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.