Art Adventures: Art clay silver

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been taking art clay silver classes with Auckland jewelry artist Alison Boyce. I’ve definitely caught the jewelry making bug, and I love this medium in particular. Whether for simple earrings or a complex project you’d think would require silversmithing skills, art clay is a versatile and, frankly, game-changing medium for the jewelry industry. I find this very interesting on a personal level because many photographers complain about the effect of easy-to-use cameras and digital technology on their industry. My recent experience with art clay silver indicates that disruptive technologies are impacting all industries, and that everyone needs to be cognizant of how these technologies could and are changing their own field. So, photographers, don’t feel unjustly persecuted; it’s happening everywhere!

Alison has a background in traditional jewelry methods, but now works primarily with art clay silver, copper and gold. Over three lessons together, she taught me how to make simple designs using only clay, as well as more complicated pieces utilizing clay, paste, syringe and wire materials. Each piece was based on my ideas and aesthetics, and she beautifully tailored her instruction to help me bring my vision to life using her solid understanding of design and implementation.

My first attempt: A simple pendant

At our first lesson, Alison introduced me to art clay silver 650, a mixture of pure silver particle, water and various binding agents. During drying and firing, the other materials evaporate or burn off and the silver particles solidify, leaving behind fine silver (99.9%; compare against sterling at 92.5%).

The clay initially felt like Play-doh, although it’s a lot more expensive per gram. After removing it from an airtight pouch, I rolled it out onto a piece of wax paper, used some molds and punches to create shapes, and stacked them to create a circular, flower-themed pendant. When I was reasonably pleased with the design, we put the piece in a food dehydrator to speed drying time and then I sanded it for a smooth(ish) finish. Next it went into the kiln for five minutes at 800-degrees Celsius (1472 Fahrenheit). Once the pendant had cooled, we punched a hole at the top for stringing and Alison sent me home with my new treasure. She also asked me to ponder whether I wanted to do anything more to it on another day. One of the benefits of art clay is that it can be kilned multiple times without breaking down (a benefit I found immensely valuable on my second piece, but more on that later).

Between classes, I decided to apply liver of sulfur to my pendant to create some contrast and bring out the texture in the background, so we started our second lesson there. The sulfur pretty quickly turned the whole piece black; I had to polish and burnish the parts where I wanted to restore a satiny and shiny silver finish.

Take two: Five firings and one sore thumb

The remainder of my second class was dedicated to creating a pair of silver basket earrings I saw in one of the books Alison lent me. The earrings began with molding and drying two spherical pieces of cork. If you’ve ever tried to make two identically sized and shaped spheres from scratch, you know how hard it is. I then used syringe-type art clay to create an open, textured finish around the balls. That is where the sore thumb comes in. I was surprised by how challenging it was to apply firm pressure to cover the small surface area. In fact, I started to feel like a wuss, taking frequent breaks and eventually changing back and forth between my right and left hand to complete the project.

Alison wrapped the spheres to protect their structure and into the kiln they went. During firing, the cork burned off, leaving behind a hollow sphere. Once they’d cooled, I started polishing only to discover that bits of the fragile spheres were breaking off, leaving behind large holes and threatening to collapse the entire piece. Alison said, “Not to worry;” we applied more clay and sent them back into the kiln. After a second firing, it happened again. Alison investigated and helped to repair the damage, commenting that the clay syringe I’d been using seemed more stiff than usual — a nice reassurance for my ego and thumb, which were still reeling from the earlier challenge.

In the end, one of the earrings had to be repaired and kilned five times before it would maintain its structural integrity; the other managed to hold up after three go-rounds. I’m quite happy with the end results, but I was nervous and skeptical for a while. And my thumb was sore for a week! Crazy, right?!

Project three: A little ambition goes a long way

During our re-kilning downtime in lesson two, Alison and I discussed my third project. I love New Zealand paua shell (abalone) and wanted to create a ring using it. Alison had a shell collection on hand, having used it for prior work, and allowed me to choose some for my ring.

We started the process with a ring maker, a plastic disk through which art clay is pushed to create a solid ring. Alison prefers ring makers to rolled clay, she said, because it avoids a seam and thus a potential weak point in the finished product.

For homework, I fit some cork to the bottom of my chosen paua shell. At my third lesson, we covered the dried cork with rolled clay to create a ring shank. So that the cork could burn out during firing, we punched a hole in the top of the shank — the side that would be hidden underneath the shell. We then strategically placed fine silver wire around the base to serve as prongs and secured them with syringe-style clay.

In the interim, Alison fired the ring base with a ceramic stopper to keep it from shrinking beyond our targeted size. I took advantage of the down time and some leftover clay to make a quick pair of earrings. After the fiddling required with the basket earrings and ring, it was a relief to tackle a simple project again.

After the first firing, we affixed the ring shank to its base, dried everything together and put it in the kiln for 30 minutes at 600-degrees Celsius. Due to the kilning time, we agreed to meet the next day to wrap up my projects.

I returned the following morning to a beautifully polished, perfectly fitting ring base and a new earring set — Alison had polished and tumbled the projects for me while I was gone. She then showed me how to set the paua shell (which was too heat sensitive to fire with the ring itself) and to close the prongs. At last, I had completed a one-of-a-kind ring, thanks to a little inspiration and Alison’s significant technical know-how. Love, love, love it!

I’m so glad I had the opportunity to meet Alison and her husband, Richard, (and of course their official greeter, Charlie), and to learn the art of silver clay. It’s definitely one of the highlights from my Auckland experience!

Have you done anything recently to feed your creative spirit? What was it?


September Art Social » - […] I had taken private lessons in Auckland, I didn’t want to repeat the beginner class. But, I’m excited for all of us to continue […]

Kate - Thank you, Dawn! I love them.

Dawn - You should be really proud – these are so stunning, Kate!

Strrretching my comfort zone

Do you ever have to psych yourself up to go somewhere new or go solo to a group event? I do. That may be because I’m a homebody at heart, but I also think it’s because it can be difficult to change our regular habits. I’m comfortable going out with Brian; I’m much less comfortable going out by myself and interacting with the world on my own.

Today, I took one small step toward expanding my comfort zone by attending a contemporary dance class at City Dance in Auckland. Although I danced pretty seriously back in the day, it’s been many, many years since I took a dance class in the ballet and modern realm and it was my first-ever contemporary class. City Dance offers classes in a dozen or more styles, but I chose contemporary for two reasons. First, I had seen and enjoyed several contemporary performances on “So You Think You Can Dance,” and second, it didn’t require any shoes: big bonus for the girl currently carrying all of her possessions on her back.

For an example of contemporary dance, check out the video below:

Class began with a warm up of both standing and floor exercises. Back in my dance days, floor exercise either meant doing ballet barre while laying on your back or stretching in jazz class. In contemporary class, we were quickly rolling about in a new and unfamiliar way. I began to wonder what I’d signed up for and if I could make it through the hour class.

I held my own, but felt like a duck out of water. Although my instructor and classmates were kind, I’m sure they wondered at times about the girl in the back with the red face. No, it wasn’t embarrassment. And I’m not that out of shape; ok, maybe a little. I inherited a lovely tendency toward ruddiness from my mama. As soon as my heart rate starts moving, my cheeks start glowing. If I’m really working, my whole face and chest are ablaze. It’s a nice little conversation starter:

“Are you sure you’re ok? Do you need some water or a sit down?”

“Oh, I’m fine,” I say. “My face just does this.”

My husband assures me it’s cute. Umm, yeah.

When I looked in the mirror during class (Note: Don’t do that!), I saw a former ballet dancer trying to learn something new. The point of contemporary dance, as I understand it, is to incorporate your body’s natural movement. Having taken ballet from the age of 3 to 18, I’m not sure what my “body’s natural movement” is. Ballet is all about what’s pretty, not about what’s natural.

As the class wore on and we began learning combinations, I realized that while many of the exercises were new, they relied on dance basics I already know. My muscle memory saved the day. Muscle memory is awesome! Even though I haven’t done pliés and developpés regularly for many years, they came back easily, as did my flexibility (helped along by yoga I’m sure.)

What didn’t come back so easily was my memory for combinations. I used to be able to watch a combination once, perform it immediately from memory and then reverse it. Today, not so much. Muscle memory helped somewhat; if I went through the combination physically, it was easier to remember, but whenever I involved my brain, the thinking just wasn’t there. Hmmm, maybe that in itself is a message from my body: Stop thinking already! Just do it! Kinda reminds you of Yoda doesn’t it? “Do or do not. There is no try.”

As painful as I made the class sound, it was actually a lot of fun. Unhindered by the need to be “good” as I would be in an art form I already know, I could just let go and enjoy. Definitely a worthwhile experience and one I’ll probably repeat while we’re here in Auckland. In fact, I wonder if there are any adult dance classes back home, beyond ballroom and Latin. Something to look into…

Have you taken any action to expand your comfort zone or challenge yourself lately? What was the outcome?

P.S. Speaking of challenging yourself, check out this video of my favorite dancer in this year’s “So You Think You Can Dance” competition — professional ballet dancer Alex Wong — jumping out of his comfort zone in a hip hop number with Twitch. Amazing!

Coach Cassandra Rae - Sounds like a plan!

Kate - Maybe you should pick one adventure for us and I’ll pick another. That way, one of us will be out of our element while the other is more comfortable, ane vice versa.

Coach Cassandra Rae - Nope, never been ballroom or Latin dancing. Sounds…interesting…fun…scary…hard…tiring…

Kate - Cassandra, thanks for the heads up on Ellen’s appearance. I stopped watching after Alex injured himself, so I just YouTubed it. So fun, and she actually did a good job!

I would love to go on an adventure with you — can’t wait! Have you ever been ballroom or Latin dancing?

Coach Cassandra Rae - First of all, I loved last season of So You Think You Can Dance and that Alex Wong routine was Ah-mazing! Did you see Ellen Degeneres (sp?) do it in the finale?

Secondly, good on you for stretching your comfort zone. I’m so proud of you! It’s all about letting go and enjoying the adventure. When you get back to the Bay Area let’s go on an adventure together. *Fun Stuff*

Kate - The class I took was surprisingly challenging. It was supposed to be beginner but we got down and dirty pretty quickly. It all depends on the studio, though, I think. Maybe you should look into teaching some dance classes, along with taking your yoga classes in preparation for India. :-)

Skmrorer - I love the contemporary dance experience you had. I really miss dancing but I know for sure my body would not cooperate.

Small ways to make a big difference

It’s easy to look around and see problems: people out of work, water shortages, food contamination, starvation, natural disasters, environmental destruction, war, intolerance, there’s always something. If you’re like me, the sheer volume and magnitude of suffering can be overwhelming. I wonder what, if anything, I can do in the face of such need. Well, now there’s an answer!

Raam Dev, a writer and global traveler, recently initiated a collaborative project to change the world. He invited dozens of bloggers to send him simple, easy ways to make the world a better place. His new, free e-book, “Small Ways to Make a Big Difference,” is the result. In his words, “In just three weeks, over 40 bloggers contributed more than 100 ways to live more sustainabl[y], to live happier and healthier, to get more out of life, to inspire and share, to reconnect with our true selves, to be a leader, to exist more intelligently.”

I downloaded the book before we left Hawaii. When I first flipped through the table of contents, I was concerned by some duplicative content, but Raam’s introduction indicated that was intentional — proof that an idea was particularly important and “likely to make the biggest difference.” I read the whole book, and its 160 suggestions, in one setting. Although the content is rich, the read is short and sweet. I highly recommend it. You don’t need to implement all or even any of the recommendations, just consider what works for you in your life.  But remember…

You are already making a difference.  The way we interact with others and the choices that we make every day are changing the world right now.  Whether these changes are positive or negative is entirely up to us. — Raam Dev

Some of my favorite suggestions from the e-book, along with short excerpts, are:

  • Change yourself first: “Choose not to judge by assuming all persons belonging to a group are ‘bad’ because one or two bad examples arise.” — Farnoosh Brock, Prolific Living
  • Vote with your money: “Every dollar in your pocket is a vote.  Change how you spend your money…and the world changes.” — Ali Dark
  • Don’t give up: “There is no such thing as failure.  A company can fail and go bankrupt, but you are not a company.  You are a human being, and as long as there is blood running through your veins, you can keep kicking and screaming.” — Jarkko Laine
  • Have gratitude: “The quickest way to change the world is to appreciate the way it is.” — Jonathan Mead, Illuminated Mind
  • Live consciously: You’ll have to read the whole quote to appreciate this one but, on a meta-level, the contributor (Farnoosh Brock, Prolific Living) suggests eating consciously, speaking consciously and behaving consciously.
  • Make something beautiful: “You’re able to do something that no one else can.  Do that.  Revel in it.  Everyone will benefit.” — Steve Haase, ThoughtLead
  • Adapt: “Things will not always go the way you’ve planned, but they almost always turn out fine.” — Jessica Reader, Love and Trash

If you like one or more of these, there are hundreds more in “Small Ways to Make a Big Difference.”  Download and enjoy!  And, if you have a blog, please keep the message alive.

With love and gratitude,

Kate - Hi Raam – I'm glad you liked it! I agree, there is so much good stuff in there and a few little nuggets should help people understand why they should download it. Thank you for envisioning and implementing the project!

Kate - Thanks for stopping by, Farnoosh! Yours were some of my favorite contributions to the book, and I'm now enjoying reading your blog as well.

Raam Dev - Hi Kate! Thanks so much for the awesome write-up on the ebook. I really liked how you included samples from the book… there is so much wisdom contained in these pages and those are fantastic examples.

prolificliving - So sweet and kind of you to quote me…..thank you for reading the ebook and for enjoying it!

Art Adventures: Lampwork Beadmaking

Recently, I went to Volcano to study lampwork with local artist Patricia Larsen-Goodin.  She and I had met at 2400 Fahrenheit‘s annual sale the week prior and, when she heard I was interested in learning lampwork, she invited me to visit her studio.  Brian and I drove up on Monday and spent two nights with Patricia and her husband, Bill.

While the gals were holed up in Patricia’s studio, Brian and Bill toured the local sights on Bill’s motorcycle, visiting the local winery and the “most southern” — I think they mean the southernmost — bar in the United States.  It was Brian’s first time on a bike.  Not to worry, they both put on helmets after this picture was taken.

Over two days in the studio, I learned a lot about tools, safety, glass properties and the lampwork community…and I made tons of beads.  My favorite, purely aesthetically, is the pea green bead with dark teal, raised dots:

On our last morning, when the beadmaking and kilning were finished, Patricia helped me design some jewelry from my creations and demonstrated the finer points of finishing jewelry.  We made a bracelet filled with many of the beads that I worked very hard to produce.  To get all eight finished took me quite a while and a couple of minor explosions!

Each of the large beads involved:

  1. Laying molten glass onto the mandrel and fashioning it into a round bead,
  2. Adding large dots of another color glass and melting that into the bead,
  3. Adding a second set of dots on top of the prior dots and melting them in,
  4. Piercing the dots to create air bubbles, and then
  5. Laying clear glass on top.

We also made two sets of earrings from my earliest lampwork attempts (yeah, they’re a little wonky and one bead is even burned, but they’re still pretty):

From the experience, I learned that lampwork is a challenging and detail-oriented art form. It looks easy when Patricia does it, but it is not!  Here is a photo I snapped of her tide pools necklace, one of my favorites.  Gorgeous, isn’t it?

Patricia has been working in the lampwork field for more than 20 years, and she recently decided to open her studio for classes.  If you would like to learn lampwork, and you’re on the Big Island or are willing to travel, give her a shout.  She and Bill even have a comfy guest apartment where students can stay.

Thanks again, Patricia and Bill, for your hospitality!

My Pillars of Happiness » - […] watercolor painting through experimentation with many art processes: jewelry making, glassblowing, lampwork beadmaking, origami, jade carving, you get the idea… I chose watercolor because I enjoyed the process […]

Kate - You always love the jewelry! I sent most of these back home to Cali, but I'll be on the look out for presents for you going forward. :-)

Amanda - I want some! Pretty!!!! :) :)

Finding my inner yogini

I’m on a yoga high!  My muscles feel flexible and strong from work and I feel as though nothing could ever phase me again.  There’s something magical about the combination of mental peace and physical exhaustion you experience after a particularly challenging and rewarding yoga practice.

I did not come to yoga easily.  For many years, I fought it “kicking and screaming”, as my mom would say, even though she’s an instructor and I was around it my entire life.  Why?  It’s hard.  Or it can be if you try things you and your body aren’t ready for.  Even at my fittest — 5’7″ and a size 4, dancing five days a week — I hated yoga because it required me to stretch in ways that I wasn’t flexible.  Dancers turn out, yogis don’t.  When you’re accustomed to being extremely flexible, examples of inflexibility can be hard to accept, and so I avoided yoga throughout my childhood, adolescence, college years and early twenties.

In 2007, when I was looking for a fun form of exercise that would help with back pain, I found pilates.  Joseph Pilates, who founded the practice, had worked with dancers and so my prior dance training made it easier for me to accept and adjust to the exercises.  Brian and I attended weekly pilates classes for the next few years, gaining a lot of core strength in the process.

Over time, our spiritual evolution drew us to yoga.  Brian, in particular, liked that yoga is an ancient practice and combines the physical, mental and spiritual.  We took an introductory class together — Brian had never done it before — and then continued attending sunrise classes at the same studio afterward.  Even though we felt amazing after each class, 6:30am isn’t an ideal time of day for us so we didn’t attend regularly or practice on our own.  Pilates remained our primary form of stretching and strength-building.

Upon arriving in Hawaii, we decided to pursue yoga more seriously.  The first studio we visited, we loved.  Their focus is Iyengar yoga, which involves the use of blocks, blankets and ropes to assist in achieving proper form.  Because of the increased personal attention and the focus on doing things correctly, we’ve gained a much better understanding of how to do our asanas (i.e. poses) properly and what the goal of each is.  I’ve become a devotee!

Although our plan for Hawaii was to shed travel weight, we bought a yoga mat, bag and a belt to practice at home and are both doing so regularly.  Sometimes it’s just cat pose and downward facing hero to stretch my back; sometimes it’s the cat pose and hip series; and sometimes it’s a full practice including downward dog, warrior I and II, triangle and more.  Although I’m still a complete neophyte, yoga has become essential.

Work in progress: My downward dog in today’s class. You know I was tempted to liquify my back so it inverts more, but this is where I’m truly at right now, so it’s only fair I show the whole truth. Leaves room for more improvement next time, right?

If you’ve struck out with yoga in the past, look into a class based on the teachings of BKS Iyengar.  I give full credit for my newfound devotion to his style of yoga and to our instructors at BIYC, Julie and Reagan.  Ironically, Iyengar yoga is the style my mom also teaches, but I guess I wasn’t ready to embrace it until now.  That’s how life is sometimes, right?

What do you do to find inner peace?

Kate - And I bet you feel wonderful afterward, don't you? :-)

Kate - Awesome, Joanna! I'm glad there was some synchronicity working for you. Enjoy your class.

Nancy - I have a p90x yoga video. I have no idea what form it is but it kicks my butt (for an hour and a half)every time.

Joanna - Great post – I love the Iyengar method, too. I was lucky enough to stumble upon Unity Woods yoga studio, which practices Iyengar, when I was living in Washington DC as my first introduction to yoga. It was amazing. I do not enjoy other forms of yoga as much and feel very lucky to have found Iyengar. Your post came the same day as an email from Joan White, an amazing Iyengar teacher here in Philadelphia with whom I studied 7 years ago. As with all of us, my yoga practice is a work in progress, so this all inspired me to enroll again for class this fall.