Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Adventures in Bronzclay

I've been working on a custom order for the past week.  The order is for a bronze pendant which came out beautifully and only took 1 day to create.  But I've spent the last 5 days trying to find the proper firing schedule for it.

I made a real rookie error with this order--I created the piece from a product I've never used before.  I've tried and successfully created jewelry from a couple of different bronze clay products.  These were powders that you have to add water to.  Their firing schedules are pretty easy and one is even comparatively short. But I didn't like the final color of one and the other shrank way too much.  But an instructor suggested I try Bronzclay.  It comes already in clay form.  As I was almost out of bronze clay, I ordered 200 grams.

My friend was right.  It's not grainy like one of the powdered products, stays moist longer, and reconstitutes easily.  So right out of the package, after working it a little, I created my custom order.

I also created a couple of test strips and fired them together according to instructions in the package.  The thinner (2mm) strip came out fully sintered but with pinholes.  I'm no expert but I think that means it was over-fired.  The thicker textured strip (3mm) snapped in half when I tried to bend it and the black bonding material was exposed.  What does it mean when the binder burns off on 1 piece but not the other?

I adjusted the schedule a bit and tried again to fire a pair of earrings.  This time the binder didn't burn out on either piece.

What did we do before we had Google and all the information people throw up on the Web?  In my search for sintering problems and firing schedules for Bronzclay I found that I was not alone with my problem. There were no less than 6 different firing schedules put up by metal clay experts that work for them.  Some used a single firing method buried in carbon, some used a 2 step process in carbon, some fired initially on an open shelf then used a 2 step buried-in-carbon schedule.  Others followed the open shelf with a 1 step schedule.  Some schedules were for specific style kilns.  All are very long schedules--easily 9 hours.

After 4 days of trials, the open shelf initial firing to burn out the binder did the trick but the follow up firing caused my next pair of earrings to become brittle and break.  But using a 2-step ramp up and dropping the final temperature some in the second firing seemed to do the trick, at least for the small flower pendant I made.

How you dry the clay may contribute to the problem. It shouldn't be put on a coffee warmer but instead needs to air dry. I found articles suggesting freezing the clay to dry it.

I'm not sure that makes any difference but before I put my custom pendant into the kiln I decided to try a few more pieces to see if I get the same result.  These were also left in the freezer for awhile before firing though I'm not sure why I did that.  They had air dried for a couple days already.

After the successful firing of a few more pieces....

I fired the custom piece.   Voila!!

This bronze product polishes up nicely too.

For those who might be interested, and to add yet another firing schedule to the internet, I achieved this success by placing pieces on an open shelf and a slow ramp of 250°F to 560° F , hold 30 min and cool down.  Then burying pieces in coconut carbon, full ramp to 800°F or 900° F, no hold and ramping at 250°
to 1468°F, hold for 2 hours and cool.  Yes, it's a full day in the kiln.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Malmo Festival--Largest Festival in Sweden

My husband and I just got back from a vacation in Denmark.  We were there primarily to watch our oldest daughter graduate with an MBA from the Copenhagen Business School.  If you have "friended" me on Facebook you'll see lots of pictures from Denmark and our little side trip to Iceland.

But while in Denmark, we took a short train ride to Malmo, Sweden.  It's just over the border from Denmark and we happened to be there for the last day of a week long festival that's billed as the largest in Sweden.  Supposedly over a million people attend during that week.
It's not a handcrafts festival.  Actually I only saw a few booths but they were resellers from other countries.  It's all about fun and food from what I can tell.

I didn't see any carnival type rides.  Just this opportunity for anyone to try the high trapeze.  She was harnessed and there was a net below.  But do you think you'd ever see this around here?

This guy balanced anything on his chin.  This was a full sized stove.

No, I didn't try any.  Not sure what they were selling as it was all written in Swedish.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Metal Clay Class with Terry Kovalcik

Snow Farm--Summer camp for adults

Over 4 days at Snow Farm I learned what separates the great metal clay artists from the rest of us.  Creative and unique designs certainly play a large part.  But it's really all about the precision, the "painstaking" attention to the finest detail, and the polishing, literally the polishing.

After working with metal clay for about 4 years, mostly learning on my own, I finally enrolled in an intensive class being taught by Terry Kovalcik.  I'd just created my first 3 dimensional piece earlier this year so creating a hinged box seemed like the logical progression.  I did learn how to make a hinged box but I came away with so much more.

On the first day we created the carcass of the box using PMC silver clay, rolling out each side, then putting them all together, and sanding and sanding until they were perfect. We were 5 students in the class being taught by Terry with special assistance from his wife, Corinne.  We chatted and got to know each other as we bombarded him with questions both relevant to the project or totally off topic.  And we took copious notes.

On the second day we had the anxiety producing chore of cutting our perfect boxes apart. Terry very precisely showed us how to saw them--with a saw!
                                                                   I did it!
We then learned how to make the hinges and how to create a hasp plate for the front.

Each of us seemed to have pretty definitive ideas about what the box should look until we realized how much work we had ahead of us. As a result we all ended up making some compromises and did little of the decorating we had planned.  Except for Lillian who pulled an all-nighter, with nothing to eat but Triscuits, to paint on her beautiful design.  I think she has a great future ahead of her as a jewelry designer.

Three of my classmates are from the Eastern part of the state.  Lucille has a background in website design as well as jewelry and she and Amy take classes at Metalwerx in Waltham. Lillian, appropriately, will be starting an MFA program in the fall.  And Deborah's background is in botanical illustration so I was disappointed when we all found that we really didn't have time for much decorating before our projects went into the kiln that night.  I'm sure her painting would have been beautiful.

In this small class we were able to get plenty of Terry's attention.  He's a knowledgeable artist and it was important for me to see him at work and learn from his example.  He manages to quietly demand precision, he patiently answers questions, and generously shares his knowledge and experience with those of us who still have so much to learn.                            

                And so many useful little tips!

But I don't know how he would have taught our class without the help and support of his wife, Corinne, who knows where everything is, knows the prices of products he mentions and where to buy them, and generally keeps him organized.  A great lady with lots of stories, Corinne was fun and always helpful when Terry was busy.


Fresh out of the kiln

Sanded and polished and polished some more, my box has a bright finish only to be oxidized once I get it home.
                                                         Finished Products                                                                    

                                                               I love this hinge!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Forensic Discussion of a Craft Show

I attended a local craft show this past weekend, and as usual, I learned some things.  This is a show that I have done a few times and as recently as last year.  I opted not to apply this year as it hadn't been as successful as previous years and thought I needed a break from it.

There were a few vendors set up who I know well enough to ask the unaskable question: Are you having a good show?  Two of the vendors doing the show for the first time said they were having a good day despite the rain, one having a potentially great day.  Neither was selling jewelry but had brought new products to this older show. Three who have been doing the show for years told me they probably wouldn't be back.

So what's happening here?  Is it just the usual changes that happen with a show from year to year?

Let me start by saying that I'm talking about a mid-level show that falls between a tiny church bazaar and a high end arts show. Admission is over $100.  It's juried. They try to jury out resellers (though they sometimes miss one). Most vendors sell good quality, well made products for middle to upper middle class pocket books.
1. It has to be about arts and crafts
There are 3 shows annually at this same location that include craft vendors. I've done them all but only this recent one have I done several times.  The other 2 shows have a focus other than arts and crafts, include activities for children, include local organizations & businesses, and have music.  They encourage families to come and make a day of it. I never went back to the other 2 shows because young parents focusing on giving their children a fun day do not buy jewelry.

2. Don't fix what isn't broken
This recent show has always been about arts and crafts.  It did include music and a book sale.  This year they added activities for children and the customer composition changed.  Some of the typical attendees were there but children and dogs were added to the mix.  The off and on rain didn't help either.

3. A show before the Fall needs to be better to draw buyers
 Any show that takes place before the Fall needs to work hard to attract buyers.  And let's face it, traffic doesn't always equal buyers.  You have to shine, let the public know about the wonderful products available, keep reminding people of the date.  Facebook works really well for that but not all your buyers are on Facebook.

4. Limit each category, including jewelry, even if it means a smaller show
I was distressed at the number of jewelers in attendance at this show last year.  So this year as a customer I did a little informal census.  Twenty-six jewelers, 12 of them all in one row.  With that much competition none of them will make much money in a category that is primarily an impulse buy.

Now in all fairness I understand that the still poor economy means fewer sales.  Fewer sales means fewer vendors willing to come back to a show. And fewer vendors means you have to take what you can get to fill the spaces.  And there are more jewelry makers out there than country songs.  But filling all the empty spots with jewelry is not the answer.  Show organizers shouldn't place emphasis on the bottom line but rather on the art (even if your event is your big yearly fundraiser). It just perpetuates the problem.

In recent news about a series of craft shows in the area--they closed one of their shows.  Last year the number of vendors was way down and traffic was insignificant (though that's not the reason they gave for closing.)

Applause for the organizers of a new series of craft shows
Two local women have been putting out a call for vendors for a new series of craft shows at the Greenfield Fair Grounds and the high school.  I wrote a bit about their first attempt a couple of posts back.  While I wrote that the first show has potential, it did have a few glitches.  Well one of their vendors from that June show told me that they listened very carefully to feedback from vendors and customers.  This vendor says she was monetarily compensated for being in a not well posted location that received lower traffic.  And Karen Towle and Betty Sokoloski are making it tempting for June vendors to return to their Sept. show.
Way to go!!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Making Paper at The Daylily

The Artisans of Western Mass. have been advertising for a couple of weeks that one of our members would be conducting a workshop on making paper.  I know a lot of people have done this but I never have.  So I was fascinated by all the ingredients Donna Beck of 230am Studio used to create the pulp that eventually becomes paper.

She had 3 stations set up with blenders, water, and screens, lots of cloths and sponges for absorbing excess water, spices, pencil shavings, dried leeks, onion skins, and lots of different flowers.  Several people stopped by but I was particularly happy to see a couple of men arrive, one alone and one with his daughter.

Looks like spaghetti sauce but it became red paper.

I made a nice piece of tea green paper.  But the girls that came all opted for brighter colors with flowers and glitter, of course.

Many thanks to Bridget Heller of The Daylily for letting us use her back room.  It's a great space.  And the gift shop always has a wonderful selection of locally made hand crafted items and fine art.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Saturday Morning In Greenfield

I'm not usually out and about very early on a Saturday morning unless I'm set up at a craft show.  So my husband thought it was a bit strange to find me dressed and ready to roll before 8 am.

There was a new craft show at the Greenfield fair grounds organized by Karen Towle and Betty Sokoloski  that I wanted to check out and thought I'd hit a few tag sales before it opened at 9.  I don't go to tag sales very often anymore but I'm a little low on chains for my steampunk designs and tag sales are a great place to find them.  As predicted I managed to pick up 3 chains, 2 of them vintage for sure, and a couple of new books to read.

Greenfield Fair Grounds Craft Fair

I got to the craft fair just before 10 and didn't see much traffic.  The fair grounds are a perfect locale for this type of show.  As you go through the gates there's a wide street suitable for tents.  Unfortunately there were only a few set up with a lot of space in between.  To the right of the gate was a covered pavilion with 10 or 12 vendors.  After checking that out I walked down the wide open area and was thrilled to find Sapling Naturals from Vermont who make goats milk soap.  I've been disappointed in the quality I recently bought online so I bought a few bars hoping that this could be my new supplier. I noticed a couple of food stands on this stretch (great idea) and then saw people coming out of another building attached to the race trace seating.  That's where the goldmine was.  I found D & D Fine Woodworking from E. Longmeadow, 2 herbalists, some hand crafted Ukrainian style wooden plates and bowls, really well made Irish type knitted sweaters, crocheted shawls and capes, and AWM's own Cozy Home Critters pet beds and treats.    After telling Olive Natural Beauty that I really love goats milk soap, they gave me a sample of their olive oil soap that I'll be trying out.

Overall I think this show has a lot of potential.  June is not the best month for craft shows but Karen and Betty managed to attract quality vendors from a wide area.  They have 2 others planned for later in the year.  There were, as is common, way too many jewelers and several with similar products.  Given the size of the area they needed to fill I understand why they accepted them.  Hopefully in the future, they will get more non-jewelry applications and, as they become more well known, also more traffic.

My last stop was the Greenfield Farmer's Market.  I try to get there a few times in the summer but this time it was almost noon so many of the stands were pretty much empty.  A few of the AWM members were set up here and it was nice to chat with Zoe, Karen, and Steve on such a nice sunny day.
Saturday Downtown Farmer's Market, Greenfield, Franklin County, Massachusetts

The Farmer's Market is in the center of Greenfield at the corner of Bank Row and Main St. and is open every Saturday until around 12:30.  Great produce, quality crafts, and nice people.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Some Artisans of Florence

The artisan culture in Florence, Italy, is based on centuries of skill and tradition.  This was part of the reason why I chose to spend a week in Florence.

Many artisans reside or have workshops in what is called "Oltrarno" or the other side of the Arno.  Armed with a list of addresses and my map, my friend and I crossed one of the bridges into the Santo Spirito district and the maze of streets known as Oltrarno looking for the violin makers, jewelers, bookbinders, and gilders.

I'd like to tell you that I found them all but following a map in Florence isn't as easy as it looks.  Streets change names at each intersection and some smaller alleys aren't even listed.  We did see a couple of open doors to studios with artisans refinishing or gilding very old furniture and frames.

Through a little trial and error we finally found ViaToscanella, 5 and the studio of Giancarlo Giachetti and his cat.  He looked to be in his 70s and spoke no English.  But he pointed to a poster on the wall from several years ago that showed him as a much younger man participating in an art event in Hawaii.

The link attached here to his name has a great little article about this internationally known Florence artisan and his background.  We had no idea that we were meeting a legend of the Tuscan artisan world.

Sometime later, walking down what appeared to be a deserted back street in Oltrarno, we saw a couple of men take a right into an open door that we probably would have passed without a second thought.  It appeared to be more a museum than a jewelry shop and was filled with nicely displayed and glass encased pieces that looked like a cross between jewelry and sculpture.  Mostly rings, they looked like they could have been ancient and were set with gemstones and crystal.  Off to the right as you enter was the man I later found out was Alessandro Dari, probably one of the most talented jewelers on the planet, working on his latest piece.

I was a bit too intimidated to even ask if I could take pictures so these are ones publicly available on the web
If you're interested in purchasing one of Dari's pieces, click here.

If you clicked the link to Dari's jewelry prices, you'll see that some artists have a customer base most of us can only dream of.  The Mercado Central, Florence's central open air market, is filled with booths of leather, t-shirts, jewelry, and scarves.  Most of these people are selling items produced in third world countries or in little factories in Italy that use leather from China.  Prices are low and vendors are happy to bargain i.e. "How much do you want to spend?  We can make a deal."  It was refreshing to meet one leather artisan who talked to us about how to determine if the coat or purse you're buying is truly handmade in Italy.  And, of course, we segued onto the subject of price.  It should be no surprise to anyone that pricing is an artist's biggest challenge--what it's worth vs what it will actually sell for.  And it's difficult to compete with the Pakistani vendors that fill the market.

We found Vittoria Scaffidi in front of the Pitti Palace.  There are always artists and their paintings in front of the museums and palaces of Florence.  Some are just selling cheap prints but we found several very talented painters with their work on display.  Vittoria's style was a combination of ink and watercolor and while the subjects of her paintings were the usual scenes of Florence, her technique was unique.  Vittoria is originally from England but has been in Italy for 17 years.  I'm not sure how often she brings her work to the Piazza Pitti, but as someone who sets up a tent at a few craft shows a year, I see this as a tough way to earn a living.  Her prices, like some of mine, were based on what the public is willing to spend.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Annual International Handicrafts Fair in Florence Italy

The Mostra Internazionale dell'Artigianato at the Fortezza di Basso is an annual week long fair running since 1931 with the aim of showcasing local artisans as well as others from all over the world. Why am I blogging about this event?  Well, I'm excited to tell you that I WAS THERE, last week as part of my vacation in Florence, Italy.

It takes place in several buildings at the Expo Center in Florence.  The first small building we came across was filled with local food products from the region.  We sampled cheese and wine but ended up buying chocolate to bring home.  

Formerly a fortress, one of its ancient rooms was filled with recycled art, clothing, jewelry, and home decor.

But the main event takes place in the Spandolini Pavilion.  The entry level featured arts and crafts primarily from Italy though we found a few artisans from other parts of Europe as well.  As is typical, there were several jewelers, but with very unique designs.  I bought a leather band for my motorcycle riding husband from Eggskinlab. Her style is much different from leather crafters I've seen locally and she works almost exclusively with black leather.

                                                       Bethany & Eva trying on funky hats.

I don't know why I thought steampunk was primarily a US thing.  I was surprised to see "A Casa de Momma" jewelry and this fabulous steampunk belt/corset. 

 Jazz Steampunk has an Etsy shop and was there from the Netherlands.  But Kizzy's jewelry was very close in style to Jansjems.  She spoke very little English and but when I handed her my card she laughed and said "no copy" very clearly.  I didn't bother to tell her that my work is already pretty similar.

There were several Italian ceramicists represented and found that most painted in the styles you can find all over Florence and the Tuscan region.  But the work done by the brothers from Caltagirone, Italy, was different, antique looking, and so much more special.  I had no intention of bringing home any ceramics.  I put Spanish ceramics in my carry-on after a trip to Spain and worried the whole way that it would break.  But my daughter who was there for a couple of days bought me a lovely smaller piece as a gift.

This was a huge space so we were very surprised to find that there was yet a lower level.  Downstairs was set up much like a bazaar. The floor was broken up into quarters--French, African, Indian, and Asian.  The Asian part was pretty much set up like the gem shows I attend with table after table of gemstones and pearls.  The French offered lace and fabric.  

And yet, there was an upper level dedicated entirely to food--Asian, Italian, Indian--packaged or cooked to order. To give you some idea about the size of this event,  I found out that this floor was almost 20000 sq.' and it was smaller than the other 2 levels.  Fortunately there were sitting areas spread around and the furniture was pretty interesting and made of recycled cardboard.

In addition to all of this, there were other smaller buildings here (think the Big E grounds) that had events like cooking demos.  There was also a puppet theater, a food court, and the ubiquitous gelatto stand.