Thursday, July 24, 2014

Making Ceramic Beads with Wire Loops

When I find the time to be in the studio and work with my porcelain or chocolate stoneware clay with the intention of making beads, I put on some good music, pull out my tools and sit and hope for no interruptions (which has been quite difficult this summer with kids and a basement room renovation).
Right now I am working on some bead stock for D7 Studio and Thornburg Bead Studio for their bead shows, and Staci Louise for her class at Bead Fest Philly.
I would really love to get some up intop my Etsy shop too...
These are small textured cones I love to make, that are perfect for earrings.
I first roll out my clay, then form a cone shape, which is then textured. 
Once I work through that batch, I insert the small Nichrome wire loop that I have pre-made.
I use memory wire cutters to cut this very hard wire, and my triple step concave jaw pliers to create the "loop".
As I am making these teeny U-shaped loops - which are first cut to 3/4" (19mm) in length, then bent in half, I try to bend the ends of the wire to almost touch itself.
The wire I use is Nichrome Wire, which can withstand the high temperatures (2230 degrees F) that I fire my beads to.

I feel that when you are working with ceramic clay (or polymer clay, paper clay, and other mediums that do not fuse the metal wire to the bead such as silver wire and silver clay fuse to make one piece) it is important to have this bit of wire to cover up - see the gap in the clay where the wire was inserted in the photo below:
That clay is then immediately smoothed over with a rubber tipped detail tool to capture the ends of the wire down into the clay, where it will not wiggle loose or come right out (as it could if it were just a straight U-shape).
It is just one of those teeny extra steps that a bead maker should take to ensure that the bead is of high quality for the jewelry designer and eventual wearer of the bead.
In the photo above you can see some of the shapes of the loops as they are when first formed.
I will make the edges almost touch before putting it into the bead.
And for those people that prefer holes to wire loops, some of the shapes can be skewered by bamboo or other teeny tools.
I make sure to poke it through both sides and tap the edges down to make sure there are no pointy clay pieces that will be annoying later down the line.
They are all put into little bowls, are dried and then fired to Cone 04 or about 2000 degrees F (the bisque firing - they do not fuse together at this stage, so they can be stacked like this) to make them more durable to then paint with ceramic glaze.
The image above is the finished glaze firing load fired to cone 5 or about 2230 degrees F.
Every piece has to suspend individually as to not touch in the firing or else they will fuse together.
And when they are out, I pair them up with their mates (just the way I work - I like to work with the intention of making sets).
If they end up coming out of the glaze firing as a set, that is how I sell them.
Sometimes individuals come out too - but not too often.
One thing I really enjoy about a fresh load of glazed ceramic beads is having them all there so I can pull out other artist beads from my stash and match them up.
I am actually thinking of selling these matched sets - just simply because it is not that easy to color match through online shopping.
This will satisfy my need to shop for artist beads AND allow others to shop with confidence for beads in the same color family...
My Friend Nikki of Thornburg Bead Studio shared this image of her flower beads and my ceramic beads that she quick whipped up with a few jump rings and ear wires!

The design possibilities of using beads with loops is amazing!
Have you tried them yet?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Reason for the Season by Karen McGovern

Working seasonal. I used to hate to hear those words. So my other jewelry designer friends would contact me and ask, "what are you going to make for (insert holiday here)"? I've never been one to create jewelery designs based on a holiday or event. Its just not my style. While I do love the work created by others for holidays, I just could never wrap my brain around sitting down and creating earrings in an American flag pattern. Or tiny snowman pendants, or Easter Bunny bracelets, or whatever else you could think of for holidays. Although once I did make an epic steampunk-ish Peeps pendant based on a bunny shaped marshmallow Peep. That was pretty cool, and I ended up giving it away in a fun online contest.

Anyways, I guess what I believe is that if you're going to make the piece of jewelry around a specific event, it should be something that you really believe in, celebrate deeply, or find fascinating. For me that has been Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos. I am really interested and inspired by this particular holiday and festival. Ocurring beween October 30th and November 3rd, it is a traditional Mexican festival celebrating loved ones who have died. One of the central elements of the festival are sugar skulls. These are highly stylized, elaborately painted and decorated human skulls. They can be made out of just about anything. I found an shop on Etsy, Sweet Treats by Gwen, that sells the most delicious sugar skull sugar cookies I have ever eaten. I get them every year. This particular form of art is really fascinating inspirational to me. Sugar skulls are gaining popularity in the jewelry market as well. Lots of artist are doing them. Stacy Louise creates a beautiful line of copper clay and metal clay sugar skull pendants. You've got to take a look, they are gorgeous! I myself have started to delve into the sugar skull pendant world, and have created several that I'm very pleased with. My take on a sugar skull is to create a simple skull out of copper, aluminum, or brass sheet. I will etch the brass and copper, and texture the aluminum. From there I embelish with whatever I have handy. Steel flowers, lampwork glass, enamel copper discs, dangles and more. I'm really into sugar skulls at the moment, and I'm very happy to say that I will have one published soon. It's a tutorial, I can't say much about it right now, but I will let you know the moment it's available!
Stacie's GORGEOUS sugar skull necklace
A sugar skull pendant I recently created with a bee theme.
The point I'm trying to make is that here is so much more information about the history of holidays out there than we typically think of off the cuff. Christmas brings to mind snowflakes, Christmas trees and snowmen, but what about the winter solstice? Or even Krampus??? The true folklore and history behind many holidays is far more inspirational to me than what we have commercialized in our culture at this moment. So whenever I think of creating a holiday themed jewelry design, I usually take the time to do a bit of research about the true history and folklore behind the holiday. There's so much history and legend behind many of the holidays we celebrate. Thats were the real inspiration resides!

I know its only mid July, but you can't tell me that you're not already realizing that the holiday season is just around the corner. Especially if you are an artist who actually makes their living making art. We all need to capitalize on this time of year and we also want to create meaningful pieces that will go far beyond just simple gift giving. That's why I encourage all of you to do a little bit more research about holidays, find out some unusual festival or celebration that is now, or was historically held at that time. And then do something really creative with it.
An elaborate sugar skull cuff I created last year.
That being said, every year for Thanksgiving my family holds a hand turkey contest and we all create really amazing crap art! I doubt the finished works will ever hang in the Louvre, but sometimes the front of the fridge makes a far better display than some old museum.
My epic digital hand turkey.  Yes, I used my hand and then added the rest.
I guess what I'm touching on, without getting all preachy, is culture (although I did just post a picture of a giant vampire hand turkey destroying a city...). sometimes I think we forget about culture and history when it comes to holidays. We live in a highly commercialized world and it seems to me that some of the most important holidays have been reduced to really contrived and inelegant elements. Believe it or not, we have a pretty rich history here. It's worth looking into. It's worth transforming and interpreting into some amazing art. I encourage all of you to do it, and I hope to see your holiday art all over the Internets this season.  Do share your interpretations with us!

Friday, July 18, 2014

To wad or not to wad? That is a no-brainer....

by MaryAnn Carroll

Before I write about wadding, I first want to share the process of wood-firing. I spent a good portion of the day today trying to design a banner to put inside our tent when we do shows. I was very impressed with Staci's, which got me motivated. We (Bill and I) had talked about having something to explain the process of wood-firing. We want to hang it in our booth when we do shows. Many (I wouldn't have either) really don't know the difference between clay bodies and the many ways that they are fired. If you are interested in learning more, Marsha gives a great overview in this post.

Hopefully, you can see the pictures and captions. As luck would have it, I was not able to use this design. I worked with Jeff at Lexiprint who was very helpful and willing to work with my pictures to make it work.  I'm a little persistent when it comes to certain things, so I wanted to see it through to the end myself, even though I knew that I wasted hours prior and had to start all over again! I used the website's format and designed something similar.

So, what is wadding? Wadding comes in many forms.... You've got your wad of gum that someone spits on the ground for some bystander to step on. You've got your wad of cash that I never seem to have.  And as I was pressing Bill for more ideas about what we have wads of, he said, "I have a wad of headaches that I always get from my wife for asking too many questions!" HA!!!!

The wad I am going to tell you about is necessary when it comes to wood-firing. They are made from fire clay (does not melt) mixed with hay.

Most wood-fire artists like to get the glaze to mix with ash deposits and runs (melting glaze and ash) to add to the look. With that, you stand the risk of the glaze running right onto the shelf. You can see from the bottom of these tumblers what can happen and how the wads saved these from sticking to the shelf.

This isn't the best picture, but you can see that my bead trees have wadding underneath them too. That is because ash is flying all over the kiln. The potential for ash to land on the bead trees, melt and stick to the shelf is pretty good. When I fire in my electric kiln I don't use wadding with my bead trees. There is no need to.

That leads me into a problem that I had when trying to get my experimental cone six porcelain from the chamber at the base of the chimney. I gently placed them in an area that is subject to falling debris from inside the chimney. There are four flues that lead from the main kiln to the chimney. I had three trees that I placed right behind them. This is the 2nd time we have tried experimenting with this, since it gets hot back there, but not as hot as inside the kiln. We guess it to be around 2200 degrees in the back. With our experimenting, mostly, the results have been pretty cool, but some not so much so. I haven't had any debris hit them, so that's good, right?

As I said, this group was in the back chamber. Two of my bead racks came right out, but I didn't notice that the wadding stayed in when I removed them. That's not typical. The wadding mostly comes off with the piece it was glued to. When I reached in to pull out the 3rd bead tree, it didn't budge! Bill, right away, figured I didn't put wadding on. I was insistent that I did! Upon closer examing, I realized that the bead tree was melted to the floor.

And upon even further examination, I noticed that the flame must have come roaring through melting everything melt-able in its path. It reminds me of what hardened rock would be after a volcanic explosion. If you look closely, you can see the floor difference behind that center flue. It's crazy! The wadding is hidden under the melted rock.

Do you see those four wads in the front? Fortunately, that bead tree came off. The only way the other is getting out of there is with a hammer.

So, next time.... I am using big HUGE wads!

On another note, there were some of my beads INSIDE the actual kiln.....

There is one bead tree to the far left on the 3rd shelf.

The others were in the back of the kiln on the top shelf.

I think you can see why wood-fired beads are rare.  Here are a few pictures of those that had prime seating. These were fired to almost 2400 degrees.

If you would like to learn more about how this kiln was built you can check that out HERE. 

Before I close up for today, the picture below is for the other banner we are making. We only have room for a 2 x 2, but this will be going in front of our tent on a very short easel. I also sell jewelry at the shows, but do not have nearly enough for a booth. I just take up a small section in the front and back, but the booth is mostly wood-fired pottery.

You can see more wood-firing on our facebook page.

When going to shows, what kinds of things attract you to certain booths over others?

Lastly, I would like to thank you for supporting artists who create handmade with handmade AND for attending the shows that many make a living from.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

What Makes a Succesful Show?

by Staci Louise Smith

I am sure there are a million posts out there on this topic.  If you wonder why, its because there are a million answers to that question.  And all of us who do shows, learn something new each time we do one. 

Today I will touch on one or two things that I think go into a successful show.

I happened to be at a show over the weekend.  I have been doing this show for 9 years- its simply one of my favorites.  I am always working on my display- every year I change it up a bit...though I really have it quite how I like it now.  So the last few years it hasn't varied very much.  

Last years booth with last years banner

One of my more recent additions was a larger banner that went across the front of my table.  A lot of vendors had them at Bead Fest last year, and Karen Totten's of Starry Road Studio caught my eye.  It showed a very clear sample of her work and really stood out.  I liked how she had individual pictures of her beads on it.

Karen with her banner at set up- note the ones also hanging in the back
Her daughter Nellie also had one in a rainbow of wooly wire

So this year I made a new banner for my jewelry shows, and thought I'd do something similar.  Rather then just show one piece on it (like I had the other year), I could give a better idea of my scope of work with a few pictures.  

Now, if you have done art and craft shows you know that there are always a lot of jewelry vendors.  I mean, a lot.  You really have to stand out, to ensure that the jewelry fans come to check out your booth.  

Well, I had a customer tell me that my banner drew her in from across the way.  She loved that she could see exactly what my style was (which was right up her alley) and it made her come to see what I had.  Otherwise, she wouldn't have stopped in.  She went on to buy some great pieces too.  I really loved that she took time to share that with me.  So I thought I would share it with all of you.  

Another tip is to make sure your business cards have a picture of what you do.  Your customers may pick up 10 or more at a show.  You want them to remember yours at a glance, and why they picked it up.  They should be able to look at it and know exactly what you do.  Below is my jewelry show card.

After all, artists, people who love art, we are visual folks.  Pictures are important.  

I had planned to write about the next tip because it came up with a fellow artist at the show.  When  it came up on Facebook in a bead and jewelry group again, I thought I would definitely write about it. It pertains to allowing customers take pictures at a show.  The question was whether you allow it, and why or why not...and, if you'd consider signage to discourage pictures.  I think it wound up being a great discussion.  It is a very hard thing as an artist, to know that someone may be out to try to make what you made.  Whether it is for themselves (rather then buying it from you) or the to make it sell, and be your competition. 

This is Cori Krewson-Catlow's mom running her booth- she had such a great way with people!  Look at that crowd!

Here is my take on it, and I have been doing shows a long time.  

If someone plans to copy you, they will do it, whether you allow them to take a picture or not.  If you are selling online, you already gave them pictures of your work.  

Though it does happen that some people copy, and then go on to sell at the same venue as you (and I am not discounting how much this sucks- believe me, I am sure that it is a horrible thing to have happen!)....but this post is not about copying, its about selling.

Here is Barb Bechtel at a show, look how enthusiastic she is!  I love her energy.

At the end of the day, you cannot practice defensive sales techniques.  As a customer, if I walked into a booth that had a sign saying "no pictures please" I'd walk right out.  Let's face it, it comes across as closed off.  Instead, I encourage you to talk about your pieces.  Talk about how you make them.  Engage the person to talk about what they like about the piece.  You may find yourself in a delightful conversation about color, or texture, or gemstones.  You may find they want to show it to their mom.  I have even had women shop for friends this way, and come back and buy things after their friends texted back that they wanted them. 

Mary-Lynne Moffat with some customers in her booth.  Mary-Lynne is so wonderful at talking about her art.  Her passion comes shining through when she speaks of her creations!

 If you are afraid that every customer that comes into your booth is going to rip you off somehow, it will show through in your attitude.  No one wants to spend time and money on someone who is closed off.  What makes us different then chain stores and factory made goods, is that what we make is part of who we are, and our customers get the opportunity to meet us and hear about what makes us tick, and why we did what we did on the piece.....ect.....  

Chris Kaitlyn helping a customer find what they are looking for

So my advice- talk!!!!  Talk about why they like the piece they photographed.  Talk about your process, the materials, how you make it. It will draw people in.  They will appreciate your pieces more when they know what went into them, and even more, when they see YOU in them.  I have gotten crowds in my booth explaining how to use bronze clay, or do etching with electricity.  I have had men stay for 20 minutes talking about fossils, and made friends over sea glass discussions.  Will every conversation result in a sale?  NO.  But it may bring them back in.  Or, someone who IS interested in buying but may be shy, may hear about your pieces and buy one because they learned something new.

Customer can easily become friends- Laura Blanck (center) posing with some great customers at a show

Why do you think galleries have a "meet the artist" night?  People want to meet the person who creates the art.  They want to know what makes them tick.  It becomes part of the pieces themselves.

These are just some things I have learned.  I admit, I am a people person- I know not everyone is, but I was shy at first too.  It was hard to find that comfort zone to talk about my work.  When I started to relax, and just think of it as an opportunity to meet creative people, and thought of these people as potential friends with common interests, it came more naturally.  In the end, I have made lot of friends at shows.  I have found customers whom I LOVE seeing. I love to catch up on what is new with them, learn what they have been up to, see what other artists they are into, and on and on.   

I have found such joy sharing my craft, not just the actual pieces, but the passion I have for it as well.  

I hope that you can too.  Don't worry about what could happen, just enjoy what you are doing.  That will shine through, and your customers will get to see you.....really see the honest you....and it will only help you make connections. 

Everyone has their thoughts on allowing pictures, and these are just mine.  I was an art show customer for many years before I sold there, and I know how I'd like to be treated, and what drew me to certain artists, and what turned me off.  This is all just some food for thought.
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