Friday, December 10, 2010

New year, new skills?

This is a fun topic. I get to think about new techniques, new tools, materials and books to buy,  exploring new effects I haven't been able to achieve before in my jewelry.

For the December blogroll of the Aspiring Metalsmiths we are writing about what skill we want to learn next. I said it was a fun topic, but I have a bit of a problem focusing on one skill. I am just starting out as a metalsmith and well, my skills are limited, and I daily see examples of beautiful jewelry and wonderful techniques I someday hope to try. So I feel like a kid in a candy shop (want everything, but in the kid's case it can't get everything because the money comes from mommy or daddy, and in my case I have limited funds and limited time and limited possibilities of learning certain things by myself and with the tools I currently have or can obtain).

Anyway, it's just too hard to focus on one skill, I can't do it! So I have a list.

I'm embarrassed to say I have never riveted. People say it's not so hard, but I bet it's hard to get it all pretty, like in this beautiful pendant by Anna of AHeronDesign:

Hinges appear to be tricky. When soldering the parts together, things that should get soldered tend not to, and/or parts that shouldn't get soldered together do get soldered together, leaving you with an unhinging mess. But if you do it well, the result could be something like this beautiful locket by Jaime of BellaBijouJewellery:

Glass and its vivid colors has always fascinated me. Glass blowing, stained glass, glass mosaic, glass fusing, doesn't it all sound fun -sigh. Enameling is another glass technique and is as big, finicky and difficult as you want to make it. But maybe, for starters, I could try to make a few simple enameled copper discs. I would need to get a book, enamels in all the colors of the rainbow, some essential tools...

And I will be happy if I some day just know more about how a beautiful pendant like this one by Sue Szabo has been made:

I will post any advances on my side in these techniques in future blog posts, which will be a nice way for me to see how long it'll take me to try them all. :)

Finally, read all about my team friends' aspirations in the following blogs:

Monday, November 8, 2010

My work space

The time has come to show you my work space. I haven't felt like doing so before, for a few reasons. My bench is never tidy. I do actually vacuum around my workspace and on the floor (bye bye bits of solder and tiny gemstones I always drop on the floor) but I tend to avoid my bench. There are usually tons of tiny things lying around there in a weird organized chaos, and doing anything there - cleaning-wise - is something that disrupts the organized chaos. But then my team, the Aspiring Metalsmiths, came with the idea of doing coordinated blog posts, the first one of which is due now. Funnily enough I was the one who suggested that it would be 'show us your workspace'.

So no, I haven't felt like showing my work space, and the second reason is that it's not all that impressive. I have a metalsmithing class every week, and I wish I could just take a picture in their studio and pretend it was my bench. Every inch of free space is filled with tools, tools, tools, silver dust and half finished creations. I would like my work space to look creative like that. Instead I mostly feel like it's dirty and messy.

But, no dilly-dallying. The time has come.  This is my house, and you can see that it isn't big. It's nice, but not big. Behind that window on the first floor is my work space. It's not perfect: it's dark, there is no water and well, there is the slanting roof. But it's better than the kitchen table and I can just leave my stuff everywhere. ;-)

Here is my work space:
'Scuse the fish eye view but it's the easiest way of showing most things. Since I work with metal clay and silver sheet I alternate between work surfaces. I have a plastic surface I cover my table with when I work with metal clay. On my desk you see some playing cards where it says 'metal clay' and that's where I keep my metal clay items in progress. It happens that my cats walk over my bench and I come back to some crumbles, but I haven't figured out how I can keep them off the bench so I'll have to live with that. So I basically have everything on one table with some tools, wire, cabs, etc in drawers surrounding the area.
The flexshaft bit and file holder on the left is actually a repurposed pipette tip holder from my work. We just throw them away but they are great for these tool bits. I don't even remember what I had before these.

Of course you can also just take a piece of wood and drill some holes in it but this is my solution for now.

I have already shown my kiln but since it's part of my work area I should show it again:

There it is, on four ceramic tiles. Behind it you can see the cupboard with all my receipts and all my stuff for shipping.

I also store my entire essential oil collection there, which I use to make soaps and balms for my other shop, GreenLivingSoap. I won't show you the corner where I keep big bottles of vegetable oils, soap molds, glass bottles, lip balm containers, waxes, etc in cardboard boxes. It's behind my back from where I stand when I take this picture.

When we're allowed to extend our house the plan is to make a real room of this floor, with more cupboard space, and hopefully water. Although the walks up and down the stairs must be good for me in some way.

So this is it for now, my tidy bench (didn't dare to show the before photo, which I'm sure I deleted) and surrounding area.

And finally, a hobby is such a good excuse for buying all sorts of these (not that I bought the Rio Grande catalog, it's just in the same pile):

This blog post was part of a team effort, and please check out similar posts by my Aspiring Metalsmiths teammies:

Jessica Lopour -
Jeanne Millman, Golden Water Creations
Sylvia Anderson
Steph Stargell Designs
Clarity, Scrollwork Designs,
Brandy, The Frogs Pond
All Wired Up Jewelry Designs
Lisa Rippingale Robertson
Heather, Misty Ridge Designs
Nancy Creations -
Carole Axium

Or see the list of blogs here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

I feel so productive!

I tested my kiln this weekend. Granted, I mostly refired items I had already fired, but it was really easy to program and when it was heating up I sat there working on other things with a bunch of rings, earrings and a pendant in the kiln. Such a nice feeling.

Here it is, all plugged in and ready to go. I have a Prometheus medium sized kiln, with an inner chamber of about 20 cm width. The lid lifts up and when firing it is down but not locked. It hardly releases any heat, despite the loose door and the peephole in the front. So far my cats have shown no interest in the kiln, but eventually after restructuring my work space, I may want to put it higher up somewhere. I don't want to risk any burnt cat paws.

A ceramic tile/shelf came with the kiln, and since I had no sensitive items I put everything directly on the shelf and fired at 800C for 30 minutes. All of the metal clay I had in the kiln was PMC3, which fires at relatively low temperatures.

This is what the items looked like after they came out of the kiln:

And after an hour or so in the tumbler:

:) Yay! I'm already happy with it. :)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

On coral and ethically sourced jewelry

On October 15th, Etsy posted an article in their Craftivism blog about the use of coral in jewelry. The featured person in this article was someone who made a statement against buying coral and pointed to the 'Too Precious to Wear' campaign by SeaWeb, urging buyers to sign the pledge not to buy any jewelry with coral.

This was met by both hurrays and angry outbursts from Etsy sellers. From the comments to the article it was clear that many Etsy sellers had not been aware that coral is not always gathered legally and/or in an environmentally friendly way. Others pointed out that very few materials in jewelry making are mined in a way that does not damage the natural environment or the local miners and stone cutters. Someone also linked to a Newsweek article in which it becomes clear that not all coral gathering is a threat to the environment.

So what do I do? I do what I can, within my limitations. I save all my silver scrap and will send it to a jewelry supplier for recycling. Most jewelers do this with their precious metals scrap. It is a great way to save money and you contribute to an increased use of recycled metal. I also love to buy stones that can be traced to the source and that have been cut by for instance Etsy sellers. People you can talk to. Not anonymous laborers who work 18 hours a day in bad conditions for meager wages. Those ethically sourced stones are relatively expensive, and I must admit that these are not all I buy. I have bought from eBay and from other sources where origin and other information is not disclosed. I wish each stone or piece of metal had an 'ethics and environment' rating and we jewelers could decide on that basis if we would be willing to buy such an item.

But alas, that is not the case. We have no idea what sort of business we support by purchasing a gemstone. A safe bet, if you want to avoid a guilty feeling, is to buy laboratory made gemstones. Many precious gemstones can now be made in the laboratory, even opal. They are most often cheaper than mined stones, but can be a bit lifeless. Flawless gemstones are somehow much more interesting if they are natural than if they are lab made. That will not change, but if you really feel strongly about these matters lab made stones are good alternatives.

As a customer you can also request ethically produced jewelry. The gemstones market is like any other market. If the demand for ethically mined products increases, the products will follow. In the mean time we can do what we can to drive the development into the right direction.

With this entry I intend by no means to give you a comprehensive overview of good suppliers, it is mainly my reflections and an illustration of the complexity of this business. Feel free to post any tips for suppliers and anything else of interest in the comments section. You may even promote your own shop if you like. I can start by showing you these yummy rings by fellow Etsyan MieleMelograno, who stumbled across a Kenyan supplier of fair trade gemstones. Check out these yummy rings:

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Frosty is approaching

The signs are clear. The fish in our pond have been strangely absent from the surface lately, not eating their food. They had been growing fatter and fatter as autumn proceeded, and this weekend we fished them up and put them in a dark container for their winter sleep. Birds have been flocking around the basket we start filling with sunflower seeds some time in autumn. They eat about a basket per day right now! It gets crazy there sometimes and Yasmin the cat loves to sit in the tree under the basket and keep watch.

So far there has been frost a few times, but it has been warm-ish in between and I have been able to use leaves for my jewelry projects as before. But now that ship has sailed. This morning we had ice on the pond and at sunset the ice was still there.


The fern I use to make my fern rings has given up for this year:
Cookie, our other cat is often staying indoors despite nice sunny weather. We try to tell her, Cookie, it will get worse! Remember last year when we had snow from December to April and you were so frustrated we had to change the sofa cloth the following spring? So go out while there is no snow! So she goes out for a minute or two and sits in the sun, and then she goes back inside, where its warm.
But so far it is so very pretty outside, look here:

And some brave flowers still hold out, but not for long..

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Buns in the oven

Well, not yet. No matter how you interpret the title, it's not true. But I have taken the leap. A big step for me and my bank account. I have purchased...

... a kiln.

<- this one!


It's true! Within (hopefully) a few days I will have a brand new kiln that will open up new worlds for me. With it I can fire more types of metal clay, I can make larger objects, hollow objects, I can enamel, fuse glass, and even make small ceramics things! Had it been any cheaper, I would have bought it a long time ago. On the other hand, it's an investment, right? That is always a good thing to say when you really want to buy something. And that is exactly my reasoning when I indulge in the most costly sin I currently have: stone buying. I figure, can't go wrong with stones, right? They don't lose value, they last forever. The only risk there is is that I accumulate so many that I will either forget about half of them or never find them in my badly organized piles and boxes of stones.

So I organized some of my stones:

See, that looks nice! The shameful part is that this is not nearly my entire collection. Ahem.

I put myself on a stone diet that lasted from the middle of June to the beginning of September. During that time I did very well, but afterwards I was right back where I started. Sometimes I feel like an addict!

Here are some of my more recent purchases:

Lovely lavender burro creek jasper from
Etsy seller CabochonDesigner

Pink and green drusy cabochon from
Etsy seller StoneTemple
A wonderful gold calico lace cabochon from
Etsy seller cabbingrough

Aren't they great? Now I'll just have to make something with them and the multiple other beauties I have lying around..

Saturday, September 25, 2010

In vivo study of the ethology of market visitors

Sorry for that title. Does it make you want to stop reading right away? Science does tend to have that effect. My sister is an atomic physicist and she experienced that saying so at parties was The Best conversation killer (especially with guys, it scares them!). I'm a biologist myself, not as scary as physics, but if I accidentally let slip a term that sounds too science-y, you can see people tuning out in a split second.  They go from feigned interest to 'where are the drinks', 'do I see anyone I know?', 'how do I end this quickest'.

Anyway, ethology is the study of animal behavior. In vivo is 'in living organisms'. The background to this is that I was standing with my jewelry at a fair today and since my prices are a bit higher than at most other places, I have plenty of time to study the behavior of my potential customers. Here is my table today:
To get an idea of my exhibitor colleagues, take a look at the far end of my table;
you can see that the person in question has wooden dogs in different colors. Ahem.
Standing at a fair like that selling relatively high end jewelry is like panning for gold. Mostly you stand around waiting for these occasional gold nuggets. In the mean time I observe different types of people:
  • The Runner: person comes walking at safe distance from table. Glances quickly at items displayed, then quickens pace and hurries to the next table, where they relax, because they sell cheap brightly colored wooden dogs.
  • The Muggle: suddenly I feel like my fair is the stadium of the Quidditch World Cup in Harry Potter, which cannot be found by muggles (non-magic folk) because of the repelling charms that have been put on it. People will approach my table carefully, and almost bounce back when they are still so far away that they can't make out any details.
  • The Sheep: it happens that someone is interested and looks carefully at every item or even makes conversation, or even buys something. Whenever that happens, people suddenly flock around my table like sheep. Three rows thick they stand, craning their necks to see what wonderful items are sold here.
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger: 'I'll be back'. At least Arnie kept his word.
  • The Talker: when they are done I know most of this person's life. At least I know how many children they have and which metals they do and don't tolerate and all their ailments. But they never buy anything.
  • The Prey: some people seem to think I am a vicious lioness and they are poor antelopes. They want to reach the water hole, but since the lion is there, they have to keep their distance. They stand about two meters away and look at my table out of the corner of their eyes. Take a step closer and two steps back. 
I can think of more fun types but I think you get the picture. My favorite customer is someone who is not afraid to approach my table, says hi and really looks around. If I get a few of those they make up for an entire day with sheep, talkers, arnolds and the lot. :)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Rubus chamaemorus, I finally found you!

Rubus chamaemorus, or more popularly called cloudberry, is something I love but until a week ago, I had never seen it in the wild. It is a funny little berry. It grows in the arctic tundra in marshland, every plant produces one berry that has the shape of a raspberry, is red when unripe and then golden when ripe. And it is delicious. 

You can buy cloudberry jam and frozen cloudberries in the grocery store here in Sweden. You do not have to go out there and face wild deep marshes, get water in your boots, get a thousand mosquito bites, all for a few lousy berries. At least, that's what I thought you had to do. I have been in the Swedish mountains before but I had never seen any cloudberries anywhere. This made me feel that they only grew in highly inaccessible places, which confirmed my earlier idea about what needed to be faced in order to get to them.

But last week everything changed! Boyfriend and I were hiking on a trail leading into the mountains. We passed the tree barrier, and the landscape is just amazing there. Swedish mountains are soft and shaped by the glaciers of the last ice age (see photo, doesn't it look amazing?). 

There are actually trees there but they aren't higher than a few inches above the ground. And while the piece of trail I'm standing on in the photo looks pretty dry it can be the complete opposite: the trail going straight through wetlands, marshes and streams.

So we were following our trail, sometimes wet and sometimes dry and I always make sure I look a lot towards the ground, mostly because I want to see where I'm walking, but also because I'm a biologist and plants and flowers interest me. 

We are crossing a stretch of peaty marsh, with a lot of moss and not as much grass as in some other wet places. And then I see it. Something orange-y yellow, out of the corner of my eye. And I shout at Boyfriend: 'Hjortron!' which is Swedish for cloudberry (pronunciation yoortronn).

There they were! I couldn't believe it! It was sunny and warm. It was wet on the ground, but not boot-sinking-away wet. There were No Mosquitoes. They were very pickable; no impossible obstacles that needed to be conquered.

I took my silicone mold making stuff out of my backpack (a real metal clayer never goes anywhere without his or her mold making tools) and I picked the nicest little cloudberry leaf I could find and made a mold out of it with a random flat rock for support. 

I carried the mold on the stone in my hand until I was sure it was firm and then it lived in a compartment of my backpack until I was back home in Stockholm. And this is what I made with it a few days ago:

A cloudberry ring in sterling silver with a leaf made with metal clay from my mold, and a rose cut carnelian as a cloudberry. I'm very happy with it and now you may understand why! :)

The ring will be available in my Etsy shop and can be made in different sizes.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Making a leaf ring with Precious Metal Clay

This is my first tutorial, or show and tell. I hope that it may inspire metal clay novices to finally take the step and try it out, that interested customers may see how I make things, or that my metal clay and silversmithing friends can see how I work and how messy my bench is. I only show a fraction of it so you don't Really know how messy it is. 

So this tutorial is for making a leaf ring. You can actually use it for any texture because the principle is the same. This is a relatively easy ring in a way because I have a part that folds over another part; on the other hand, you have to be careful that you don't leave any marks so you keep the texture of the leaf and not that of your fingers. ;)

Before I pick my leaf, I bring everything I need out:
I have my metal clay (I use PMC3, a matter of taste and what brand you are used to), badger balm, a plexiglass roller, PMC3 paste and playing cards. For this particular ring I'm going to roll out my clay three cards thick.

I have a glass plate on my bench but I find the clay sticks more to the glass than to plastic folders, so I actually always use this kind of plastic folder as a surface. It's very non-stick and easy to work with. When I'm done I let the small pieces of clay dry and brush them into my water jar later on.

I now go down to the garden and pick a suitable leaf. I then cut off a piece of clay (you learn to estimate the amount you need, but usually I take a little too much and then end up doing smaller spontaneous projects with some of the leftover clay). Put some badger balm on the surface between the playing cards. I use an old toothbrush for this.

Note that I have a ring mandrel on two supporting blobs with a piece of paper around where I want to make my ring. This ring paper is sized and you can buy it at metal clay suppliers. I made the supports myself from two component silicon mold making stuff, also available at any metal clay supplier.

As you can see in the photo on the right I now have my leaf and I have started rolling out the clay.

When I have rolled out the clay to the height of the three cards, I put the leaf on top and roll to make a texture. 

I then cut out the leaf shape with a needle tool or scalpel and store the leftover clay under the lid of my badger balm (wet the inside of the lid with water using a brush). If you leave it out in the open it will dry out quickly.

So far so easy. Now it is time to put the clay on the mandrel and make a ring:

Glue the two ends together with PMC paste (also called slip). Make sure you press gently on the connecting parts, for a few seconds at least. If the connection is too weak the two ends will slowly come apart, and you risk coming back to a deformed ring.

Let it dry. I usually let it dry overnight to make sure it really is dry.

Then comes the sanding. I use flexible foam type sanding pads like in the first photo, my Dremel with diamond files or - as shown in the photo to the left, ceramic files in different shapes. I also use diamond needle files. When I want to get a really smooth finish in an area that just needs to be smooth I sometimes use a piece of toilet paper moistened in water and squeezed out.
 I collect my silver clay dust on a piece of paper with a fold in the middle, as shown in the photos. When I'm done sanding I pour the dust into my water jar and make my own slip with it later on. No waste!

When I'm done sanding it's time to fire. I have a Microtorch (creme brulee type kitchen torch) I use to fire metal clay. I feel it gives the right type of heat and there is no risk for overheating if you're careful. I fire my pieces for 2.5 minutes, unless it's a bigger piece, then I choose to fire it for 5 minutes. I have never had a piece that hasn't sintered completely using this clay though.

When you first direct your flame towards the piece it will start burning. This is the binder of the metal clay burning away. Keep going until the piece gets and orangey tone, as shown in the second photo. It can be hard to see in daylight so you may want to draw the curtains. Start your timer set on 2.5 minutes from the point that your piece has this orangey glow.
If you see a metallic shine, pull back your torch right away. You have now melted some of the surface. Your piece may still be okay so keep on firing and move the flame around. I usually keep my torch at a 45 degree angle and make slow circular movements across my piece.

When you're done firing you can quench your item in water or let it cool down on the firing block. Then I just throw it into my tumbler and let it go for an hour or two. 

And this is the result:

Depending on what I feel like I either patina my ring with Liver of Sulfur, or I leave it as it is. I love the frosty whiteness of the areas that the steel shot in my tumbler can't polish.

Thanks for looking!

Giveaway pendant finished!

I have been working like crazy to get the pendant done before I'm off on a trip to the Swedish mountains. It's not vital that it gets done before that, it's more that it feels good to have it finished and ship it to GiGi so she doesn't have to wait for weeks before she gets her prize.

So how does the design evolve? I sometimes draw, but the results almost never turn out as the initial drawing. Preferable to drawing, for me, is to just start, and let it evolve from there. The designs I'm happiest with so far have been done like that. Now with stones like labradorite you have to consider an extra factor, which is the Schiller effect or the flash in the stone. You want it to be optimal when the stone is in the pendant.

Before I started this pendant I took my stone outside, sat on the grass in the shade and turned the stone around. Lucky! Beautiful flash in every direction! Which means no constrictions for the design. 

So here it is! The little leaf underneath the stone is a birch leaf, picked in spring just as they unfold. They have beautiful texture then. I usually make leaves using metal clay in spring and then they lie around on my bench until I find the perfect composition for them.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Giveaway announcement

For those of you who don't know: I'm celebrating my first anniversary on Etsy by giving away a pendant. Today is the deadline for participating and voting on which stone I should use for the giveaway pendant. Thank you all for voting! The winning stone - by a landslide - is the beautiful rectangular labradorite.

I have already started sketching a design for this stone and I'm itching to start working with it.

Now for the winner. First of all, thank you all for entering! I have seen others do giveaways successfully, and even though it had been in the back of my mind for a while to do one, I thought it would be a total disaster and no one would sign up. A bit like when giving a party - you picture yourself sitting there with all the food and drinks, and no guests. I must say that I've had a lot of help, especially from my Aspiring Metalsmiths teamies, who have really spread the word. Thanks everyone!

To select the winner I kept a document where I wrote down everyone who entered and gave each individual entry (often several per person) a number. Then I went to to generate a number using their random number generator.

So.... drumroll... The winner is Gigi Anber, a member of my EtsyVeg Team. Congrats Gigi! Check out her literally delicious Veganville shop on Etsy.

I will post the necklace here and on Facebook when it's done. Thanks everyone, you made my Etsyversary a splendid one!


Friday, August 6, 2010

I am no writer

Yet I feel tempted to enter the World of Blogs. Why is that?

Let me take you back a few years. We had mail. I looked through it. Bills, more bills, some funny local newspaper, some letter informing me about my pension, and a brochure of an art school that offered evening and weekend classes. I love these catalogues. I always look through them and imagining myself, the photographer, or myself, the painter, or myself, the jewelry artist.

I have tried beading before. I went to the internet shop of the local bead supply store and bought a ginormous amount of beads and string and tools. But it just wasn't right for me. I felt continuously frustrated by the limitations of beading. You have to Buy all the beads. You make nothing from scratch. You are limited to what some company feels is trendy and popular. So the beads made themselves comfortable in a drawer, along with the acrylic and watercolor paint, and most of me didn't think of creative hobbies anymore.

Until that brochure. It said 'two day weekend class in Precious Metal Clay'. I googled. It seemed perfect for me. Metal clay allows you to do exactly what I couldn't do before: create my own jewelry. I had been considering silversmithing, but the amount of tools needed for this scared me. So metal clay became my way into the wondrous world of jewelry design.

What happened next? I did the class, spent a vast amount of money on setting myself up with tools and clay, and started making jewelry. I just wanted to make jewelry. After a while I realized that I could actually sell my jewelry and maybe earn back Some of my expenses. That's when I started my Etsy shop and learned that it's not just about making the jewelry, but also about running a business. The hardest thing is to get people to notice and find you. I hope that this blog will help more people to find me. I will host future giveaways here, tell you about inspiration, techniques, how my jewelry is made, and hopefully many other things.