All I Want for Christmas is a Valium

 

Peace

Peace Necklace (available on ArtFire) - photo copyright meghan garner

Ah, Christmas – the season of peace and joy and selflessness. Oh, and STRESS! Name any common cause of stress and it’s probably present during the holidays – financial worries, major travel, disruption of routine, busier than usual schedules. For those who run a retail business, especially one that is based on their own creative endeavors, the situation is even more dire. Sales pick up (if you’re lucky), and demands on your time come thick and fast. Now more than ever the independent artist/businessperson needs to bring all their creative resources to bear to meet the season’s challenges.

Unfortunately, as anyone who has ever foolishly tried to hand-make all their Christmas presents will probably be aware, stress greatly impedes creativity. The feeling of being overwhelmed seems to block out all other signals in the brain, resulting in the craftsperson sitting in front of a blank canvas or table full of supplies in very real danger of hyperventilating, and with no real chance of actually getting anything done.

There’s really no fool-proof way of dealing with holiday stress, but luckily, whether you’re facing an open house with no inventory or just need to get that pile of Christmas cards mailed out in time, there are a few simple tasks that can help you begin to find a foothold. The trick is to do what it takes to feel that you’re in control of the situation. For me, that means tackling the jobs that don’t require creative input, like getting the studio clean so I can find what I need when I do sit down to work, or dealing with that pile of laundry that’s been adding to my stress all weekend. Those tasks may not seem directly related to the most pressing needs of the moment – in this case, getting a lot of inventory made for my upcoming studio show – but getting them out of the way gives me the foothold I need to tackle those tougher to-dos.

Pick a small task, get it done, and move on to the next. Soon you’ll find that you’ve accomplished most of your to-do list, and those few lurking tasks that were giving you the most trouble suddenly won’t seem nearly as intimidating.

Whatever holiday task you’re facing, the first step is not to let yourself be overwhelmed. And the second is probably to get off the computer and get to work! Ready…… BREAK!

PS: speaking of things that are stressing me out – don’t forget about the Big Party on the 5th!

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Bronze clay items are on the way!

 

pile o bronze

Pile o' Bronze - photo copyright meghan garner

It’s true! I’ve got a pile of ’em ready to be cleaned and polished for your viewing pleasure. I’ve been having a devil of a time getting the firing schedule right for these babies! Without boring you with too much detail, bronze has to be fired buried in carbon to prevent oxidation, and I’ve been using a box that I basically jumbled together from fiber kiln shelves and nichrome wire to hold said junk (a la Hadar Jacobson). It works great and keeps my kiln clean (yay!), but it actually works TOO well – it holds heat so much better than the traditional stainless steel containers that I’ve had to adjust the firing temps by over a hundred degrees, and it’s still far from perfect. I lose at least a few pieces in every batch, but I’m getting better, and at least some survive to make to you! I’ve also got some small amounts of copper, white bronze, and steel clays to have a go at next. Adventures await!

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Assorted Minor Bits of News

 

messy studio

embarassing mess! photo copyright meghan garner

I’ve not posted much recently, largely because I’ve been working like a madwoman trying to prep for the holiday season, besides experimenting with firing schedules for bronze clay and trying to plan a few classes and an open house. My studio looks like several tornadoes hit it (as evidenced by the photo to the left), and I don’t anticipate it getting clean anytime soon. I do, however, hope to be back to regular blogging sometime in the foreseeable future. I just have to make it through Black Friday first! Such chaos…

 

 

Meantime, look for new items to be posted in both shops in the next few days – I’ve been creating and photographing like mad so that I can spend downtime over the holiday weekend getting items posted. The rest of my family gathering together for thanksgiving are all in graduate school (no really, all of them), so I anticipate plenty of listing time while they all do their homework. Hah, suckers!

 

Wonderland Necklace - photo copyright meghan garner

Oh yeah, and don’t forget about the big party! Sophistique’s holiday open house is happening on Sunday, December 5th, from 6:30pm – 10:00pm, and you don’t want to miss it. Trust me. There will be wine! And I’m hoping to bake a few goodies as well (mocha chip scones? mmmm), though I make no promises on that front. Regardless, everything will be on sale, so that’s neat! It’s pretty much the perfect place to get all your Christmas shopping done, if you ask me (though I guess I am ever-so-slightly biased). Check out my last blog entry for more details about the shindig.

 

 

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Did Someone Say Party?!

 

Wonderland Necklace - photo copyright meghan garner

That’s right, Sophistique is throwing a party, and you’re invited! We’ll be set up with all of our sparklies at the Indian Lakes Apartments Community Center (for directions, click here) on Sunday, December 5th from 6:30pm to 10:00 pm. We’ll have wine (and possibly a few snacks if I have the time to bake beforehand) and, best of all, everything will be 15% off! Enjoy an evening out with your girlfriends trying on unique handcrafted jewelry items, get all your holiday shopping done in one place, and bring your significant others who may need a little help figuring out what to get you for Christmas. Everybody wins!

If you’d love to come but can’t make that particular date, don’t worry – the party can come to you! I love doing home jewelry parties. Plus, as a hostess you’ll get a whole host (pardon the pun) of fun discounts and incentives. Visit my web site for more info, and contact me to set up your party today!

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What the heck is a Sinter?

 

My baby - a paragon SC-2. Image copyright Meghan Garner

I can’t even begin to count the number of times I encounter a new metal clay artist struggling with the concept of firing. It’s not surprising, considering that almost every formula of metal clay lists a different firing schedule. The most recent formulas even promise results via torch firing, which is fantastic, but  adds greatly to the chaos. 1290 for 10 minutes? 1110 for 30? Which one is right?

The problem is that to be able to choose the right firing schedule you have to understand the concept of sintering, and unfortunately most metal clay books and classes don’t even mention it.

Sintering, simply put, is the process by which your metal fuses under heat. When you fire a piece of metal clay, the first few minutes are devoted just to heating it up. Around 800 degrees, the binder in the clay combusts and you’ve got a small blaze on your hands (which is particularly exciting when you’re torch-firing your piece). Once the binder is completely burned away, the rest of the heating time is devoted to fusing, or sintering, your metal.

Think of the particles of metal in your metal clay piece as ice cubes in a freezer. At first, they’re all just jumbled up inside the ice box, right? But the colder the freezer and the longer they sit inside it, the more they begin to fuse together. The little spaces of air between them gradually get smaller and smaller as the ice cubes become a dense mass. Eventually, you’ve got to take the whole chunk out and whack at it with a hammer in order to get manageable ice cubes again.

Your metal is doing the same thing as a reaction to the heat of firing. The tiny metal particles are gradually growing closer together and the mass as a whole is becoming denser. And that, in a nutshell, is sintering. (As a side note, the more recent formulas of metal clay utilize a lot of varied shapes and sizes of metal particles rather than uniform ones, so they fit together better and can more easily fill in those air pockets. Neat!)

The important thing to take away from all of this is that the more sintered your piece is, the stronger it will be (just like that glacier you found in your freezer). If you only fire a piece at the minimum temperature and time it will be metal, but it will also be very brittle. In order to get maximum strength, you should fire your piece at the maximum temperature for the maximum amount of time (in the case of PMC3, 1650 for 2 hours). You should also never include ramp time in your firing time – let your kiln heat fully to temperature before timing your firing.

Sometimes you’ll have to lower that temperature and/or that time to deal with various inclusions, such as gemstones or sterling silver components, that can’t handle the heat. This is just fine, so long as you keep in mind the trade-off for including those things is sacrificing a little bit of strength. You want to be especially careful with items, like rings, that will be getting banged about a lot.

Torch-firing is especially risky. Personally, I avoid torch firing whenever possible, but each artist has to make that decision for themselves, and I know several who torch fire exclusively with great success. Just be warned: if you plan on doing any work to your piece after firing (dapping, texturing, that sort of thing), then torch-firing won’t cut it – your piece will break.

If you have pieces you fired for a shorter time, though, don’t worry! You can always re-fire for full strength at any time. Just be aware that the longer you fire a piece, the more it will shrink. If you torch fired a ring and now want to kiln fire it for the full 2 hours at 1650, be prepared to lose at least a full ring size to shrinkage.

Forward, and happy claying!

(The title of this post is an homage to one of my favorite blogs, Pioneer Woman, and her series of photography posts entitled “What the heck is an Aperture”.)

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The Lady Who Couldn’t Purl

I recently had a rather odd encounter with a woman at the local knit shop that I frequent, and it taught me perhaps one of the most valuable lessons of my professional life. I was loitering after an instructional class, enjoying the chance to just sit and knit and chat with the other regulars who happened to be in the shop at the time. On the other side of the table was a woman I’d never met, knitting away patiently at a garter-stitch scarf.

Sidenote: For those unfamiliar with knitting, the craft at its most basic level consists of just two stitches (or ways of wrapping the yarn around the needles): knit and purl. And if you want to break it down even further, a purl stitch is really just a backward knit stitch. Each stitch is incredibly simple to perform, and it takes the average person about 30 seconds to understand the concept of each one. Obviously, practice is needed to learn how to maintain regular tension, how to combine those two stitches in interesting ways. etc., but the basic concept could really not be simpler.

Back to the story: This woman was knitting away at a garter stitch scarf (which is a scarf composed entirely of knit stitches  – quick and easy, but incredibly tiresome to do after a while), and after a few moments of silence around the table she began to complain about how boring it was. She lamented how tired she had become of doing the same thing over and over again, and wished that the scarf had a more interesting pattern. Puzzled, another customer suggested she try adding a few variations in the pattern, to which the woman responded “Oh, I wish I could! But I don’t know how to purl.”

At this point we all offered to show her, thinking it a problem easily solved, but we were surprised to see that she wasn’t interested. “Oh, no, no,” she responded, “It’s too complicated. Maybe someday I’ll be able to learn, but I’m just not ready yet.”

We assured her that it was actually very simple and asked how long she’d been knitting.

“Two years,” she replied.

Two years! Two years this woman had been knitting (in the most literal sense of the word) and refusing to learn how to perform the second stitch! We each tried to convince her to let us demonstrate to her how simple it was, knowing that in a matter of seconds an entire world of knitting possibilities would be opened for her, but she steadfastly refused, sorrowfully bemoaning the fact that she couldn’t learn and wishing that someday she might be able to do so. All our efforts were in vain. The only way this lady was going to learn how to purl was if we held her down and forced her.

As sad (and somewhat humorous) as this encounter was, I realized afterward that it had also taught me a very valuable lesson: don’t be the lady who couldn’t purl. I had been puzzled by her attitude and amused by her situation, yet failed to recognize that I frequently do exactly the same thing. This realization was more than a little embarrassing.

You see, I often find myself spending weeks or even months wishing I could master a certain technique or create a certain look without ever actually trying it to see if it’s as hard as I assume it will be. In fact, 9 times out of 10 when I finally try my hand at it I find that it’s quite simple, and then bemoan the wasted months that could have been spent with this technique in my creative arsenal.

Now, when I find myself procrastinating a task because I fear it will be too hard, I remind myself not to be the lady that couldn’t purl. Sure, the task may prove too hard for me to learn on my own but I’ll never know unless I try, and as long as I sit there wishing and waiting, I am being just as silly as she was.

I urge you, too, lovely readers, not to be afraid to laugh at yourself when you realize that you’re being a bit ridiculous. Just smile, remind yourself not to be the lady who couldn’t purl, and go tackle that problem!

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BronzClay in a Box

BronzClay items ready to go into the kiln

I have waited months for this day. Tonight, I fire my first batch of BronzClay pieces. This is huge.

I’ve been wanting to play with the base metal clays for quite some time now. The problem is that most base metal clays have to be fired embedded in carbon (to prevent fire scale), and that can seriously mess up your kiln.

Literally. It’s messy. The process leaves a bed of tiny black flakes that have to be vaccuumed out; a tricky task with a kiln, like my SC-2, that’s made of fiber rather than brick. And on top of that, repeated firings with carbon can end up in a buildup of the nasty that causes damage to your kiln’s internal components. No bueno.

But then came a revelation, thanks to the wise and wonderful Sherry Viktora (my level 2 certification instructor): the mess isn’t actually from the carbon; it’s from the stainless steel container it’s fired in! If one can find another vessel that can easily withstand repeated firings to above 1500 degrees one can avoid the mess entirely.

That’s where Hadar comes in. Hadar is one of the artists on the forefront of the metal clay industry, and produces her own brand of metal clays (including some, like her steel clays, not available from any other producer). She came up with a super easy DIY method for creating a box from fiber kiln shelves.

And now we’re in business. The firing process is still rather tricky – a difference of only a few degrees can determine whether your item cracks and breaks due to incomplete sintering, or blisters from too much heat. Each kiln is a little different, each brand of clay is a little different, each batch of carbon is a little different, and each firing container will hold heat a little differently. I’ll be doing my first test firing tonight at the lowest possible temperature and working up from there so it may take quite a while before I have any finished pieces to show, but I’m positive they’ll be worth the wait! Stay tuned!

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