Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Copper Clay Update

If you read the previous post you'll see that I was soooo happy with my copper clay pieces. Now I'm thinking, not so much.

It appears that many of the pieces did not sinter. When I drilled holes through some of them in order to attach jump rings, there was the dreaded brown powder, meaning that the outside was a nice, solid, shiny copper but the inside was still powdery. And, a couple of them had parts attached with slip (watered down clay used like glue) and these parts popped off. In the first photo above you can see that the bail broke off. When I tried to drill a hole, it just crumbled. Since this was all experimental, I decided to try breaking one with my hands, and sure enough, "snap"! Broke in half like a saltine cracker. In the second photo you can see the one I intentionally broke. The center piece was put on with slip (it came off) and you can see the brown powder very clearly. I can rub it off with my fingers. This is not good. Fully sintered metal clay should be as strong as sheet metal. And, I want to be sure that none of my customers would ever encounter breakage.

I suspected several things that could have caused this. 1) I had too many pieces in the firing pan, causing the heat to be distributed unevenly. 2) I should have done a 2-phase firing. And 3) The kiln did not get hot enough.

So, I went online to my Etsy Metal Clay Team colleagues to see what their experiences were. Kelly Fehr disputed #1. She has fired as many as 60 pieces in a single firing, so I don't think that was it. She also says she has no problem using slip if a little lavender oil is mixed in with it.  Lorena Angulo makes large sculptural pieces out of copper clay and she told me that she has success when firing them at 1770F. I followed package instructions and only fired to 1700F. It now looks like that extra 70 degrees makes a big difference. Lora Hart was the one who originally told me about the 2-phase firing. First you fire the pieces on an open kiln shelf, then transfer them to the stainless steel pan with the activate carbon and fire them again. She was helpful in reminding me that this material is VERY new and that when silver metal clay came out around 15 years ago many artists had failures until the formula was improved. So, we're all esentially experimenting with this stuff.

I'm disappointed that my things didn't come out as planned, but it was a good learning experience for very little money, and Debbie, Torrey and I sure had a lot of fun with it last Sunday. I may try firing the remaining pieces from this first batch again and see if that solves the problem. I still have a little copper clay left in the package to use up and I'll do them all at once.

Here's a some successful copper clay pieces by Kelly and, Lorena. Lora is taking a break from her Etsy shop right now, but here's the link to her wonderful blog: Such and Such

Om Pendant by Kelly Fehr. Click HERE to go to the Etsy listing.

Copper Lines earrings by Lorena Angulo. Click HERE to go to the Etsy listing.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Day to Play with Copper Clay

Here's Torrey and Debbie in my dining room yesterday as we gathered to share our first opportunity to work with copper clay.  Debbie's main thing is making beautiful lampwork beads and jewelry, but she does some metal clay work also. (Click on the photo to enlarge and you can see her gorgeous necklace she made.) Torrey was a student in my last Jewelry Making with Precious Metal Clay class. She's got a good eye for design and will be exhibiting and selling her jewelry at her first craft show next weekend. I don't think any of us had pre-concieved notions about copper clay, so we just dug in and made things based on the knowledge we had of silver clay, the package directions and things we read online. Debbie brought her giant box of textures and shape cutters and it was fun to be able to use different things. I had tools and equipment that we shared. I found the material a joy to work with. It's very smooth, and the slip made out of it looks like chocolate frosting. (DON'T eat it!) When it's dry, it carves like a dream. I only had one mishap - a bail that I pasted on with slip popped off when I was wire brushing it. Could be that the clay requres a different technique that we don't yet know about. No worries, though, I'll just drill a hole in it. We made LOTS of stuff! It's so inexpensive compared to silver clay that we felt like we could experiment as much as we wanted without wasting money. I fired everything this morning with great anticipation. The photo below shows Debbie and Torrey's pieces fresh out of the kiln.

Below are the ones that I made, after a light workout with a brass brush.

And next, my pieces after being tumbled with steel shot. I tumble silver pieces for an hour and decided to check these copper pieces after a half-hour. It must be because copper is softer than silver - they were nice and shiny in half the time.

When the firing was done, and the kiln cooled off, I opened the door to find quite a mess from the activated carbon. There was black dust all over the inside of the kiln and the stainless steel pan had turned black. The hose attachment on the vacuum cleaner took care of that.

I just love the warmth of the copper. You'll notice that both Debbie and I made pieces with recessed areas. That's because we have already decided that our next play date project will be to fill those recesses with tiny objects and resin.

We took a break a couple of hours into it for a really nice lunch. (Thanks to Debbie for bringing Taco Soup.) Not only did we make some great pieces, but we had a lot of fun visiting and catching up with each other. It's amazing what can happen when creative people get together. I can't count how many times I heard "That's a good idea!" and "I want to try that." Thanks to both Debbie and Torrey for sharing these discoveries with me.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Crocus + honeybees = saffron honey?

Today is the most anticipated day in a long time - the Spring Equinox happened a few minutes ago. It's an absolutely gorgeous, warm day here, so I don't have time for words. Must get outside!!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

March is the cruelest month....

 Thanks to Ken Thomas for free use of his images.

I've been watching for signs of Spring. The Robins are back and the crocus have finally pushed their way through the soil. (Note to self: Plant more crocus next Fall.) We've had enough sunny days to melt almost all of the snow, but this rain and chill for the last week or so is starting to wear on me. I think it's worse to tease us with a few warm, sunny days and then fling us back into winter weather, than it was back in February when there was two feet of snow on the ground. It's supposed to be like that in February. By this time in March I'm ready for an instant warm up, windows open, birds chirping and being able to dig in the dirt. It's just not fair! And, the good ole Farmer's Almanac says we'll get a big snow in APRIL! They've been spot on so far this winter.

And, I'm ambiguous about daylight savings time. I like the idea of more light in the evenings,  but I really don't like going back to dark in the mornings when it's time to wake up. I've been getting way too much sleep, and when I get a late start to my day it throws me off -kilter until about 3:00. Plus, it seems to me that when we change our clocks it should be SPRING. ("Spring forward", after all.) That's probably because the time-change has been moved ahead by several weeks and I'm remembering how it used to be. I'm just soooo impatient for warm weather.

I've had a couple of boring days at Hands Gallery in the last week. Today is one of them. I think three people have walked through the door and one of them was the postman. Sales are still really poor and it's a wonder that we've been able to pay the bills, considering we were closed so many days due to treacherous roads. But, who's out shopping in a blizzard anyway? I've heard that all of the businesses in this area have suffered this winter - except for the ski slopes, of course.

Main Street Gallery re-opens for the season in a couple of weeks. It's always a shock when the season starts in Blowing Rock. Like, what? It's time to open the gallery again already? So, since I'm not a procrastinator, (I hate having things looming over me!) I've already started selecting the jewelry that I'll put in my display over there. I'm just grateful that we close that co-op during the winter and I didn't have to worry about driving on slick roads to get to work over there.

The latest Jewelry Making with Precious Metal Clay class started last night. It looks like I have a small, but enthusiastic group this time. So far it's lots of fun. I had been working quite a bit in my studio and have a kiln load almost full. I decided to wait and fire student work along with it, so that will happen tonight when I get home. Then, tomorrow morning will be like Christmas when I open the kiln and see what goodies are in there! I really wish ASU would let go of some money and buy a kiln for the jewelry studio, instead of me having to bring student work home and fire it in mine! And, the program director says he's going to have to go up on the cost of the class to cover his expenses. I'm talking with him about doing two sessions this summer, plus maybe a weekend workshop around a project with Copper Clay. I just have to come up with a proposal and present it to him. What kinds of things would you like to learn how to do in a weekend? Any ideas are welcome at this point.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

New Toys!

This is the new copper clay that I've been itching to try. It's much more affordable than the silver clay - about $20 for 100 grams, versus $90 for the silver. It's always appeared fussier to me because it has to be fired in a near oxygen-free environment to avoid the nasty oxidation that copper tends to get. Therefore, it gets fired in a pan with activated carbon. So, I ordered all the necessary equipment and will start playing with it soon. I should be able to make some large pieces that are very reasonably priced. Stay tuned!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Happy, sad

I had a wonderful time this past weekend visiting with two friends who I don't get to see very often. In fact, one of them I hadn't seen in person in about 30 years. We gathered at Jenny's house to celebrate Chris' birthday and had a big ole time! The planning for this started months ago when the announcements for the movie Alice in Wonderland started. We all have not-so-secret crushes on Johnny Depp and, since the opening weekend coincided with Chris' birthday we had a plan. The movie was fabulous, in 3-D with Tim Burton's magical genius.

When I got home to a huge mess I realized that I'm going to have to stop feeding the birds, and this really upsets me. I love watching them, seeing the goldfinches turn yellow in spring, and finding birds I haven't seen before. Upon my return I found that some critter (probably a racoon) had torn down and destroyed the feeder on the front porch, chewed through the bungee cord holding down the lid on a metal trash can, pried off the lid and spilled/eaten nearly 25 pounds of bird seed. I had to abandon the feeder in the back yard a few months ago because the racoon bent the pole to the ground and raided the feeder every night.  If anyone has suggestions for how I can solve this problem without resorting to wildlife murder, please let me know, but I might need Ken Thomas to come here and teach that S-O-B a lesson!