Thursday, January 26, 2012

Doing Good

Last week I heard an inspiring story . Christian Kongawi, who lives in my hometown of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, was putting together a fundraiser including a dinner, concert, and silent auction to help him in his quest to build a school in the Congo. His personal stake in this endeavour? His family is Congolese and his parents sent him to Canada as a ten-year-old boy to spare their son the strife of that very conflict-ridden area of the world. After his move to Canada, Christian's village, Gemena, was attacked and the school there was damaged. Christian is now 25 years old, and his plan is to return to Gemena and rebuild his school and help the community.

This is a huge undertaking, and one he has been planning for a long time. I can't really even imagine the determination and guts required to pull an idea like this together, and I was really inspired by his dedication. I wondered if there was something, however small, that I could do to help out. The words "silent auction" popped out at me, and there was my idea. I would make a necklace and donate it to the cause. I had a few days to do it, but I knew my motivation could drive me to get it done.

Ta-da! Now I can only cross my fingers and hope that some kind soul likes it enough to place a generous bid for the kids of Gemena!

I bow to the motivation and determination of people like Christian, who have a clear idea of what it would take to make something in this world better, and who find the energy to make a plan and carry it through. I understood a little bit about the source of this motivation when I sat down to make this piece of jewellery. Normally when I'm working on a commissioned piece, my motivation comes from my joy of crafting, but it's tempered by time constraints and by knowing that, above all else, I'm crafting for money. I'm lucky to do what I love, and it's wrong to complain about it. But when I was making this necklace, I felt a much purer motivation, one that was seemingly inexhaustible. I sat at my bench with joy, just knowing I was going to give a small piece of myself to a much larger and more important cause than "me".

Good luck, Christian!!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

More Adventures in Enameling - Pagoda Pendant Tutorial

I decided to try using adhesive plastic stencils that I picked up from the dollarama to apply a design in enamel to a pendant. I just designed the pendant as I went along, so there was no sketching or planning process - I just let the creativity flow! It's fairly easy to do with a few basic metalsmithing techniques, so I've documented the process and outlined it here if you wish to do something similar.

I always make sure I'm wearing a good particulate mask when I'm sifting enamel. Trust me, you don't want to get silicosis . If you were a smoker and decided to quit today, your lungs would immediately begin to heal themselves. Inhaling glass is something your lungs can't really recover from. Be safe! (And that mask is pretty cute, too, isn't it!)

Here is my one-dollar sticker from the dollarama. I'm extremely happy I picked these stencils up, even though I wasn't sure what i was going to do with them at the time. You can make your own stencil if you want - just cut your negative space from paper with a craft knife or paper punches, and use Klyr fire to "glue" your stencil down before you sift your enamel on.

After washing my copper rectangle so that water flowed over it in a sheet and didn't ball up anywhere or pull away from the edges, I applied klyr-fire, sifted counter enamel over the piece, set it on top of the kiln to dry, then fired it until the glass flowed. I did another layer of counter enamel and two layers of black enamel on the right side of the piece before I applied my sticker. I left a little tab at the top of the sticker when I trimmed it to size so that I'd be able to easily remove it. Don't be tempted to skip the counter-enameling. Your piece will likely warp or crack if you don't have relatively equal amounts of enamel on both sides.

I brushed Klyr fire over the black parts that were showing through the stencil (if you've made your own stencil, there is already organic binder on the piece) and sifted blue enamel over the entire rectangle. I turned the piece upside-down and gently pulled the stencil off. Some blue enamel flaked onto the black spaces in between the design, but I simply brushed those off with a damp, fine artist's brush. I was surprised how little cleaning up I had to do after the sticker came off. I let the piece dry, and then fired it in the kiln.

It looks pretty good! That was considerably easier than I expected it to be. Next I had to make a setting for the enamel.

I decided to go with a fairly basic bezel shape, with the intention of possibly adding embellishments. I had some silver-filled sheet that I was eager to try working with, so I cut a rectangle the same size as my enamel, and bent some fine silver bezel wire to fit around the outside of the base. This is the hard way to make a bezel. Typically I would fit the bezel wire around the enamel, then solder it on top of the metal sheet before I cut the sheet out - but I didn't want the line of brass from the silver-filled sheet to be visible around the side of the bezel, so I had to cover the edges with the bezel wire. This requires a pretty tight fit and a bit of a finicky soldering job, but I got it done!

After soldering and pickling my bezel, I realized that it was boring. I decided to replicate a part of the enamel design on the back of the bezel and pierce it out. It was fun to design this piece on the fly and to make decisions about the design spontaneously. Normally I sketch things out and have a pretty good idea what I want to do before I start, but it's nice to work with only a nebulous beginning sometimes.

I like asian-themed design, and it seemed appropriate for this piece to have an arrangement of wires with a pagoda look on top of the pendant. Soldering these in place was a bit difficult because I was using only a small torch, and the entire piece needs to be heated at the same time for solder to join properly - the large bezel likes to steal heat away from the thin wires at the top. I switched from my creme brulee torch to the propane fat boy and was able to accomplish the soldering with only a few minor glitches.

I did take a few pictures of the fabrication of the bail, but they turned out blurry, so I'll have to do a separate tutorial for bails sometime in the future. I applied a finish that is a bit rough by using emery paper in small circles on the back of the bezel, and in straight lines for the wires, bail, and bezel walls. Placing the enamel in the bezel, I noticed that the counter enamel was not a very nice colour, and since I had sawn the design into the back, the counter enamel was showing through. I decided to put one last coat of enamel on the backside of the piece in black. Then the enamel was ready to set! I used a bezel roller to close it up nice and tightly and then I burnished the edges so they were close around the enamel.

I like it when the back of the piece has a little something extra. It's like a happy little secret for the wearer!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

It's All Practice

Inspired by a recent tutorial in Art Jewelry magazine written by Lillian Jones, I decided to do some cloisonne enameling. Enameling was my favourite elective when I was in art school, and cloisonne is one of the most striking enamel techniques. But wait! I haven't done any cloisonne since I finished school. Should be a cinch, right? I needed some preparation!

First: I make a trip to the library to check out The Art of Enameling by Linda Darty. It's an awesome primer for enameling that I remembered reading when I was in school. I took the book to a sushi restaurant and boned up on my technique while sipping my miso soup. Mmmmm!

Second: Dive in. I fired up my beehive kiln (I LOVE my beehive kiln!), chose my enamel colours, punched out some copper discs with my disc cutter, domed them with my dapping set, drilled holes so I could hang my samples later, and counter-enameled the backs of my discs. So far, so good!

I hit my first snag when I tried to emboss a nice pattern into my fine silver foil. The pattern appeared when I rubbed it on a patterned brass sheet, but the design flattened considerably when I glued it to the copper with klyr-fire. Presumably my silver foil is thinner gauge than I should be using if I want to keep a nice pattern. It still looked nice, so I kept going.

Next I laid out my cloisonne wires. This is fun, meticulous, and meditative. If you have somewhere to go or something else you need to get done today, don't do cloisonne enameling! You need to feel like you can take your time, so do it on a Sunday or on your day off. It took me a while to get them laid out. I glued them down as I went along with klyr-fire, but it's tricky at times. I soon got the knack. I was working freehand - next time I will design and follow a pattern.

I dropped my piece when I got it near my kiln. Wires flew everywhere. I may have said a few blue words, and right at this moment, my boyfriend got out of bed and approached me for some sort of snuggle or something. I told him to get lost! He sulked and went back to bed. But I digress.

It didn't take long to get the wires glued back down and fired to the piece. Then I began the work of filling in the cells with enamel. Ok, I forgot to wash my enamel. I was so excited to begin that I just started without washing the colours like you are supposed to. It worked out fine until my second or third firing. I was using a small plastic palette for my enamels, and Saskatchewan is very dry and the air here is staticky. What this means for my enamel is that small particles jumped up and into other colours when I scooped them into the palette, just before I wet them with water and klyr-fire. So my transparent colours are a little contaminated with black speckles. Yuck. Lesson learned: next time I'm going to buy shot glasses from the dollar store and keep each colour separate (and clean them well before I start working with them!)

When I had built up the enamel to the height of the wires, It was time to stone the wires down with an alundum stone. I had to stone so much down around the tips of the petals that I lost most of the enamel from those areas! This is a design flaw. I should have made my disc larger or my flower smaller, or I could have bent my cloisonne wires better so that they fit the deep curve of the dapped disc better. This last option was the one I chose for my second try, and It worked a lot better.

I made my final mistake when I put a "clear" coat of enamel over the entire piece. The clear didn't turn out to be very clear at all, but an ugly, milky colour. (I know, I should have washed it - the lesson has been learned!) I also covered up the hole with enamel. At this point I'm realizing that I am NOT a pro. My alundum stone gets a mighty workout as I grind the top layer off, then I use a diamond bit to burr out the hole. I fire the piece one last time to bring it back up to a nice, smooth shine, and voila! I have done it.

Now, with the lessons I have learned from this fumbling enamel excursion, I tried another flower - a blue one. The second sampler worked out better than the first, which gives me a satisfying feeling of progress. I didn't want to just hang the samples on the wall, so I made some wire connectors and a bail and created a pretty little pendant.

I did get a little angry with myself because I expected to be amazing right out of the gate, but at the end, I had to remind myself that everything I do is just practice for other things I'm going to do. The more practice, the better those future things are going to turn out.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

I Do My Best Thinking While Walking

I don't really believe that the mind and the body are two separate entities, so it makes sense to me that my mind is most active when my body is moving. Sometimes I have huge epiphanies when I'm out for a walk. I can work out issues and plan my day, my week, or even my distant imagined future. Physical activity gives me energy, clarity, and confidence.

When I decide to write, or play music, or create art, unfortunately, this great energy wanes and I'm left listless and unmotivated in comparison. It's a strange coming-down that coffee and jumping jacks can only go so far to fix. I try to keep the mind active, but it seems the moment I stop moving, I start to power down quickly and my grand ideas fly out the window before I can catch them.

When I was doing yoga several times a week, I was practicing control over and respect for my body and mind. When I was out of yoga class and in stressful situations, I was happy to learn that yoga, and the concurrent state of mind and body that I attained from the excercises, was always accessible to me. I find myself going back to these lessons and techniques often.

I resolve to harness the energy I gain from my physical pursuits and learn to return to that physical and mental state whenever I need a boost. It's within my reach and I know I can do it.

Now, to work....