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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Learning the hard way

Is anybody out there?

This is my first post here.  I'm moving my blog from my Artfire shop to Blogger so that people can actually subscribe to it.  (Imagine a blog that people could actually subscribe to!)

I would like to do a blog for my customers, but I realize that right now I am mostly followed by other jewelry designers, so I will try and have something for both of you.

The last few days I spent working on a piece to submit to Holly Gage's 2012 calender, the Art and Design of Metal Clay Jewelry.  I had what I thought was a brilliant idea.  The problem is I'm a procrastinator.  I spent too much time planning, and didn't leave myself enough extra time for all the unplanned problems that I always run into.  So, I didn't get it done in time to submit it, but since I didn't, I guess I have no problem showing what I'm working on.

Here was my inspiration, Crescent Moon Lake at Mingsha Shan (Singing Sands Mountain) in the Gobi desert outside Dunhuang:

Crescent Lake at Mingsha, Dunhuang, China

Anyway, I was looking at pictures of Mingsha online, some better than the one I took, and I could just see the bronze sand, the copper pagoda, and the silver crescent lake.  Wouldn't that make a great pendant?

So anyway, I drew it out a few times until I got the design the way I wanted it.  First I made the pagoda in copper.  I started with a mold and ended up modifying it.  I let it dry.  I had considered firing the copper pagoda first and then firing the bronze, but I found online an article by Judy Weers from the 2010 PMC conference about how to fire copper and bronze together.  

I wanted a layered look, so I cut out the foreground and the background out of bronze clay.  I carefully inserted the dry, unfired pagoda where I wanted it and cut out the lake by hand with a pointy tool:

I then let them dry.  Aren't the colors beautiful?

Meanwhile, I realized what I had overlooked, which turned out to be my downfall here.  The instructions for firing bronze and copper didn't necessarily apply, because the new package of bronze I had just opened was Fast Fire Bronze, which I had never used before.  Apparently you have to test the crap out of this stuff!  You have to fire it, then check it for blisters (which means it got too hot), and bend it to see if it got fired all the way through.  I had to end up doing three firings -- the first two weren't hot enough.  

Meanwhile I put an edge around it and made the bail.  Here it is, ready to go in the kiln.  You can see two sand dunes behind it and the sun setting.  I also made some little waves in the sand and the bail.

Now, I finally got this fired and it came out of the kiln looking good, but by now it was 10:30, and my deadline was midnight, and I still had to put silver in the lake.  After brushing it, I put it in my tumbler to clean it up and burnish it.  It was looking good, but I didn't have time to take a picture, because I had to get the silver in it.  The only weird thing was that the copper pretty much looked like the bronze.  You really couldn't tell the difference unless you looked closely.  I don't know why that is, unless the fast fire has more copper in it than the regular?  But even my test pieces looked more golden colored than this did.

Now, I am very ADHD, and I lose everything that can't ring when it's called.  I had seen an article in Art Jewelry Magazine about inlaying silver solder into copper or bronze.  Of course, I couldn't find the article.  I even looked online.  Turns out it's in the January 2010 issue.  I was sure it was more recent than that.  Meanwhile I misplaced my wire solder after having it in my hand (found it while writing this article).  So I decided to use paste solder because I didn't have time to mess around.  I'm not very good at soldering yet.  Apparently this is NOT a good use for paste solder.  I fluxed the inside of the lake well and stuck some dabs of paste solder in there.  I probably should have heated it from below, but apparently the real problem was the paste solder.  Instead of flowing, it tried to ball up into a ball.  I freaked out when it started rising up off the pendant like it was growing.    Anyway the only thing I succeeded in doing was balling up the solder and turning my pendant black.  By now it was about 11:30 pm and there was no way I was going to make my deadline.  Here it is after the disaster:

So right now it's in the pickle, trying to get the black off it.  If I ever get it done (which might be a long time from now if my soldering skills don't improve) I'll post the picture.


  1. Wow! Keep trying. I think your idea sounds great.

  2. It is awful that you took that wrong turn but, then again, you will never make this series of mistakes again - and that is good.

  3. it may not have flowed because even though you fluxed, it probably had some oxidation there? i read elsewhere that it turned copper in the pickle? your pickle got contaminated with steel at some point, this turns it into a copper plating solution. the only way to remove the copper is to file or sand it off. i speak from sad experience :( it is lovely, perhaps you can still salvage it just not with the color differentiation that you wanted. good luck :)

    1. just reread and the lake was tumbled, you would need to sand it a bit before flowing the solder. still don't know if it would spread the way you want and fill that space. you may be right about the paste solder and wire would work better. cut into little pieces and spread them out in the space with flux.
      best of luck!