Thursday, June 30, 2011

Calendar: The Art and Design of Metal Clay Jewelry 2012

Note to all metal clay artists: Holly Gage has once again announced the dates and details for her annual calendar!

Calendar Submission for 2012
Submissions will start June 15, 2011 through Aug. 15, 2011
Release date: Late - October 2011

I am seeking images to feature in our next annual calendar, The Art and Design of Metal Clay Jewelry 2012. All jewelry forms - necklaces, rings, bracelets, earrings, brooches, and others will be considered. Unique and diverse design styles and techniques are desired. Metal Clay is the predominant material, but other media - resin, gems, metals, enamel, and more may be incorporated into the design. High digital images will be accepted by mail or
Gage Designs
c/o calendar submission 2012
P. O. Box 614
Bowmansville, PA 17507

Artwork submitted must represent work that is unique and original in design. New unpublished/unseen work is preferred . Group shots or individual pictures will be accepted. Limit 3 entries, no more then 2 shots per entry. Please don't send actual pieces. Professional photo quality is a MUST. Please consider the fact that viewers will only see your photo not your original work, so clear, uncluttered photos with an accurate representation will be priority for the selection process. Images should be 300 dpi, in tiff, jpg or psd format with no compression. The image size should be no smaller than 5 ". However only large format photos 8 1/2 x 11" can be considered for the prominent cover position.
Artwork for inclusion will be selected based on:
- Design,
- Innovation
- Craftsmanship
- High degree of excitement
- Unique use of metal clay and degree of challenge.
Hint: The above is a great checklist for submissions
Artists retain copyright of their work and receive a free copy of the calendar if selected.
Each calendar page measures 8.5 x 11, Opened it is 11 x 17.

Please include the following information. Missing information may forfeit your position in the calendar: (Please consider over 300 photos arrive for review)
1. Name
2. Address
3. Website or e-mail (indicate if this information should be included on the calendar)
4. Title of piece
5. Materials used
6. Dimensions in millimeters
7. Brief Description of process and/or motivation to how it was conceived. An interesting, well written statement is encouraged, 50 words or less. (This information will be published so put your best foot forward.)
8. File name
9. Has your file been retouched?
10. Is your file 300 dpi?
Please direct all inquires to: Holly Gage, e-mail:

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Alien Artists

Well friends--we've been very busy here at Metal Clay Artist Magazine (our second birthday is coming up in July and we put a lot into our special issue!) so we've fallen a bit behind on making a weekly contribution to our blog.  Fortunately, our last two posts had enough "meat" in them for us to chew on for a long time! Evelyn's how-to project was a wonderful surprise to find our blog--and she's received rave reviews!  I hope she'll do up another tutorials for our blog soon!  An Vickie's article about metal clay sintering--was thoughtfully composed and answered so many questions metal clay artists have wondered about.

My ring from Lorrene's class.
I started this blog post in March--with the great intention of posting it--but each issue of the magazine seems to take more of my time--as I learn more about design and layout, and we enter new markets...I have less "down time".  But I did manage to slip in a few classes this spring!  (One with Lorrene Baum-Davis,  and another with Celie Fago--both of which would make for great blog posts!)  And I was in Washington in April for the Smithsonian Craft Show--another outing I should report on!  AND if that were not enough--I have two or three blog posts that have been sent to me to post.  OY!

So I'll start from where I left off in March and promise to try and keep our blog more up to date!

As most of us know--we often give others the gifts we'd like to receive.  And I think that holds true with things we write about.  The following is a blog post I started to write in March--which seems to have turned into a "note to self".

Finding your own artistic voice is often a journey that takes a true artist a lifetime, since we evolve and grow and learn new things.  Many metal clay artists have jumped on board learning about the new clays, joining groups or have found like minded individuals in a guild.  Even with all of these opportunities, some artists struggle with finding their unique style and more importantly to feel that what they are working on has a purpose.  Other artists are over-whelmed with the amount of ideas and things they want to try and all of the medias and ways to express themselves--and so they bounce from one thing to the next, all the while amassing (a.k.a. hording) huge amounts of materials and tools along the way.  Added to this is the need to keep costs down in our studios, seeing ideas to fruition and throw in the twisted fact that some of us seem to need to be given permission to enjoy and explore our art on a regular basis.

Adopt An Alien, Creatures by Lindsey Banker

[Then there are others who stride along--showing off new works almost daily--and while I'm sure that some of these people are just aliens among us--as it is just not possible to be so prolific within a 24 hour day---or is it?]

Now while we all love new things, and our community has seen it's share of new things in the past few years, are we having too many new clays, tools, techniques come our way?  I had an interesting conversation last week with the owner of one of the bigger metal clay distributors.  This person expressed the opinion that with so many new clays that some people are jumping "off the band wagon" and sticking with one or two clays.  This is of course a logical step as people find their niche and focus on their own artwork.  But for many of us--learning about the properties and experimenting with the new metal clays and techniques is not only a part of our studio practice--learning and sharing what we have tried is exhilarating.  A tiny chance for us to participate in jewellery making history.

Speaking of jewellery making history, as most artists in the metal clay community now know, Lisa Cain and her staff at the Mid Cornwall School of Jewellery have worked out a way for us to make sterling silver metal clay. (See our current issue for her recipe Vol. 2 #2.) This innovation will undoubtedly change the course of work for many metal clay artists in the UK and Europe and those in other places looking to be able to add the universally recognized stamp of "approval" .925 to their creations.  It will be very interesting to see how artists embrace and add to the recipe and techniques developed by Lisa and her team.

And of course we are all aware of the rising price of silver and we are looking for ways to stretch our studio dollars.  This is pushing artists be more creative with their materials.  I am seeing more artists incorporating glass, polymer clay, resin, faux bone...and more into their metal clay creations.  A blog post by Celie Fago really turned a lot of heads. She talked about ways to incorporate or even substitute polymer clay into her metal clay designs as a way to stretch her studio budget. See May's post by Margaret Schindel (Our Senior Editor) for more photos and details. Photos from Celie's Blog:

"For many years I've made this toggle clasp out of carved solid snakes of PMC." 

"I remade it out of polymer then embellished it with little bits of PMC."       

Just yesterday an artist friend of mine--(and someone who should have gone to her class) was asking me "what I learned" in Celie's class.  Immediately I blurted out that I learned ways to economize my materials.  Celie didn't make this part of her lesson--but it's something I observed.  When she cut out a shape--if it was a series--she wouldn't make one at a time--she rolled out enough clay to make several pieces and therefore waste less material and kept her clay at the optimum freshness since it wasn't rolled out and rolled out and re-hydrated.  Seeing some of her beads and pieces filled or backed with polymer gave me so many ideas on how to keep on developing my ideas and minimizing the use of silver clay. Also check out Kelly Russell's work as she is also known for mixing her media and has posted some of her beauties on our blog.

Besides the amount of materials we have to choose from, keeping costs down in our studios, the next biggest struggle in studio life is actually getting down to business in our studios.  Ok...that should be "MY" studio. Oh yes, the truth is out--I'm behind on the blog and in working at my own bench on my own little ideas.  I wonder why I feel I need to have permission to freely create?  I see others online talking about this, so I'm relieved to know that I'm not alone.  But I'm sure many who struggle to balance family life and a studio business also find it hard to  justify  the time away from family or from pushing their business further along.  I know it is for me.  I have two young children, who I adore.  I also have the magazine--and all the stresses that go along with investing house and home to produce something that I feel is valuable and has a purpose.  Maybe I should be content with the magazine as my creative outlet--and not beat myself up for not "making stuff".  Or--is the bigger question--"why do I feel so darn creative, when I have to do the bookkeeping?"

Hmmm--something to ponder once I finish checking on what people have posted on Facebook today.  I'm curious to see what new pieces of art those "alien artists" who have more than 24 hours a day have made today!

~Jeannette Froese LeBlanc

P.S. If you'd like to see what we've been up to--our new issue is due out very soon!  Great articles, and great work again team!!  And it's our second birthday in July!!!  Check out what's in our new issue...
Cover Artist: Jen Kahn

Friday, June 3, 2011

Understanding Metal Clay Sintering

Many artists tend to view metal clay as a bit of a voodoo material. They have a recipe that works (usually the manufacturer's recipe), and superstitiously follow it exactly, right up until it doesn't work or they need to do something different, and then they're at a loss. Understanding the process of sintering can help demystify firing metal clay, and allow us to approach new situations with an educated guess as to what might really work.

Composition of Metal Clay
7001 SEM
Metal powder
Metal clay is composed of super-fine particles of metal plus a binder. The metal particles may be all the same identity, such as in silver or copper clay, or they may be a mixture of different metal powders in the cases of bronze or other alloy clays. The binder is present for the express purpose of making the clay malleable, amenable to shaping in various ways. Once the binder burns off in the kiln or torch, what's left is essentially a shape composed of tiny pseudo-spherical particles of metal with lots of air space between them. As you well know, filling a vase full of river rocks leaves a lot more air space than filling that vase with sand. Smaller particles pack more closely, which explains the drive over the years to reduce the particle size of the metal clays. As we see, this has desirable results in terms of strength in the finished product.

Between the point that the binder burns off and the finished product comes out of the kiln, a process called sintering takes place. This is very much like what happens when you dump your ice container into the sink. The individual ice cubes stick together, with holes remaining between the cubes. However, the ice in your sink is above its melting point, so it will eventually puddle in the sink. Ice does sticks together even below its melting point, as is obvious in ice makers left for some time. How does sintering actually happen?

Metal Atoms Moving
The key to understanding sintering is energy. Those particles of metal are actually composed of even smaller balls called atoms. The atoms in the center of the particle are happily surrounded by other metal atoms, but the atoms at the surface only have neighbors below and maybe some to the side. Each atom wants to be surrounded by other atoms, but the surface makes that impossible. Even so, the atoms will try to arrange themselves so as to maximize the connections to neighbors and minimize exposure to the outside world. Those little critters are very social and like to be in the midst of a group. Yes, the atoms can move, IF they have energy.

Consider an empty shoebox sitting on a table. Now pour a bowlful of marbles into the box. The marbles are just a mad jumble, probably mounded up in the center. If  the box is jiggled slightly, the marbles will start to move, rearrange and pack tightly. The mound in the center will slowly disappear and the surface will flatten. Those marbles at the top of the pile, touching only a few neighbors (three probably), will eventually wind up in a flat layer surrounded by a hexagon of six neighbors. The atoms deeper down may have neighbors below, above, and in the same layer for a total of twelve. That jiggle applied to the box is heat -- energy that allows the marbles to move.

Now suppose one lonely marble is placed on top of a nice flat, but incomplete, layer. When the jiggling starts, that marble will run around on the surface, here and there, until it finds a hole, whereupon it will drop into the layer with all its friends. Happiness!

What if more heat is added, by jiggling the box more energetically? Then the packing down will happen faster. Unless too much heat is added, at which point the marbles will start to pop out of the lower layers onto the top surface rather than always wanting to drop into holes. That's the melting point -- when so much heat is added that the marbles don't care about staying together nicely. Even more energy might cause atoms to fly out of the box!

Neck Growth
When a metal clay project is formed, the metal grains of atoms are separated by binder, touching each other occasionally. The atoms that exist at those points where the grains of metal touch are happier than the atoms off on the surface by themselves. When heat is added, those surface atoms wander over to hold hands with the larger group, forming a neck between the particles. Eventually the particles become more and more connected, and the holes between them become smaller. Atoms migrate from the surface to fill the voids, which causes shrinkage.

As long as energy is available, the movement continues. First the particles stick together, and then it takes time and more energy to fill in the voids. This is why metal clay fired at low temperature or for short times isn't as strong -- the connections within the piece are smaller. For the strongest, densest material higher temperature and longer firing times are advisable.

Predicting Results
From this understanding of what really happens on a microscopic level during firing, we can make predictions about what might happen in new situations. Heat provides energy for the connecting process to happen and speeds up the work, so increasing the temperature is good, right up until the point that melting is a concern. Because of inaccuracies in thermocouples and variations in heating distributions within a kiln, it's not wise to try to get too close to the actual melting point. That's why the top firing temperature recommendations are typically at least 50 degrees below the material's melting point.

Even so, at lower temperatures, as with stones or glass, sintering will happen but more slowly. It's wise to fire longer if using a lower temperature. Just because the manufacturer's directions give a certain temperature and time doesn't mean that other choices won't work. Just follow the general guidelines -- the lower the temperature, the longer the time. Firing longer than the recommended time is not an issue, and is probably beneficial, although at some point the tradeoff becomes pretty marginal.

With this picture of the microscopic process, we can also start to understand why sintering on the outside can happen while leaving the core of a piece powdery. It takes both energy AND time to do the work of moving those atoms. If the piece is heated very quickly or the piece is thick, the outside layer may become hot enough to sinter, since the atoms don't have to move very far. But the interior may not get warm as quickly, and atom diffusion distances depends exponentially on temperature, so  even a small difference in temperature can result in a huge difference in neck formation. For comparison, moving an atom from the surface of a project into the interior one millimeter away is like driving your car 50,000 miles. Just because the car is at highway speeds doesn't translate to quick arrival. Taking a plane would be better, or a spaceship, and even so it'll still take time.

The upshot is that both time and temperature are important to ensure a well-crafted product. To maximize productive sintering, fire at the highest safe temperature tolerated by the materials in use. To maximize connections between particles, and therefore strength, fire for as long as circumstances allow, factoring in impact on schedule, equipment and personal patience.

complete firing
incomplete firing
The desired result should be to produce a completely fired project, with a surface such as shown in the first image from the PMC website. Low temperature or short time firings may result in incomplete firing, as shown in the second image.
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