Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Angles in Wireworking

I've just come off of my bi-monthly class-planning-and-scheduling frenzy. As part of that, I've been working on wireworking projects and classes. As reported in a recent post, I'm always trying to make my handouts more useful and readable. As I was working, thinking about how I would (re-)explain loop-and-wrap (a.k.a. wrapped loop). I realized that, having taken enough college math to be one class away from a minor, I think about art in a mathematical way.

I know many people avoid math at all costs. I think it's because it is often poorly explained and not because we aren't all capable of learning it. Despite the fact that learning math bores me to death, having survived taking so much math then going off to work in totally unrelated fields, I now see how useful math is in domains like the creative arts. If you don't know the ratios of chemicals in the rocks you're stringing I'm not going to call you on that, not now anyway, but there are times when a mathematical explanation is:
(1) the most universal (non-culturally-or-experience-based) way to explain something and
(2) the most straight-forward (least-explanation-required) way to explain it.

Even if you don't understand or can't stay awake through most math, I think you'll agree that sometimes it's better than a round-about verbal explanation. Even if we don't like math, we know that math represents the exact and precise. When we see math, and we understand enough to do it, we seem to naturally understand that we just need to do what the math says - no more, no less. Plus. Minus. Period. When something is described verbally, there are often many little details - things we naturally assume and understand in math - that need to be explained and clarified. As an instructor, sometimes it's hard to remember all of the little details that a beginner doesn't yet know. In that respect, math has an additional function.

So, let me give you an example. I teach a lot of loop-and-wrap/wrapped loop. It's a basic and often-used technique that every new jewelry artist needs to learn. It is hard to make a pair of earrings without it. It is, however, a technique that has a lot of little steps. You need to make a loop around the round-nose pliers - but how far do you bend the wire? You need to wrap the tail, but how much tail do you need - especially if you use different gauges of wire? If you want to use the method where you bend the wire before looping and wrapping - how far from the end should you bend the wire? There is a mathematical, precise answer for them all.

Here is the most recent excerpt from a handout, the handout I posted online for the Fringed Focal Necklace. Keep in mind, being the most recent one, I already had this blog post in mind, so didn't include parts of the explanation I included before. I'll list those additional directions below:

What I additionally explain for the looping part is that you want the wire to look like a "P". The first time people try to make the loop, half of the people get it perfect, but the other half. Some don't bend the wire end far enough around the pliers, often to the point where it only just passes the wire between pliers and the bead. Some loop the wire too far so it's like the pliers is in the middle of a wire loop-the-loop. I usually say to bend the wire 270°, but that often doesn't help.

That's really unfortunate because it's the most simple way of explaining it. So, even if you suffer from sever math phobia, bear with me and see if this makes sense. I want to remind everyone about how angles relate to wireworking. Even if you already understand how to make these bends, think about how you might use them to explain bends to a beginner.

LEFTIES: I apologize. These images are designed for the right-hander. The difference for you will be that the axis of rotation will go CLOCKWISE, and 0° and 180° will get interchanged because your working hand and stationary hand will be opposite than for a righty. Now back to our regularly scheduled message:

Imagine you have a big bullseye attached to your round nose pliers. The center of the bullseye is your pliers. I know that, unless you magically have three hands, you won't be working exactly like shown, but starting with a straight piece of wire, whether it's bare plain wire or a wire you've strung through a bead:
  • 0° is the working end of the wire - the tail you're going to be moving around. So, on the picture you'll see a pair of chain nose pliers grasping the wire.

  • 180° is the other end of a straight piece of wire, the part you'll be keeping stationary. In the image, that's where you see the hand grasping the wire. If you're going to do a looped wrap, that will be where the bead is.

  • Everyone: Obviously, you can't do three things at once: hold both ends of the wire AND the round-nose pliers. So with the thumb and last three fingers of your non-dominant hand you'll hold the pliers and using the index of that hand press the stationary part of the wire against the bottom jaw of the round nose pliers. However, I didn't want all of that to be behind the image as I was trying to clarify the angles.

    A 90° bend is simply 1/4 of a full turn around the pliers. Holding the wire horizontally, the movement begins on the dominant side of your body and moves toward your non-dominant side. The bend works best going upward because it's easier to see than if you bend downward. Therefore, for righties, the movement through the angles will be counterclockwise (clockwise for lefties), and the wire will stop when it's vertical (and the stationary end is still horizontal).

    That being said, once you know exactly how far you need to bend to make a 90° bend and you know how it's supposed to look, you can hold the wire in and position you want. 90° is still 90° when its upside down and backward. It's not the location of the ends you need to worry about, but the amount the wire moves at the center around the round nose pliers.

    No picture for this. A 180° bend is pretty simple and I want you to try and imagine it. a 180° bend is, more or less, folding the wire on itself. You'll bend the working end until it meets (and is parallel with) the stationary part of the wire.

    A 270° bend is a little more complicated to understand, but it's the bend you need to make for a wrapped loop. Righties are still bending counterclockwise and lefties are still bending clockwise. You're going to bend past horizontal until the wire is again vertical. The difference is that the working end will be pointing in the opposite direction as it was when it was at 90° when the stationary end is in the same place.

    This is not to say that any explanation will ever totally solve the problem, though I certainly hope this helped you understand angles at least a little bit better. I know that some people just need you to show them one-on-one. The main point is, like mentioned above, long and drawn out explanations are not always helpful. They are even less helpful when you have to have two things explained in such a way at the same time. The point of learning the basics before more advanced techniques is so you don't need the basics explained along with a more complicated procedure. Taking prerequisites before another class is very important for that reason. The same here. It's hard to figure out the basics if you don't understand the vocabulary in which it is most simply explained. Notice that I didn't say most 'clearly' explained. 'Clearly' is a relative term and when math is a foreign concept using it to explain something will not be clear to you. So, take this time to become familiar with angles as they pertain to wireworking. It may take a little more time in the short term than you'd like, but in the long run your understanding of making bends in wire and metalwork will be much more clear because you'll understand it in the simplest way.

    For anyone wondering - "So, if you were one class away from a math minor, why didn't you just finish it?" Its because I seriously dislike math. Let's say we have a scale from 0 - 10, with 10 being 'super stimulating' and 0 being 'puts me into a boredom coma.' I'd probably rate math as -3 since I'd routinely fall into several math-induced stupors before completing an assignment. I was a physics/astrophysics double major at the time. I loved (LOVED) astronomy and this was the more marketable than just being an astrophysics (or, gasp, astronomy - the liberal arts version) major, and (1) it was required to take that much math and (2) I thought if I took enough math to make the math I needed every day easy, that I could function as an astrophysicist. It turns out - there's no such thing as enough math to make multivariable vector calculus easy to someone who doesn't naturally think in a math-o-logical way. Sometimes it's just better to cut your losses. The plus side is that all that math did make the math I needed as a mere mortal extremely easy. Who knew?

    Friday, September 3, 2010

    Feng Frit Factory Frit Testing - Super YAY!

    I wanted to give a shout out to Christina from Feng Frit Factory for four reasons:

    1. First, because she makes amazing frit blends. She has a gift for making even monochrome blends POP.
    2. Enara   Iara   Javan
      Go ahead and click on the images and see for yourself. As a self-confessed color girl, I really appreciate that because I know its something I have to study and work at. Christina has a gift. For example, she'll add just a little of a bright transparent to an otherwise muted opaque frit selection or a touch of a complementary color so you can really appreciate the more subtle tones. It's like adding just the right amount of salt to a gustatory dish, or adding just the right amount of neutral to a colorful design; it's the baseline from which you evaluate the other colors and the properly chosen baseline makes a big difference. Case in point: the friend who judged that if a little salt tasted good, a salt sandwich should taste WONDERFUL. I think you can guess how that turned out.
    3. Second because she and her business partner make FANTASTIC murrini.
    4. I can't seem to stop myself from buying them. Next weekend Sean and I are going to a wedding on Hatteras Island (Thank you for not smashing the island, Earl! Tim and Kalie would have had to murder you), so I should be saving souvenir money. But, then I saw these:
      Tell me, what in the heck would you have done in a situation like that?
    5. Third, because she's a gifted lampwork artist - one that shares her observations and gifts.
    6. If those aren't impressive enough, check out Flickr. But, the true and totally selfish motivation for putting it into cyberspace is:
    7. That after a conversation with her yesterday I get to be a frit tester for her blends!
    8. If you haven't seen the pics I've posted of the beads I've made with her blends on Facebook or Etsy, here are the sets I made with the three frits I listed above:



      And now I get to make MORE. How sweet is that?
    I love my job! Feng Frit Factory Frit Testing. While you say that three-times fast, I'll be making beads!

    Monday, August 30, 2010

    Foe ... toes? Photos! I almost forgot what those were!

    I would argue that, for people who are trying to make their living as an artist (versus as a business person selling art), the most challenging aspect of business is the marketing. Learning new techniques? No problem! Making things? Check! Taking photos, editing the photos, uploading the photos to Facebook, the blog, and Flickr? Uh ... I ... um ... what are foe-toes?

    Saturday I set up a photography area in my studio. This is not the first time I've set up a dedicated photography area (nor the second). I know it's important. I know about diffused light, I know to minimize shadows ... even how to do it (to some degree), I know about full-spectrum light, and I know about the Rule of Thirds. But, when it comes down to it, in the limited amount of time I have to attend to business I'd really just rather be making beads.

    Of course, to make more beads I occasionally need to buy new glass. If I want to attend to something called a "business plan", that means I need to occasionally sell something. I am very fortunate to have a couple of retail stores that carry my beads, but as anyone with any investing experience knows, it's good to diversify. So, putting some effort into building online sales is a good idea.

    More regular sales = More sustainable purchasing power
    More sustainable purchasing power = more potential growth.

    Marketing = Good!

    Okay. Excellent argument. Yet, why do I still avoid marketing - particularly the photography part of marketing? In the September 2010 issue of Art Jewelry magazine, Marlene Richey wrote her Business Savvy column about "Maker, Manager, Marketer: How to Budget Your Time." As a rule of thumb, she recommended spending 50% of your time making, 25% managing, and 25% marketing. That seemed like a sound ratio to me. My problem is that it seems like when I get to it, I spend way more time than that just with editing the photos, let alone the uploading, etc. I'm not talking about, what I would consider, extensive editing either - a little cropping, a little brightness and contrast adjustment, and save. Maybe I just need an attitude adjustment. Maybe it would go faster then?

    All of that is a rather long and round-about introduction to my main point, which is to emphasize the impressiveness of getting my butt in the studio to take some pictures. The motivation was that these focals are a little different than what I have made in the past and was pretty proud of the results. I still need to tweak my setup because the image isn't close enough to get good detail. Nevertheless, I put this collage together so you could see the basic result. Now all I need to do is take some close-up photos, edit the photos, upload to Etsy, measure the bead dimensions, write up a compelling description with the measurements ... but I digress:

    Fall Garden lampwork focal bead collage by Julie Bowen

    What do you think?

    Thursday, August 26, 2010

    Interesting Follow-up to the Handout Post

    I had just put Sawyer to bed and I began straightening up the living room when I saw this bead on the floor.

    Golly, that looks just like one of the beads I used in the bracelet I photographed for the Jewelry Making Basics handout revision that I blogged about Wednesday.

    I thought to myself, "Golly, that looks just like one of the beads I used in the bracelet I photographed for my Jewelry Making Basics handout revision."

    I was a little more confused when I then saw this.

    Um ... I did NOT have that many beads left over from that bracelet.

    Since the bracelet was meant to be on display at the store I got the beads from the store, not my stash, and only took just enough to do the bracelet. One extra bead mysteriously appearing I could have shrugged off, but three beads? I did not have that many extra beads. I asked myself, "Did you see Sawyer by the table where you put the bracelet?" I ruminated. "ARrrrGh! Yes." So, now I was on a mission. Where are the rest of the beads? Worse - why did it break?

    Why did it break? That was the critical question. I just posted a blog about why I was so angry about other people's work being substandard and the bracelet I photographed for the handout THAT I BLOGGED ABOUT broke. BROKE! Shite. Now, more than the rest of the beads, I NEED to find the stringing cable they were on. Where is the rest of the bracelet?

    Important aside here: Sawyer is a bright little boy (note to self: thinking that marrying a smart boy with whom to have smart babies ... yeeeeaaaah. Not as wise as originally believed.). This bright little boy likes to play a game called Hide. Hide and Seek? No. Just, "Hide". Finding the beads, then, was a mixed blessing. I was relieved to win this round of Sawyer's game, but was very nervous about examining the find.

    I found it! It wasn't a crimp!

    I did a prayer of thanks to a blasphemous number of Beings to both find a small pile of beads and the stringing cable together. Most importantly? The clasp was still connected, the crimps and jump rings were still in tact. The stringing cable was cleanly broken in the middle. Culprit? Badly drilled natural stone.

    The fact that the bracelet broke is not good, but I was relieved for two reasons. One, the ends were well-finished and not at fault. Two, in the class I did (and do) tell the students about the dangers of natural stones from the fact they are drilled from two directions. The half-drilled holes don't always meet perfectly in the center of the bead, leaving a jagged spot in the middle of the bead's hole. Since I so rarely encounter a serious problem with this I don't routinely ream out my stones. So, when I told my students that, if their bracelets broke, they should look at where the bracelet broke and ream out the offending bead, it was perhaps a tad too optimistic.

    Still, I think it is an important lesson. Natural stones can pose a danger to the integrity of your stringing cable. The bracelet in question was on coated 19 strand 0.018 diameter cable. Using a different thickness of wire wouldn't have prevented a break, it just would have happened at a different time. Owning a set of bead reamers is a must if you use drilled beads. If you want to be totally safe, ream out all of your beads. Definitely ream out the beads used in expensive designs. Mostly, just remember that it isn't really a matter of IF a stone will cause a design to break, it's more a matter of WHEN. Be aware.

    Wednesday, August 25, 2010

    Motivators for Class Handout Evolutions

    I started teaching classes on various jewelry making techniques around five years ago. At first, when I'd make a class handout, the format was different for each class. They generally had the same sections, but they would look different. The Tools & Materials lists might be boxed off or be one column instead of three. The instructions might be listed in paragraphs, they might be listed in bullet points, or they might be in tabular form with photos and commentary underneath.

    The first real evolution of my class handouts was redoing everything I had written about two years after I started teaching. When I rewrote them I created a template so that the format of each one was the same: a header with class title at left and contact & copyright information at right, a brief introduction, an image of the class project, tools and materials, safety and preparation, and instructions with images.

    Now, five years in, I find that I spend most of my revision time refining the way I explain different points in the handouts. Refining the way I explain things is usually grounded in one of three motivators. One is based on common questions I get from students in the class. A second motivator is simply that I learn more about a topic and, in my own experiences as a continuing student, gain a better understanding of what information a student needs to be in the best position to progress to a more advanced understanding of the technique. The third, and for better or worse - strongest motivator, is seeing the work other people try to sell and judging that the way it was put together left something wanting, and thinking to myself, "Are they kidding?"

    Arrogant? Yes. I'm sure that if anyone more experienced looked at my work, I'm sure I do something that would elicit a similar response. So, yes, I do try and take a step back, breathe a little, and ask myself why the particular something makes me upset. I try to think of it as an opportunity to develop my otherwise subjective left-brain creativity in a more objective right-brain analytic way. It seems that the issues that stick with me are choices that are made because someone saw an easy way to do something, saw that it worked, and failed to ask if there was a better way to do it. It's the repeat violations. The people who use a sloppy technique, not just with something organic, but with pearls and crystals, and everything in-between.

    This took center stage today as I was preparing to teach my Jewelry Making Basics class. Some of the work I've recently seen, and been disappointed in, made me take a mission. I felt like it was my solemn duty to make sure that whatever crimping or finishing technique they chose to use - even if it wasn't the one I taught and even if it was one I showed as a whatever-you-do-don't-do-this example - they would do because they had thought about it and evaluated it against other possibilities. Additionally, that they would think about said choice in terms of whether it contributed to both the beauty and strength of the finished piece. So, I spent the whole afternoon taking new pictures and added new (shaded and outlined with fancy bold and colored titles) notes boxes to try and convince my students that the following are not okay:
    • pulling the stringing cable tight against the clasp or jump ring
    • leaving the stringing cable at the ends bare
    • attaching the clasp directly to the bracelet
    • just using a pliers to squish the crimp bead
    Not just that they weren't okay because I felt like the Queen of the Jewelry Police, but because there were really good reasons not to do them because there were better techniques. See if you agree:

    Why do I need to use a Wire Guardian or heavy French Wire?
    • To make sure that your loop is large enough so that the jump ring and clasp aren't putting stress on the crimp tube.
    • To prevent abrasion on the stringing cable (from the part of the bracelet that moves the most).
    • So the ends of your bracelet or necklace look 'finished'.

    Note: I know that there is a commercial product known as heavy French wire, but I don't mean that. I am referring to something I make myself using 28g wire wrapped around 18g wire as a mandrel.

    Why don't we string the clasp directly onto the crimped loop?
    • A properly chosen jump ring is very secure and gives you the option of changing clasps without restringing the bracelet.
    • Using a jump ring allows more movement when trying to secure the clasp.
    • Using jump rings to attach the clasp to the bracelet reduces stress on the crimp bead holding the bracelet together.

    A corollary to the last point: If you attach the clasp directly to the crimped loop, the forces on the clasp go directly to the crimp bead (not so with a jump ring, which can move and redirect the force), and when the crimp bead fails (unlike a jump ring, which additionally has less chance of failing), you lose the whole bracelet and not just the clasp.

    Is that totally unreasonable? Because, let me tell you, the jewelry that motivated me to this class handout revision - it still feels like a burr under my saddle!

    Tuesday, August 17, 2010

    Eight Hundred Dollars: Part II -- Stones

    Car repairs are a superb slimming regimine for your bank account. I did some first hand research and proved that conclusively today.

    What? You're not shocked or surprised?

    I know. That's life. But, as the cliché goes: when life gives you limes, make mojitos. So, I tapped deep into the psyche of my business philosophy and pondered some possibilities and gained a little inspiration watching my little boy greedily enjoying the outdoors. I remembered a design that looked a little something like this:

    A representative of my Stones design

    I like many things about this design:
  • It represents the heart of my business philosophy. Take something straight from nature and tweak it in a way that helps emphasize its value.

  • It's simple and focuses on the artistic elements of line, shape, and color.

  • It doesn't take long to make, doesn't cost a lot to make, and can be priced inexpensively.

  • Stones, by their very nature, represent strength and endurance. As such, they are the perfect metaphors for all the personal traits that help people prevail in difficult situations including perserverance and fortitude.

  • In the quiet moments between tending my little Sawyer and working/teaching at Knits & Pearls I'll be feverishly making these, and as I hold each stone as I carefully wrap it, I'll be thinking about the lessons these stones have to teach me. Some stones are weathered, but whole; broken, but they survive; pitted, but strong. Simple? Yes. The best lessons often are.

    Fronts and backs of three pendants in my Stones line.

    Monday, August 16, 2010

    Eight Hundred Dollars: Part I

    That's an every day experience for some people ...

    image taken from realcapitalist.com
    What do you have in YOUR wallet?

    ... but not me. Sadly, that number does not refer to the amount of a recent sale or commission, or an exciting contest prize value for my readers, but the amount we will need to pay the mechanic once he rebuilds our main car's air conditioning system, which had caused a short in the idle air valve and stalling in our car; something we discovered on a 120 mile trip to visit Sean's parents on Friday. On the plus side: thank heaven for AAA and not having to pay for the tow.

    So, why post this in a blog dedicated to my business? Because, as some may remember better than I do, the two worlds of business and home often collide, sometimes painfully so. I had been having dreams of a new lampworking glass press or two or taking an advanced jeweler class with a local artist around my birthday. Back on the waiting list they go. Not only will all of my forseeable income be going to pay for this (because much of our savings had already been earmarked for a September East Coast wedding to which we are committed), but I'll have to push out a lot of product and work on a marketing whirlwind to try and make up the balance. Sean makes decent money and takes care of all the normal expenses, but since he's salaried, all of the fun and surprises necessarily fall to me.

    Queue positive thinking.

    My business name, confusing and unpronouncable as it might be, is strongly rooted in my business philosophy: we are all beautiful and valuable the way we are found, the way we are made, but additional meaning can be infused by tweaking the natural. That's what autochthonous evolved means: taking things from the place we find them and doing something with them with the purpose of growth and beauty - both for ourselves as well as for the things which which we adorn ourselves in the effort to evolve our image.

    Today, while watching Sawyer play outside and pondering our options, I remembered an old jewelry design of mine. It's one I developed for a class, a design that embraced my business philosophy in a more direct way than other designs of mine. It's a pretty simple design, fairly easy to make and therefore one that can be produced and sold for a very reasonable price. What is it and where can you buy one? Stay tuned for a few hours ... I think you'll like it.

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010

    Did I mention? I got published!

    It's true, my Ocean Waves bracelet was published in Beadwork Magazine's What Our Readers Did (WORD) feature in its June/July 2010 issue. I was extremely excited to see my work in print for the first time.

    If you want to peek at more images of this bracelet, you can to to my Etsy store where I have the bracelet for sale.

    This definitely inspires me to keep working toward getting one (or more) of my designs published as a project in a magazine. In fact, I'm working on an idea for Step by Step Wire, so keep your fingers crossed and eyes peeled! Yay

    Monday, August 9, 2010

    New Bead Series

    I've often wondered what other beadmakers' inspiration was for new bead lines. More often than not, I make individual one-of-a-kind beads, just to practice my lampworking skills and to make whatever felt inspiring at the moment. Sets? I can make sets. Sets are getting much easier. But, a series - where I had the technical ability to carry out the vision - has eluded me until now.

    In a completely unexciting effort to use up the half-used glass rods that were (are) littering my torching workspace I thought, "I'm just going to use these scraps to practice drawing lines." I've previously made beads with graphic lines and liked them, so it was a pretty simple choice. However, since the glass scraps were a mixture of stable and not-so-stable colors (colors that bleed, separate, or sink into other layers) I thought, "let's just let these flow together and see what we get".

    I've done a few beads similar to this in the past and really liked them. With blues on the bottom, greens in the middle, a little brown and gray layer, with a little more blue on top, let gravity work some magic and - voila! Instant landscape. These new beads have the same look, but different colors that make me wonder what the landscape on a distant planet might look like.

    Until I run out of scrap glass, I'll be working on these and exploring the glass: what thickness stringer of particular colors works well (for example, yellow stripes ... not so much - bright and spreads out), how different colors react side-by side, how the base color affects the stripe colors, how heat affects the degree of reaction taking place between the colors, and other new properties of the glass that I haven't noticed yet. Man! Beadmaking is fun!

    P.S. If you are wondering why I might want to practice drawing lines on a bead, take a look at J.C. Herrel or Dora Schubert's beads. Yeah. I'm working on it.

    Thursday, March 11, 2010

    Boro Recipe Book

    I've started a project this week creating a boro recipe book for myself. Since I've gotten some new Glass Alchemy rod and frit I wanted to have a more concrete method of ensuring great results when I make beads with the new colors. The process starts relatively arbitrarily. I'll pick between one and three colors of rod, and one or two colors of frit. I'll make between one and three beads on a mandrel, all the same with one permutation of the rod and frit selection I've chosen. Once I finish with the bead I write down the process I used - how many wraps, if the wraps were the size I normally make them or not, if I added frit and when, whether I encased the bead, and if I applied any decoration to the surface. Then, I repeat the process with a different combination of rod and frit. After several sets, I select new frit and rods and continue.

    Summer Sunrise

    Cooking time: 1 1/2 hours
    Temp: 1075°F

    7mm Northstar Orange opaque rod
    #70 Glass Alchemy Triple Passion frit
    5mm Simax clear rod

    Take the orange opaque rod and, pulling the gather thin, wrap around the mandrel twice. Melt smooth and, while hot, roll the base in frit. Melt the frit into the base, cool slightly, then encase with two wraps of clear.

    In order to be efficient with my kiln time I spent two days making beads and cooling them in my fiber blanket so that I could batch anneal them, keeping my kiln at the garage temp (for working, cooler than the annealing temperature) while I made a final set of beads.

    Out of this first attempt I got 35 different recipies. I would say about half are decidedly lackluster. Some of these were intentional. For example, I have some plain base-color beads and simple encased beads whose only purpose was to demonstrate whether there was a cracking risk. Some beads I thought would change color in the kiln more than they did, or the frit was too small to give a good visual field of the color. For other beads the color was too sparse. Some of the recipes are pretty good and bear repetition. Some can be repeated as they are and some need a little tweaking or suggest new frit and rod combinations. All in all, I'm excited with the beginning of this project.

    The end goal is to pick out the stand-out recipies and be able to replicate them on demand. Having a consistent, quality line of borosilicate beads will help increase my reputation, repeat business, and thus, revenue. Also, with the accumulation of enough stand-out combinations, there will potentially be some demand to purchase the recipies by other lampworkers so they can begin to build consistency in their own commercial work; recipies being a benchmark from which you can examine how your torch skills compare and allow you to improve.

    So, what is a great get-to-know-your-glass exercise for me in the present, could become avenue for revenue both in the intermediate future and long-term. Hopefully, I'll learn my lessons well enough to make the information available to others. Good for me, good for the world! :)

    Wednesday, February 24, 2010

    The Fantastic Field of Fritology

    As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the things that I've been purchasing in my recent Supply Stock-up is frit. Today I got a shipment from Dragonfly Glassworx. Thank you, Julia! I LOVE it!

    Frit is perfectly good glass that has been smashed and sorted according to size. Powder is, well, powder. Size 00 is tiny but visually recognizable as chunks. Size 5 can often be the size of a bead, so is often attached to a spare hot rod of glass, melted, then pulled into long, thin fiber-optic-escent strings called, um, stringers. Stringers can actually be anything up to about 2mm in diameter and are used for surface decoration on beads. In between 00 and 5 are, as you may have predicted, 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4; 0 and 1 being the most likely suspects for bead use.

    One of the pioneers of frit use in beadmaking is Val Cox, who, looking for a vibrant pink, found the awesome range of COE 96 colors that were used by glass blowers. She began making frit and frit blends available to other beadmakers. Over time other "fritologists" began to make frit and frit blends available. Some vendors began to produce COE 104 frit, since the majority of beadmakers work with that type of glass, but the advantage of COE 96 furnace glass remains: the concentration of color within the COE 96 matrix is much higher than in COE 104 glass, so using small shards of frit won't result in muted colors on the bead. COE 96 frit just looks more vibrant than COE 104 frit. So, from this point forward, when I say frit (unless I'm specifically talking about borosilicate glass, which also uses frit) I mean small glass fragments with a COE of 96.

    Let me briefly revisit a point I made in my last post: bad things happen when mix glasses of different COEs ... usually ... sometimes. Remember that the COE stands for Coefficient Of Expansion, where expansion is 10-7inches/°F. In reality, when you're talking about COE 104 glass and a lead-rich (read: pliable) COE 96 glass and the COE 96 glass is only a little bit of frit on top of an otherwise substantial COE 104 bead ... well, often nothing bad happens (though I do find that I increase my chances of making it work by putting it directly into a garage-temp kiln to await annealing). The point being that many COE 104 beadmakers use frit that is (often exclusively) COE 96 and by using a small amount of frit they get away with it. Wanting to reduce my own risk for cracking, which tended to happen too frequently for my taste, I purchased COE 96 rod to use with my frit. Mixing COE 104 and COE 32-33 is still a WAY bad idea.

    As of this writing I've purchased frit from five different frit blenders: from Robin at Glass Diversions, from Sabrina at Val Cox Frit, from Christine at FenG Frit Factory (who also makes and sells her FANTASTIC murrini), from Leslie at That Frit Girl, and from Julia at Dragonfly Glassworx. There are other vendors, too, but my budget is not, unfortunately, unlimited.

    All of the small frit providers carry at least two container sizes of frit, usually a sample size then a production size. The sizes of the containers and the prices vary from vendor to vendor. For example, what I like best about Glass Diversions is that Robin will let you choose a "sampler" of six colors in 1.5oz containers for $28; I find that's a really great value for fairly large sample sizes of frit blends. Val Cox also has "Ample Samples," with pretty labels in heavy 2x3" resealable plastic bags for around $3.00, Dragonfly Glassworx has a similarly-packaged similar size sample for a little less than $2, and FenG Frit Factory has her samples available for $1.50USD (USD because she's in The Netherlands). Dragonfly and FenG also have borosilicate blends, which I think is fantastic since some days nothing seems quite as satisfying as seeing the delicate rainbow of colors only boro can produce.

    Dragonfly Glassworx sampler

    The friendly folks at Olympic Color and Hot Glass Color also sell the individual frit (and cane and rod) colors that come from the furnace glass manufacturers, which is nice if there's a color you really like or use a lot of like, maybe, white, black, clear, or Reichenbach Multicolor ... but the minimum order is a half kilo (about 1.1 pounds) - at least at Olympic Color, where I purchased my last bunch of frit.

    N.B.: If you decide you want to buy some "rods" from them (since that's what lampworkers generally call their glass), understand that glassblowers' rods are something like 1.5" in diameter. To use furnace glass in the same manner that you use glass rods in COE 104 glass what you'll want to purchase is labeled 'cane'.

    That Frit Girl carries reasonable priced 1 and 2oz packages of pure frit color for those beadmakers not wanting to buy that much. Additionally, if you want to make some beads for the program Beads of Courage, Leslie will send you a free sample of any colors of frit you want to try, so long as you send her the beads back to be sent on to the program. Briefly, Beads of Courage provides beads to hospitals for children undergoing treatment for serious illness. After each treatment, the children are given a bead in a color representing the specific treatment, to string on a necklace. This helps give ill children something to look forward to as well as help them visually document their progress.

    So, in my effort to better document my artistic process, I will come back to frit, showing you the different colors I've tried from different vendors and report what I think of their ease of use, what kind of application method best makes advantage of their colors, and other tips I find or confirm. In the meanwhile, I'll leave you with this. These beads were made with Zoozii's Chunky Crystal Duo (love it!) that I got an opportunity to use in Lampwork Etc's Press Game (a major secret I'm letting out!) and some of the newer colors I've acquired, including the most recent set of frit that I got from Val Cox and Olympic Color:

    All COE 96 unless otherwise specified.
    Top Row, from left: I don't actually remember what the first one is made with - probably Reichenbach Multicolor rod on a clear base, Gaffer Blue Chalcedony rod probably also on a clear base with some other color mixed in, Reichenbach Multicolor frit on Rootbeer transparent base.
    Second Row, from left: Reichenbach Multicolor frit on base of clear and a layer of Zimmerman Purple Rose Special frit, (another) Reichenbach Multicolor frit on Rootbeer transparent base, Zimmerman Purple Rose Special frit on a base of clear with Val Cox Fairy Dust frit, Val Cox Fairy Dust frit on an encased base of Gaffer veiled gold lustre/white cane, (COE 104)Double Helix Olympia Rain on a base of black.
    Third Row, from left: Val Cox Ferrari Red frit on base of clear, Val Cox Mood Swings frit on base of clear, Val Cox Enchanted frit on base of clear, Val Cox Fairy Dust frit on base of clear and Val Cox Violet Storm transparent frit, (yet another) Reichenbach Multicolor frit on Rootbeer transparent base.
    Bottom Row: all Zimmerman Purple Rose Special frit on a base of clear and Reichenbach Enamel White frit.

    From one of my history professors I learned that N.B. is an abbreviation for 'nota bene'; Latin for 'pay attention or else ...'

    Friday, February 19, 2010

    Like Christmas ... But More Glass!

    Today was a red banner day when it comes to getting shipments of exciting new things. The stars have aligned in my supply-buying world. Money from classes, I made another sale, tax refund, and supply SALES! So, I've been ordering glass, tools, and frit blends (frit is little glass shards used to create organic patters).

    [COE 32-33] Glass Alchemy borosilicate order, now with SHARDS! Oooooh.

    [COE 96] Glass Alchemy order: Zimmerman (no-longer-in-production) z-77 Avocado cane, z-850 Lilac cane, and z-851 Lilac Rose Special cane, z-99 Purple Rose Special rod . Look at those rings of color. DELICIOUS!

    It's strange, really, to get so excited about a colored glass rod ... or is it? Take a look at this:

    The end of the z-99 Purple Rose Special rod.

    The side of the z-99 Purple Rose Special rod.

    Isn't it BEAUTIFUL?

    Glass isn't monotone. It's reactive, it's multidimensional, it's amazing. Plus, you get to melt it with a torch. Come on! I don't know why you aren't all signing up for my lampworking classes right now. Torches! Alright, maybe I'm the only one with a borderline torch disorder, but I'm comfortable with who I am. But the glass ... well, if you don't see the fascination, I just don't think the issue is on my end.

    So, glass. Why do you have to spend good money on it when it's in Prego jars, lightbulbs, or window panes? It's because of something called Coefficient of Expansion, or COE . When glass is heated it expands (for the techies: [COE]x10-7 inches/degree F). There's a little more to it than this, but more or less, if you melt together two different glasses that expand at different rates everything's good when the glasses are molten, but when they cool ... that's a different story. Of course, exploding glass might be your thing, but it's hard to sell. Because of that, companies spend a lot of time in research testing their glass to make sure every color is compatible with every other color it manufactures. New companies usually choose one of the COEs on the market and make their glass compatible with that. When glasses are tested compatible you can use them together. No one has tested the Prego jar yet.

    The main COEs on the U.S. market are 104 soft, soda-lime glass; 96 Furnace Glass; 90 soft glass produced by Bullseye; and 32-33 Borosilicate glass, which is the same as the commercial brand Pyrex. I use them all and each has their charm. 104 is easy to melt and use, has a huge range of colors and brands that are easy to obtain. 96 has uber intense colors, and some of those colors just aren't available in 104, like a wide range of intense pinks. 90 was, I believe, originally formulated by the Bullseye company for glass fusing; whether the rods were originally made for lampworkers or not, we certainly use them now. The advantage of Bullseye's line is the colors are amazingly stable with very little changing or bleeding after heating or applying on or next to other colors. Borosilicate glass ... well, Boro merits a post for itself. It's a metal-rich glass that is highly reactive. Many 'colors' of rod can actually be coerced to produce the entire rainbow of color in a single bead (or sculpture). It's hard to melt, but it's less sensitive to temperature fluctuations, so it's more forgiving in sculptural use than other glass. Beadmakers just love the colors.

    Since I have classes this weekend that I still need to prep for, I can't go out and make beads with all of my new, beautiful glass yet ... at least not more than the couple of test beads I was compelled to make. But when I do, wait until you see the pictures! I know you're not as excited as I am, but I hope you're more excited than you were before!

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    You Rock My World!

    Know how it seems easier to get things done when you have a lot on your plate? You just can't afford to be lazy, so you power through everything and feel great. I feel like I'm on an awkward cusp of that feeling.

    Before Sawyer was born I don't think I truly realized - there's quite a lot of time in the day. The realization came after spending most of that time with an 11-month-old extrovert within three feet of me at all times. As an introvert, someone that requires alone time to recharge, sometimes (and the mommy police won't want to hear this) the day just   D  R  A  G  S   on. While I tend to my now-walking-exploring-touching-eating-EVERYTHING adorable little boy, my torches sit alone and unused in my studio.

    As an introvert with ADD, jewelry design became an important outlet for both of those traits. It is my solitude. It reinvigorates me. Silly as it might seem to anyone else, it's a joy to wake up and pull cool beads out of the kiln that were just shades of orange when you made them, the last time you saw them. It is also where I go to refocus. If I don't feel like I've been productive in SOMETHING after I've struggled focusing on something else - homework, finances, cleaning - guilt sets in, the cascade effect ensues, and terror follows. Terror? I still have dreams that I have a final tomorrow for a class that I never cancelled and never attended.

    Sean is always my savior. After he works a long day trying to write exceptional program code between frantic questions from other software developers he comes home and begins his second job as Dad. It's at that time that I step away from my full-time position as Mom and go to my second job called jewelry designer. Some days I work at the torch, others I work on my website or other marketing duties. I comparison-shop and purchase raw materials, locate out-of-production materials, create class samples and handouts, and sometimes jewelry I can sell. It's the time I need to remember my other facets. The time where I get to use my talents on something other than singing fifty-eight verses of "The Ants Go Marching" or playing "Peek," "Catch-Me-Crawling-Up-The-Stairs," or "Hold Me." I would never say those are unimportant things, but I stop being able to do them well without balance. Thank you Sean!

    Of course, when Sean comes home, I've had just as long a day working as he did. As important as it is to use my outlet, sometimes I'm just tired. Sometimes I lack motivation. That's why I can't thank you all enough for taking the time to help me link this blog to Facebook. Thank you for indicating you had even the teensiest interest in reading about the jewelry designer part of my life. You are my motivation. You ROCK my world!

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Monday, February 15, 2010

    Upcoming Classes

    Next weekend at Sticks & Stones in Mankato I'm teaching a class called Iron-soldered Stone Pendant, which teaches one way to hang a stone without holes and emphasizes how to texture leaded solder, and a basic torch soldering class where we'll be making a simple small-link chain.

    The weekend after that, same bat-location, it's a lampworking weekend! I'm ultra excited about that. It's a lampworking refresher in the AM, focusing on making nice shapes, and the many important reasons for learning to layer glass neatly (like even color distribution and pretty hole puckers). In the afternoon we're doing Lampworking III, which will focus on making pendant-sized beads (with the kiln on, waiting for your beads); it will also address silver reactions, using a rake, using murrini, and using bead presses.

    Sticks & Stones
    1027 Riverfront Drive
    Mankato, MN 56001
    call to register

    Social Media

    As I was checking Facebook this evening, the lovely GafferGirls were working on linking their blog to their Facebook profile so we, their loyal Facebook friends, could follow their blog though Facebook. How efficient!

    Of course I thought ... hum! I wanna do that, too! So, I did and now you can see the option to follow my blog in the right margin. I'm using the excuse that it's new to explain why I'm the only follower ... but you can sign up right now and change all of that and you can keep abrest of all the cool jewelry-and-glass-related fun facts that I'm working on at any given time.

    In other news, I recently joined the forum Lampwork etc. (LE), which is amazing. In less than a month I've acquired enough of the out-of-production Zimmerman z-99 Purple Rose Special to experiment for a while, as well as had the opportunity to try Zoozii's large tab press and chunky crystal duo press. Plus, the people are GREAT! Even though I'm still lurking a bit, it's nice just to know there are so many like-minded, fabulous people out there! If you decide you want to give it a try, tell them that AutEvDesigns - my LE username - sent you!

    OH! Speaking of news ... The Ocean Waves Beaded Bracelet that you see in the ETSY box on the right? It's going to be published in the WORD section of the June/July 2010 issue of Beadwork! Hooray!

    Saturday, January 16, 2010

    Experimenting with Etching

    In the past nine-and-a-half months since Sawyer was born I haven't had much time to make production jewelry, let alone experiment. The little time I am able to get I usually work on class development and making samples. One new class Sonja at Sticks & Stones in Mankato wanted to be able to offer was etching.

    The Bead Monkey, here in the Twin Cities, is also offering etching but, as I understand, they are using Ferric Chloride. This is a great mordant, but only lasts so long and, as with all etchants, needs to be treated as hazardous waste when it's spent. It's also a very dark solution, so you can't see what's happening as the etchant works on the metal. So, for those reasons I started working, instead, with a seed batch of hydrochloric acid and hydrogen peroxide, which after etching a couple of copper pieces turns into the reusable, refreshable cupric chloride. Cupric chloride is a mordant for copper and brass, and I still need to see if it has any effect on sterling silver whatsoever, but for the very low cost, lack of trips to the hazardous waste facility, transparency of solution, and effectiveness, I really like this stuff so far.

    When you mix a new batch of hydrochloric acid and hydrogen peroxide (in a 3:1 ratio, done in a pyrex mixing cup -- a different brand than the kind you might have in your kitchen to prevent accidental switching) the bite it has on the metal is quite fast and deep. Very nice. I've started to notice, now that my solution has turned into the cupric chloride, that the bite isn't as deep. The result isn't necessarily bad. After about 20 minutes, running my fingers over the metal, I can't feel a textural difference, but there is a visual difference. The non-etched metal that was covered by the resist is very shiny, but the etched portion is matte. I think it's a very nice effect. Now, I've left a piece in the solution for the night. We'll see the wisdom and result of this in the morning.

    The resist I used in this case I was using DecoColor opaque paint markers in white and black ... both work the same but the white cleans up better. Both require turpentine. When the solution was fresh (HCl and H2O2), I tried using red and brown Sharpie markers. The ink tended to disappear over time, particularly if I didn't go over the lines more than once, but what I had originally drawn was clear in the etch and the gradual removal of the ink may just have been due to the strength of the acid. I still need to try the DecoColor pens with in the fresh solution. I suspect it will be more durable than the Sharpie drawings, but I don't yet know if it will totally resist the mordant or not. I've also purchased some asphaltum (and Ferric Chloride, for that matter) with which I can do some sgrafitto, but the downside is that you need Naphtha to remove the asphaltum when you're done and it seems a little silly to buy Naphtha for just that one application, whereas I use turpentine - needed to remove the paint from the paint markers - for other things, too.

    We'll see what we have tomorrow. I'll also edit this post then and upload some photos. Yay!