Tool drool

I have recently been acquiring some tools that I've wanted for many years but always passed up at ordering time in lieu of some other supply item or raw material that I needed more. 

This is a set of dapping punches with a dapping block -- heavy steel components used to make curved and domed surfaces.

The interesting thing about tools and such is that they have an obvious impact on one's designs... not that people should expect that suddenly I'll have lots of designs with domed shapes, but the capability means that more diversity will show up to bridge the gap between my two different styles of very organic and very geometric.


"What tools, skills/techniques, or technologies have most affected your work, and in what way?"

This entry is part of a "blog carnival" -- a few other jewelry artists and I have all decided to post our thoughts on the same topic and then link to each other's entries. 'Cuz we like to share. 

My answer to the above question, if I limit myself to only one thing, is: Metal Clay. I began using metal clays (silver and gold varieties) in 2005. 

Metal Clay is unfortunately named in my opinion, because its name doesn't convey that it is in fact metal by the time you're done working with it. For those who are unfamiliar with this material, here's a brief explanation: 

Metal clays are composed of a synthetic clay material known as a "binder." Embedded in this binder are microscopically small particles of pure silver, pure gold, or beginning this summer, bronze. You sculpt and form this material like regular clay, into the desired shape and let it dry. Once dry, it is fired either with a blowtorch or in a kiln. During firing the binder burns away and the metal particles fuse together (a process known as "sintering"). The original sculpted item shrinks slightly (10-12%, depending on the version of material used) and at the end of the process you're left with a solid metal object in the exact shape of your original sculpture. That object will be pure ("fine") silver, 22K gold, or bronze. The "clay" part has vanished.

This capability has made a dramatic impact on my work, which was previously very linear and geometric. I used to only produce jewelry by traditional fabrication methods: cutting, bending and forming shapes from sheet and wire and connecting them together to make my pieces. Saw, bend, solder with torch, file, sand and polish. Occasionally I would build wax models for casting, but I have never been particularly fond of wax carving. It's a subtractive process, and I prefer to think the opposite way. Metal clays let me do just that. 

The ability to build the shape as I go rather than trying to carve it out of something else has opened a floodgate of creative ideas, simply because for me they were now easier to create.

Adding this medium to my skill set has also made possible designs that would be extremely difficult if not impossible to create using any other method, such as the large hollow beads I've made. 

The ability to produce what's in my head without technical impediments or limitations of particular techniques has allowed me to truly express my artistic vision.

Metal clays have their limitations too, and they are neither inexpensive nor always easy to work with. Also, since they are more accessible to the public and don't require a lot of specialized training, many people with no metalsmithing skills have taken up the medium. This is interesting to me in the same way that digital video has become very public. Unfortunately, as with digital video, having access to a technology doesn't mean you can automatically produce beautiful work. 

Last year, Metalsmith magazine featured a cover story about metal clays and how the medium has progressed since its invention. Of note were the following observations:

"Of course, as with other materials and processes, the ability to work with metal clay, or even to teach it, does not necessarily mean that one can use it in an artistically inspired manner, and despite the material's impressive growth, acceptance by the mainstream art jewelry world has been slow. Some still regard the material with a degree of skepticism. Those who have spent years acquiring their much-prized metalsmithing skills look down on metal clay as hobbyist material, and don't consider it 'real metal.'" 

"One of the unique qualities of metal clay is its ability to take on almost any form with great ease. That said, its formability can lead to gloppy and unresolved shapes. Using metal clay in a crisp, clean manner is a challenge."

- Donald Friedlich, Metalsmith magazine, 2007 Vol. 27 No. 3

More and more metalsmiths are learning that they can incorporate this new medium into their repertoire of techniques. I frequently combine metal clay with traditional fabrication methods to produce larger works that would be very difficult and time-consuming to cast. It's also a way to incorporate more organic shapes into otherwise linear designs. In sum, it's a technique that has greatly broadened my design capabilities and has affected my work more than any other tool or process. 

Now have a look at what these fellow artists have to say about what has impacted their work the most:

Angela Baduel-Crispin (specific link not available)
amra Gentry
Elaine Luther (entry no longer available)


What would a post-stone-age empress wear?

Possibly something like my Neolithic Empress necklace, of chunky nugget-like handmade fine silver beads, amethyst and freshwater pearls. This piece has an ancient feel to it, and I read that the Neolithic (post stone-age) people had begun using amethyst... so this seemed an appropriate name.

Interestingly, the ancient Greeks invented the name "amethyst" as we know it in English. It means "not drunken," and was believed to prevent the bearer from becoming intoxicated. So you wouldn't wear amethyst to a party unless you were the designated chariot driver, I suppose.

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