Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pearl & Vine

For the piece seen above, Pearl & Vine, a wild cucumber pod was "slip-dipped" in the milk thin metal clay paste described in earlier posts.  This process is both slow and messy, but does produce delicately detailed results.  
The wild cucumber is a vining native annual that is in the cucumber family, but not actually edible.   It has some resemblance to the cultivated cucumber as it grows oblong on the vine, but the spiny fruits ripen to a brown color and burst to eject its seeds for next season.  Left behind to dry are complex layered pods.  These encapsulated forms have hidden chambers revealed through their lace-like paper thin layers, allowing light to pass through.  They are reminiscent of the sort of images found in Ernst Haeckel's Art Forms in Nature prints from the late 1800s (image below).  For this piece, fine silver wire was set into the pasted pod.  Once fired, green freshwater pearls were set on the wire, mimicking its color origins.  This distinct piece clings to the sterling silver neck ring, echoing its once wild ambitions.

Ernst Haeckel

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Paste On!

This week saw more experimenting with the pasting method I described last week. By keeping the paste the consistency of cream and continuing to focus on this notion of porcelain "slip-dipping", more possibilities arose. Below is an image of one of the lacey pods cut apart and individually dipped. As they dried on the mug warmer (also pictured below), I began reassembling them and kept the small nugget shaped piece in a measuring spoon to maintain its rounded form. Once it's form had been determined, I added a small 4mm CZ to create a focal point and filed two of the openings large enough to pass a neck chain through. When I fired this piece it was on a fiber blanket to support its form. The finished piece is a Fine Silver Pendant set with a CZ and given a patina using liver of sulfur. Before setting it on a sterling silver snake chain, the final addition was purple silver plated wire woven through the voids in a pattern following the path of least resistance.  You can check out the finished piece above.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pasting Organic Forms in Metal Clay

It's fall in New England, so all around me I am witnessing the natural world prepare for its long Winter's nap.  What I am most drawn to are these dry, lace-like pods that litter the ground.  They have burst and shriveled, after laying the seeds for next year.  I find it hard to resist collecting them, their complex cavities offer so much on such a small level.  

Dried Fall Pods

Building Up the Paste
Working with metal clay, pasting is often a one-dimensional endeavor.  You paint the metal paste on an object in order to fire it and be left with the side that was in contact with the texture, but nothing from the side you built up.  How could I capture the intricacies of this incredible little object?  They are so fragile that making a mold seemed futile and out of the question.  Having been inspired by the porcelain work of my good friend Erica Nickol, I thought why not dip it?  What if the metal clay paste was so thin it could saturate the pod and slowly build up in layers?  So I began experimenting with the silver clay paste and found that the consistency of half and half was just right.  Mixing a single gram of paste with just enough water for it to become a flowing liquid.  The piece had to be hung (over a bowl to capture and recycle drippings) and dry between each layer.  This is the sort of project best done on the side while each layer slowly builds up.  There will come a point where the layers are thick enough that the piece holds its form when saturated and that's the sign to paint on two or three layers of the regular thickness of paste and be done.  The piece below was set with a clear 4mm CZ before firing.  After being tumbled, I gave it a gray patina with liver of sulfur and wrapped it with silver plated colored wire as an accent  Firing the piece on a fiber blanket served as enough of a "pillow" to hold its form.  Check out the final piece above!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Little Bit of Her-story...

The Shift: Discovering Metal Clay...

I have worked with metal for as long as I can remember.  I took my first sculpture and welding class in college, which happened to be in the morning.  This meant there were many days I showed up to my afternoon lecture class covered in soot and looking a disaster.  Metal was big and it was strong and it was something to wrestle with.  I began combing the etching practices I was using in printmaking to create intricate details on the surface of my copper sculptures.

Years later, when an opportunity to teach sculpture arose, I was asked if I could also teach a small metals class in jewelry.  I thought "sure, it's just very small sculpture".  Needless to say, there was a bit of a learning curve when it came to scaling back with the torch.  There were many jewelry casualties that first year as I learned that very small metal melts very quickly!  Overall, my students found much success, one from that first year even going on to get her BFA in Jewelry and Metalsmithing.  Little did I realize it almost a decade ago, but opening up my practice to jewelry design would shift my perspective on sculptural forms.

Another major shift for me occurred last year when I took a metal clay workshop with Master Teacher Lis-el Crowley.  The Fine Silver piece I created (pictured above) sparked my interest with the endless possibilities of this contemporary material.  For those new to metal clay, you can find it in both fine and base metals.  Finely ground metal is mixed with organic binders in order to work with it in a clay-like state, it is then fired in a kiln to burn off the binder leaving only the metal.  I was so enamored with the possibilities of this material for my students (and myself), that I went on to earn my Level One Instructor Certification in Art Clay Silver and haven't put it down since.