Friday, February 27, 2009

Merry Go Round - explain how you do your art/craft

It's time for another ride on the merry-go-round! Jump on and join a group of artists/crafts-women as they link around the world and tell you a little about their lives in art and craft.

This month's question that myself and 6 other women will answer is " Explain how you do your craft."

To explain how I make my silver, I decided to make a piece and take photographs of the process along the way - better to see than read all my words. As you may have read in yesterday's post, I decided to make a frog for our little "demo".

1. The first stage is choosing the type of metal clay. For this project I used standard precious metal clay. Metal clay is comprised of microscopic particles of silver suspended in a binder which give it the feel of clay. There are two brands of metal clay and within those, the clays have different firing schedules and different shrinkage rates. I like using the "standard" clay best for sculptural pieces - it has a nice feel and good workability. It shrinks about 30% when it goes it in the kiln.

2. So I pull some clay off and start to shape it with my hands. Before starting, I'd looked at some photos online of frogs to get an idea of their anatomy - but as this wasn't an anatomical study, it didn't have to be exact! Other times I will draw a picture of what I'm planning or make a model in polymer clay to try it out. For the frog, I just dived in and started! Here you can see the beginnings of a frog - body, eyes and two front legs with feet.

3. The back legs were actually quite tricky to figure because they fold back on themselves a couple of times a little jiggling with the clay and I gently attach them. At this stage in the photo, everything is still soft clay and very delicate. It starts to dry out quickly so you have to work relatively fast. I think one of the best lessons I ever learned with working with metal clay is that this "wet" shape can be really rough. You just tidy it up when it's dry and firmer. Just get a good outline and don't try to make it perfect right now. For other more standard shape projects I would let each piece dry first and then assemble - for example boxes or houses, but with all the differing angles and shapes on animals and figures, I find assembling it all wet to be the best method.

4. Next, the froggy gets to warm up a little on a coffee mug warmer. This dries him out. Before I work on him again, I want him to be really dry. While a piece like this is drying, I normally start on the "wet" phase of another project - (and drink my coffee as there is no longer room on the warmer for it:-D).

5. Once he is dry, this is now the most time consuming part of the project. As the shape is rough, I then go over the piece and reinforce all the joints and seams and build up the details of the shape where necessary. For this froggie, his knees needed a lot of reinforcement - which is just adding clay and making sure each seam is tight with no holes. He then goes back on the coffee warmer. Once he seems structurally sound, then comes the filing, sanding and perfecting part. I use lots of different things for this, some metal files, some papers, some boards...changing what I use to find things that can fit in the tiny crevices to sand the dry clay down. Whilst the clay is dry, it is still quite delicate. At this stage, I also drilled in his two little pupils for his eyes and set in a bail so that he could hang as a necklace. This photo shows the sanded frog - ready for his next step.

6. Once I make the eyes on a piece, that's when I seem to start talking to my pieces. So now I tell him that he may get a little hot for a while, but it'll all be OK in the end and he'll be a lot stronger. And so little froggie goes into the kiln at 1650 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 hours.....and I keep my fingers crossed. This is the time when the binder part -the clay bit - burns off, and so froggie shrinks and all the tiny silver particles anneal and fuse together.

7. Once out of the kiln, froggie gets a little check over, then a polish, he's dunked in a liver of sulphur solution which adds a black patina to him. The patina is then rubbed off from most parts, but stays in the recessed areas to show the definition, eg his eyes etc. He's polished and at this stage I can leave him shiny or give him a soft brushed finish. As frogs need to stay wet I decided he needed a shiny finish.

8. So he then goes on a chain, and I check that he hangs OK and is comfortable to wear. He then gets a name and in this case, the necklace also got a name. And so Findlay the frog is born. As I was making him, I came up with a name for the necklace as "Stuck on you" - as he will hang with his little 'sticky' feet pads on you! He is also what I would call a "wearer's necklace". Remember those advertisements for BMW's that always said they were "drivers' cars" meaning the real joy is for the driver....??? Well, with this necklace, I think the real joy is for the wearer because as you the wearer look down on the necklace, you see his cute little eyes and smiling face looking up at you!!

Then Findlay gets his photo taken in a few different poses and he starts dreaming of where his new home will be. I think it was at this time that he started his first little frog song - looking for some others to join his chorus........

If you have any questions about the process - do feel free to ask. Happy to tell more or even to ask Findlay any questions.......

More on Findlay and how he got his name and the necklace name tomorrow.

Take a look at how the other artists on the merry go round do their creations.......They will post either today or over the weekend so if you don't see their post - do check back later....


Easterya said...

That was fascinating, you make it look so easy!!!! Love the idea of Findlay's eyes looking up at you when you wear him, that is such a cute detail!! 'Stuck on you', what a hoot... I'm giggling to myself... Fabulous Ruth!!!

meherio68 said...


I want this cutie!

TaylorM said...

You didn't know this, but I have a special thing for frogs. How are you doing?

'fancypicnic' said...

Ruth, that was fascinating - thanks so much for sharing that process! It sounds very time consuming and fiddly, but quite clearly you can only achieve such fabulous results with love, care and extreme attention. I love too, that you reach a point where you connect - talk - to your product...brilliant! xx

Lily Pang said...

So much effort involved. Each piece is so special.

florcita said...

....and still trying to find the time to try this process myself!
Do you wait and make lots of pieces and then fire them all together, or you just make one at a time?? i ask because that I qutie a kiln adn probably quite expensive to run just for one little piece...or not? i was just wondering if you make a whole lotta frogs, or just one at a time :)
Lovely post. Always interesting to see how others work!

Andreanna said...

Wow that is great I love how you start talking to your pieces. I am sure I would do that if I made more animals instead I talk to myself.

Ruth said...

Hi Taylor
Good to see you! And good to read your blogs. Thanks for looking. We miss you.

Ruth said...

I know - I wonder sometimes about talking about when my pieces come alive! My husband tries to get me out of the studio when I say to much about it - but it is always the eyes that do it!
Florcita - I tend to just make one of a kind at any one time - but while he's drying I make another design. I rarely fire anything alone - but actually each firing only costs about 40c in electricity.
Thanks for all your comments.

Sara's Texture Crafts said...

I've always wanted to know how you do it and here is it. I love that it's so techincal, it makes every piece that much more special to know how much attention and love it's had in it's creation.

Sara x

Beaded Zen said...

You make it look so easy but I know it's not. Thanks for sharing.