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