Transitions: Mary Federici

South Jersey Clayathon started in 2005 as a small weekend get together for a group of people from different walks of life united by their love of polymer clay. It has grown to one of the preeminent polymer events in the US, last year attended by 130 people. I have been going to Clayathon since the beginning and am involved with the plans to take the event to a virtual platform in 2021 because of the pandemic.

You don’t attend an annual event all those years without making friendships. So we were all devastated to learn of the death of Mary Federici on September 20th. She never missed a Clayathon.

Hamming it up at the first Clayathon. Arlene Groch is in the front, Emily Squires Levine is left. Mary is at the rear.
Mary at Clayathon 2019

Mary was always good for a laugh. A typical story: one year when she was dating a plumber, she brought a length of heavy pipe to Clayathon that she used to whack the hell out of hard bricks of polymer to soften them for conditioning. “My persuader,” she called it.

We will all miss her.

Clay Cutter Magic from the Mind of Robin Milne

This has been another one hell of a week. I won’t go into details, but humor always helps. As I opened up the web browser on my newly-repaired computer to write this post, one of those real provocative headlines you see on the Internet shot across the screen. You know the kind I’m talking about: Stuff like “If You Have One of These in Your Kitchen, There’s a Ninety Percent Chance You Are a Narcissist,” or “The Ten Things Your Dog Does Not Want You to Know,” or “Scientists are Begging Seniors to Wash This One Body Part.” The headline that I saw was “Seven Things You Should Never Do With a Magic Eraser.” Only seven? I can think of lots more.

Let’s see, you should never insert a Magic Eraser into your Blue Ray drive. You should never give a Magic Eraser to a panhandler on the street and expect a thank you. Don’t think you can cut a pocket in a Magic Eraser and stuff it with falafel. Ok, maybe you can, but that doesn’t mean you should. And finally, (do I really need to tell you this?) don’t roll them into tubes, shove them up your nose, and go food shopping. I could list more things you should never do with a Magic Eraser, but I’ll stop here. I think you get the picture.

Besides, I digress. This week’s post is about one of my friends, Robin Milne, who I am convinced comes from a family of geniuses. Robin is a talented artist in several mediums including polymer clay. Her latest project is developing a line of 3D printed, high-quality clay cutters (although you could use them for cookies, too) . 3D printing has always intrigued me, so I asked Robin how she got into it.

Robin’s Canes

My father got me a small 3D printer 5 years ago for my birthday. One of the first things I made was a cutter in the shape of M.C. Escher’s tessellating lizard. I wanted to use that cutter to make a sample of all the polymer veneers I made and connect them all together. Once I had learned how to use the printer, I upgraded to a bigger, higher quality printer and started designing. I made a stamp with my gym’s logo to mark the attendance sheet that I had been to class. That led me to start making initial stamps for artists to mark their polymer clay pieces. A year and a half ago, I upgraded to an even better printer that can print larger items. Since then, I’ve been learning and printing and designing all kinds of things. I brought 3D prints of about 10 different cutters styles sets to Clayathon this past February and almost sold out.

“People were really happy with them and I got requests for new shapes. When I got home I stocked up again, printing as many as I could to take to the next retreat but then Covid happened. Since I can’t take the cutters to a retreat, I have been taking requests and making customs cutters and mailing them out. I have a lot more cutters I want to design and I also plan to make texture sheets and rollers. I have always loved clay tools and now I can make my own.”

The good news is that Robin opened an online shop! You can buy her beautifully designed and reasonably priced cutters , here. Support the arts and small business! Robin’s adding new designs all the time. I’m looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next.

Back in the Pottery Studio

I am computerless this week because my laptop is in the shop. I left it plugged in too much and the battery swelled alarmingly. I got it to the repair shop (Wise Guy Tech. If you are in Philadelphia, they are the best!) in time and dodged a bullet. I had no idea I was doing anything wrong, but I know now. ( If you use a laptop, read this. ) So I am writing this post from my phone.

Fleisher Art Memorial reopened its pottery studio this week! There are new requirements to use the studio because of the pandemic. We all have our temperatures taken before we go in, wear masks, and observe social distancing.

I brought over lots of colored porcelain to make little objects which I can bisque fire at Fleisher and finish with a cone 6 firing in my own kiln.

But I started out glazing some earthenware pieces I’d left unfinished when the studio closed last March. Here are some pictures

Mushrooms and Fairys

I’ve been seeing crops of mushrooms sprouting up in the city everywhere I go. They look like little fairy worlds to me.    Makes me want to reread The Blue Fairy Book.  You too?  You can download it on Project Gutenburg.

And a New Twist (for me) on Polymer

As the Irish playwright so aptly said, “The world is in a state of chassis.” I won’t go into it all-I am sure you know what I mean. I won’t say that WordPress has made it any better by choosing this time to introduce a new blog post editor. But I try to maintain a sense of perspective. I once shared a house with an older woman, and the night I moved in, I asked her whether there was a washer and dryer we could use. “No,” she replied, “but I lived Second World War in Soviet Union and believe me, you can get used to anything.” Hard to argue with that.

Fleisher Art Memorial‘s pottery studio will be reopening soon with new rules and procedures to keep us safe during the pandemic. And I am working with an incredible team of people to plan a virtual Clayathon for February, 2021. In the meantime, I am participating in the Southern Connecticut Polymer Clay Guild‘s online caning challenges and design challenges. Caning creates a lot of scraps. So I decided to use them and try my hand at making Torpedo beads.

You normally think of earrings when you think of Torpedo beads, so that’s where I started out. But then I decided to branch out and to incorporate non-polymer elements into the designs. I spent a lot of time last summer making fabric jewelry, and I had some gorgeous, vintage rayon embroidery floss in bright colors that was singing out to me. I used this to attach Torpedo beads to one another with the help of screw eyes.

It’s a bit tricky to knot the slick rayon floss securely, but I think I managed to do it with reinforced Surgeon’s knots.

Here are some more variations. And as I make more canes for the challenges, I’ll have more scraps to try. I’m also going to try some other fibers to attach the beads to each other. The sky’s the limit. And maybe I will even learn how to use this confounded block editor!

A Surprising Twist on Caning

6

I was wandering in the Alhambra complex in Granada Spain last year when I chanced on Laguna Taller de Taracea, a store and workshop offering splendid items for sale that were decorated with marquetry.  Marquetry is a design applied as a veneer that’s made up of  different types of wood, ivory, bone, and metal. The pieces are combined to form intricate geometric designs.  It’s usually applied to furniture, frames and boxes.

I was watching a demonstration of the process when someone in the crowd remarked that it must take a great deal of patience to cut out all those tiny pieces and fit them into the design.  “Not so,” replied the craftsman.  He held up an object which I immediately recognized as a cane.

After the demonstration was over,  I hung around to take some close up pictures of canes and some work in progress.

We polymer clayers have it drilled into our heads that we adapted the caning we use in our work from glass millefiori.  But canework is also a hallmark of marquetry, and the  style of marquetry found in Granada and the south of Spain follows in the tradition of Islamic geometric patterns and stays away from the figurative images you are more likely to see in European marquetry.

Here are some more pictures of the process and a video.

 

As for me,  I am continuing with the caning challenges put out by the Southern Connecticut Polymer Clay Guild and will let you see what I make in future posts.

The Secret of the Paradox Cane

Let me start out by saying that this is not a post on how to make a Paradox cane, rather, it’s a post on how I learned an easier way to put together a Paradox cane.  Some background:

I have been having a ball these past few weeks trying out the various canes put forth in the cane challenges sponsored by the Southern Connecticut Polymer Clay Guild.   We are given a link to a tutorial or a video on how to make a polymer cane.  We post the results on the Guild’s private Facebook  page and share what we’ve learned in online meetings.

The first cane challenge was the Paradox cane, a beautiful cane that lends itself to so many variations.    Here’s a picture of one that I made.

Paradox6 sided

Motley Woods has a good tutorial for making a Paradox cane, as does Polymer Clay Workshop on YouTube.  There are many others which I have not seen and a great many variations on how make one.  Meg Newberg’s tutorial on Etsy comes highly recommended.  You can purchase it here.  If I ever get back into serious caning, Meg’s tute is probably one of the first tutorials I would purchase because I’ve heard so many great things about it.

The Paradox cane patterns that I have seen consist of three  triangle components joined together and formed into a larger triangle which comprises the cane.  A big problem many people face when assembling a paradox cane is putting the three component triangles together to form a larger triangle.   After you select your clay, arrange it in accordance with the method you are using,  and form it into a square, you are normally directed to  form that square into a triangle, reduce it, and cut the triangle into three pieces to form the final cane.

 

And this is where the problem comes in. Most people think Equilateral  triangle when they think of a triangle, but that won’t work here with the Paradox cane.  Instead, think Isosceles triangle.  Like this. 4IsoscelesTriangle

From there, it’s easy to alter the triangle as per the instructions, cut the cane into thirds, and then fit the three pieces together into a triangle for the final cane.

 

 

 

ThreeIsocelesTrianglesTogetherForming Isosceles triangles enables you to bring the edge of each component triangle right up to the edge of the neighboring component triangle.  The sections in the middle are pinched into wave shapes that interlock and become solid when all the components are joined and compressed into a larger  triangle which forms the cane.

Paradox

And the cane is done!  From there, you decide how you want to reassemble and/or reduce your creation.Paradox 2 canes

 

 

 

Evolution of a Decorated Bowl

One of the things I miss most is not being able to go to the pottery studio because of the pandemic. Fleisher Art Memorial is reopening its open pottery studio program in the fall (with safety precautions). I am looking forward to returning.

In the meantime, here are some pictures of a bowl that I threw on the wheel and then decorated with slips and underglazes. It’s white earthenware, low fire pottery.

Bronze Clay Success!

I have been fooling around with my special blend of home made bronze metal clay for awhile and have made some beautiful things but have gotten inconsistent results.  Then I moved up to a Paragon Max 119 kiln so I could fire cone 6 pottery as well as glass and metal clay.  I also started trying to make hollow forms in the bronze clay.  I was having problems with under firing and over firing, so I needed to tweak my firing schedule.  I found this article by Mardel Rein to be invaluable.Top Shelf before firing All sintered

Here’s a pan of unfired bronze clay before kiln firing.  I prefer to fire in these heavy, shallow stainless steel pans I get from my local Asian supermarket.  I find that the more you use them, the less they flake.

The ring on the right is perfectly sintered and not overfired.  The one on the left, from an earlier firing, is over fired.Hollow forms

Here are a couple of hollow beads.  The one on the left has been repaired.  The one on the right has not.  I have found that you must put hollow forms through two firings.  The form will come out of the first firing looking sintered, but will break if you drop it or hit it with a hammer.  I save up beads that have made it through one firing and put them through the next firing with whatever else I have.  I don’t plug the holes and I don’t construct screen cages to fire them in.  I just cover them with carbon and whoop-de-do.  You can’t use cork clay to make hollow beads from bronze clay, because you will never be able to get the cork fired out in an oxygen-free environment which is what you create when you fire in activated carbon.  But if you can construct a hollow form with holes and get it through two firings, you should be able to bounce it on concrete without it breaking.  In theory.

OverfiredLThe piece on the left has been over fired.  The pieces on the right went through a later firing and the tip of one broke off.  Rather than try to reattach it,  I just sawed the other tip off and will design something around the new shapes.

Repaired pair

The piece on the left broke in the middle during an earlier firing and I repaired and refired it.  The piece on the right is made up of broken sintered and unsintered pieces from earlier firings for a kind of mosaic pendant.

These pieces went through one firing schedule and sintered perfectly.  What I learned from all my experiences is that when you have thicker pieces, the trick is not necessarily to fire hotter, but to ramp up to temperature more slowly.  I started out firing to 1550 and holding for two hours.  Then I tried two and one half.  Then I tried three.  Thin pieces  were over firing, but hollow beads were breaking.  Then I tried lowering the temperature to 1500.  A little better but same problem.    Then I read that a slow ramp worked best with bigger pieces.  I tried ramping at 250 degrees F to 1000F, holding one hour, then ramping on full to 1500F and holding for three hours.  That did the trick.  All the single layer pieces are coming out fine.  I take the hollow ones out and put them in the next kiln batch through the firing cycle a second time, and they have been fine so far.   You have to experiment to find out what will work for you.

 

 

Make a Tabletop Jeweler’s Bench Part 2: Everything You Need to Know

This post is a continuation of last week’s post on how to make a table top jewelry bench.  Here’s how you do it!19 benchMaterials

1. For the bench top, I used a folding wood snack table that my neighbors left when they moved.  You can buy a set of four here.  You can make your bench and have three  snack tables left over.  The top is a thick, sturdy piece of wood you can bang on when you make your jewelry.  The legs of the folding tray, also made of the same sturdy wood, can be sawed up to make the other components of the bench.

2. For the sides of the bench, I used a discarded Ekby Hemnes bookshelf from  Ikea. Click here for dimensions.  Any board with similar dimensions will work.

3. You will need a board for the pull out shelf, I used an mdf board from another discarded piece of Ikea furniture.  My board was about 24” wide and I cut it to 20” to fit inside the bench.

4. A wood slat 2” X 21” and ¼” thick for pliers rack. (I used a wood paint stirrer I already had.  You can buy them here.

5. Wood screws in various sizes.  I used 2 ½” and 1 ½”

6. Feet to  raise the bench if desired.  I was going to fashion something out of screw-in cabinet knobs before I discovered that I had a set of screw-in furniture levelers I saved  from an old metal shelf.   They are less expensive than buying legs or knobs. You can get a set similar to what I used, here.

Tools

1. A portable electric jig saw like this one is handy for cutting out the top.  You can get by without one since there are only straight cuts, but it is easier with the power tool.  You can also use it for all your cutting.  I used hand saws the rest of the bench because I felt I had more control over them.

2. C Clamps to hold the wood as you saw.

3. Straight saw or hack saw

4. Drill and various sized drill bits to assemble the bench and attach the feet

5. Cordless screwdriver

6. Ruler, retractable tape measure, pencil and permanent marker to measure and mark.  I am horrible at measuring.  Take your time with this.  As a matter of fact, take your time with all of it.

7. Mallet and nail pry bar (to help disassemble the wooden tray)

8. Beeswax or soap to lubricate your saws and drill bits. You will not  believe how much easier this will make the job

9. Safety glasses and dust mask.  (Unless you like breathing in sawdust and getting it in your eyes.)

Some preliminaries about this project.  I am not a wood worker.  I do not have access to a wood shop.  I do not know anyone with a wood shop who I would ask to make a bench for me.

I  learned most of my skills (and that’s being charitable) on YouTube University.  What few tools I do  possess, I either inherited (like a couple of great saws that belonged to my Father-in-Law, which sat in my basement for 25 years before I realized I should use them),  bought at house sales (an ancient portable jig saw) or scored at discount stores (like my drill that is not even cordless and which I have been threatening to replace for some time now).  My modern tool is the cordless screwdriver which no home should be without.

3Snack Table top marked opening
Snack ray top disassembled and marked for cutting.  I opted not to go for a round cut out on the bench top because I don’t have the skill to cut one.

4 jigsaw cut
Cutting out the bench top.

I sawed my bookshelf board in half,  and attached it to the bench top with screws.  I positioned them so there would be a lip to keep things from falling off the top of the bench.  Then I sawed two lengths of wood from the snack tray table legs and screwed them to the back of the bench to form the pliers rack.

I cut two more lengths from the table legs and screwed them to the inside of the bench to accommodate the shelf.  I cut the shelf to fit and added a lip at the back to prevent things from falling out.  The pliers rack on the rear of the bench keeps the shelf from falling out the back.

I added a strip of wood from the snack tray leg to the back of the bench top to make a lip to keep things from falling off the back of the bench.  Then I cut the paint stirrer and screwed it to the back for the pliers rack.

Last, I drilled pilot holes into the side boards and screwed in some adjustable feet which let me level the bench and adjust the height.

Here’s a side view of the bench that shows where I screwed the sides.

20 -16 inches deep, 24 inches wide and 9 inches high

I attached the bench pin with clamps.  I also made a nifty little forming tool with a piece of wood and some metal furniture knobs.  Clamp it in a vise and shape yourself some metal.  It’s also handy for riveting.

If you are interested in trying to make one of these yourself,  I have drawn up some rudimentary plans for you to download.   Feel free to share the plans but remember where you got them.