Monday, December 30, 2013

Metal Clay Monday - Failures and Successes

I thought I would give you guys a peek into the craziness that has been my life the last couple of weeks.  I have been busy, busy, busy making jewelry for the family, and I had some awful failures and sweet successes.  I can hardly believe that I have used almost three 200 gram packs of BronzClay and made jewelry for 23 friends and family members.  I have cried, thrown in the towel, picked the towel back up, and came back from my failures to feel almost like a pro.  I have a ritual, I know my clay, I love the feel of it, I love the smell of Badger Balm.  I have stayed up all night long on at least three occasions running my kiln (I am afraid to run it while I sleep - I have two young ones an a wonderful hubby so it is not worth any measure of risk) so I could make last minute gifts.  What's crazy is that I hope my life is just as crazy after Christmas.  I will be running this jewelry business part time to bring in extra income, and I hope to do this much volume all the time.  

So here is my set up, how I work when I need to make something shiny.  I got a lot of my supplies from Rio Grande, but Cool Tools is just as wonderful (they even send me extra goodies with bigger orders).  I have Cool Slip for my texture plates, water with lavender oil in it to rehydrate my clay, a work surface, steel stamps for numbering fingerprints, molds, clay, and tons of tools.  Don't forget the sweet tea!   

Here's a close up of my tool box.  I used the olive oil the first time I used BronzClay to condition my clay.  I read somewhere that it is necessary, but I found that I had problems with all the pieces from that batch.  I have not conditioned the previous two batches and had no problems with them, the clay feels better without it and is more workable.  I also read on the cool tools site that the clay is better when cold, but I work with mine and store mine room at room temperature.  I have no luck with cold clay.  The alcohol is there for use with my alcohol inks.  Badger Balm is amazing.  It keeps the clay from sticking to my hands, smells great (like wintergreen), feels great, and helps to keep the clay smooth when I ball it up in my hands.  

I was not too terribly happy with my first firing of BronzClay.  The pieces showed some small signs of over firing, and the oxidation was rough.  I also had no idea how to finish my pieces.  I got the firing information from the Cool Tools site BronzClay Firing Guide.  My kiln is a 1680 watt Paragon SC2, so my target temp was 1490 degrees F, I held at 2 hours, and the rate was 212 degrees F since my pieces were about 7 mm thick.  

I read somewhere on an Etsy thread that some people were having success with a two stage firing schedule.  The first on a fiber blanket to burn the binder off, the second in the carbon to sinter.  Wanaree Tanner uses this method for CopprClay with success, so I thought I would try it with BronzClay.  I also dried my pieces in my oven.  My results were pitiful, and made me want to cry and give up.  I have $3000 invested in a business making BronzClay and CopprClay pieces and I could not get a batch to work, I just kept getting worse.  I was miserable!!!!!!  All of my pieces look like they were battered in carbon and deep fried.  They all had cracks and none were salvageable.  

Deep fried misery......

Carbon half picked off, revealing cracked clay and embedded carbon.......

Somehow the metal leached into the carbon surrounding the pieces.  I am still so confused with this.  I did do something different with this batch that I suspect may have something to do with this.  I used nursery water (with fluoride) to rehydrate my clay.  That might be why this happened, or it could be that I ran my second part of the firing too long.  IDK!

So I cried, I threw things, and I said many a bad word (well, just one, over and over again).  For a minute I thought for sure this was another thing I just wanted to try but would have no luck at, that I would never get the hang of it and just fail miserably.  I pitied myself way too much.  Then I got right back on that horse.  My next batch I tried a few common sense adjustments and it was almost perfect.  I had two pieces that bubbled just a bit, but the rest of the batch turned out just fine.  

First I lowered the temperature of my oven when I dried my pieces from 350 to 250 degrees F.  This fixed the cracking issue I had with the previous batch.  250 degrees F, 10 minutes on one side, flip, 5 to ten minutes on the other side.  Perfection!

Then I ran the same firing schedule I figured out before but lowered my target temp to 1470, same rate (212/hour).  Just a bit of bubbling on two pieces, so I lowered my target temp on my next firing to 1465 and have had no problems yet.  

I also switched from coal-based carbon to coconut carbon.  It is cleaner and seems to help the pieces fire more evenly.  I cannot remember who I have to thank for this info, but it has been invaluable.  Probably Mardel Rein from Cool Tools.

Here are some pieces on wax paper ready to be dried in the oven.  I use an old cookie sheet.  I have tried aluminum foil, but if the pieces are very damp they somehow soak up some of the color of the aluminum.  Weird. I have no problem at all with the wax paper.

Dried pieces being drilled.  I save my flakes for later (to make paste with or rehydrate).

Here is my latest batch straight from the kiln.  The darker pieces were closer to the bottom.  I had two layers, and these were in the bottom layer.  The ones that look two toned are that way because of the clay, not their location in the carbon.  For some reason the BronzClay has swirls of a lighter color that are not very apparent until they are fired.  Not a big deal, I just fix it with patina.  

Here the pieces have been brushed and then treated with liver of sulpur and are still wet from the neutralizing bath.  You can treat them with liver of sulphur without brushing them first, but the cleaner they are, the more even the coating of patina from the liver of sulphur.  I have yet to try this with ammonia added in to the mix.

A whole batch of fired pieces with LOS patina.  If you are curious about the owls, I will have a post on them this Thursday.  I love the patina from the LOS,but it smells so bad.  It is ridiculous, and hubby hates it worse than I do.

I love how the liver of sulphur brings out all of the detail.  

After the pieces have dried from the neutralizing bath (baking soda and water), I brush then with a brass brush.  If I want a more matte look, I brush them with a steel brush.  Here are these same pieces after a good brushing.

And same pieces after a quick polish with my 3M Polishing Paper.  I have been using the pink (4000 grit) because it was the first one I tested with and I have since lost all the others from the assortment.  It polishes without removing the patina in the texture.

And here they are all put together on a necklace for my grandmother.  I call her Granny, and she is awesome.  My kids and I see her and my Papaw just about every Friday, and she always cooks way too much food for us and they spoil my kids.  We adore both of them.  My sis-in-law, my sister, and my cousin and I all got together and worked on getting prints, they helped my pay for materials for her and other family members and I did the work.  

Here's a closer view.  I love seeing all the fingerprints, they are all so different.  

I am happy to have all this experience, and I hope to have my shop full of customizable items by mid January.  I know I am ready now for deadlines and multiple sales.  I hope every one of you had a Merry Christmas, and are looking forward to the New Year.  I know I am!

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