Monday, June 28, 2010

Oh, Happy Day! Copper Success!

Just look at this pile of copper lusciousness! I guess third time's the charm (no pun intended) for me to have a successful copper firing. Everything sintered, and when I drop them onto the table they make a jingling sound like coins, not the "thunk" of un-sintered metal clay.

This time I used the two-phase firing schedule recommended to me by Lora Hart. First, I fired the pieces on an open kiln shelf at 555 degrees for one hour. Then I transfered them to the firing pan with the carbon and fired them at 1670 degrees for three and a half hours. And voila! Hard, shiny copper! I'm no scientist, but I think this has something to do with the binder burning off. You metal clayers out there know that when the binder burns there's a smell, right? When I put the fresh pieces in the firing pan with carbon I never smelled that smell. When they were on the open shelf the smell started when the kiln hit about 450 degrees, just like with silver.

These from the Fern Series have a patina applied to show off the texture. I'm not sure yet if I like this. The Liver of Sulphur darkens the entire piece a little bit. The bright, shiny color right out of the tumbler looks so nice, but I don't know if that will last over time. One of the benefits of using metal clay rather than sheet metal is the opportunity for wonderful textures and when you darken the recesses the texture shows up better. With silver there's more contrast, so the jury is still out on whether to patina copper, or not. Anyone out there have an opinion on this? Please leave me a comment on this, and links to photos would be great to help me make up my mind.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Martin's Mowing!

And pruning and weed-whacking and mulching.

These rhododendrons were huge - nearly halfway up the windows.

Jeff hauls mulch...

...and dumps it

...while Grant spreads it out. He dunked his shirt in the creek, because it's really hot today.

It looks so much better! These rhodys were covered up with weeds and briars.

Thanks, guys! You did in two hours what would have taken me two weeks. Now, if we could only get some rain. None since June 11 and my grass is crunchy.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Fine Silver FAQs

Fine silver pendant with a blue topaz.

If you've looked at any of my jewelry descriptions you've noticed that I make most of my jewelry out of fine silver. Yes, it really is "fine" in the fact that it looks good and will look good on you when you wear it, but that's not the only reason it's fine. I decided to do this post to explain the difference between "Fine" silver and "Sterling" silver because I get this question over and over. Most folks that aren't in the jewelry business don't know (or care). But, you should care because when you buy fine silver you're buying a higher quality precious metal than sterling silver.

What the heck is fine silver? Simply, fine silver is 99.9% silver, about as close to pure silver as you can get and the hallmark (quality stamp) you'll see on the back of your jewelry is ".999" or "FS" or, or "Fine" or a combination of them. The balance is trace amounts of impurities. Sterling silver, on the other hand, is an alloy of 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metals, usually copper, and it's hallmarked as ".925" or "Sterling". The word Sterling, therefore, is a standard, and means that it can't contain more than 7.5% other metals. There are many other kinds of silver alloys and you can find descriptions of them here, if you're interested. But, fine silver is as good as it gets for the highest quality precious metal.

So, why do so many jewelry artists choose to work with sterling silver? Many reasons, but my belief is that it's similar to whether you like to use a PC or a Mac. It's all about what you get used to, how you were taught and what you happen to like.  In the economy we're currently experiencing sterling is a less expensive material to buy. It's a little harder metal than fine silver, which may be better for certain applications such as tableware and mint julep cups. Most people who work with sterling use sheet metal, which has to be drilled, sawn, filed, hammered and soldered to create the desired shape. And mild acids are used to remove fire scale (a residue left on the surface of the metal after heating because of the copper content). Fine silver is also available in sheets but, because the fabrication methods mentioned above are the same except for the acid, it makes more sense financially to work with sterling.

Why do you work with fine silver? My jewelry is fine silver because of the raw material I choose to work with. It's called "metal clay", even though there's no ceramic material in it. It's an unfortunate name because it implies that the finished product is like pottery, which it certainly is not. It consists of microscopic particles of pure silver mixed with a binder that makes it feel and work like clay or putty. I suppose that the name "clay" was chosen because when it's fresh from the package it's worked in the same ways a potter would work with ceramic clay. It gets rolled out in slabs, texturized with imprintable objects and molds, and then gets fired in a kiln. When it's in the kiln (at 1650 degrees) the binder burns up, it shrinks a little, and only the pure (fine) silver remains. At this point it is absolutely no different than fine silver sheet metal. All of the fabrication methods mentioned above can be applied.

Silver pieces in the hot kiln.

As I said before, fine silver is a little softer than sterling silver. But after metal clay is fully fired it's a remarkably strong metal. One advantage of fine silver is that it does not tarnish like sterling silver does. Tarnish is a product of oxidation and copper oxidizes more than silver does. It's the copper in the sterling that makes it turn black. Your fine silver jewelry will not turn black, but it might become a little dull over time. All you have to do is rub it with a soft cloth and the beautiful shine will return.

So, if it doesn't tarnish, how come your work is dark in some places? That's because I intentionally blacken the recessed portions of the pieces to show off the remarkable textures that can be achieved with metal clay. Actually, I dunk the whole piece in a solution of Liver of Sulphur (VERY stinky!) which turns the whole piece black. Then I polish the high spots back to silvery lovliness and the dark patina remains in the low spots.

Why did you decide to work with Metal Clay? I prefer the natural, organic look I can get with metal clay, that would be very hard to achieve with sheet metal. And, I like the fact that it really is pure, hard metal and I can still pound on it, drill it and solder it if I need or want to.

A side note: Metal clay is also available in gold (too expensive for me to purchase the raw materials!), copper and bronze. I've tried working with the copper clay (see previous post) but it will take some practice and experimentation before I'm successful with it. It's a whole different animal than silver clay. I haven't tried the bronze clay yet. But, since both metals are fairly inexpensive, I can see that there would be a market for copper and bronze jewelry. You'll definitely see some of my work in copper before too long.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hot Weather = No Motivation

I know it's been a long time since I posted here, but hey... its summer in the South! Nothing happens very fast. The weather has been warm and juicy with thunderstorms almost every afternoon. This makes me feel lazy -- I don't really want to do anything, and what I do manage to accomplish gets done at a snail's pace. Anything that takes any effort has to be done early in the morning.

I haven't been doing any gardening in the last week because I wrecked my knee and thought I'd better give it a rest from digging and kneeling. Just as well, it's a little too hot for gardening right now. The local produce stand has some of the best peaches and cantaloupe I've ever had, and all the summer vegetables are coming in to the local Farmer's Market. I'm glad I didn't plant a food garden this year because I was so disappointed last year. It was a lot of work and the wet weather caused too much disease, which was heartbreaking. One person can't eat all that stuff anyway, and I'm supporting our local farmers by buying it. The only edibles I have are strawberries, basil and a few onions.

So, what HAVE I been doing? Not much. I like to start my day with a cup of coffee on the porch, listening to the birds and watching the world come awake. I have so many hummingbirds that it's like Star Wars out there. They're so mean to each other! I shot this video today. Watch how one of them just keeps on drinking while the others fight.

I'll go through nearly ten pounds of sugar feeding these guys before the summer is over.

Then, an hour or so catching up on the computer and breakfast. Then back to the porch with a good book.  In the afternoons I've been trying to work in the studio, but I'm just not motivated. I had an order to fill which took a couple of days. (When the customer contacted me I was a little annoyed at first that someone would interrupt my "vacation", then realized that I don't actually get vacations! And my train of thought was that I really could use the money and, no jewelry means no money, so go make the lady's jewelry.) There's a little gallery business to take care of, but my sales still aren't that great. My summer PMC class was cancelled because not enough people signed up, so I have all my Mondays to myself and no preparation work to do. I've sworn to myself that next week I'm going to give the copper clay another try. Really. I mean it.... I'm going to do something productive. But until I can get myself out of this lazy midset I think I'll just enjoy summer in the South, fix myself a glass of sweet tea and go back to the porch and that book.

Monday, June 7, 2010

If I Had a Husband

A cat in the garden is a good thing.

I've been busy lately! Summer weather has been with us - warm days with sunshine and a few afternoon storms - so I've been working in my garden for several hours each morning. I get out there early and work until it starts getting too hot. I've been doing lots of digging and transplanting, dead-heading and weeding. Today is what we'd call air-ish, though. Breezy, cool, not a cloud in the sky. But, this brings me to the subject of people who don't do what they say they're going to do.

As a single woman, it's hard enough to find someone when you need yard work or home repairs to even come give an estimate, especially if it's a small job. I once was told that you don't want to hire someone that advertises in the paper because why would anyone who's worthy have to place an ad to get work? So, just how do you find someone who's capable and fair? Then if you do end up hiring out the work they either don't show up at all, or, if they do show up, there's some sort of rip-off. They'll charge way too much money, or they don't do the job right. In one situation I had both - the guy did several chores and screwed most of them up, charged me an exhorbitant price and wouldn't come back to fix his mistakes. (For example: doesn't it make sense to you that, when installing a gutter, the upper portion of the downspout should be put on the inside of the lower portion so the water doesn't just cascade out? I didn't discover that mistake until the next time it rained.) I had to hire someone ELSE to make things right. I know of another woman who had several trees cut down on her property. The workers were supposed to cut up all the wood and remove it, but just disappeared... with HER tools, and her money. In that situation the Sheriff wasn't even any help. My Dad said to me recently "It's too bad you have to pay for a husband." Meaning, that if I had a husband I wouldn't have to pay to get these kinds of things done. I replied "Daddy, if I had a husband I'd pay one way or another..."

Now each time I have to jump on the shovel to get it into the hard ground I think about how much faster and easier it would be if I could hire someone to do this job. Then, I think about how much money I'm saving! Especially since the salt on the roads last winter destroyed the brakes on my car, which cost me an arm and a leg to fix. And the gas company filled up my LP tank and took more body parts. Why did they do that this time of year? So I'm in the financial hole again and hoping that summer sales are better this year. I'm ready to have some money to do something FUN!

It's been too pretty to be in the studio, but I'll get back to it soon. I've done a couple custom orders and a few pair of earrings, but nothing much to speak of. I'm still trying to sell some of my older inventory so I have incentive to make new things. I always seem to work harder when inventory is low and, since I have lots of pieces made, I've been a slacker. I've put several things in my Etsy Store that haven't been there before, and there are still several bargains to be had in the "Sale Items" secion. Check it out! Help me pay for these unexpected expenses! Thank you for your support.