Ringing in the New Year with New Plans and New Art Clay Goals

My birthday is December 28th. It’s always been a pain to have a Holiday Birthday, cheated out of a birthday gift in lieu of a “Holiday Gift,” or simply forgotten. Sucked when I was a child, and I made it very clear to my husband of almost 39 years as soon as we were married that my birthday was DISTINCTLY DIFFERENT from the holidays and, though I couldn’t care less about holiday gifts, my birthday was NOT to be forgotten.  He’s only screwed up once in all that time, so I can’t complain.

Well, this year was my 65th birthday. A deluge of Medicare Supplement plans, Senior Living suggestions and even “Planning for your Funeral” postcards. Really uplifting. Not that I feel any differently, but my mom passed at 65 and I have been determined not to be in a similar situation—meaning, working until something happened medically and then not having a chance to “retire” or have the time to do more things for myself, rather than the business.

To make a long story short, I have decided to leave the day-to-day running of the business to Katie, my more-than-capable daughter and my husband. I’ll be in when needed, but I’m going to focus on teaching and being a lapidary and jewelry artist, something I haven’t been able to do for the last 16 years. I have the usual teaching gigs, Tucson, Glass Craft Expo in Vegas, Bead Fest, MCAS in Winston-Salem, but I’ve added 3 separate weeks teaching at William Holland School of Lapidary Arts, in Young Harris, GA. I’ve been wanting to teach Art Clay at William Holland since I took over the Art Clay World, USA distribution rights, but because of circumstances WAY beyond my control, only PMC was taught there. Thankfully, however, changes at William Holland have made that dream a reality, and I’m really looking forward to being an instructor there, rather than the student my husband and I were over 20 years ago.

Katie has her own, definite, long and short-term plans for the business, and I’ll always be there if she asks, and I have no trouble offering my advice even if she DOESN’T ask! But, it’s time to take a step back and be available to pass on whatever knowledge about Art Clay Silver in particular and metal clay in general that I’ve accumulated over the past 17 years. I’m hoping to do more small videos for our channel on Youtube, and turn my attention to getting metal clay taught in Community Colleges, Universities and High Schools. It will be nice to make my own schedule and teach at the Greater Chicago Artisan Center more often, and sneak in wire wrapping, glass fusing, and ceramics instruction when I can.

My e-mail isn’t changing, and neither is my cell phone. Way too many people have that number ( I wasn’t really smart in deciding how public to make it) so my availability is pretty much unchanged in that regard.

I hope to see many of you at MCAS this August, and if anyone’s interested in having me travel to them for private or group instruction, e-mail me and we’ll work something out. Or, better yet, come to Chicago (but not right now; it’s negative 11 degrees F.) and we’ll do a little sumpin’ sumpin’ together!!!

Have a great 2018 and keep metal clay going!

What’s to Become of Silver Clay?

A couple of interesting things have happened in the last couple of months that bear some discussion.  The first, is that both Rio Grande and PMC Connection have ceased to schedule PMC certifications. The “official” reason I was given was that it had just became too unwieldy and expensive to maintain. Apparently Mitsubishi didn’t want to go in this direction, so you may find that this is just a US/Canadian decision. If anyone has further information to add, I’d love to hear it. I know that the way that Rio Grande had handled certifications was far different from Art Clay World USA’s. There was more organization and financial debt on Rio’s part than the instructor’s.  Comparatively, the instructor had to do very little other than teach. Conversely, in Art Clay World USA’s program, the Senior Instructor is free to schedule or not, certify or not, and the process puts all the onus on the instructor. Every Senior or Master instructor in Art Clay who certifies takes a great deal of responsibility onto themselves. Perhaps those who poo-poo certification don’t realize the complicated process of certification set up by Aida Chemical Industries and modified only slightly for the US/Canadian students.

Keeping track of all the students, their data, completion of projects, signed forms and photos of their pieces is daunting. We (meaning Art Clay World USA HQ) demand quite a “chain of custody” in certification. We want to make sure that not only does the Senior or Master instructor follow the curriculum strictly, but that the student monitors the instructor as well to make sure the program they are given is followed. When talking about Senior Certification, there is an additional juried component that the student needs to complete before being declared a Senior Instructor. That is comprised of 3 original projects: a ring (size 7 with an imbedded gemstone), a pendant (must include a bezel and stone), and a brooch (which must have open syringework and properly attached brooch finding). There are other, more stringent requirements, but these are sent to us to review and oftimes it takes 2 or 3 attempts to get the work to the quality we demand of our Senior Instructors.

There are several questions that come to mind when pondering Rio Grande and PMC Connections decisions. First, is Mitsubishi no longer interested in the quality of work that is produced by new members of the metal clay community? How will the industry-at-large monitor the expertise, or lack thereof, of newbies and users of PMC to come? Will they be satisfied by the word-of-mouth exchange of instruction? How will their standards be maintained?

In other hand-crafted media, such as iron smiths or blade smiths (even some jewelry makers) there continues to be an apprentice/master or journeyman/master relationship, with the mentor having the responsibility to pass down her expertise which SHE learned from HER mentor. Will PMC users in the US and Canada just hope that the people who are teaching classes know what they are doing and giving right information? After all, I’m still hearing about the “white coating” on the fired silver that gets brushed off.

We are at a crossroads in metal clay, with more bronze and now silver metal clays being introduced monthly. And because silver is the most expensive, it needs the closest monitoring when instructing new users. We can’t afford to have too many people avoid using silver clay altogether because they can’t find an instructor who uses their brand or, worse, use it on their own, are unhappy with the results, and abandon it altogether. Of course, Art Clay World USA continues and will continue to focus on passing on that knowledge imparted to us by Aida Chemical Industries. We have to. And, despite the naysayers, it has nothing to do with money. I know the certifying instructors. And almost without exception, they are dedicated artists and teachers and are sincerely interested in making sure that those that use Art Clay Silver are using it correctly. The instructors are willing to share their expertise and when those certified enter our system, they are given a discount as a reward and the ability to more easily express themselves creatively. They also have access to us at HQ during open hours to ask questions, help solve product issues and just talk through any technical points they have. We support our instructors and are proud of them. I think that’s important, and I’m said that PMC users won’t have certification available to them in the United States.

The second announcement was made by Rio Grande, which administers the Saul Bell Awards annually. They have officially eliminated the metal clay category. I spoke to Kevin Whitmore of Rio Grande and he said, “We were happy to have that category for years, and I believe it helped give credibility to this new category of jewelry making.  But it is also true that silver (and gold) clay is not all that new any longer… So it was decided that we would retire this special category.  Of course we hope that metal clay artists will continue to enter the contest.  We have a silver category, and I fully believe that the best work in silver clay is capable of winning the overall Silver category.  I hope a silver clay artist does win.  It would be validation, both of us have had plenty of naysayers give us their opinions over the years…”

I totally agree with Kevin that the best work in silver clay can challenge any traditionally constructed silver work. But I was still surprised. Actually, I don’t know how I feel about this. Ambivalent doesn’t really describe it. I know that, artistically, we can go head-to-head with other forms of silver working. But is the validation really there? Are we ready to join the mainstream of metal working, and will the mainstream really allow us equal entry? After all, Civil Rights Acts hit the books in 1964 and we are obviously still struggling with that issue as a nation.

In this blog, I have no answers, just questions. I wonder if we are at a crossroads, and the decisions we make next will decide the future of metal clay and especially silver clay. Let’s face it, neither Mitsubishi or Aida Chemical Industries would suffer disasterous consequences if silver clay ceased to be manufactured by either. But we NEED silver clay, in addition to all the base metals, to continue to give artists the ability to rival traditional silver smithing and jewelry making. To give silver clay continued VALIDATION. So, what are YOU going to do to guarantee the continuity of our medium? What part are YOU going to play in the future of silver clay to insure that it continues well into the next century?


Should Metal Clay Manufacturers Be Held to Agreed-to Guidelines Just as Other Product Manufacturers Are?

I’ve been following the trials and tribulations of the glass industry for over a year, now. For those of you not in the loop, some US Art Glass Manufacturers were held accountable for several unwanted chemicals entering the environment because of the way they were disposing of their effluents. It was a matter of the EPA discovering that some of the Manufacturers weren’t following established rules to protect our water, soil and atmosphere. As a result, several, not all, glass manufacturers found it easier and less costly to close their doors then comply with the enormous task of rebuilding their furnaces, chimneys, etc. In the end, this led to a consolidation of sorts, with the same kinds of glass being made, with the same quality, albeit in Mexico.

When there were but two major silver clay manufacturers, and both being well established, big companies, compliance wasn’t a factor. Each knew the hoops they had to go through to comply with their country’s laws, and the distributors in other countries learned quickly what and what was not applicable and necessary for importation of the clays (we all have different hoops, but we jump through none-the-less).

Now, many years later, the 2 major silver (and sterling & copper) clay manufacturers have been increasingly outnumbered by medium, small, and micromanufacturers putting out everything from “snow bronze” to Sunny Bronze, to Brass to Iron, to Steel clays. And Japan has been joined by France, Poland, Turkey, Australia, and more recently, the US. Technology is such that anyone with a spare room or basement can experiment with metal powders, add a binder of choice, do some beta testing, and deliver, for immediate sale, a neatly packaged packet of metal clay, in powder or clay form.

I’m not necessarily saying this is bad. Not in spirit, anyway, and the artist part of me applauds the individuals for their entrepreneurship. But the Distributor part of me continues to groan as these new brands come out, nearly weekly it seems, without the proper information or packaging that any other, more recognized product, would be forced to have by regulation.

I got a package of clay recently that said absolutely nothing about what was in it, where it was manufactured, barely even enough instructions to get it in and out of the kiln!

Personally, I have thought for years that certain base metal clay manufacturers were very happy to put out a product and then let the customers beta-test it for them, letting them know what temps would work better, what lengths of time would result in a more completed product, and then announce the changes in a blog or email almost as an afterthought.

This is wrong, I had thought to myself, then and still now. Would I buy a boxed rice mix that would, maybe, come out all right by adding the specified amount of water, but maybe not? Would I buy a cake mix that I had to adjust my oven to so that it would come out edible? Would the consumer put up with that cake mix, knowing that the instructions are “almost” right, or the cake mix works some of the time but you might have to make 2 or 3 of them before you got that oven temp “just right.”

Recently I had a call from someone very involved in the metal clay industry since the very beginning. He wanted to know if I had any ideas on how to revitalize the metal clay industry, how we could regain control. Sure, we could focus on getting new customers, but was that the real problem? Was that the reason that the current metal clay community seemed deluged and confused with products that seemed to be almost the same thing but not quite? This metal clay alumnus and I agreed that metal clay might need, first, to create a Council of Metal Clay Manufacturers (CMCM) or (MCMC) so that we could get our acts together, set guidelines for packaging, contents and how to go about perfecting each brand BEFORE it was released. In other words, return to quality control basics. I realize that the main reason for all the different brands and colors was cost. After all, how expensive should bronze, brass, iron and steel clay be? But, on the other hand, shouldn’t the artist, the consumer, reasonably expect the product to be tested thoroughly before he or she purchases it? We are still buying metal clay products that only completely sinter a percentage of the time. Should it be the user that is told to “raise the temp of the kiln” or “use less carbon” cover the pan, uncover the pan, sift the carbon, don’t sift the carbon, round pan, square pan, no pan. Many people ask me why I stick with silver clay, and avoid the many, many base metal clays out there. It’s not just that I truly, truly believe that silver is the most cost effective metal clay out there, but (in reality) I’m spoiled by my metal clay working 100% of the time. Every time. Why should I buy a product I’m dicey about. Will it work today? Is it humid enough, is the moon waxing or waning? Is Jupiter aligned with Mars?

Seriously, I think it’s a travesty for the industry to have so many metal clays that claim they work, only to read rushed and frenzied questions about why their pieces broke when they followed the directions to the letter. What other consumer industry would put up with that? Is it because we are artists and we don’t mind “suffering” for our art? Or is it, God forbid, because we are women, who are used to being used as product guinea-pigs?

The current status of my dream to have a CMCM (council of metal clay manufacturers) is that no one of the manufacturers wants to play nice with the others. My fantasy is a large boardroom with a huge, round table (so there can be no “head” of it, of course, with a rep from each manufacturer sitting around, coffee, tea and diet Coke/Pepsis at their elbows, all talking energetically about the fate and future of metal clay: what needs to happen, what can be done to re-invigorate it, to synthesize its options to manageable proportions, and what kind of marketing it would take to put it into the hands of every man, woman, and child (over the age of 5) in the world.

I did say it was a fantasy. But we have to start somewhere. Will it take us artists boycotting certain brands until they work dependably to get the point across? What kind of impression must all these base metal clays make on the very people we are trying to bring into our fold?

I have no answers, only suggestions. Stop being the beta-testers for new brands of metal clay. Demand that the instructions be thorough, accurate and legible, and that the finished product WORKS!! Every time! What a concept!! A product that you can depend on when you use it, every time. I know they are out there, and they have huge, loyal followings. That’s terrific. But…what about the others? I know my time is way too valuable and I’m just too darned busy to do scientific research with pans of carbon to see what works and what I have to do to get it to sinter. I’ll just stick with my good ol’ silver clay, adding gold, gemstones, embeddables and wire, content in my knowledge that when I open the kiln (or turn off the torch) my fine silver will be exactly as I had imagined.

Putting our Hallmarks where our mouths are

I  just returned from Metalwerx Marketplace in Woburn, Massachussetts, where Art Clay World was a vendor and I demonstrated Art Clay for 2.5 days. Lots of interest, lots of metalsmiths who know about metal clay, people who were taking metals classes at Metalwerx school but didn’t know about metal clay. So, a lot of educating, firing and urging classes with Michaela Verani, the resident metal clay instructor.

During down time, I wandered around the room and spoke with other vendors about what they did and that’s when I met Aimee Berrent, Appraiser and jewelry consultant for her company, “A Matter of Brilliance.” We spoke about our respective roads to becoming GIA Graduate Gemologists. Of course, that brought me to metal clay and I removed a recent ring from my finger and held it out for her inspection.

Immediately she looked inside the shank. I mean REALLY looked inside, but not for seams or pits.

“Where is your hallmark?” she asked, her voice a challenge of sorts. “You say you want metal clay validated but here you are with the best example of validation and you don’t have a single mark on your piece.”

I felt admonished and abashed. I never remembered to hallmark my pieces, and rarely even remembered to sign them.

She was absolutely right. I wondered how many of us who use silver and gold metal clay hallmarked their pieces, or even signed them. Those very well known to us, Anna Mazon, Wanaree Tanner and Barbara Becker-Simon did, but how many others? It doesn’t take much to purchase a .999FS stamp (Art Clay sells two of them). It’s a little more vague o n what to do for the new mixed metals. Whether it’s .960 or .950 sterling, you don’t want people to think it’s .925. But we will have to come up with a solution very soon, because hallmarking is incredibly important.

I think we are lackadaisical about hallmarking because we don’t have the kind of strict law and enforcement that the UK has, where precious metal jewelry must be hallmarked for fineness if the silver content is over 80.0. I know that base metals only need to be marked “metal” to distinguish them from precious metals.

But it’s time to put our hallmarks where our mouths are. Every silver piece we do should have either a .999FS or STERLING or .950 (or .960) Sterling mark on it. That’s the kind of validation each one of us is capable of doing as artists. It’s an easy first step that should become a regular part of our creative process.

I’d love to hear from those that already hallmark, those that don’t and why they don’t. Hopefully, this blog will open us to the importance of this process. Thanks to Aimee Berrent for setting me straight and helping to get my own house in order!!



The Aging Metal Clay Community

Recently, I learned of the passing of Silver Clay guru, Mary Ann Devos, whom I had met 15 years ago when she certified me in Art Clay Level 1 and Senior. Between those two certifications, we spent the weekend in New York City together and went to see Miss Saigon on Broadway. We had both been RNs, and had much in common. I got to know Mary Ann fairly well, and we kept in touch for the next couple of months, until she called me to let me know she was leaving Art Clay USA (as I learned later, to help organize PMC Connection) and would I like to apply for her old job as Director of Education.

Life took a serious turn then and, apart from social banter when we met at shows, we really never spoke again. I was in my 40s in the year 2000, and Mary Ann was not far ahead of that. But I mention this now, because I regret not staying in touch. We were both on the cusp of this exciting adventure that was metal clay, and I wish the circumstances had been different and that I had been able to overcome the competitiveness of the Companies involved to appreciate her experience.

Which leads me to the kernel of thought that returns to me again and again of late. How can we replace ourselves with younger versions to keep this medium going years from now? How do we find these young people and interest them in metal clay? I applaud the new metal clay organization, IMPACT, for incorporating this need into its strategy. But how do we accomplish this mentoring of the young? It’s obvious that the median age of metal clay user is closer to 50-60. How do we lower that? Who do we target and  how?

I know that the Education Committee of IMPACT is working on that concern, and no doubt they will come up with programs to address this issue.

But as metal clay users, it really behooves all of us to become Mentors, to find interested young people (and by “young” I mean from kids all the way to 20s and 30s) to introduce to metal clay and all that this medium has to offer.

It means contacting Middle Schools, High Schools and Park Districts and offering your services to hold demonstrations, make-n-takes and the like. Of course you need to find out if there is a budget to allow the supplies to be covered, but I would not discount a demonstration for lack of one. Ten grams of clay (and I’m talking silver) can go a long way in a room of 30 or so observers. And giving them a handout of places to view videos, take classes and receive other information about metal clay is a great way to start the mentoring process.

I can’t tell you how many firing demos I’ve done over the years, handing out small, stamped, silver charms to people who had NO IDEA that metal clay existed, and who had watched the process, enthralled while clay magically turned into pure silver. Alchemy. Pure Alchemy.

Whatever it was that prompted two Japanese Companies to develop this incredible medium 20 years ago, it is up to each of us to make sure that in another 20 years metal clay doesn’t fade into obscurity. And don’t think it can’t. Silver clay sales had reached a peak in the middle 2000s, but have declined since the base metal clays have been released and the price of silver peaked at $43. Although the price of silver is barely half that, now, sales have not recovered. And the continued use of the plethora of base metal clays have kept the medium at a hobby level. I know that statement riles some, and this is a contentious subject, and many will not agree with me. But in order to survive as a viable metals medium , I believe we have to rise above copper and bronze and show that finished works in precious metals can rival any that traditional metalsmithing can produce. And there is noone to speak to this issue but ourselves, those that believe that using powdered metallurgy to create stunning fine silver jewelry is a relevant, lasting medium that deserves its place among fabrication, CAD-CAM, laser welding and casting for now and for decades to come. Is metal clay, specifically silver clay, worth the fight? I’ve put 15 years of my life into this medium and I say, YES! What about you?




Why the Metal Clay Community Should Organize

I recently represented Art Clay World USA at a small Conference in Ft. Wayne, IN, Annie’s Craft Festival.  It was touted as a Sewing/Quilting/Fabric/Paper/Decorating festival, with vendors, etc. Art Clay World USA has been trying to break into new territory, new niches, and we thought this might be the one. There were supposed to be paper crafts there and cake decorating, and since Art Clay World USA sells molds and stamps, we thought it might be a way of meeting new potential customers. Ft. Wayne is only 2 1/2 hours away, much closer than most of the trade shows we attend. So, we packed up way too much merchandize, trying to anticipate what people might want.

From an economic standpoint, it was a bust. The majority of attendees were knitters, crocheters, yarn people, quilters, etc. That doesn’t mean people weren’t fascinated by metal clay or what we had, but we hadn’t correctly identified what people were interested in. As a matter of fact, if we had stuck with metal clay we probably would have done better, since all those fabric people WERE interested in unique, home made buttons and toggles, which metal clay could have provided them.

At any rate, while I was wandering around I came upon a unique booth. It represented the North American Quilling Guild. Not ‘quilting,’ but ‘quilling,’ that old traditional craft of rolling up narrow strips of paper and forming them into miraculous works of art. Immediately my eyes lit up, because, as you might know, I’ve been using Art Clay Paper Type to quill jewelry for several years. I showed them some pictures of my jewelry and they showed me pictures of what their small organization was all about. As you might expect, the idea of using the technique to make fine silver jewelry was unknown to them and they were very excited to learn more.

I bring this up not so much because this new contact is exactly what I had been looking for—a new group of people totally unaware of metal clay and its possibilities, but because in finding this small, very highly specialized medium, I realized something else.

If you go to http://www.naqg.org, you will find one of the most organized group websites I’ve ever visited. It has everything one needs if interested in that medium. History, Board of Directors, how you can get involved, resources, members, how to join, etc. I learned that there are probably only 60-80 people at their conferences, but that they are successful and serve the purpose for which they exist.

And I thought, “That’s what we should have. An organization that we can participate in, and be a part of.”

The new organization, IMPACT, is a good start. I’m hoping, ultimately, that the metal clay community at large can have more of a say in the direction that we take in the future and expand our activities to include a Conference.

What kills organizations is lack of participation. If we have enough members, then what each of us has to do is minimal. I would like to see us thrive, grow and be an organization we can be proud of. Holly and her team have done an extraordinary job in creating IMPACT. It’s up to each of us to join and participate. If the North  American Quilling Guild can be successful, then I’m certain that IMPACT can be as well.

The Moses Complex versus “In My Humble Opinion”

I just got back from a huge bead show where Art Clay had a large booth and taught make and takes, demos and gave people a lot of information. During the course of the show, I had repeated complaints from people saying that there was one particular teacher at the show who was telling people that you should NEVER torch fire metal clay. The pieces weren’t strong enough, they would break, etc., etc. Worse, then we had to defend our torch method and refute the previous info.

I’ve been working with Art Clay for 15 years, and I’ve heard ALL kinds of urban legends, outright misinformation and quite a few things that surprised and, actually, pissed me off. But I’m getting REALLY TIRED of people spouting their own version of scientific reality that has little or no relationship to the truth.

First, there are several instructors out there that swear on a stack of Bibles that the only way to fire silver clay is to fire it at 1600-1650 F. for 2 hours. That’s Art Clay, PMC plus, PMC 3, whatever. It’s like, if 1650 for 10 minutes is good, then 2 hours MUST be better, even though NEITHER silver clay manufacturer supports that firing schedule.

Secondly, there’s the torch debate. Again, neither silver clay manufacturer has EVER stated that torch firing is NOT a method that sinters their products.

Before I address both of the above urban legends, I want to say that if you use a technique that is contrary to the manufacturers’ directions, and it works for you, and you feel strongly about it, then MAKE IT YOUR OPINION, NOT FACT!! How confusing must it be for newbies who are trying to decide if getting into metal clay is for them, if someone they respect is telling them one thing, and other people they respect are telling them another??!! If you don’t like to torch fire, you don’t teach torch firing, and don’t think it makes a strong sinter, then begin your statement with, “In my opinion…” But to say, “Never torch fire because it doesn’t work and you should NEVER do it!” just isn’t correct! Period!

If you go onto either the Mitsubishi Materials Corporation or Aida Chemical Industries sites you will find information on firing silver clay. Mitsubishi actually mentions stovetop firing or firing with a bunsen burner!! Rio Grande, Mitsubishi’s major distributor, sells torch kits and PMC Connection has always pushed the Hot Pot, which I personally, IN MY OPINION, think is a waste of time. Aida has always promoted firing Art Clay with a torch. And let’s examine that for a minute.

Most of the torches used to fire silver clay, whether butane, MAPP or other, have a top temp of around 2000 F. The sintering temperature for silver clay is between 1110-1200 F. and 1600-1650 F. When we use the torch, we can visually confirm that we are at the proper sintering temperature by the salmon or peach-color of the piece, when seen in dimmed light. Then we are told to hold that temperature for whatever time. For Art Clay, we have always taught between 2-3 minutes for 10 grams. PMC firing instructions are similar. Now, if the sintering temperature, as cued to us by the color of the metal, is between 1600-1650 F. and the top temp of the torch is around 2000 F. then wouldn’t you think the manufacturer would know what they are talking about when they give us instructions to torch the pieces?

I have been torching rings and other Art Clay items for 15 years and I have never had a ring break. Never. I have always followed the instructions and if I think I haven’t counted accurately, I overfire. No harm in that. Underfiring, on the other hand, is a set up for disaster and will produce an undersintered and, therefore, weak pieces prone to breaking.

Both companies that manufacture silver clay are owned by Japanese. In Japanese culture, failure is not looked upon kindly or as socially acceptable. So, logically, would either company put out instructions for a technique in firing their products that would result in a weak and potentially unfinished piece? Really?? Is the kiln a better method of firing? Absolutely. Does it produce stronger pieces when fired at the recommended time and the recommended temperature than torch firing? I think everyone believes so. But, I would rather torch fire a piece, knowing my sintering temperature is near the 1600-1650 F. mark, than kiln fire my piece at 1110-1200 F. for 30 minutes.

Which segues perfectly into the second urban legend. Firing at 1650 F. for 2 hours is the best way of firing. Where on earth did that come from? Does someone have an article or mention by EITHER manufacturer that lends credence to that? I have always thought that this believe stems from the original firing schedule for PMC Standard, which needed to be fired at 1650 F. for 2 hours. It shrank a lot, had a lot more binder, and it preceded PMC Plus and PMC 3, which fire for a lot less time. Maybe some of the PMC artists thought, well, if that was the firing method for Standard, then it must be used for all PMC versions. But, again, if that’s the case, why would the manufacturer say differently? One really, logically, has to assume that both Mitsubishi and Aida WANT their products to succeed.

Again, I’m not saying, don’t have an opinion, I’m saying, we have enough issues in the field of metal clay, trying to get people to try it and accept it, without the confusion of unsubstantiated claims that are meted out to students as coming from Above and sacrosanct.

If I’m incorrect, if someone has a directive from Mitsubishi to fire their clays at 1650 F. for 2 hours, I will be the first to apologize and alter my thinking. But I will stand by Aida Chemical Industries’ firing schedule for 1200 F. for 30 minutes to 1600 F. for 5 minutes, understanding that firing at 1200 F. should probably not be used on rings that take a lot of wear, but allows you to include glass and certain gemstones, and thereby allows increased creativity.

Actually, I do, myself, have an IMHO (in my humble opinion) statement. When I fire Art Clay silver in the kiln, I fire it for 10 minutes, even though Aida, in reformulating its clay some years ago, says you only have to fire for 5 minutes at 1600 F. Why? Because the old formula did and I am just in the habit of remembering 10 minutes. But it’s my opinion. If you read the instructions, it says 5 minutes, but I feel more comfortable at 10 minutes. Do I teach 10 minutes? Yep, but I typically say exactly what I say here.

If you want to fire your pieces at 1650 F. for 2 hours, or if you don’t want to torch fire because you think it’s not a good method, mazel tov. But don’t go around like Moses holding up the 10 Commandments making statements of fact that aren’t. If we have our own strong opinions about something, we should be able to be genuine and forthright enough to admit it  . IMHO only, of course.

Is Metal Clay now an accepted part of mainstream Arts & Crafts?

I just got back from a spectacular cruise: Mixed Media Cruise put on by Art Across the Oceans, aka Lisa Pavelka/Lisa Lambright/Joan Conner. I’ve been going to these cruises for almost 10 years, mostly as an attendee, but I did a couple of cruises as an instructor. As an aside, I encourage all of you to take one of these cruises. Not only are they organized to within an inch of their lives (a good thing) but the people you meet and the ability to interact on a personal level with instructors you may (or may not) idolize is worth the money.

This cruise had 4 instructors: Lillian Chen, whose contemporary wire and Swarovski work is really stunning; Lisa Pavelka, an Art Clay Master Instructor/polymer clay guru who was teaching epoxy clay and crystals; Ann Mitchell, all rivets and copper and nickel cuff, and Christi Friesen, who has made sculpting polymer clay into fantasy creatures and not-quite-real animals a high art. Even though I’ve been wire sculpting for going on 30 years, Lillian brought new techniques to my repertoire, and although my self-inflicted frustration in Ann’s class had me cursing in Italian and English, it was enlightening and entertaining. I gave my finished cuff to Christi, since I can’t wear copper.

A few of the evenings had all the Instructors laying out their handmade treasures for sale. I partook as much as my budget allowed. Ann Mitchell had her bold and serious cuffs, necklaces and bracelets out, and I was really pleased to see some metal clay in there as part of a few pieces. In that moment I missed teaching metal clay on the cruise, the difficulty of which has all but eliminated it from being repeated in the future. No open flame allowed on the ship (God forbid!), and the paranoia and resistence on the part of the cruise industry when hearing the word “kiln” cannot be overemphasized. The last cruise I taught Art Clay on was the Mixed Metal Clay Cruise to Alaska in 2012. Highly successful, but Carnival had been the only cruise line at that time allowing the (gulp and whisper) “kiln”, and the service, food and overall ambiance was less than stellar.

All that being said, there were 53 artists on the cruise, many of them polymer clay artists, some beaders and a few metal clay artists. Add significant others, and the total was around 80. There was a great deal of camaraderie, some newbies who, by the end of the cruise, had been taken into the bosoms of those more seasoned, and huge amounts of generous technique sharing.

In the past, even though I consider myself a metal clay pro, I have sometimes felt on the fringe of the “usual” list of creative jewelry arts: beading, polymer clay, flameworking, etc. I suppose, simply because metal clay was the newest entry, and so many people just hadn’t either heard of it, or experienced anyone who used it. There was always a bit of explaining about what it is, what you do with it, etc. And at the ship’s breakfast and lunch tables, when interacting with the cruise’s general population, that was still the case.

But it was very gratifying and satisfying when the introductions were made among our group, that metal clay was just another technique among many. It may seem a little thing in the big picture, but I was consciously aware of how everyone nodded when I said I was a metal clay artist and I saw no looks of utter befuddlement or, worse, dismissal.

Again, it may seem a little thing to say that no one blinked, but after 20 years out there, it seems metal clay is holding its own, and its versatility has paid off as we are now seeing it appear in virtually every form of craft, from leather to crystal, to wire, to traditional metals, to ceramics, glass and more.

That’s why it is SOOOOOO very important that those of us who work in metal clay continue to support our medium, and when you see advertisements for Artisan Craft Expo, July 9-11 (maybe 12th), 2015, we seriously think about attending classes in metal clay or the other supporting media classes being held those days.

If you want to attend a conference that is going to continue (we hope) to grow into something special, one that DOESN’T have a GAZILLION classes morning, noon and night, charges you reasonably for those classes and values its instructors and exhibitors as much as it values its attendees, then hike, fly or drive to the South Point Hotel and Casino in Vegas in July. Check out http://www.artisancraftexpo.com. Las Vegas Management, which is organizing the show, has no brand affiliation of any kind, and just wants to provide an instructive, quality event.

I would love to see metal clay artists coming together annually to share new techniques, and new products. I know that a few of you SHOULD have been instructing at Artisan Craft Expo, but didn’t see the importance of the BIG PICTURE and demanded too much money, or too many perks. Sometimes you just have to recognize that it’s important to make it work for the sake of perpetuating the medium.

Well, ‘nuf said. I had a helluva time in the Caribbean, met a shwack of cool people, sipped a LOT of fruity/rummy drinks, and felt rejuvenated by the classes and the fuzzy feelings of fellow artists.

Check out http://www.artacrosstheoceans.com if you are interested in being a part of future craft cruises. I’m already saving my pennies for the next one!

Should we check our Instructor’s credentials? Should an Instructor HAVE credentials?

I was originally planning on putting down my thoughts on the importance of teaching HOW to teach. But today I read a comment on Facebook by someone who challenged the whole certification process. She believes, and I’m sure others do as well, that certification by any company that manufactures metal clay is simply a ploy to increase sales. Actually, she claimed it was a pyramid scheme, which is entirely incorrect. Sooooooooo, my blog this time is deviating from my original intent to address this whole “credentials” issue.

You have to remember that the 2 primary companies manufacturing metal clay are located in Japan. There is a very deep, social stigma that the Japanese attach to failure. Success is more than just a marketing goal. When silver clay first came out, it was unlike anything else that was on the market. It was not like traditional metal smithing, and certainly not like polymer clay, though some of the tools overlapped. I’m only speaking about Aida Chemical Industries, of course, since that’s the company with which I’m most familiar. But for Aida, certification was created to insure, as much as possible, consumer success in using the product. Without instruction, and I’m talking about hand-on instruction, using Art Clay correctly can be daunting, and you can mess it up in a heartbeat. Faced with a 10 gram lump of unrecognizable silver, I can guarantee that the user is going to blame the company for making a crappy product and not explaining how the heck to use it. And he or she will then tell 10 of his/her friends how crappy a product it is. Not an option.

I personally believe that certification, especially beginning certification (Level 1 for Art Clay) is a necessity for anyone who plans on teaching Art Clay to others. Why? Because if you don’t, you may not have all the knowledge you need to pass on to your student. And, if the student is curious and has lots of questions, you better know how to answer them. I’m not talking about the ability of the instructor to instruct. That’s an entirely different conversation. I’m talking about the difference between a mechanic who only knows how to change the oil but can’t help you if you hear a clank or see a red fluid dripping from a hose, and a comprehensive mechanic who understands the basics of the internal combustion engine.

Are there Art Clay instructors out there who aren’t certified and do just fine? Of course, Hopefully, they teach within their comfort zone and aren’t passing on any bad or incorrect information. But if they aren’t Certified by Art Clay, I have no idea where they got their information. Did they read about it, get it second hand? As the owner of the US distributorship, I can tell you that I’m concerned about instructors who aren’t certified, because I DON’T know if they have the right information or not. We keep a pretty tight leash on what is taught in certification. There is a curriculum to follow that we know is acceptable to Aida in Japan and actually goes above and beyond their requirements. There are checklists and pictures are taken of projects that reflect those requirements.

Going back to the accusation that our certification program is a pyramid scheme, I can tell you right now that anyone who is certified doesn’t kick anything back to us when they teach. As a matter of fact, they get a discount for having certified with us. I know several true pyramid type businesses and Art Clay World certainly isn’t one of them. Anyone who is certified a Level 1 instructor can teach anything BUT certification to others. In order to certify others, one has to be a Senior Certified instructor, with advanced levels of skill. I know there are exceptions out there, so don’t go writing me to point out someone you know who really isn’t a very good teacher. Again, I’m not talking about the skill of teaching, I’m talking about the skill of using Art Clay.

In a nutshell, I believe in the Certification process. I believe it’s necessary to keep standards up, since we ALL know that silver clay is so easy it doesn’t take much to punch out some really unattractive-looking pieces. And I suppose any knowledge is better than NO knowledge. But as the “keeper of the standards” as far as Art Clay World USA goes, I firmly acknowledge that, as a student, I’d rather have someone certified than not. Think of it as going to a surgeon. Now, any old MD can hang a shingle and call themselves a surgeon and cut you up. But do you REALLY want a minimally-trained MD with a scalpel in his or her hand? Or do you want a BOARD CERTIFIED surgeon who you know has met rigorous standards? Why should our skills be any different, and why should we demand less when we are passing on knowledge regarding our own art form? Does having more Certified Instructors increase our sales? I sure hope so. But it also makes it more likely that the people behind those new sales will understand the product and be more successful when using it.You shouldn’t have one without the other.

As for teaching instructors HOW to teach….I think that is essential as well, and our goal for 2015 is to set up a separate program to do just that. It’s something that’s been a long time coming, but because of feedback from an instructor survey I sent out recently, it’s apparent that the time is now. I’m hoping to have a workshop sometime in the Fall, open to any Art Clay certified instructor at any level. In addition, I’d like to get that program on a DVD, available to anyone who feels they need basic skills in instructing others. Heck, I guess it will give us something to do around the shop in all our spare time…

The Calm After the Storm

Well, it’s been an interesting couple of weeks. It was really satisfying to see so many metal clay people defending and supporting the use of metal clay versus traditional metalsmithing. Some of the posts could have been a bit more diplomatic (on both sides) but at least it got awareness up and got people talking.

The Orchid Board is a great place to find information, and it is a terrific resource but, like any forum, there are those that comment on things about which they know not. We just have to show them the error of their ways.

A couple of the comments made me really examine the statements I’ve been making over the years that  metal clay can be every bit as cost efficient as traditional metalworking, if one is considering your time as cost. After all, once you become proficient, creating in metal clay can be fairly swift, and there are some things you can do in metal clay that just wouldn’t be easy to accomplish traditionally. Yes, I know you can carve wax just as easily, but if I want a one of a kind, do I really want to carve my piece in wax, send it out to be cast and then get it back and have to do all the work to refine and polish it? That’s 3 steps more than I have to with metal clay.

However, the price of silver being as low as it is at the moment, I know that the cost of silver clay is very high. Yes, I admit it, it’s really much higher at this time. But the sculptability, the detail possible, the personalization I can get I certainly couldn’t with fabrication. Maybe my resistance to wax carving is the detachment. My hands wouldn’t touch metal until I got the piece back in silver. That would certainly take some getting used to. I’m so used to having the silver in my hands, ready to be shaped and molded, that I can’t imagine being removed from that process.

At any rate, I do understand traditional metal smiths inability to comprehend our dedication and loyalty (if not obsession) with metal clay. I have always been able to sell my pieces, but would probably be gobsmacked by the increased sales were I able to bring my prices down to where they appealed more to the masses. If the roof over my head and my next meal depended on the sales of my jewelry, I’d be hitting the streets for boutiques and galleries, and maybe come face to face with the decision of whether metal clay or casting was the best way to survive financially. I know there are many, many metal clay artists who do survive by teaching and writing and selling their art. It’s not easy, but it’s possible. Would it be easier being able to carve wax and cast in sterling in multiples? Probably, but you have to be willing to be that kind of artist. Production has never been something I was interested in.

For me, as an artist, metal clay fills a void that no other medium has. Creating jewelry isn’t just the finished product for me, it’s the journey as well. The experience on the Ganoksin Orchid Board has helped me understand many things about myself. One, that I’m intensely, fiercely loyal to metal clay as a medium. Two, that I will never be a metal smith who uses fabrication solely as a means of creating jewelry. And lastly, that I’m not ready to “step back” and walk away from this journey that I started 14 years ago. I’m proud to be a part of this new medium movement, and I hope in 50 years there will still be those in metal clay discussing, arguing and creating.