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New Year, Clean Bench

cleanbench

This state of cleanliness lasted all but an hour. Still, it’s been a few weeks since I really sat down to work here, and it helps to take a look at where everything is and what I was doing and what still needs to be done. Class starts again in a couple weeks and I’d like to say I’m preparing for it, but I’m not . . . yet.

I’d also like to say “It’s 2017 and I’m going to start a business and be a real artist!” but that’s not happening either. I like Making Stuff, but I don’t have the entrepreneurial spirit. I’ve checked out the books, signed up for basic bookkeeping, talked to people who have done it (surprise: they didn’t always find it a positive experience) and have concluded that I’ve screwed around enough. For now, anyway, it’s time to find a full-time job, take care of some things. I’ll keep taking classes, and I’m starting to focus on developing my own designs, but there are no plans. No real ones, anyway. And maybe that’s all right. There are benefits to being a “Sunday painter,” like being able to truly create whatever the hell you want and not having to worry about business, customers, and the market.

In other news: knitting. My husband and I drove down to Memphis for a couple days during the last week of the year and had a great time. Some of the car ride was spent on these:

hotbutteredsole

They were quick and easy and meant to use up the yarn left over from this:

hownowbrownscarf

I suppose I’ll keep up with socks and the like for a while, to use up my stash, which is my only knitting goal for the year.

And finally, I think this might be it for the blog. It’s been fun working through and talking over what I’ve been creating for the past few years, but I think it’s time to go. I don’t know what the next stage will be, but I’m sure . . . of nothing.

Goodbye, and keep creating! I know I will.

images

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The End of an Era

I am, at last, heartily sick of socks. Why, I’m almost not excited about finishing these bad boys.

1985

Almost.

This is the Mystic Spiral sock (which I’ve done before) in some special yarn indeed. It’s hand-dyed from String Theory Colorworks and the colorway is Luciferin, which I fell in love with the second I saw it a good year or so ago and knew I had to do something crazy with it. And this pattern definitely fit that bill. I was pleased to find that after posting these on Ravelry, Caitlin from STC herself came across them and posted them on her patterns and ideas page.

And now I’ve had more than enough to do with socks, and will be returning to some other knitting projects. Maybe. I might go easy on the knitting for a while; I’ve been getting some pain in my left thumb that I can’t quite explain, except that knitting, metalsmithing, and moving 10-pound files around at work all day probably had a lot to do with it.

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Another One Off the Bench

copper domes leaf

I’ve been playing around with this one for a while. How long is a while? Well . . .

textures

I made those domes over a year ago, but couldn’t figure out what to do with them. I still have a few more, in various sizes, made from copper that was passed through the rolling mill with a sheet of cardstock that had leaf shapes punched out of it.

Playing around with them a couple months ago, I discovered I liked the look of one dome inside a larger dome, a little off-center . . . but how to join them? I almost went for riveting, but I didn’t want a rivet head sticking up out of the top, messing up the pattern. Then I thought of prongs. So I drilled some holes in one of the large domes I had, and soldered in some wires . . . crookedly.

copper domes oops

Yeah, that’s not going to work for what I had in mind. If I ever have a cabochon that’s just the right size, however, I may revisit this.

So that leaves soldering. And because soldering two things together with an air pocket between in the presence of wet flux can cause the world’s tiniest scary explosion (it’s true), I learned a fancy way of incorporating little steam release holes.

copper domes practice

I used a triangular file to carve out some nicks on the edge of this practice dome, then applied the same idea to the real one.

And then the soldering, which I have no picture of. For the most part, I soldered evenly with only a few blorps (the trick is to keep that bottom dome hot so the solder doesn’t creep upward too much), and then I was able to solder the bail on with a minimum of fuss, although it’s not 100% the design I had in mind–another day, another project, perhaps. It’s adequate, and I like it. Now to copper-plate the telltale silver traces by throwing the piece in the pickle with a bit of iron binding wire. Ha ha, the miracles of science!

That left me with a really dull orangey surface. I cleaned it up a bit with some radial bristle discs, and dumped the pieced in some liver of sulfur in the hopes of getting a vibrant patina.

I dipped once. I dipped twice. I left it in there a while. And . . . well . . . meh. The next day, I took a power stripper to it. Seriously. Bob tipped me off to this one. You get a heat gun like the kind you get at the hardware store to take the tiles off your basement floor (gee, sounds like something I have experience in . . . ) and blow it at your piece until you get a cool patina. And cool I got–I didn’t expect a sort of iridescent purple, but that’s what I ended up with.

And now I have less than a week to finish up my State Fair project before turning it in. Plus I have to write a bio. Ugh. Maybe I’ll go procrastinate some more . . .

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Labradorite Pendant, and a Couple Castings

Jeez, this may be the most . . . beautiful thing I’ve ever made.

labpend

Labradorite is one of my all-time favorite stones, so when I found this little teardrop at the local bead store, I snapped it up.

Getting to work on it, however, was a bit of a challenge. I keep wanting to do something Artsy and Different and Postmodern, but then I choose gorgeous stones that really don’t need all that. Clearly the design I ended up with is a typical pretty princess necklace, but . . ? I like it.

Here’s the lowdown on my process and some nice new mistakes (oh boy!) I hope never to repeat again.

lab1

Here, right off the bat, is my backing, with a swirl cut out of it. This (1) makes things more interesting; (2) makes test setting the stone easier, as I can poke it back out with a tool; and (3) was a dumb, dumb thing to do before soldering on the bezel and everything. I nearly melted the center of the swirl getting the bezel on; fortunately, I soon realized that placing a few bits of pumice over it during subsequent solderings was a good way to protect it from too much heat. So there’s that.

lab2

Next, I agonized over how to decorate the thing. I had planned to have silver danglies all hippie-like from the bottom, but somehow neglected to leave enough room to do it properly. I poked around my tin of scraps to see what might look good where, and came upon a twisted piece of silver wire. The gauge (14) was too thick, but no matter: I made another in 16 gauge. Soldering this on was a bit of a bear; I got solder blorps galore (note to self: practice stick soldering on scrap, not a real piece, especially when you’ve been told the tank on the torch you’re using has a somewhat messed-up regulator.) I also seem to have made the twisty piece just a touch too large–not terribly obvious, but I know one side could have been better. Ugh, I always know–too late.

The bail is on just, just slightly off center because that’s where it wanted to snap on tight over the twist. Screw it, said I. It’s secure there and unlikely to shift around during soldering–and it didn’t.

Now the stone. This is the weird part, because my bezel was initially too small, and I had to stretch it out on the ring mandrel a bit. Got it right but still snug. Soldered it on, tested the stone a couple times along the way, and . . . found it just a bit loose upon final setting. It actually rattles a little. I think this may be due to either the metal expanding a bit from all that soldering (does that happen?) or else it’s just a matter of the cut of the stone being a bit irregular around the edges, which it is. It’s secure, it won’t fall out, but it annoyed me–and so I pried up the center of the swirl, popped a little epoxy under there, and clamped it down again. No more rattle.

Speaking of that swirl, though, check this out.

lab3

Neat, huh?

So the other big thing I’ve been up to is a casting project. Actually, three casting projects in one. I’ve alluded to them before, and there are two rings in one of the pictures above that used to look like this:

4casts1

This (on the left) is a pair of commercially made wax rings from the studio. Someone donated a ton of these years ago, and anyone who wants to cast one or two or whatever can. These two fit and I liked them, so what the hell, because I also wanted to cast some magnolia seeds (on the right) from my back yard, just to see if it would work. It did.

castingsHere’s my “tree” of all the pieces ready for the casting flask . . . 

 

4castings. . . and here they are afterward, needing a cleaning.

castring1This one’s my favorite . . . kind of a nest . . . maybe I’ll cast some tiny brass wasps and solder them on?

castring2Bob joked that I should set 1 point diamonds in all the holes, because that’s what they’re for. Ha ha. If I could find a mix of color cubic zirconias in that size, I might actually try it someday, because that might be cute. For now, though, I need to try “thrumming”–loading up a string with red rouge and polishing out all those tiny holes with it.

castmag1And my magnolia seeds . . . what to do with them? Maybe I’ll decide after I clean them up some more.

Now I have one class period left to go next week, and I’m not sure what to work on, so I’d better go figure it out.

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I’m Happy, Hope You’re Happy Too

Last weekend I decided to finally work out a pendant idea I had for a long time. It’s not done–I’ve encountered a problem I haven’t figured out how to solve yet–but I did get an unexpected bonus out of it.

bowiesawing

Here I am sawing the world’s tiniest David Bowie tribute out of the back of it for fun. The resulting hole wasn’t anything special, but I DID like the tiny tiny lightning bolt cutout, which I immediately decided needed to be sweat soldered onto a bit of silver and made into a pendant.

The sweat soldering went just awesomely. I’ve gotten better at figuring out how much solder to use, and how to chase it around the edge of the top piece when it’s flowing to ensure the proper bond all around. So that made me happy.

bowieshinyShiny is nice, but is it interesting?

Next I installed and closed a jump ring, then polished up the silver disc as much as I could with 3M wheels, and then came the black max.

bowitribute

The black max with ground-off stars (I used a tiny ball bur) is something I confess I saw on Pinterest somewhere. It’s an interesting idea I wanted to try in person. In truth, it’s not the greatest surface treatment: it doesn’t provide a true black, but comes off rather like when you try to cover a white piece of paper with a slightly dried-out old marker (at least on smooth metal; I bet a sandpaper texture from the rolling mill would do better.) It also looks a bit lighter where there’s solder. I like it well enough for this project, which I definitely wanted a little rough, you know, but in future I think this kind of thing really does work best in small, recessed areas where the light won’t really hit–as it was intended for. And indeed, I have earring ideas . . . but for another day.

In the end, the stars are not perfect. They’re not spaced quite as I’d have liked. But they’re random and chaotic. And I love the whole damn thing.

______________________

Casting teaser #2: well, here it is out of the casting machine . . .

4castings

 

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Go Fish

I can’t believe this is finally done.

koiandsword

So I started talking about this way back in September (Way back? Seems a lot longer ago than it really was) and, obviously, I’ve worked it out since then, one frustrating but ultimately rewarding step at a time. To recap:

Here’s an impression of the koi design from the hilt of this sword–in gold-colored Sculpey.

koi1

I made this mold nearly a decade ago, with the intent of pressing another piece of gold clay into it to make a pendant. It worked, but looked like a plastic piece of crap (and I can’t find it to show you anyway.) So I squirreled it away somewhere and didn’t think about it again until I was looking for a new casting project to attempt. BINGO.

koiflask

I know this is a lame photo (and kind of looks like lungs, no?) But it’s the result of multiple attempts to get a perfecty-perfect wax mold from the Sculpey (which is not the world’s greatest material for this. I’d have been better off getting some flexible silicone mold making material.) For a while there I was obsessing, making more Sculpey molds, each more disappointing than the last, and then making wax mold after wax mold until Bob caught me at it and told me to just sprue a couple of them up, already, and see what I’ve got. Yeah. I needed that.

koicast

And here they are after cleaning and cutting off the sprues. Bob was impressed–I think he had low expectations. I was depressed–I had higher ones, and a vision of really nice, even, crisp-edged ovals. Well, maybe I could have done that . . . maybe I still could, if I improve at this stuff. But in time, I came to like what I got, especially the bottom one. The top has a funny wax-blorp upper left corner that I may work on with diamond-plated burs and/or engraving tools. Maybe I’ll make a bracelet with it . . . but that’s another day.

koirim

Now for the setting in a wire rim. This turned out to be more of a challenge than I expected, because I made An Amateur Mistake. Before I sprued up the molds, I ought to have run the backs over a file a couple times to smooth them out, nice and even. Did I? No. They were wavy and blobby. So I had to file them down in metal form. I went back and forth from the lathe, and it its big old sanding disk, to a 12-inch bastard file, over a period of an hour and a half to get the back flat. Not how I want to spend class time, but it was my own fault, and definitely the kind of mistake you make once and never make again. And in the end the back was flat and smooth, so THERE.

Setting was not too hard. I put some yellow ochre on the fish just in case the solder wanted to blorp up there and ruin the details, flipped it, and soldered the wire rim on from the back. Then I had to get the bail on–always tough for me when it’s a tiny bail on a big chunk of metal, because the bail always gets hot first and the solder jumps up on it instead of joining the two parts. The trick is to keep the torch on the big part and try not to directly heat the little–took a few tries, but I got it. The only real problem, in the end, was that I seemed to lose some solder from the join at the bottom of the wire rim. I think, with all the heating and reheating, it flowed again a little . . . and away from the edge. Grrr. I’m not going to futz with it, though.

So, a little Black Max and into the polisher it went–but that took off more of the black than I wanted and left a shiny grayness that didn’t really show off the design (I liked it best just after casting, a bit dull and with a perfect black fire scale.) Had to bring it in again after cleaning up a little solder blorpiness on the back at home, and painted the blacking stuff on the front again. Buffed off some detail, and finally! It’s done.

Done, and ready for a teacher/student exhibition  that goes live tomorrow. It’s not my very favorite piece, and I might have preferred to submit something that was totally my own design and not an impression literally copied from something else, but for the theme of the exhibit, I needed something that had to do with Bob’s help and influence. And this definitely, definitely fit that bill because I needed his advice every step of the way.

And now I can’t wait to see it in the gallery!

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Micro Mosaic Part 1: The Metal

I have finally finished am still working on my micro mosaic necklace. (See what happens when I write drafts? They don’t come true.)

I was really bent on getting it right after my problems with the mosaic ring, so I took my time on it. I’ve got a lot to say about the epoxy and beads and glue, but for today let’s just get to the silver.

mosaicpendantemptyThe setting, with the first of many rejected mosaic designs.

 

This whole thing started out as something completely different.

lapisset1

Last year I made a square wire setting for this stone, taking care to make nice corner cuts to get 90 degree angles. Eventually I realized how poorly cut some of the facets on the face of this stone were, and that a simple setting would only enhance that problem, so I abandoned the idea.

This left me with a rectangle I could do whatever I wanted with. And after I made that mosaic ring last month and wanted to do a better mosaic project, I turned to that idea again.

mosaic box

On the first day of class this year, I put a back on it. At home, with my new flex shaft, I was able to (relatively) easily grind away the excess and clean up the edges, which was fun.

mosaicboxcleanedge

Now for tricky business: getting 3/4 jump rings on the corners to attach to chain, and then soldering the jump rings between the corner pieces and the chain pieces (not to mention the jump rings on the clasp parts.) I was terrified of this, but Bob helped me through it. The corner pieces were no problem (yay! I can control fire now!) and the rest was fairly simple through the use of super easy paste solder. Now, I’ve been leery of super easy ever since I was taught that it contains cadmium. Well, yes and no. It used to be manufactured that way; these days you can find it without. Anyway, I used very, very little. Bob taught me a neat trick for protecting the chain during this. In the old days, he’d just throw a piece of asbestos (!) over it, but now you can put a piece of honeycomb fire brick on top to keep it relatively cool. Whatever, I didn’t melt a thing, which I consider a personal triumph.

So, I shined everything up, and was left with the hardest part of all. What to put in there.

mosaicdesignstageDoes that top one look like a branch of cherry blossoms to you? Didn’t think so.

These are some design ideas. My earliest design was an abstract pattern of waves in turquoise blue and vermilion, but that really just looked like a colorblindness test, so I scrapped it. Next, I’d have liked to put a cherry blossom branch across it, but I couldn’t get it to work. It just didn’t register as what I wanted it to. More abstract designs and frustration followed. You’ll note I tried to work these patterns out on a piece of tape, taped to a piece of paper (very nice for keeping the beads in place.) Nothing worked until I tried out a landscape with a setting sun over the sea. That wasn’t bad, it registered as a simple landscape, and seemed perfectly do-able. So I did it (carefully!), put in the grout, aaaaand instantly regretted it.

mosaicmark1Meh.

Here’s the problem: Japanese seed beads. They’re too perfect, all the same size and shape. Great for certain types of bead stitching, but not at all visually interesting for a mosaic. If you get them too close together, it’s a problem. If you space them out enough, they look too spaced out. I do have some Czech seed beads that looked good, but they were a bit too large. What I really need to do is get down to the bead shop and buy some teeny-tinies and do this right.

But first: how do I get that mosaic out of there? It’s actually not that hard.

I’ll talk about it next time.

 

 

 

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