Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Silver Clay -- Learning On The Job

Though I haven't posted here in a couple of week, I have to tell you that I've been extremely busy. Craft show applications have been arriving and a couple are due in February. As I want to have some fantastic pictures of fantastic pieces of jewelry, I've been hard at work making new silver clay designs.

If you look online at any of the handmade venues you will see lots of people making jewelry from silver clay. Mostly, however, these pieces are small and stamped or a bit larger set with fused or dichroic glass. Silver clay is very expensive so the more you can make from one pad of clay, the better.Going against what's practical and the cost effective, I've chosen to create a few pieces in a style similar to Art Deco. I like the geometric lines and simplicity of that style. I like to layer smooth shiny parts and textured oxidized pieces. This means more clay and a higher price. I also have been working for weeks on a hinged bracelet. Having only taken basic classes in silver clay, I'm really learning as I go. Layering means sanding & waiting for each piece to dry before "gluing" on the next one with a bit of silver paste. So I've actually lost count of the number of hours I've spent on this piece not to mention the amount of clay it has required.

I am well aware of why people make smaller, less elaborate pieces of jewelry with this relatively new product. I also found that while I like the look of faceted stones set into the silver, the flat-bottomed cabochons are a lot easier to set as they are shallower. The glass many people use instead of gemstones can be set into wet clay and fired in the kiln. The druzy pieces I've used need to be set afterward.

Not all of my ideas have been successful. While the bracelet and purple druzy pendant worked, I won't be selling a black druzy pendant with pearls that I also made. The bezel setting was problematic as the clay shrunk around it in the kiln. The final outcome looks messy and is not up to my standard. So I'll be wearing that one.

Getting great color when oxidizing has been pretty much hit or miss. I've tried various amounts of liver of sulfur, water, and ammonia getting different results each time. The consistency of the clay also seems to matter. Once fired, new, fresh clay turns a nice color and keeps it while clay that has been worked too much absorbs the chemicals and quickly turns black.

I have made great strides, however, in reconstituting dried clay. Sometimes the greenware breaks and is beyond repair. Sometimes bits and pieces dry out. There's also all the dust from sanding. I've gotten pretty good at turning it back into workable clay. Less waste. But this is the clay that doesn't bend or oxidize well so I have to remember to use it for flat pieces that will remain shiny.

The weeks since Christmas have been productive and educational. Now I just have to hope that people like my designs well enough to wear them.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Applying to Craft Shows

It's snowing like mad outside. Hubby is trying to clean the driveway for the first time because once we get over a foot the snowblower has a hard time with it. And there's already an inch in the area that he cleared.

It's a great day to do paperwork. So I'm sifting through craft show applications to do the ones with the earliest due dates. I like to do from 12 to 15 shows per year; most from June through November.

I have a spreadsheet of shows that lists show dates, application due dates, costs, requirements and, when I have it, information on traffic numbers. Maybe that's a little obsessive but I like being organized. (Another consequence of being in the library world for so long.) And since they all have different due dates, if I don't get into one I can quickly find another the same month or even the same weekend with a later due date.

I also keep a notebook that includes printed off information from the show websites and copies of applications from last year along with the pictures that were sent. This allows me to redo what was successful and change applications that weren't.

I spent part of yesterday photographing my newest silver clay pieces. I have a couple I'm particularly proud of and wanted to try for great pictures. I think that pictures are probably the most important part of the application process. After all, they're worth a thousand words. Although I've never been on a craft show jury, if I were, I'd want them to be crisp and clear and show as much of the work as possible. It's a contest after all and the best work wins a spot.

In some shows all jewelry is put into the same pot and in others there are categories such as metalsmithing, strung jewelry, alternative materials, etc. I have learned that lots of work gets lumped into the very large category of strung/beaded jewelry. So last year I applied using pictures of our steampunk pieces. There's not so much competition there. This year I'll do the same but with the higher end shows I'll send pictures of my new silver pieces. While I do see silver smiths at some of the shows, I think my fine silver is a bit different. Well, I guess we'll see.

A few quick thoughts about craft show applications--
--Every show that you want to get into is important. Treat every application with the same level of professionalism, whether it's a large juried show or a small local one.
--Make sure the application is filled out completely right down to your car model and license number, if requested.
--Any essays should be neat, legible, well written, and grammatically correct.
--Descriptions of pieces should be like advertising sound bites. Rather than "necklace", tell them what it's made of, how it's constructed, etc., as succinctly as possible.
--Send the best pictures of your best work.
--And send it out so it gets there before the due date.
--If you have questions about any part of the application, don't wing it or skip it. Call or email and ask!
--Don't forget to include the check. Read the application carefully as some only want the jury fee, and some want the check post dated.

It's important that the show organizers get whatever information they need. If something is missing they might just toss your application.