Cheap and Easy Photography Studio

And I really mean cheap and easy.  OK, not free.   I did have to buy some plastic place mats on Amazon. But I got 12 for $18.00 which leaves plenty left over to use as place mats and as traveling work surfaces for polymer.  That, packing tape and white card  stock which I had (you could use printer paper too) and I was all set.

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I have one of those cloth photo tents like this one  and they are great for taking pictures of vases and bigger items.    But it’s big and unwieldy in my studio and I actually had to watch a video on how to fold it and get it back into its storage bag.    I wanted a smaller photo cube for jewelry and similarly sized items.   I could have bought something, but could not find the size I wanted.  It seems like these things come in two sizes:  tiny and enormous.

That meant making one.  I didn’t want to have to buy special paper.  I didn’t want to have to find the right size box and saw the sides out of it.  When I was finished taking pictures,  I wanted to stow the box in a drawer or on a bookshelf.  So here’s what I came up with:

2Placemat photo setupHere’s the photo setup.  I cut the place mats to size with scissors and used packing tape to make this triptych-like screen.  4open

Here’s the set up with white paper behind the triptych under it.  You can use paper and the other mats to make any kind of configuration you like.  Just tape them together.  You can put the lights anywhere to get the effect you want.  The light I am using here is nothing fancy.  It’s an LED desk lamp I bought at Five Below and it uses three AA batteries which means you can move it anywhere and not be fighting with wires.  You can get something similar on Amazon here.  Don’t pay more than $5.00 per lamp.  They’re great for traveling to which is why I originally bought them.   And don’t think you need to buy  lights if you already have something you can use.

 

So, how do the pictures look?  Let’s see.

Shooting Earrings

Here’s a setup to shoot a pair of bronze clay earrings suspended on a piece of floral wire.

The image on the left is unlit.  I used the lamp on the image on the right.  I didn’t use any photo editing software.

Here are the same images Gimped.  Click on the images a couple of times to view them full size.  Gimp is a free open-source image editor that I have used for years.  It can do anything you want.  Did I mention that it’s free?

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This is the photo studio folded up and ready to be put away.  It hardly takes up any room at all.  If you need something bigger,  just tape on another mat or two.  If you want something smaller, cut one down.

Here’s another idea.  The plastic drawers in this storage unit are also made of translucent plastic.  Before I started using the place mats,  I got some pretty good shots using empty drawers. Plastic drawers

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Here’s a tassel I laid on one of the empty drawers.  You don’t have use a place mat on the drawer like I did; simply turn it over if the underside is free from markings.  You can try putting your small, battery-operated lamps inside or outside the drawer.  Experiment.

 

2Tassel on Box closeup

Here’s a shot of the tassel with some light from the battery-operated lamp.  Not too bad.  One of the great things about these photo setups is that they are small and cheap enough to take outside into the natural light where you should be able to get some pretty good results.  Experiment!  And don’t forget to have fun.

 

 

 

Wiggling and Faceting: More DIY Pottery Tools

I’m taking a throwing class at The Clay Studio this summer with a wonderful teacher.    At our last class, we learned how to throw faceted pots.  Read more about faceted pots here.

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Some examples of faceted pots we saw in class

Then the teacher showed us a faceting tool with a wiggle wire instead of a straight wire.  It left interesting patterns when it was dragged across the clay to cut facets, and there are a number of ways you can drag the wiggle wire through the clay to decorate your pot. Take a look at some examples here.

I have always liked the look of mugs that were cut off the wheel with wiggle wires, but I never invested in a tool to do it.  That and the faceting tool got me to thinking.  Why not make myself some wiggle wire tools?  And that’s what I did.

 

I made a cut-off tool first.  I had an old straight wire cut-off tool that was a bit frayed.   I simply coiled the wire around a mandrel and it kept its shape when I removed the mandrel.

 

If you don’t have a spare cut-off tool, you might try coiling stainless steel wire which is more difficult to do and not as flexible, but if you coil a long enough piece, it should work.  I would recommend a 22 gauge or so wire. Crafting and similar type wires are probably too soft and liable to rust.   Attach the ends to washers or dowels and voila!  a wiggle wire cut-off tool.

For the faceting tool you will need a piece of wood about the size of a small pocket comb, say four or five inches long and an inch or so wide.   I cut off part of a paint stirrer that was thick enough to accommodate screws but I would recommend a sturdier wood for a better tool.

I  drilled holes to accommodate two flat-head screws and two holes on each side for the screw eyes.

I coiled some 22 gauge stainless steel wire around a mandrel.  I recommend that you secure the mandrel and wire in a vise before winding.  It will make the job much easier.

 

 

Insert the hardware.  You might want to add a drop of wood or epoxy glue in the screw hole if you are using a soft wood.

Uncoil the wire.  It will be stiff.   Make several wraps around the screw eye and feed a straight section through the slot in the nearest screw. You might have to straighten out a bit of the wire with flat pliers to do this. The picture shows you how you should have your screw angled and why a Phillips head screw won’t work.

Stretch the wire over to the next screw and make sure it fits into the screw slot before winding the rest around the other screw eye.  Be careful when you cut this wire because it is stiff and can go flying.  You can tighten the wire by turning the screw eyes.

 

You can also try pulling out springs you might have around the house and using them to facet pots.  But I think the tool would give you more control.

Two more tools to add to my vast and growing collection!     Here’s a video showing how to put facets on a pot with a wiggle wire.

 

 

 

 

Pain and Soldering Revisited

 

I am making a setting to hold a coin.  Or I am trying to.   I set a coin in Richard Salley’s metalsmithing class at Hacienda Mosaico a couple of years ago.   I didn’t like the results and vowed to try again.  I had my class notes but wanted to find something a little more tailored to my capabilities.  And so I looked for a tutorial in every dog house, out house and waffle house and didn’t find anything I like.  So then I decided to improvise.  Uh oh.
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This is the coin.  A lovely specimen (from before the time the Republic  of Ireland went on the Euro)  that a friend gave me so I could make the pendant for his wife.  I would love to show you the other side, but I have lost it.   My husband says it will turn up somewhere.  Brilliant.  Maybe on one of the moons of Jupiter or the other side of the state, but not with me.

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I start off with 18 gauge silver

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And measure very carefully.

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My trusty scribe and metal cutting scissors.  By the way, these scissors are fantastic!  I forget where I read about them.  (Maybe Helen Driggs’ column in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist?)  I have a few pair of metal cutting scissors, but these are the best by far.  You can buy them from Amazon.

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I cut my bezel.

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I straighten my bezel

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I wrap the metal around the coin, cut to fit

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and solder

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I planned to cut tabs on both sides of the bezel for fold over tabs

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Soldering on the jump ring

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And phooey phooey phooey!  But his story has a happy ending!  I managed to design a coin bezel based on a basket setting.  This took several hundred many attempts.

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In the coming weeks, I will post a tutorial on  how I made it.  In the meantime,  here are two new ideas for making your own jewelry tools!

3.Hammeringmat This one is great!  Who uses phonebooks anymore?  You can also use a thick catalog or maybe stacks of magazines.  Just secure them with masking tape or duct tape.  They make a great hammering surface or a cushion for a bench block.

 

An old hammer head secured in a vise makes a great metal forming tool.

 

Allow Me To Vent

This has been a frustrating week.  Pictures have disappeared from my hard drive.  MS Word has chosen to save parts of documents and not others.   I spent time circling the gas pumps trying to figure out how to get the fuel tank on the rental car to the correct side to pump gas. And what do you call it when you’re about to finish sewing something, prick your finger with the needle, and bleed on the fabric?  (It’s  a good thing I know the cold water dab don’t rub trick.)   At this point, I  could write a book entitled  Tips and Tricks for Idiots.  And to top it off, I have to start brushing Boris’s teeth.  Oh, the humanity.

Which brings me to the matter of the vent.  My studio is in my basement and I would like to be able to solder and  make glass beads in the winter time.  But the ventilation is not so good with all the windows shut.  So I decided to get me some ventilation.  I first asked my plumber who was doing some work on my house and he proposed something that was expensive and more like the kind of ventilation you would need in a dairy barn with 500 lactating cows. Except that I love my plumber (how many of you can say that?)  And maybe it was my fault. Maybe I asked for too much. I have a habit of doing that to men.   Just ask my husband. Or my plumber.  

Plan B-YouTube.  Mymy there are a lot of YouTubers out there growing vegetables. And flowers.  In tents,  There is a lot of information on how to ventilate your <cough, cough> crops.  If you don’t like gardening,  jeweler Nancy Hamilton has a good tute on how to set up a fume extractor  system for jewelry soldering here.  There are also a lot of instructive images on that famous time sucker, Pinterest. Very few how-tos, though.   I didn’t know how to connect duct work or how to install an in-line fan. But when has a lack of knowledge ever stopped me?  I got married,  didn’t I?

Here’s what I did.  But first, allow me to vent.  Will you look at this window? It’s 14 X 6. Whoever heard of a window like that except in South Philly? It’s probably the only one in the world.  I needed to cut something to fit said window, and then cut a 4 inch circle out of that to put the dryer hose through. I grabbed an old plastic  storage container, cut it to size,  made the hole,  got a vent collar at Home Depot and I had my hole to the outside.

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I needed an inline fan with a speed controller that was not too noisy.    I ordered this    from Amazon waited two weeks for it and then they cancelled my order and gave the option to reorder.  Wha?  I asked them, how about you give me free overnight delivery and I order it again.  They said yes and it came the next day.

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Now, I don’t know the numbskull who designs these things, but there was no room for a drill or screwdriver to allow me to attach it to the wall.  So I had to brace a couple of stud scraps, run the screws through backwards, fasten the stud to the wall and   fasten the fan to the stud with nuts.  Nuts I to that say.

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While I am venting,  I learned that the adjustable clamps are next to useless for attaching duct reducers to the fan or ducks to ducts.  Or ducts to ducks or ducts to ducts.  But I learned (through thorough research those indoor gardeners know everything!) about self tapping machine screws.  Except mine would not self tap.  They were probably worried about going blind.  Do you even get that joke?  I ended up making the holes for them and all was well.

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The speed controller which is also the on-off switch  is off to the side.  

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Here is the completed venting system.  I put a blast gate on the other side of the T duct because I might want to extend the system.  I then have to put another blast gate on the bottom of the T duct to close it off.  That project comes under the heading of maybe later or maybe never.  My favorite part of the system is the hood with is a trash-picked wok cover that I cut a hole in.  I got the rest of the stuff from Amazon and Home Depot.

 

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How does it work?  Look at the picture.  I’m happy.  All the parts even with my mistakes cost about $100.00.

 

 

 

Make Yourself Some Pottery Tools

My posts on making jewelry tools have been so popular that I decided to share some ideas for making pottery tools with you.  None of these are original but they all present my twist on things.  The first one is a clay texture tool.  I found a foot massager at a thrift store, took it apart, and now I have two new texture tools plus some to share.

You can also saw up a broomstick a dowel and apply craft foam or hot glue to make patterns to texture clay.  There are some examples below.  

The glue stick makes a nice texture.

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Make a clay cutter to cut canes for Nerikomi.  I cut the end off a metal plant hanger and strung  it with 24 gauge wire.  You can use any form that will keep the wire taut and if the wire breaks, it’s easy to replace.  

I love the idea of a tool that will bevel the edges of clay slabs.    Enter the beveler!    I got the idea to make my own from this site  but mine is a bit different.  The wood I used is a sidewalk find.  I trimmed the smaller piece so the edges were straight.  Then I nailed it to the larger piece so I would have two beveling angles, one shallow and a longer one.  I didn’t measure anything; I just eyeballed it.  I notched the four corners to keep  the wire in place and used a screw eye to hold the wire taut.  I tried my beveler out and it works beautifully.  It really comes in handy when you are beveling curved edges.

And finally, although this is not a pottery tool, I had to include it. I made myself a rawhide hammer from a dog chew following Charles Lewton-Brain’s directions here.  My conclusion?  Go out and buy one. The dog chews ended up costing about as much as a small hammer and it was much more difficult the make than the instructions let on.  But still, I like the way my hammer turned out and I’m using it.

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Feel free to share this information and if you  want to share ideas for tools you’ve made, leave a comment.