Saturday, August 31, 2013

Learn the Joys of Goldie Bronze: November Workshop, Palo Alto, CA

It looks like gold and it costs like copper! Take a hands-on tour of this lovely bronze clay. I'm delighted to be teaching a Goldie Bronze workshop on Saturdays, November 2nd, 9th & 16th, from 10am-1pm. Class # 74366, register here:

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Joys of Goldie Bronze.

After about six months of experimenting and working with Goldie Bronze, I pledge my allegiance to this lovely metal clay material!

Bronze booklet lockets made with Goldie bronze
Booklet lockets inspired by the great teachings of Wanaree Tanner.
What I enjoy about Goldie Bronze
Having experimented with most of the bronze powder/metal clay products on the market, I've come to really enjoy the following qualities of Goldie Bronze:
- Powder form: allows for long shelf life, especially when dear Val Lewis has a sale!
- Wonderful working texture: rubbery, pliable and not at all crumbly when properly hydrated (that said, an additional, slight, layer of Slik or Badger Balm on the palms takes me back to my play dough years).
- Long life: In it's wet form, it remains beautifully hydrated when stored in plastic wrap. I rarely rehydrate it, even after it's been sitting untouched for several days. Easy.
- Nice long working time: I don't feel like I have to rush when working in it's wet form as it stays nice and moistly malleable for a long time (definitely felt rushed with FastFire).
- Tough stuff: Relatively speaking, not too brittle when green-dry.
- Easy firing: I have consistently great results in my (hotter than most) kiln with 1) a full ramp, 662°F, 30 minute pre-fire (on either carbon or steel mesh shelf), and 2) a full ramp 1505°F, 40 minute sintering fire.
- CZ gems fire nicely: No problems with dulling of various colored cz gems embedded in Goldie bronze (I have consistently good results with all my CZs from Cool Tools & Metal Clay Supply)
- Minimal shrinkage: Oh how heavenly, for me, to keep the math out of my art! Goldie Bronze shrinkage is officially 5-9%, but depending on the shapes I create (especially rings), size reduction can be almost negligible and doesn't become a headache in planning pieces.
FYI: Hard Goldie Bronze does take a while to finish and polish (mostly because I love mirror finishes), but the color and feel is absolutely beautiful. 

Needless to say, all of the above works beautifully when I've ensured the all obvious basics: mixed the all clay in the container thoroughly (no batches!), carefully reinforced joints, prevented cracks/bubbles/fissures, dried the piece thoroughly and prevented warping in drying and firing placement. 

WOW! Goldie Bronze & Paste Maker, a marriage made in heaven!
Thanks to the clever teachings of Wanaree Tanner I learned about the magic of Paste Maker by Sherri Haab. Paste Maker and Goldie Bronze together, are practically symphonic! 

My water spritzer sits solemnly at the back of my work station, rarely used. I substitute it for Paste Maker at every joint, repair or slip-mix. Of course I do mix the powder with water at the outset, and perhaps use a spritz or two during the life of the wet clay, but that's about it. Paste Maker is amazing! I rarely have cracking or joint separation problems anymore and I think it's because the Paste Maker really super-bonds the clay particles together vs water's tendency to create more porous, 'airy' joints.

Indeed, other bronze clays have the advantage of more varied Mokume-gane combinations, or quicker firing, but I find this to be the all-around friendliest bronze clay, until the next bronze clay medalist is released!

NOTE: Just tried Goldie Snow and it's a very different animal! Completely contrasting (granular) texture, with a longer firing time and higher shrinkage. Goldie Bronze and Goldie Snow worked well when wet-joined and fired together (fired at the Goldie schedule but doubled in time, pre-fired on a steel mesh shelf). The color of Goldie Snow is silver, but perhaps a bit closer to the grey of steel. Nice stuff, looking forward to experimenting more...

Monday, April 8, 2013

Altars On The Move: Spirit Houses in Bronze

I'm newly inspired to incorporate spirit houses into my jewelry work.  The idea of spirit houses originates from Asia, but sacred spaces are embraced the world-over, in shrines, altars, temples of all shapes and sizes. I'm just into the little ones!

Wikipedia: "a spirit house is a shrine to the protective spirit of a place that are found in the Southeast Asian countries of Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand...The spirit house is normally in the form of a miniature house or temple, and is mounted on a pillar or on a dais...The shrines often include images of people and animals. Votive offerings are left at the house to propitiate the spirits. More elaborate installations include an altar for this purpose."

Here's my first attempt at creating a tiny sacred space (it's also become my greatest teacher, demonstrating all the little challenges in making these tiny shrines):

Measuring just under two inches, this spirit house has a tiny hinged door, two windows and a 'stepped' base.

Somewhere around 17 components were hand carved, separately, then joined together at different points between drying with slip and Paste Maker.

Since the interior of the house is so hard to finish and make additions to once the piece is fired, I'm going for a second hinge on the roof in the future!

Too large to use as a pendent, this type of piece could be a 'keepsake' shrine, for all of us constantly on the move!


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Exploring my options: Bronze metal clay

I'm delving into a whole new level of metal clay skill--after master artist Hadar Jacobson's wonderful five day December seminar in Berkeley--I'm moving out of my comfort zones and habits, into brand new tools and techniques!

Being a almost entirely bronze-centric artisan, I'm testing out all of the bronze clays I can get my hands on in order to find the best clay for my work, as well as my brain and fingertips! Following is what I found, in my own particularly unscientific way:

Here, I tried similar hollow "giraffe print" rings in FastFire Bronz (left) and Hadar's Bronze XT (right). FastFire is harder to work with on multi-layered, hollow forms as if cracks easily, and isn't as strong or flexible (presumably it contains less binder for quick and easy firing). It required no repairs once fired however. Hadar's clay was a dream to work with (moist, rubbery, creamy and SLOOOW-drying ), but requires longer firing and seems to need more repairs post-firing. Note the yellow hue of FastFire and pinkish hue of Hadar's Bronze XT.
Here I tried a hollow form raven pendent with Hadar's Brilliant Bronze. I should have reinforced more of the center of this form as it buckled slightly in certain areas. The white CZ gem went cloudy, as they always seem to do with this clay. 

I also tried a pair of super simple, delicate oval earrings with Hadar's Brilliant Bronze. They worked out beautifully, no cracks or warps (but need further finishing!).


Next I tried another hollow form with Hadar's Brilliant Bronze. I re-thought the hollow/round ring "template" I'd learned and the shape worked beautifully. I wasn't able, however, to get a medallion to sinter in the center of the ring--thus the gaping hole. That aside, I love this shape and will continue to use this form.

Finally, I made a simple hollow ring using Goldi Bronze. SWOON? The clay was lovely to work with and it fired beautifully. It was, perhaps, ever so slightly more brittle to work with when green and dry, but it's comparable to Hadar's clay in it's fantastic consistency. Firing was very easy (30 min prefire and 40 min firing in kiln). Not a crack, not a kink. Granted, it may have been that I did a better job on the construction of this piece, but I really think the magic's in this wonderful clay! Goldie bronze has a pretty golden hue, though subtler and whiter than FastFire or Hadar's.


Following are two photos of my complete (and unpolished) failures: a bangle made from Hadar's Brilliant Bronze and Copper clays (required two repair attempts post firing, at which point it sprung another crack and I gave up); a steel and bronze ring (Hadar's clay) which cracked in multiple places; and a small steel-bezeled, copper-centered pendent which cracked all over the place as well (Hadar's Steel XT and Copper clays). No energy or will power left to repair these pieces!  

NEXT, I'll give Metal's Adventures Bronze a try and will check back with more results and thoughts.

Monday, September 10, 2012

First trials & tribulations with brand new Goldie Bronze™ metal clay!

Thrilled to get started with Goldie Bronze clay––a new medium created by Waldo Ilowiecki in Poland and released just this summer in the US by Val Lewis ––I got to work as soon as I received my Soft and Hard clay powder pots. I used the Goldie Bronze PDF as a guide and picked up many helpful hints from Anna Mazon´ who did a fantastic, very thorough blog review of the material. Sabine Alienor Singery has also written a very helpful review of Goldie Bronze. Thereby "standing on the shoulders of giants" I document my own virgin experience in the following little post:

Look & Feel: 
The powder for both the Soft and Hard versions of Goldie Bronze are a combination of 'airy and earthy' particles, some merely a fine powder, others teeny-weeny "pebbles", definitely in need a good mix before adding water as the heavy particles sink to the bottom of the powder. Hard and Soft powders look identical and are mixed with water the same way.

Adding Water: 
Adding very small increments of distilled water with a sprayer was effective (therefore not risking a mucky, too-watery mixture and having to add more powder). I mixed with the end of a paint brush. Both Hard and Soft responded to water and mixing the same way.

The clay absorbed water beautifully, gradually forming a nice pliable, elastic lump. A fine layer of Slik on my hands helped keep the clay from sticking to my fingers initially and before long the clay became more "rubbery" and didn't stick at all. The clay's texture improved with every minute of attention it received!

Kneading & Rolling: 
Kneading made the clay become even more supple and pliable and a short "rest" period in plastic wrap brought it to a perfect working state.

Working With The Clay: 
I tried several simple pieces in order to see what I could do with the clay. I aimed to try out: joining with slip, ring construction (rings frequently crack with the Fastfire Bronz that I love), gem inlays, rolling and carving. 

I made: 1) A Dia de Los Muertos ring, 2) An African Sankofa ring, 3) A "4-gem, 3-jointed" bracelet, and 4) A super-thin ring (Did it crack? Yes, it cracked!). 

Rolling, cutting and carving was straightforward. Both Hard and Soft clays are a pleasure to work with, they feel great between the fingers! I found that the Hard Goldie Bronze was easier to work with when creating tiny shapes—it crumbled less easily than the Soft. I tried the Sankofa ring in Soft Goldie Bronze, but the tiny shapes crumbled relentlessly. I re-did it in Hard and it worked well. 

Sanding and filing was a breeze. When green-dry, I think Goldie Bronze is a little more brittle than Fastfire Bronz or PMC, but I got the hang of it after several annoying breaks.

I ended up using more Hard clay than soft as I thought it would work better for these pieces. I'll try Soft for the next batch.

I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED the working time and the ease of use this clay allowed me! I usually work with Fastfire Bronz, which dries out very rapidly and changes texture easily. The Goldie Bronze rarely cracked or dried out, even with extended working sessions.  

First Firing–Burning the Binder: 
The first firing––full ramp, for 30 minutes at 650°F, without foil cover––was straightforward. The tan/taupe clay turns to a beautiful ash grey and is VERY frail (I cracked a test piece to feel it––think ash/chalk!). So I chose not to move my pieces at all between the first and second firings.

Second Firing–Sintering
Well, THAT was fast! I did both firings in a morning, between two school drop offs, a coffee date, a phone meeting and a house cleaning. I fired full ramp at 1508°F for 40 minutes, with foil cover, and this is what I got:
1) Sintered, whole, Dia De Los Muertos ring with dull Cubic zirconia gems, 2) Sintered, whole, Sankofa ring with dull Cubic zirconia gem, 3) Broken in two places bracelet, 4) Cracked thin ring (maybe I made them too thin?). AND (gasp), both ring shanks shrank from size 8 to size 4! Despite this, the ring faces and the bracelet arms didn't shrink substantially. Anna Mazon´ mentions a fantastic bronze clay shrinkage comparison by Pat Waddington that shows firing size changes across all brands of bronze. Each piece came out of the kiln with its own lovely patina.

What Didn't Work:
Cracking: The cracking of the thin ring was no surprise, due to its thinness and its circular shape. I'll have to keep testing for the narrowest, 'non-cracking' thickness I can attain for circles and rings. Thin bangles and rings are one of my favorite challenges with Fastfire Bronz.

The bracelet cracks happened  at the joints. Granted, they were joints with large surface areas and heavy 'extensions'. So that could have been my bad. But I also noted that the joints to the gems at the tips of the bracelet didn't crack? At the same time, the complicated, smaller slip joints I'd made in the Sankofa ring worked perfectly. Anna Mazon´ explains in her fantastic blog post on Goldie Bronze, about her success with repairing fired pieces. I'll follow in her footsteps and try it out. More to learn on joints! 

'Dull' Cubic Zirconia: Yes, I could have opened up the backs of the gems to aid light and to prevent an oxidized backing, BUT, BUT, BUT, I have fantastic luck with solid-backed gems in Fastfire. All sparkly and just dancing with light! It shouldn't have been an 'over-firing' problem––they're ok being fired up to 1650°F. All the gems I fired in place during this test came out dull? For the love of clay, back to the bench! (Note: Have since fired endless pieces with cz gems and have had no problems at all!)

What Worked!
The Dia De Los Muertos ring and the Sankofa ring worked out well. I'd like to tweak the designs further, but the clay worked nicely. After a frenzied final finishing, I was able to see the lovely white-gold color that Goldie Bronze delivers and I thoroughly enjoyed the relatively 'leisurely' working time it allowed me. The platinum-gold color is so beautiful it might be worth a switch from the deeper yellow Fastfire, and the firing time is a breeze, even beside Fastfire Bronz!


Friday, August 10, 2012

Modern Day Alchemy

Recent article for a friend's blog in Norway,

If anyone had ever told me that I’d become a modern day alchemist, transforming wet clay into solid silver, gold, copper or bronze, I would’ve laughed out loud.  

My childhood home, a farmhouse near Athi River in Kenya, was filled with pieces of African jewelry: brilliantly colored Samburu necklaces; moon-hued, aluminum Ethiopian beads; hammered silver Tuareg crosses and intricately ornate Maasai collars. I remember the beaded ostrich eggshell necklaces I wore as a toddler. These works of art—stitched, strung, hammered or woven on someone’s lap, still fragrant with the smoky scent of an African home compound—inspired my life-long passion for jewelry and the methods used to create it.

Along with virtually every other human being on earth, jewelry is a source of pleasure, comfort and allegory to me. It is one of our oldest forms of currency. Gifted at the occasions of love, coming of age, marriage, childbirth and death, jewelry exemplifies our deepest feelings and marks our pivotal moments—almost an extension of the human body.

Over the years I’ve furrowed my brows, cursed in multiple languages and blistered my fingertips exploring ancient and modern jewelry making techniques from around the world. As it turns out, I fell in love with a medium unknown to our ancestors, created in the last decade—precious metal clay.

Developed in the early ‘90s by a Japanese metallurgist, metal clay combines microscopic particles of metals like gold, silver, bronze or copper, with an organic binder. The damp clay can be molded, sculpted and carved—it’s pliable enough to pick up the imprint of a strawberry’s skin. But when heated to a high temperature, the binding clay burns away and the tiny metal particles fuse to form solid metal. A lump of clay, a “flash” of fire and VOILA, a chunk of pure silver!

Jewelry making extends back 75,000 years (when the first mollusk, and soon after ostrich eggshell, bead strands were worn). Our metalworking skills date back some 6,000 years. Metal clay is still in its infancy, claiming roughly a decade of use. In my mind, it completely changes the game for metal artisans. Manipulating pure metal in a soft, cool form, is a first in the history of metallurgy.

 Each time I open the kiln to reveal my transformed pieces, I’m astonished. Every day I work with the clay, I find inspiration. I’m riding a new wave of human innovation and creativity, in a novel medium. Each piece I make offers lessons, as well as new connections and discoveries, shared among those of us experimenting with the clay. I draw on age-old traditions of jewelry making, but unlike my forbears, I have the added pleasure of being able to turn a lump of clay into solid gold.

 ~ Anwyn Hurxthal, Modern Day Alchemist