The Poofer

Sometimes when only a rounder shape will do,what's a fabricator to do? I work with flat sheets of metal. How to make it bend evenly in all directions?

Yin Yang Pods
Yin Yang Pods

Fortunately there's a tool for this challenge.

More  edifice then a tool my solution sits in the corner of my studio waiting to wield its amazing strength. Technically its called a hydraulic press. But more often then not its referred to as The Poofer.

Hydraulic Press
Hydraulic Press

It sits 18" high with 3 thick steel plates. The driver of this tool is a house jack that can and exert many pounds of pressure on metal. The essential ingrediant are my urethane spacers whose special characteristics allow them to flow into voids of my dies.

Eh what?

From the top without the metalsmithing terms.

Metal is ever bendable. And will yield to force. The hydraulic press has been designed to take advantage of that but needs a few more special pieces of equipment to make it work, besides thick steel and a house jack.

Dies_brass
Dies_brass

The first is a die, a hole if you wish, that is cut into the shape one wants the metal in. These dies are made of a variety of tough, dense material so they can stand the amount of pressure exerted by the press. Mine are made of brass and a filler to so I can reuse them and I can make double-sided poofed shapes. It takes time and precision to make these dies. I want to design pleasing shapes I can use in a variety of ways before I make any new die.

Urethane
Urethane

The next item needed is something to push the metal into the void in the die. And not any material will do. Most rubbers and soft  plastics will just thin out (squish flat) when put under pressure. That is where urethane has unique properties that have it flow into the void distributing the force into the unsupported metal.

Die ready to press
Die ready to press

Once this is all assemble its time to "poof" or press the shape. It would be simple if I could simple take the press up to full pressure, but it requires many smaller steps. Because if one goes too fast the metal will not bend, but tear. It is a combination of annealing (make the metal more malleable) pressing a small bit, annealing-pressing, etc until the proper depth is achieve.

Torn shape
Torn shape

This process also requires extra metal around the edges of the shape-a flange - so this process is both labor intensive as well as expensive in metal usage.

From here the piece is cut free of the & the fun begins. What to do with the shape? Sometimes as in the Yin Yang Earrings above I have a specific idea. Other times I just start to play.

Below is a variety of hydraulic pressed pieces that have been incorporated into my work or is just an idea I've been working on. Mostly these are older pieces. I haven't done much "poofing" lately.

Poof projects
Poof projects
silly bird
silly bird
3 fish pins
3 fish pins
Lge Pod
Lge Pod

It looks so phallic!

I know! That is why I had to buy it at a flea market. I was totally amused by the shape of this hammer. It was even more fun to carry it around as my Sis and I continued to cruise the flea market.

phallic hammer
phallic hammer

I think it is a riveting hammer of a by-gone profession. I really don’t know for what or how it was used. Any ideas? I don’t use it but it is part of my hammer collection.

One of the many reasons I love being a metalsmith is the opportunity to buy and learn to use new tools. We’ll be exploring my studio to see some of my favorites and how I use them. Here’s a preview of what’s to come.

The Poofer

The Smasher

You can never have enough.

Really!

Open Wide…

You cut it all by hand?

Well, almost all of it.

Fire, my lovelies.

What I can’t live without.

Whatisit?

BTW this is my riveting hammer, a bit different in shape and size, but a similar function.

riveting & phallic hammer
riveting & phallic hammer

Etching sterling silver

Every once in a while someone comes into the booth, regards my jewelry and asks, "Are you making this with pmc?" NO, NEVER!!!! I want to shout, but I gulp and moderate it down to, "No, all my work is sterling silver and I do my own etching." Now if they are really foolish they will gaze again at my work and particularly my box clasps and tell me I should use pmc. I am usually less moderate with my next answer.

But what is PMC and why am I not happy when asked if I use it and even less happy when told I should use it? It is precious metal clay that is fine silver suspended in a clay medium. It has a great appeal to hobbyists and people without technical metalsmithing skills. I am neither. Once a piece is made in pmc it is fired and becomes (if done correctly) fine silver. I have "issues" with pmc but that is for another blog entry. Today it's about what I do to get the etched patterns on my pieces.

First, I always work in sterling silver because of its strength and its ability to accept patinas. Fine silver is not a strong metal and it won't take a patina. Etching sterling involves a vile chemical process that I have worked long and hard to perfect, plus it's just plan hard work. Stamping a design on a piece of  metal clay is easy. Etching is a several day process.

Because of the time involved I always do several sheets of sterling silver at one time. This means it's expensive too, so I go slowly as I don't want any mistakes. I do have sheets of etched silver that are just downright ugly and unusable. I have learned. My etching starts long before I ever don my acid gear and put on a respirator. First, I must create patterns that I want to etch into the sterling. This usually involves many drafts and finally I scan the final version into my computer where I employ both Photoshop and Illustrator to clean up the final artwork.

Doodle do etch art
Doodle do etch art

Raw artwork before cleaning  it up

Resist on silver
Resist on silver

I transfer that artwork  to a resist... something that the acid (or in my case ferric nitrate) cannot eat through. This step is perhaps the most important, as a good resist makes  a good etch. Once made the resist is carefully applied to my sterling sheets.If I should stop here and drop the metal in the ferric nitrate it would eat out what is unprotected, including the back of my sterling sheet. The next step is to protect the side edges and back of the pieces.

Then it is outside to set up the actually table and hardware to etch. Because of the nature of the chemical it is best to etch under a fume hood. I have none. I etch outside. This is sometimes a dilemma for me. Once the day I picked was the first over 100° day of the season. I stood outside in it all day in heavy acid gear. Another year it was cold and damp. Spring or Fall are my favorite seasons to etch, but I seem to run out of material in the winter and summer.

4 me in my gear
4 me in my gear

Here's me in my chemical gear and my etching set-up, on a moderate February day. I etched 8 sheets and it was a day long process, just to do the etching. The prep work was another day. But in the end it was all worth it. I have the etched sheets that I can make into wonderful jewelry.

3 etching set up
3 etching set up
Finished etch on the sterling
Finished etch on the sterling
Finished piece
Finished piece

And in case you are worried about the vile chemical that I am using. It is a salt, a component in fertilizer,  and I always keep track of it until I turn it over to the folks at the dump to depose of correctly.

Etching sterling silver is a long multi-step process. But I like doing it. I can put my own artwork in the metal, I love the varied textures, and it makes my work more personal, more a part of me. Its one of my hard-learned skills that I am proud to share and add to my jewelry.

New pieces

Today it's sunny and Spring-like outside. Its hard to be inside the studio. But when I go outside to walk the dog and enjoy the weather I get all sorts of great ideas and I want to curtail my walk to hurry back to the studio. No pleasing me.

I am working on some pieces I'm excited about. So like the kindergartener I am. Here's my show & tell for the day.

Unless otherwise noted this are my quick photos of the work. My photographer does a much better job. :-?

First I took my new favorite shape, the Zoa, and made it larger, and worked it on to a simpler, more elegant neckwire. Its hung on 3 strands of stainless steel wire. The hook & eye closure is made to go with the pendant. This particular pendant went home with a wonderful sculptor in Bellevue. I delighted she saw and loved it. Some pieces find the right home quickly.

Zoa_multi-strand_nckl
Zoa_multi-strand_nckl

And while I was at it, I made another Zoa pendant into a box clasp. Or a box clasp into a Zoa pendant. This a new direction for my usually rectangular box clasps. I love these white fresh water pearls.

Zoa Boxclasp
Zoa Boxclasp

This box clasp lead to another idea. What if I made multiple shapes and attached them all together. Would that work?

I think so.

BoxClasp Circles mookaite
BoxClasp Circles mookaite

The stones in this necklace come from Australia. One doesn't see Mookaite often but I'm quite fond of it.

All these pieces can be seen live and in person at my next show in Scottsdale, Arizona. Come by, say hello, and mention you read this blog and I'll give you a gift and maybe a hug.

All the same, none alike

O's all different

For years I have tossed around an idea of making a series. I like the idea of a defining set of parameters within which you design and execute your art. I think it leads to something new and wonderful, though I'm not sure what. And I like that "not-sure" part.

Poetry is full of tightly limited creations. The sonnet is a poem of 14 lines with a formal rhyme scheme, and usually 10 syllables per line.  There’s not a lot of leeway to branch out. Yet English literature is filled with amazing poetry in sonnet form. The Japanese haiku (a poem of 17 syllables, in 3 line, of 5, 7, and 5) with a nature theme is something all children have worked on in schools often with delightful results. And of course, limericks are a wonderful example of how rigid limits can push creativity and humor to new and glorious heights.

Throughout history visual artists have also used a set of rules to corral and then turn-loose their creative muse.

Monet had his hay stacks.

Jim Dine-a contemporary painter, has a series on bathrobes and hearts.

Recently a friend, painter-Marla Baggetta, completed a series of 100 images of the same scene. It was her series that reinspired me to again look at doing a series.

Craft artists have also done series.

Pat Flynn has done a series of heart pins.

And one of my favorite series is Kiff Slemmons, Insectopedia. A series of bug pins, based on the alphabet. K is for Katydid.

Insectopedia-Kiff Slemmons



cmf-head-avatar Carla

The box clasp

Like everyone else I sometimes have a hard time getting focused and getting going. Life happens and when your work is in your home, life interferes with work. I'm a great believer in my ability to multi-task, but sometimes it just leads to me bouncing around like a ping-pong ball getting a little done.

Metalsmithing requires focus and attention to details. A casual moment can undo hours of work as an over-heated piece falls apart (or melts!) under a too hot torch, a careless saw cuts a kerf into a carefully etched surface, a sanding disc is allowed to go too far.

When I get to this place I need to stop trying to do many things at once and refocus. As I retreat to my studio and sit at my bench more often then not, my thinking is still scattered  and I have no idea where to start. Things seem either too easy and simple or too complex to work on until I get my brain working. What to do?

I recently decided that the best thing I can do at this point is to start making box clasps. Technically box clasps are fairly difficult, but I've done enough to be fluent in them. I know each step, how to do it, what order to do them in. Making them challenges my skills as a metalsmith, with the precision, cutting, soldering, measuring, filing; but I know what to do and have no questions as to sequencing, what temperature solder I need, what the pitfalls are. Making box clasps brings me back together and centers me on the here and now.

All the intricacy and detailed labor of the box clasp is hidden on the inside. My version of the clasp is actually a box within a box. I was taught to make a tight precise fit to insure years of trouble free wearing. It is more time-consuming but ultimately produces a clasp that will last indefinitely and never release unexpectedly. It makes me proud every time I sell one as I know its a special item with a great deal of my efforts and thought put into each clasp.

Below is the very condensed version of the making of a box clasp plus a peek at its inner workings.

1. The inner box is made & a slot carefully filled to accept the tongue of the clasp.

box-clasp-step-1












2. The tongue with the trigger is soldered and carefully filed and fitted to the box.

box-clasp-step-2-tongue-trigger












3. The etched sterling top deck is soldered in place and a the slot for the trigger is pierced & filed into a tight fit. This photo shows the box within a box, part of this clasp.

box-clasp-step-3-box-in-box











4. Once the bottom plate is added the tongue continues to get refined so it has the pleasing and important "CLICK" when it is fully engaged. Then the findings are soldered on, it is thoroughly cleaned, and is ready to be patinaed and added to a necklace.

box-clasp-step-4_cleaned-ready-for-patina











5. Finally the clasp becomes the central part of a necklace. In this case a rough cut carnelian necklace with yellow turquoise. Its ready to go to a client.

box-clasp-step-5-strung




Great Zeus! - Zot! - Eureka!


"I so admire how creative you artists are. Where do you get your inspiration?"


cmf-in-lite
.....waiting for inspiration

Good question. Every time I am asked that question I am flummoxed. Inspiration is a tricky thing. When I am very lucky, or very good I walk into just the right spot in my studio and ZOT! a truly great idea comes to me in a flash. The 3 rings in my top banner were a marvelous Zot moment.

My friend and fellow jeweler, Jack, challenged me to get over my prejudice to diamonds. I'd always thought they were over-hyped, stupid stones, boring, transparent, clear, no color; plus there are millions of them around.  Bah humbug, who needed them when there are so many other fine stones in the world. But Jack nudged some of my thinking around and I started relooking at diamonds.

My main gripe with diamonds is that much of the jewelry made with them, makes it all about The Diamond. I am a metal worker. I want my work to be all about well... My Work and the diamond's just a punctuation to my designs.

My 3 rings above came from this double-dare of Jack's. The idea formed in a quick moment of insight, fully-developed. I even found some colored diamonds to use. Bliss. I regularly thank him for his goading.

But mostly my designs are hard fought.

Jestsam & Flotsam
Jetsam & Flotsam

I am currently working on a design I know isn't that good. But the damn thing will not vacate my head until I make it. I know it will end up in my scrap pile...I have days like this. Its like clearing a plugged drain. Once I have design out of my head and at least partially realized I can go on to other things. I have a whole pile of dumb ideas that I poke at from time to time, trying to figure out why I made them. And sometimes they lead to inspiration, often not.

Usually my designs are evolutions from past work. No Eurekas! just hard slogging work. I make something like it or love it, look at it, start to examine it, think about it, and have a better idea of how to do it next time. This drives Dave-the-husband crazy. Why must I keep messing with great designs?  Why do I move on to my next NEW IDEA, when I have so many old great ideas I can still make? I  dunno. I think that's what it means to be an artist. We are always looking ahead to see what's there, how we can do it better, how it can change, evolve, morph into something else.

So when I go back to work, and I do find its work; divine inspiration is a rare event, no matter how good I am, or how many different places I stand in my studio waiting for it to happen.

cmf-head-avatarCarla





Man Jewelry.....

What do guys like, want, wish for in jewelry?

I currently have a friend, P, who is bugging me for Man Jewelry. I'd love to accommodate him and the other men who have stared wistfully in my case and asked...."Do you have anything for men?" No.....I don't, but I should.

What is it guys want in jewelry? Cuff links, quirky lapel pins, bracelets, pendents, single earrings, manly rings?

P is now pondering this question. He hasn't answered me yet. But for all the other men who feel left out of the jewelry game, the question is now yours too. What would you like to see me make for men? Write me, let me know. The first Manly piece I make will be named for the Man who gives me the best answer.

Carla cmf-head-avatar