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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.

How to get my hackles up!

I recently read the following on the Ganoksin Orchid board from a traditional metal smith:

“There are two uses that I can see with PMC.

One is to introduce people to a starter form of jewellery making,

which is good– and the other is to make money for the people that

supply it.

For the rest, there is nothing that one can do with PMC that cannot

be done better, neater, and cheaper with carving waxes.

I have never seen a piece made with PMC that is up to an

international standard.

When I see ” Certified PMC Instructor ” my BS meter hits bright


I would not mind so much if they admitted they are certified play doh

instructors but to insinuate that PMC makes quality jewellery is

just plain bollocks.

PMC simply dumbs down jewellery making and produces an inferior


And if you don’t believe me, type in precious metal clay into Google

under images.

The pictures say it all.

It also consumes an inordinate amount of electricity in relation to

the finished product.

End of rant.”

So, my question to all of you metal clay artists out there, how would YOU respond? and should we? I must say I did respond, and none too kindly. The Ganoksin Orchid Board is highly respected with thousands of readers daily. What do you do when your work and medium are insulted so openly? How meek should we be? Just shake our heads and think, “well, he’s just one person and he can’t do much damage,” Really? Now thousands of jewelers have read his message.

Are we, as metal clay artists, just having fun? Are we deluding ourselves and just wasting time? ARE we just misinformed and misguided wannabes that can’t and couldn’t succeed in traditional metal smithing?

For one, I’m hopping mad. Angry, insulted and glad I’m not face-to-face with this ignorant idiot. It’s one thing to be wary and suspicious of a medium you haven’t even tried, but to be so judgemental without even learning about it, and THEN posting it on a well-respected Board is just, plain dangerous!!!

Read his comments again, and tell me you’re not offended.

I’ve always said that we need to educate the public. And that includes bench jewelers and all traditional jewelers.

And I’ve also said that the beginning years of metal clay hurt us in that so much inferior work was put out there for people to see, before we became experts, before we knew what metal clay was fully capable of.

So, please, please, educate, educate, educate. And don’t let remarks like this go unnoticed. Call these people out. This prejudice may not seem in the same league with race remarks and fat jokes (which offend the hell out of me), but this is our livelihood and what makes us artists. We need to speak up for what we are proud to be a part of.

End of rant.


October’s Bog

Metal Clay by the Bay was exhausting for me as a vendor, and the first week of a 3-week stint driving around the country from San Diego to Jewelry Television in Knoxville, TN, to a Senior Certification near Buffalo, NY where I was born and raised. But MCBTB was also great fun. I got to see a bunch of people that I rarely hear from outside of social media, and got to talk with bunches more. People seemed happy with the conference, though I know the numbers were lower than Louise had wanted. Not the first time I have heard that. I know Lis-el Crowley wanted better numbers as well. And in the 3 times we did Metal Clay World Conference, I was always disappointed in the registration numbers.

I understand, totally. There aren’t a lot of people who have that kind of disposable income these days. There’s the flight or gas cost to the conference, the cost of the conference itself, and then the hotel, not to mention meals.

I’m mentioning this now because if you are a metal clay artist, I’m asking you in all sincerity to start saving your dollars for the Artisan Craft Expo, next July 9-11, 2015. That’s not to say I don’t want you to go to Metal Clay Mojo. Lis-el’s putting together a wonderful program and I know she needs numbers as well. But we have the opportunity to begin attending a conference that will be financed, not by us money-strapped artists, but by a professional convention management company. This is HUGE for us, as a medium. None of us who have held metal clay conferences in the past have succeeded in breaking even. We just haven’t had either the clout, advertising or money to organize something on the scale that we would hope to have for ourselves.

Las Vegas Management, who is taking all the risk, has been holding Glass Craft and Bead Expo for over 20 years, now. I’ve gone nearly every one of those years, and it’s a well-oiled machine, with great instructors, great classes and great exhibitors. They are trying this metal clay and polymer clay conference because I (and others) have been nagging them for years. But more than that, they must see the possibilities, or else they wouldn’t attempt it.

But, if we don’t show them that we are interested, and that we are willing to support events like this, then Artisan Craft Expo 2015 will be the first and last of its kind. And no one, not Louise, not Lis-el and not either of the past Guilds and Societies, should ever have to lose their shirts again because we need a place to learn, meet and work in the medium we love. The only way this Expo is going to work and return annually is for us as metal clay artists and those involved in the medium to participate. To make it worth Las Vegas Management’s time, effort and money to repeat this year after year we need ALL of us!! Yes, it’s West, for all you Easterners, but I guarantee you that there were over 100 flights to Vegas today on all manner of carriers. There’s a shuttle from the airport to the hotel and once you are there, there’s no reason to leave. Food is plentiful and varied, and you will all be in one section of the Conference Center. No walking all over the place. Exhibitors and classes will be near each other and the hotel rooms are not far away. It’s only 3 days, but it’s a start, and we need to show the Show Organizers a level of involvement that will prove that we are willing to invest in our medium next year, and the year after that.

So, please watch for the website, which will be coming soon. I’ll be announcing things as they become available. And, if you’re wondering, I have no vested interest in this Conference. I’m not part of the management team, I’m not getting any remuneration. I’m just an excited metal clay artist and business owner thrilled to have an organization willing to take a chance on us. Will I be teaching there? Probably not, if Art Clay is going to be a vendor, which I want us to be. Will I be working for Las Vegas Management at the Expo, like I do for Glass Craft Expo? If I’m asked, for sure, because I know the Management is not experienced in all things metal clay or polymer clay.

Think about it, plan for it, and talk to those who are hesitant. I got a survey from Lis-el today about an international metal clay organization. Wouldn’t it be great to have our first “official” meeting in Vegas next year?

Again, I would never want anyone to have to choose Vegas over Metal Clay Mojo. But if you weren’t or couldn’t go to Connecticut in August, think about Vegas in July.

My only other thoughts are that I observed at Metal Clay By the Bay that the quality of metal clay work in the last couple of years has increased significantly, and I’m so excited by what I’m seeing. By artists all over the world!! I had the good fortune to meet Anna Mazon from Poland and was floored not only by the beauty of her work, but by the expertise. The detail, the finishing. The list of preeminent metal clay artists is growing, and it gives the rest of us something to aspire to, to work towards. Don’t settle for almost, or nearly. Go the extra step that you know will push your metal clay work into the next level. Use those files, use that sanding pad, or power tool. Show all the people who have said that metal clay is just a “wannabe” that they just don’t know what they are talking about. The only thing we should “wannabe” is EXCELLENT!

September Blog

I suppose that posting a blog while fighting a cold isn’t the wisest move. But the ringing in my ears isn’t too distracting at the moment, so I’ll continue.

I must say that the past month has been exciting. I’ve been teaching much more at the Greater Chicago Artisan Center recently, though Tom and I leave tomorrow for 3 weeks of San Diego, Knoxville and Buffalo. I’ve had out of country students and students who have traveled to be in my class, which is always humbling.

Even so, I’ve been despairing lately at what seems to be the drop in interest in silver clay. Certainly since the silver price explosion of 2011. I’ve spent the better part of 14 years spreading the word about the awesomeness of silver clay and the windows of opportunity it opens for jewelry artists. But in the last couple of years it seems more an uphill battle. And the plethora of choices in base metals has made my job all the more difficult. Not that there’s anything wrong with bronze and copper (and all of their other permutations). And I’m a wholehearted fan of Art Clay copper, which I sincerely believe is the best choice for copper clay out there. But I think there was a time, when the price of silver topped at $43/ounce, that some metal clay artists were jumping like rats out of the sinking silver clay ship. I can understand the reasoning, for sure. But silver has been back down around $20 for a while, now, and I haven’t seen the numbers totally return. Really, I understand the allure, both financially and visually, of bronze and copper. But what happened to our love of silver? Certainly using silver clay is easier than copper or bronze; it joins easier, fires easier and more quickly, is dependable and is valued much more highly. If you’re an artist selling your work, there’s no comparison between what you can ask for fine silver versus base metal clays. And the variety of real gemstones you can fire in copper and bronze is much more limited. So what happened? Have we just lost track of why we fell in love with silver clay in the first place?

Is there still a future for silver clay? Tomorrow we head out for Metal Clay by the Bay conference in Mission Bay, California. I’m supposed to give a short lecture on the future of metal clay. And I really have to think about this. Especially in North America. I think that Europeans (including Brits) are used to spending more for things.  And silver still seems to be the choice for metal clay in Europe. Of course there is Goldie formula, and Prometheus and they can import Metal Clay Adventures and Hadars clays, but silver still seems to reign across the pond. At least for now.

Have we truly adapted so well to the cheaper base metal clays that the ease of using silver clay is a thing of the past? I would hate to think so. Using base metal clays will never be as easy or fast as using silver clay. And the value will never match that of silver. I like the look of bronze, but it and other base metal clays take just as long to use as silver clay, and longer to fire. So, when I’m pricing my work, my time is more efficiently spent in using silver clay.

Which brings up the question? Do we charge for our time? If I you use the formula that charges 2 or 3 times your supplies, do you tack on that per hour rate for your valuable time? So many women don’t. Perhaps we are afraid no one will buy our work, or that our time isn’t worth the price. So, if I have a silver pair of earrings that took me an hour, and a bronze pair of earrings that took me an hour, am I using base metal clay because I can charge less and that doesn’t make me feel guilty or give the impression that I’m inflating my ego? Does charging $35 versus $80 really make women feel more comfortable with themselves? I’d hate to think so.

Back to the question, is there a future for silver clay? My answer is: that all depends. We need to remember that Mitsubishi and Aida Chemical Industries are much bigger than their metal clay divisions. Producing silver clay is kind of like orphan drugs to pharmaceutical companies. If the interest drops too much, how long will they continue to produce silver clay? At what point does the lack of profitability overshadow its uniqueness? Personally, I’m as passionate about Art Clay silver as I was when I saw it at Glass Craft Expo in 2000. But we need to continue to reach new people, to hold classes in silver clay. We need to continue to believe in its place in the medium of jewelry making, which continues to focus on precious metals. When was the last time you saw a piece of bronze jewelry that was made traditionally? Before the advent of base metal clays it was all about achieving validity in the jewelry world for silver clay. We wanted to be taken seriously as artists, and jewelry makers and we were convinced that silver was silver, regardless of how it started. Is all that at risk now? How do we proceed from here in order to reach that goal of respect for silver metal clay and, therefore, for the medium of metal clay in general?.

Come to Metal Clay by the Bay next week and we’ll discuss it there.


Silver clay versus silver smithing. Can you really compare the two?

During the last 14 years of using Art Clay Silver, I’ve often felt the need to defend metal clay to traditional jewelry makers. The word “clay” conjures up all kinds of negative connotations, including “soft,” “brittle,” “easy,” “faux,” etc. Anyone who uses silver clay knows the resulting silver, though 99.9% pure, doesn’t act exactly the same as cast silver. Contrary to what some metal smiths argue, however, that doesn’t mean that the silver resulting from metal clay is in any way “inferior.” No more than a piece that uses solder to put all the bits and pieces together is “inferior” to a cast piece that didn’t use solder at all.

I have 14 year old silver rings I’ve made that have survived every bit as well as those created with traditional methods. But how do we convince potential silver clay users that creating with silver clay isn’t “copping out” or a “shortcut,” and that working in silver clay is every bit as valid as working traditionally? And moreover, what’s wrong with non-traditional?

The way I approach the explanation is this:  In more traditional methods of metal smithing, you need to purchase hammers, saws, solder, a rolling mill (if you want to texture the metal yourself) and a variety of other tools. These tools are expensive, and require a certain amount of arm and hand strength. You need to learn about flux, solders and their environmental hazards. Once you have your tools, etc., then you need to purchase your silver, usually in sterling form (though more metal smiths, such as Michael David Sturlin, have learned the benefits of working in fine silver), which means needing acid pickle. In summary, the tools are expensive and the learning curve is high.  And the work is time consuming and may be physically demanding, especially for those of us in the 50+ category.

In comparison, working in the non-toxic medium of silver clay uses basic tools that are relatively inexpensive and the learning curve is low. To produce professionally finished pieces, requires practice and basic education. Little arm strength is needed in most circumstances, and the hand/eye coordination required is no more than that used in traditional smithing methods. Textures can be added easily and quickly. Silver clay allows for individuality and creativity in every way working traditionally does.

So what is the main difference in the two methods? Traditionally, your initial financial commitment is in tools and the time it takes to produce a piece. With silver clay, your financial commitment is in product. If I buy a square of silver and make a ring traditionally, I may have leftover metal which I then have to collect and return as scrap. With silver clay, I can use absolutely EVERY BIT of the clay I purchase—I can recycle it for paste or clay, use and reuse every gram without any waste. And if I decide, in 2 or 3 or 10 years, that I want to move on and put silver clay on the shelf, I’m only financially out my $100 in tools, not the hundreds of dollars in hammers and saws and solder and other traditional tools. So, put your money in tools, or put your money in product. For me, the answer is simple.

To my mind, silver clay is every bit a valid method of creating metal jewelry as sheet and solder. But, for some, it may be the only way. And that’s where my 14 year old passion comes in. If you are a woman (or man for that matter) with physical  and time limitations, and want to be creative, you aren’t restricted any longer to any particular medium. So many people have expressed to me, over the years, that metal clay has liberated them, allowed them to create jewelry and other objects that they can gift as heirlooms, or sell with the knowledge that their items will be around for generations. Silver clay, to me, gives a freedom of expression unlike any other medium. It is perceived as precious metal, has distinct value, can be increased in value by adding gemstones and or gold. It offers the possibility of income in ways that other media cannot. And, for many, it provides opportunity, whereas previously, traditional metal smithing was no possibility at all.

This is what makes silver clay meaningful to me. It is a window of possibilities into a world of expression and beauty unlike anything else. My mission is to try to reach as many people as possible and show them what silver clay is, what it can provide them and how they can express themselves in a material that has few limits outside of their own imagination and creativity.

My question to you is, how do you view silver clay? How has it affected your creativity?

You noticed I didn’t mention base metal clays. That’s for the next blog.




Blogging for the first time

I’ve been told a number of times that I should blog. I must say I feel intimidated and fearful. What should I say, and why should anything I say be thought of as important enough to put out there in the ether and be read? Then again, I’ve never been one to hold back. Anyone who knows me knows I’ve been putting my foot in my mouth for many years. If I believe it, if I’m passionate about it, I say it. So, isn’t a blog really just letting others know what I’m thinking but instead of coming out of my mouth, it’s coming out of my fingers? Thinking about it that way, it’s not as intimidating…I guess. So, my first blog. It’s really about my mission, my passion. Which is women. Sorry guys, you used to rule the roost in the world of jewelry making, but watch out! We’re coming up round the clubhouse turn fast on the outside. And, although there are definitely more women traditional metal smiths out there, I believe, and hope, that the rise of metal clay has also had something to do with the large number of women who have entered the jewelry making arena in the last 15 years. Metal clay is the great equalizer. You don’t have to have great muscle strength to use it. You don’t have to have the mega bucks to buy hammers, saws, clamps, rolling mills, draw plates that you may or may not use in 10 more years. And you don’t need to apprentice yourself to a master bench jeweler for the next 20 years to get REALLY good and be accepted into the ol’ boys’ club as a “goldsmith” (even though I’m using silver, I’m told that goldsmith is the term if you are using precious metals in jewelry, and silversmith, is the term you use for non wearable, functional items such as teapots and carving knives). That isn’t to say that you don’t have to “pay your dues” in metal clay. It’s taken a bit of time to cancel out the memory of some of the work that came out of the metal clay arena the first 10 years or so. One of the detriments of having an easy learning curve. And, I believe, one of the reasons that some traditional metal smiths were so turned off by the possibilities of metal clay. But, I’m proud to say, that we’ve come a long way and there is some stunning, creative, and highly professional work being done in metal clay these days. And there are many of us still seeking our creative spark, experimenting, stepping tentatively out into the world of jewelry. I’ve even begun to embrace copper metal clay, even though my first love will always be silver (and gold) and my goal will always be to convince metal clay smiths that silver is not THAT expensive, in the scheme of things. I’ll be talking about that in my next blog, I think. So, to all those women out there who believe they have something to express in a tangible way, to make a statement or create something lasting, but don’t have the muscles to swing a hammer or don’t want the flux fumes of a soldering torch to permeate their basement studio, silver clay is here! It’s waiting for you to grab it and mold it and ro