for a long time).

If you've done it right, the solder will melt and join the pieces of metal you want to join while the flux is still protecting the seam.

For years, metal smiths used fluxes containing potassium biflouride, a chemical that is fairly nasty to inhale but works great as an oxygen inhibitor.  Many of us know this kind of flux by it's brand name "Handy Flux".

The original paste flux I always used- still a great flux and still in use today

Years ago an alternative came out called "Dandix Flux", which didn't contain the potassium biflouride.  Yeah. It sucked. Big time.  It didn't hold for very long under heat, meaning the time one had to get something soldered before everything turned black and dirty was  greatly reduce.


I tried it and ended up going back to the more chemically Handy Flux. Until, that is, Bob Coogan at the Appalachian Center for Craft turned me on to Superior #6 brazing flux.  This stuff is just as good as the Handy Flux and it doesn't contain the potassium biflouride.  I've used it for years and highly recommend it. You can order it by the case from the company directly or by the jar from H&N Electronics in California.  That's not to say flux is completely safe, one still has to take sensible steps to minimize exposure, but at least we can cross one chemical off the list!

This is my somewhat dilapidated jar.  I've had it for years and it's still half full.

By the way, I was trained on paste flux so that is what I'm comfortable using.  I know some jewelers use Battern's, which is a yellow liquid flux and some use a combination of powdered boric acid and denatured alcohol.  I don't use those.

Battern's is really more for gold soldering in my experience- and I have no idea what is actually in it. And boric acid- well, if you accidentally ingest boric acid- there's no antidote and you can be poisoned as well from long term absorption through the skin (I've read the paste fluxes contain boric acid as well but it's already mixed in and not a powder to be mixed, which I think is somewhat safer). 

There are more products on the market of course and some new ones say they are better and safer than the old paste flux. One new one is called Firescoff.

It's supposed to be very safe.  Metal smith Polly Smith uses it in conjunction with paste flux and really likes it, especially with Argentium silver.  I have some but haven't tried it.  It's expensive so Polly suggests painting it on rather than spraying it as directed.  I'll let you know if I like it when I finally getting around to trying it.

There's also something called Cupronil, which I also have a bottle of someone probably gave me and I've never tried it.  I'll report on it as well if I ever try it!

Cupronil Flux
It's important to note there are many fluxes out there.  If you know of any other fluxes not mentioned here you really like or you have tried Firescoff or Cupronil and have some input- please leave a comment!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Show was Great!

Well, I have to report that the Shemer House of Fun opening was jam packed.  I am going to have to go back and see the show again when there aren't so many people.  I am indebted to artist extraordinaire and juror Lennee Eller for including me in the show.  If she had a website, I would include it here, but she doesn't.  I may have to suggest building one for her in trade for some of her art.....

Me and the beautiful and talented Lennee Eller at the Shemer "House of Fun" opening

Friday, April 29, 2011

Pin Backs

Well, back to some technical stuff.  Jewelry for me is one of the media I use for expression. Whether it's narrative or design oriented doesn't matter.  But the one fundamental principle about jewelry regardless of what it looks like is that it should be wearable.  With that in mind, here's a little how-to on pin backs:

I use commercial pin backs. The kind with the little rolling catch.  Nickel silver.  I know how to make handmade pin backs but unless I'm going to do something really high end I don't see a point.  To me, a pin back is like the eye hooks and wire for a picture; it should be well-made, do it's job and be unobtrusive.  And even is I were making something high-end I would just buy higher end pin backs unless the pin was an integral design element of the piece.  When I purchase pin backs, I always buy the catch and joint that matches and make sure you get a stem with the rivet in it.

Pin Catch

Pin Joint

Pin Stem with rivet

I buy the longest pin stems I can get because I will cut them to size as needed.  You NEVER want the point of your pin stem to extend beyond the end of the catch enough for the wearer to feel it. Also, always solder the pin catch open-side DOWN.

So here are pin backs already soldered on (I went through this part of the process in a previous post) and now I've placed the pin stems to the pieces and cut them down.

First I clamp the pin stem up in my ring clamp and file a new point, then sand and polish that point. It is important that the point NOT be long and thin but rather short and sort of blunt. This prevents the point from tearing through thread.  A shorter, slightly blunt point will work it's way between a weave but a long sharp point acts like a needle and can split threads.

The pin stem is properly sharpened and does not extend beyond the end of the clutch.  Now to clamp it into the joint.

The joint has 2 holes on either side in which the rivet of the pin stem fits. The trick is to get them lined up and even pressure applied so one side of the joint doesn't move in more than the other.  I like to use parallel jaw pliers for this and I do it slowly. You'll notice that the pin stem is angled above the catch as it gets seated.  That is because I soldered the joint at an angle. You want the pin stem to have to be pulled down and have it pop into the catch a little. This helps the pin stem stay in the catch even if the little roller gets rolled up over the course of the day.  It's a safety feature.  That's it!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

MAC Jewelry Classes website gets a facelift

I am using the MAC jewelry classes website as my guinea pig to learn WordPress and I now have a working site (albeit with plenty more to do) up and running.  If you haven't seen it yet, check it out because if you are interested in taking metals classes there, this site is a way better way to find out about what's going on than the official MAC website!  Yikes.  Sorry to have to say that.  Anyway, check it out here.

I will be adding more media (movies/ pics/ news/ etc.) and adding to the Resources list as well as tweaking the look.  Feedback is appreciated!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Fiber Techniques in Metal Summer Class

In addition to my regular enameling class, I'm also offering an 8 week fiber techniques in metals class at MAC this summer.  I taught this class a couple of years ago so I don't offer it very often.  We will be taking basic fiber techniques such as twining, lanyard, weaving, coiling, multi-strand braiding, etc. and using wire and flat strip as our material.  I took a similar class a couple of times with metalsmith extraordinaire Susan Wood and assisted her with the class at MAKER in 2004 before she passed away.  She was one of my metals heroes and an amazing human being all around.  Here is a small sampling of some of the techniques we'll be doing.  I'm looking forward to this class being longer so we can do more things.

Examples include: coiling, lanyard, twill weave with varying thickness of flat strip, God's Eye
and multi-strand braiding
Registration for classes starts April 22.  You can receive 10% off your registration for up to 2 classes if you register in the first week!  You can view the Mesa Arts Center classes at their website and you can see my classes at my website on my Classes page (click the link at right under "Links Schminks"). Email me from there if you have any questions!

For a complete copy of the MAC Summer Classes brochure, click here (pdf)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I'm in a Show!

The Shemer Art Center is having a show titled "House of Fun", the theme being art that makes you smile.  I had 2 pieces of jewelry and a photo selected.  The opening is Thursday April 21 from 7-9pm at the Shemer Art Center- would love to see you there if you're in town.
Click here for their website
The show runs through May 25. 

Primal Scream Series
Primal Scream Series

I started this pin series after sitting in on a sawing class with Michael David Sturlin.  It inspired me to get back to some basics.  When I just need to relax in the studio and focus on one thing, I draw up a simple line drawing face and just practice my sawing. These pieces are 20-18g and about 2- 2.5 inches tall if I remember correctly. 

"Who is that Fabulous Masked Man?"
I took this photo in Bisbee through the shop window of a closed antique store. 
It is part of my Inanimata Series.