Earlier this month I took a class with Christi Friesen, something guaranteed to throw me right out of my comfort zone. I have never considered myself good at “art” — you know, drawing, painting and sculpture. Nope, I know I have a good eye for jewellery composition and colour but I can’t draw to save my life. And also, I’m not hugely experienced with polymer clay.
Anyway, I decided to challenge myself and take one of the classes held at The Whimsical Bead at the beginning of the month, and I chose to do the Mystery Specimens class. It was great fun and I surprised myself by (to my oh so critical eye) managing to make a couple of pieces I was quite proud of.
As it so happened, the monthly theme for the Art Elements challenge was Octopus — announced just as I was heading off to the class. I decided that if the opportunity arose I would try to make something octopus-y for the challenge. And as you will see, I did.
But first, the class. Christi’s classes are FUN and this class was no exception. Christi taught us to make odd little creatures, destined for life in a bottle — mystery specimens! My first specimen is quite endearing I think, he’s almost hiding behind his hand. The clay is a mix of glow-in-the-dark and granite (although I haven’t really tested whether it really glows in the dark), and I kept the surface decoration simple, a stripe down the back and some shading. The thing that really makes these critters come alive is the use of little glass eyes, it really gives them personality!
Next I made a mer-creature, with a tail fin and a ridge down his back. Christi showed us how to give them an angry expression — this guy is not happy to be trapped in a jar!
Finally, I had enough leftover clay to make an octo-critter. She’s not just any octo-critter though, she has two faces, and has overdone the red lippy a bit!
I really enjoyed taking Christi’s class, it was a great stretch for me, and next time she’s in Australia I might have to take my Mum and my sister along to play as well, I think they’d love it! And thanks to Dani and The Whimsical Bead for hosting the class.
Don’t forget to pop along and visit some of the other bloggers taking part in this Art Elements Challenge. Here’s the list, to make it easy!
One of the guys at work asked me if I could make an iron necklace for his wife as an anniversary present. He’d seen a few designs on Etsy with two interlinked rings and wondered if I could do something similar. Sure, I said, I think I can come up with something. Thankfully he is a graphic designer and understands that to get something right takes time, because it took me a while to figure out everything I needed to do to successfully create the piece! It was an excellent challenge for me though, forced me right out of my very small comfort zone!
First of all, what kind of steel did I need to use? My customer wanted “iron”, so it needed to be blackened steel. I finally found dark annealed steel at our local big box hardware store — here it’s known as tie wire, but is more usually galvanised, not dark annealed. Thankfully it was 1.57mm diameter, not too hefty but also thick enough to be useful.
As it was already annealed, it was easy enough to form coils of wire around two marker pens of different diameters and saw through the wire to make jump rings. The ends were filed smooth and wiggled together so that they touched. My plan was to use one bigger ring and one smaller ring to represent my tall customer and his petite wife.
The next challenge was soldering the steel — I wasn’t sure whether I could use the normal silver solder I use for soldering sterling silver. And what flux should I use, what pickle? I found a tutorial on the Facet jewellery making website that used hard silver solder wire, and suggested that white paste flux might work, so I gave it a go. That was my first failure. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the solder to join the ends of the steel. The rings would look joined but when I tested the join it’d pop right open.
A bit more research said I needed flux that took a higher temperature. Off to the hardware store again to buy some black flux, rather nasty looking stuff! This worked OK, but the hard solder meant that I had to heat the steel for quite a while to get it to melt. And the flux left a rather crusty finish on the steel and pickling it (in a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and vinegar) didn’t seem to move it. Plus the solder was a bit lumpy-looking and, well, it just didn’t look great.
Still, I was able to take it to my customer to make sure he was happy with the concept, so that was a win. I just wasn’t sure I’d be able to get a good enough finish on the rings.
So I went back to the internet to do a bit more research. And hallelujah, I found a fantastic Facebook video by Brenda Schweder that used solder paste with no extra flux required. So I made up a bunch more rings and got busy with the torch. Finally I had a method that worked, with minimal solder used and not too much heat needed. This last point was important, as the longer the steel was hot, the more the metal surface seemed to suffer.
On to the next challenge: how to clean up the rings and then darken the steel again. After a quick pickle, I sanded the rings with 400/800/1000 grit emery paper. This of course took the steel back to its natural colour — see the picture above. Once again the internet came to the rescue! Searching for methods I saw a video in which a large steel piece was heated and then coated with beewax while hot. The beeswax was then buffed off. Adapting this, I quickly heated up the steel rings with my torch, picked them up and dropped them onto my block of beeswax, then pulled out the rings using some tweezers and buffed the wax away with a soft cloth. This darkened them nicely (and pretty much instantaneously), phew! I also played around with using some black gilders paste to cover up the silver solder seam but that didn’t work really well. Finally I used Renaissance wax to seal the rings so that hopefully they won’t rust. It also gives the metal a nice finish.
The final step in the process was to add a sterling chain. The necklace is short so the rings sit right at the collarbone.
I think it turned out rather well, and I learned an awful lot about the steel-soldering process! Happily I’ve heard that the recipient loves it! I’m thinking that it might be fun to make a few more of the steel rings, and maybe use them for earrings, perhaps even solder earring posts onto them. I don’t think it will be my first choice of metal to use, but hey, now I know I can do it! A very big thanks to Brenda Schweder and her wonderful video!
One of my goals for this year is to spend more time playing with metal and honing my metalwork skills. I’ve taken quite a few classes at The Whimsical Bead over the past few years, and last year I took a fantastic 8 week intro course at Melbourne Polytechnic on jewellery making, but I never spend enough time playing on my own, even though I’ve slowly collected most of the gear I need!
So to encourage me to get out to my studio and play, I signed up to do the Make a Ring a Month challenge. Run by Anna Campbell, an Edinburgh-based jeweller. There are something like 300 people doing the challenge. You can see a lot of their creations on Instagram here and there’s a Facebook group too.
Of course having signed myself up, I immediately realised that I would probably not manage to get my first ring done in January because (a) summer school holidays, (b) work and (c) grandparents visiting (and staying in my studio). But I pushed myself into the studio this last weekend (even though it was February) determined to get my first ring done.
January’s theme was texture. Because I don’t have my soldering gear set up properly yet, I though I would do a riveted ring rather than a soldered ring. I followed a tutorial on the Beaducation website for a riveted tab ring, with a few minor changes — I had to use copper rivets instead of sterling as that’s all I had. All good though, and I managed to complete my ring in a couple of hours (there were lots of breaks to watch the video lesson and to find the things I needed).
Texture-wise, the sterling band has been hammered to give it a light texture, while the copper tab was cut from an embossed sheet. The ring was lightly patinaed with liver of sulfur to bring out the details.
A couple of things I’ve learned from making the first ring: I need to get better at measuring and sizing rings. And I definitely need to get better at taking photos of rings. Sterling doesn’t photograph well on my usual neutral grey background, I had to take the photo above on black paper. I also took a photo of my husband wearing the ring, what do you think of this photo?
Now I need to think about February’s theme: Music and Lyrics. Should I try stamping a message on a ring? I think that would be rather nice, but what lyrics should I choose? I guess I’ve got a couple of weeks to think about it, stay tuned!
I’ve just returned home from our 8 week family holiday in the USA. It’s pretty much been radio silence from me here while I’ve been away (thanks to intermittent access to wifi, busy days of travel and sightseeing and so on), but I plan to do a few posts this week about the beady side of the trip, aka my BeadFest experience.
BeadFest was—to this Aussie anyway—ah-maze-ing! We arrived in the middle of the afternoon on Thursday (the second day I think of BeadFest), thanks to late flights the day before resulting in an unexpected stopover and a very early start, and I had a class starting at 4:30pm, so it was a bit of a scramble.
The first class I did was with Sara Lukkonen, of C-Koop Beads fame, and was a torch-fired enameling class. We enameled flowers and disks and whatnot, and then riveted them to leather to make bracelets, and even a little leather ring. I LOVED it, and can see a torch in my future – I just need to set up a suitable space at home somewhere.
Anyway, I used a transparent turquoise frit (which looked a deeper blue over the copper), opaque purple and opaque pea green on my pile of flowers and disks and I’m thrilled with my bracelet—have worn it several times already! I made a matching ring too.
I’ve also got a pile of leftover pieces which may or may not end up in something sometime.
The second class I took was a short (45 minute) class with Erin Keck, which I took specifically to learn how to shape metal into a dome shape (the technique is called dapping). We made a simple pair of earrings using Vintaj embossing folders to texture the disks before dapping them. I can definitely see the possibilities here.
The second long class of the week was a class which introduced a few new techniques—fold-forming niobium, and then anodizing it to colour it. It was a fascinating class taught by Marti Brown, and while I don’t think I’ll be rushing out to buy the anodizing set-up, it was fun to try it out and I ended up with a gorgeous pair of earrings and a pendant too.
Finally I took another short technique class to try my hand at soldering copper. The class was taught by Kate Richbourg (and I will be looking up her video classes on Craftsy and Jewelry Making Daily) and I made a set of three stacking copper rings. Definitely another thing to try at home once I get set up!
It was great to have the opportunity to do some classes at BeadFest, and I just wish I’d had the time/money to do more. Next time (yes there will be a next time, it will probably just take me a few years), I will absolutely spend more time doing classes. In my next couple of posts I will talk about the shopping (oh the shopping!) and the people!
I’m off on a big overseas family holiday to the US in a couple of weeks, to visit the Rocky Mountains in Colorado with family, roadtrip through the Southwest to show the kids the Grand Canyon and other amazing things! There’ll be a few days in New Orleans, a week of Orlando adventures at Walt Disney World and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (my kids are so excited!) at Universal Orlando and a week in the San Francisco Bay Area where my husband and I lived for quite a few years.
But one of the things I am most looking forward to is Bead Fest! I have been dying to go to either Bead Fest or Bead and Button — the two biggest bead shows in the US — since I first heard about them. We have bead shows in Australia of course, but they are much much smaller and only offer a handful or two of classes, not a whole week’s worth. So I’m booked in for a couple of longer classes — enameling with Sara Lukkonen and fold forming with Marti Brown, and also a couple of 45 minute classes featuring some techniques I’m keen to learn. I’m really hoping to meet some of my online bead friends too.
And then there’s the bead shopping of course. Oh the shopping. Just looking at the list of vendors is enough to make me start drooling.
Of course the Aussie dollar has gone south this year, was it really only a couple of years ago that it was on par with the US dollar? Well, now it’s below 75 cents, and the prognosis isn’t good. Sigh. So I’ll be madly converting and calculating prices while I’m there, and focusing on things that I can’t get at a reasonable price here. Oh and art beads of course!!
If anyone wants to recommend bead shops in the Rockies (especially around Glenwood Springs), the Southwest (we’ll be vaguely working our way from Marble CO, through Moab, Cortez, Gallup, along Route 66 to Flagstaff, to Sedona and the Grand Canyon, and finally Vegas, baby!), New Orleans, maybe Orlando (although I think we’ll be mostly doing theme parks, no time for beads there) and the Bay Area (SF and Berkeley/Oakland area), I’d be very grateful.
I’d love to set up some bead swaps with anyone who is going to be at Bead Fest — I’ll bring you some of my favourite Aussie art beads (pssst, did anyone mention Peruzi?) if you like and you can swap for some of your favourites in return. What do you think? Leave me a comment or message me through Facebook or email me (the address is on this blog’s About page).
Also, stay tuned for a SALE later this month! I just need to load a few more things on my Etsy shop. It would be nice to have an excuse to spend a bit of money on new beads after all!
I took a metalwork class last weekend at The Whimsical Bead. And it was so much fun! I learned to cut shapes out of copper, file edges smooth, texture with a hammer, rivet and screw pieces together, and finished off by oxidising the completed pieces. And I also made my first clasps!
The class was taught by Robyn and Julie Wilson from Deegan Designs, who sell a range of whimsical, steampunk-inspired jewellery. You can see some of their wonderful creations here. We made a simpler version of their quirky bird design, as both a brooch and a pendant. I took a few photos as my pieces progressed.
Here I have finished cutting out, filing and texturing the birds and wings (I paired the wrong wings with the birds in these pictures). That’s probably me reflected in the shiny metal.
This picture shows the completed birds, before their bath in Liver of Sulphur, which oxidises the copper from shiny to dark in seconds.
Here is the brooch. It’s hard to see in the photograph but there are some lovely colours—almost like an oil slick—on the bird’s body and wings, from the oxidising process. The longer the copper is left in the Liver of Sulphur solution, the darker it goes—my pieces were only in there for a few seconds. I lightly sanded back the oxidation around the edges to give a bit of definition to the shape, but left the rest of the body and wings as they came out. The pieces have also been sealed front and back with a metal sealer to stop further oxidation.
And here is the necklace. You can see the colours in this one a bit better. Note the clasp—I made that too!
I have some more copper sheet, wire and a few screws to play with, and enough tools to be dangerous! So you may see some more from me soon!