Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pondering my Future in PMC

My two favorite pieces from the class. I forgot to show the backside of that Rune Horse pendant, so there ya go. Also shown is the (unpatina-ed) clasp piece I couldn't include in my previous post. My only mistake with the clasp was making the loop a shade too small, so it's really difficult to get that hook through! DOH.

After every big trip, I lapse into a limbo state as I decompress and regain a quiet mind. But this isn't down time. It's perhaps the most important time in the studio in regards to the future. This is because the days following such an experience really are an intense period of cogitation as my subroutines mull over what I've learned and my conscious mind contemplates the new path I'll follow.

What's especially interesting to me about PMC is its jewelry emphasis, which means I have to learn a whole new design paradigm on top of learning how to use the material itself. As I mentioned in my previous post, I learned a lot from watching Ruth and the other students design their pieces. Most importantly, I learned just how confined my creativity had become. Coming from a "literal" background in realism, I found their "interpretive" aesthetic to be a fresh breeze. Indeed, many things they did with the exact same tools or patterns simply never occurred to me! I was amazed and fascinated by their work. I think I actually heard a door click open in my head.

So during this decompression, I've been surfing PMC artists online to study various works in order to identify what grabs me (and why) and even more importantly -- what doesn't (and why) -- in order to pin down my own jewelry aesthetic. And while I already know exactly how my voice is going to shape my jewelry, it always helps to study the work of others to gain clarity and to open the mind. So here are just some PMC artists I've studied so far who fall into the "grab me" category -- enjoy!

In this exercise, I've confirmed that my aesthetic prefers chunky, organic, relic-like, whimsical pieces that are unexpected and unusual in design. That it's more important to me that a piece be interesting, unique and arty rather than "mainstream."
In short: I like jewelry with an attitude and a point of view. In doing so, I've also confirmed I'm not drawn to "seen it," "sweet," "clutter," or "delicate." This clarity now allows me to forge ahead with my jewelry designs in greater confidence.

Aside from the aesthetic, though, it's also important to pinpoint exactly what it is I like about the medium. Luckily I already have a good parallel: I know what I love about clay -- it's ability to be spontaneous despite my best efforts otherwise. For example, during the process of making my tiles, serendipity infuses eccentricities
that make each one a true one of a kind, and so I literally never know what I'm going to get each time I open Big Al. While this maddened me in the past, I've since surrendered to The Will of Clay, and in doing so, found this aspect to be a rejuvenating aspect that balances out the hyper-control found in my realistic work.

So, what does this mean for PMC jewelry for me? It means that I interpret PMC as clay and not metal. My enjoyment is found when I allow it to be clay, and I enjoy the ironic juxtaposition between "metal" and "clay," things that are opposites in life. So I want to encourage that organic, chance-driven quality rather than pursue a machine-like precision. This has important repercussions.

Because just as importantly, I've been contemplating manageable production logistics. Time-consuming steps can become more of a burden than a boon, as well as drive up the price of the finished piece into prohibitive price-points. So after much thought, I think I have my logistics hammered out in my head that satisfy my artistic and production needs, and all I have to do is put them to the test.

"One thought fills immensity." ~ William Blake


Monday, September 13, 2010

Playin' in PMC

An exquisite Washington rose, kissed by the morning drizzle.

There are few things in this world that capture my fascination more than possibility and inspiration. And if those things could be measured in chocolate, this trip would have been a shameless wallow in a churning sea of the velvety stuff. The primary reason for this trip was to attend
Certification 1 & 2 PMC classes, instructed by the gifted and gracious Ruth Greening and hosted by the PMC Guild, in Lacey, Washington. These two classes would span four days of intense instruction and hands-on learning.

A majestic mountain greets us as we enter Washington -- a wonderful taste of what was to come!

Metal clay isn't something you can just pick up and do. Beyond regular clay, it has additional quirks and technical specs because of the metal incorporated into it. In a nutshell: You really should take a class before diving in; otherwise you're going to end up with an expensive waste of time, or worse, really hurt yourself. But because I knew PMC would expand the possibilities in the studio immeasurably, I decided to attend -- and I'm sure glad I did! Everything that seemed an utter and intimidating mystery to me in my precious metal clay books, videos and mags now make perfect, clear sense. Hallelujah! There is no substitute for hands-on learning guided by an adept and experienced instructor! None.

The mind-boggling bead store, Shipwreck Beads, where the classes were held. Oh. My. Lord. If there ever was a mecca for a beader, this would be it. This place is so enormous, it has its own deli and coffee house!

The walkway is paved in beads!

A tiny glimpse of the inside. I'm not even sure if a wide-angle lens could capture the sheer size of this place in one frame. To my delight, they specialize in glass beads, and my goodness -- you cannot beat the prices here! Strings of exotic glass beads that would easily cost $25 each here in Boise were three strings for $8.50! And the selection of findings, storage cases, tools and hardware were overwhelming. Unbelievable.

In particular, what's really useful about the
PMC Guild hosted classes is that they are structured, standardized and lead by experienced instructors who are working artists themselves. As such, each class is progressive, designed to teach a total newb (like me) on how to use this magic stuff while also teaching the student necessary jewelry methods to expand the possibilities of design.

My instructor, Ruth, was marvelous -- patient, fun, clear and able to answer any question thrown at her (she also loves horses and rides a Harley!). She had plenty of supplies and "stuff" for us to experiment with, and plenty of examples and recommendations of other "stuff" that may interest us in the future. In short: She provided a de-mystified, expansive, and welcoming glance into the world of PMC. Moreover, and perhaps most important, she had that rare gift of being able to teach from the student's point of view, whether newb or veteran. A rare blessing!

Here Ruth demonstrates how to torch-fire a PMC piece, before we each had to torch our own pieces. It was scary at first, but not anymore! Ruth even had some basic supplies for sale, and so I was able to check off several items on my "need to get list" right there while also getting trained on them on-the-spot! One of these items being a torch. I think Hubby is a bit nervous about me using that puppy. I'm a danger to myself and others with a BBQ, let alone a butane torch...but that's another story.

What was great, too, was that the classes were small: Certification Level 1 had six students, and Certification Level 2 had only three! That meant Ruth could really give each of us some close attention, which means a lot when you're in the middle of some fiddly bit and just realized you don't know quite what you're doing yet!

But wait -- there's more! Each class came with supplies, a book and print-outs of necessary information and extra tips and supply sources. You also could purchase more PMC (or extra stones) from Ruth on-the-spot, if you wanted to add more, or used up too much. That was definitely handy.
And Ruth had lots of handy insights. For instance, descend on your local thrift store or dollar store for tools and mold forms because measuring spoons can make great dome molds, or old food dehydrators can make wonderful drying boxes -- and all for pennies. Or when coating a leaf, use only a fresh leaf, and paint "paste" on the back, where the features are more crisp. And one of her first humorous quips: "You'll become a connoisseur of straws" was priceless. I didn't know what she meant at first, of course, but realized as I made several bails, "Oh yes -- I'm going to need a special container for all the drinking straws I'll be hoarding!"

She also brought her "workhorse" Evenheat PMC kiln. What's neat about these kilns is that they can be plugged into any household socket (you don't need to get special wiring, like I did for Big Al), they come up to temperature (1650˚) inside of thirty minutes (!!!), they come pre-programmed with specialized ramped sequences for PMC, and they're small and portable. Reliable, easy, quick and efficient. Sold! Looks like Maury and Big Al will have a new little brother soon!

Pretty much anything you can do with clay, you can do with PMC. Even better -- many of the skill sets and tools for clay and sculpture crossover into PMC. For example, here I'm carving a hollow dome pendant into an impromptu Rune Horse with one of my most favorite ceramic tools, created by Bison Studios (thanks Joanie!). At the top of the photo is the burn-out piece we had to do, created by brushing on layers of PMC "paste" (otherwise known as "slip" to ceramists) onto a cork form, which is then burned out during the fire to leave a hollow PMC piece.

Here are my finished pieces (all of them have patina except for H & J). Now mind you, they are learning pieces, so they're kinda goofy. And we had to work quickly to get each project done on time, so there wasn't time to fiddle and tweak. But each one had a mission: Each was engineered by the PMC Guild to teach me specific things about PMC and specific skills and techniques in jewelry making. It'll take several months of practice to refine my hand, and especially my eye for jewelry design. I learned so much from watching the other students who were experienced jewelry makers. How they interpreted the same specifications and materials from a jewelry-maker's POV was very insightful -- I have a lot to learn in that department! Anyway: (A) The piece that taught us how to apply 24K gold to a PMC piece, (B) the piece that taught us how to use and gain control of the "syringe" form of PMC with the filigree technique, (C) the piece that taught us how to make a ring and set a stone onto the ring (I made the ring for Hubby, and now have a new-found respect for PMC ring makers! ARGH!), (D) the piece that taught us how to enamel PMC, (E) the piece that taught us how to roll slabs, inset stones using the "bird's nest" technique with the syringe PMC, use "wet assembly," inset cabs, attach layers of clay and how to make a basic bail (it was our first piece in Cert 1! I think mine looks like a cross between the Eye of Sauron and a UFO -- "There were three lights in the sky..."), (F) the simple charm piece that taught us how to torch fire, (G) the piece that taught us how to use "dry assembly," make a hollow dome piece, join seams, make cut-outs, how to carve the clay, learn to use of the sheet form of PMC, and make a split bail, (H) the piece that taught us how to do "burn-outs" (I added the polka dots with PMC sheet), (I) the piece that taught us how to make a bezel and attach it to the PMC and inset a non-fireable stone, (J) the piece that taught us how to achieve a mirror-finish and attach different pre-made patterned layers of clay in "dry assembly." The only piece not pictured is the piece that taught us how to make a clasp out of silver wire because it was still in the tumbler. DOH! But with these skills, I can now make pretty much anything I want. I'm going to take Certification Level 3 next year, to learn additional skills that will round-out my repertoire.

So as you can imagine, my mind is swimming with ideas now. I plan to put all my Rune Horses and stamp designs into PMC production, as well as make press molds for realistic equine pieces. But I also plan on incorporating other animals and nature designs a little bit further down the road, as well as make my own texture sheets. I also want to blend PMC with fired clay in some special items, like an annual Christmas ornament. I do know I like creating bezels rather than firing stones in the kiln because that gives me limitless possibilities (and I find bezel making a lot of fun), and I know with absolute certainty that enameling will be incorporated on some pieces. I cannot resist the look of translucent colored glass on the metal.

However, my goal isn't finished pieces of jewelry, but jewelry components that others can buy and make their own finished jewelry...rather like beads. To me it's more fun to see what other people do with this kind of work, and I just have so many design ideas that I have to prioritize my time. Even more important, a self-employed artist has to be honest about her strengths...and for me, coming out with new design components every year is a stronger skill.

So as you can well imagine, I'm going to be very busy in the upcoming years between my sculpture, tiles and now PMC. Bliss. There's nothing I like more than getting up in the morning with lots of exciting work to do, clear ideas and clear goals. Well...except for ooozing rattie goo. But just by a little!

The Washington capitol building in Olympia, seen from the port harbor. Downtown Olympia reminded me a lot of old downtown Santa Cruz (before the Loma Prieta quake) crossed with the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. I liked it a lot.

Then turning around, you see the Port of Olympia, with the big shipping cranes on the left.

Another passion of mine: Tugboats. They drive me insane with delight.

The tourist harbor area had wonderful metal castings of shellfish embedded in the paving. A really nice detail.

Anyway, my classes ended on the 6th, and so I was off to the Washington coast on the 7th, making a bee line to the Olympic National Park. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, we plan to return next year to the park so I can do some hardcore research for tiles and PMC design.

I have always been madly in love with lush forests. Green, full of life and that wonderful aroma. Shade, serenity and the sound of trees. And what's even more awesome about Northwest forests is that they're verdant, misty and warm, not sticky humid hot. Overall, NW weather is my favorite. The overcast cloud-cover makes my hyper-sensitive, fair, prone-to-lobsterize-at-the-hint-of-sun skin so so happy. My curls love the moisture in the air, too, and my lungs suck up the moist air with glee. I don't feel dessicated or cooked, but like I'm in a happy damp box as content greenware. Anyway, here are some shots from inside the visitor's center (it was so overcast that day, that it was smarter to forge ahead to the coast and return another day)...

No truer words have ever been spoken. I wouldn't want to live in a world without critters! Especially the beady-eyed kind.

A really beautiful ceramic heron, hanging in the visitor's center as an example of a native bird. I thought of my friend, Addi, and her fantastic heron sculptures.

To get to my destination on the coast, I had to go through Forks, WA, the setting of the popular series, Twilight. The entire town was awash in Twilight-arama.

A lovely view of one of the many WA lakes on the journey to the coast. They reminded me of the Misty Mountains from Tolkien lore.

A daredevil tree, set against the misty forest backdrop typical of coastal Washington.

The luxuriant pathway down to Ruby Beach. One day, the pathway to my studio will be like this. Somewhere. Some day.

A little ambassador welcomed me to the beach -- a banana slug! Also the mascot of my alma mater, UC Santa Cruz. And yes -- I wear my classic Zen Slug t-shirt with pride.

Ruby Beach, Olympic National Park, WA.

Another shot of Ruby Beach.

There were lots of totem-like rock piles everywhere.

Typical of NW beaches, driftwood is everywhere. I liked the rings on this guy.

After Ruby Beach, it was Kalaloch Lodge for the night. Love this place! Nice accommodations, friendly staff, a great beach (with tide pools!) and fantastic food. I had a scrumptious wild mushroom strudel (with mushrooms picked from within the park!) for dinner. Incredible!

A view of the lighthouse from the shore, on an island now designated as a wildlife preserve. As you may know, I have a deep affection for lighthouses.

Another great love: Crows and ravens. So here's a uniquely NW picture: A crow feasting on mussels during low tide. One of my big goals is to create a tile and PMC line featuring these birds.

A view on the beach -- another typical NW beach scene: Cloudy skies, mist and driftwood. Saaaweeeeet.

Along the beach around the lodge were these interesting totems created by beach campfire revelers. From this simple rock-stilt thing...

to this rather clever and elaborate "Northwest Woodhenge."

The view from my hotel room.

After a night on the beach, it was time to visit Little Bro and his wife, Megan, in Oregon. It was a great time, filled with laughter, Swamp People ("tree shaker!") Neil Diamond, and -- no big surprise -- great food. Dang...Megan can cook a mean meatloaf. Wow!

On my last day there, we went on a four mile hike around Jack Lake on the Canyon Creek Meadows trail. The first two miles were uphill. Uphill. So wanting to puke from exhaustion and panting like a sled dog, my head pounding like a church bell, I finally reached the top and downhill portion. Note to self: Get in shape --- NOW. Regardless, it was a breath-taking hike (har har).

A view of Three-fingered Jack from the trail. Look at all those dead trees from the fire!

There had been a fire through that area about seven years ago, leaving an interesting mingling of pristine and damaged or dead trees. To tell the truth, I loved the dead, fire-polished trees. I think of them as "ghost trees," and they had been polished by the elements into a smooth, silvery sheen. Like natural monoliths. Against the blue sky and sun, they glistened. So beautiful.

Walking in the company of Ghost Trees.

It was like hiking through an alien landscape, or a great tree graveyard.

Ghost Trees with fire-colored shrubs.

Among the beautiful bones of dead trees, life starts again.

Eating well always is a priority on vacation, and this one was no exception! As I mentioned before, fresh seafood and shellfish were always on my menu. But this local diner in Bend is a must-go-to destination for breakfast...

Jake's Diner in Bend, OR. This place has amazing food, a comfy atmosphere, a sense of humor, and super-friendly service...and very reasonable prices. A breakfast here won't sit hard on your ribs, but you'll be full and fueled until dinner. And no shi-shi, over-priced nonsense. Good hometown "blue collar" cookin'. No wonder this place has a loyal local following! Bascially, Jake's Diner understands good, honest food exceptionally well. And they are spot-on consisent with every meal. For example, Jake's has the best French Toast I ever had, and I'm painfully picky with French Toast. I don't want complications or wild re-interpretations -- I just want perfectly made, basic French Toast. Not too sweet, not too bready, not too eggy, and moist and creamy on the inside with a caramelized, crisp crust. And I got it there, in spades. Jake's also is home to the very best Egg's Benedict I ever had, as well. Nothing reinterpreted or goofy -- just perfectly made and robust. Even better, Jake's makes its Hollandaise sauce from scratch, and it's easily the best hollindaise sauce ever made. Anywhere. Seriously. Balanced and perfect. If you go through Bend without having breakfast here, you're denying yourself a real treat. Now I don't know about lunch or dinner -- since I only had breakfast there -- but if they're anything like what I had, I imagine you can't go wrong.

A fantastic bowl of cioppino I had while in Olympia. Yum! I feasted on local oysters, too. I also had the second best crab cakes I've ever had in that town, at Anthony's (the best were made by my late-Grandmother, "Babci," which means "Grandma" in Polish). I also enjoyed some amazing fresh, line-caught salmon there -- wow! Seafood and I have a long-time love affair.

It certainly all was a terrific vacation and learning experience. I'm bursting with inspiration and ideas, and refreshed by the coastal Northwest. But I'm very glad to be home. Now my real challenge is staying focused to realize my goals. I have important priorities I have to tackle in sequence like a diligent little pit pony if I'm going to survive this bottleneck of projects. For example, I have to get the Summer 2010 issue of The Boat out the door, then get my finished Melly Tiles out the door, then my own finished tiles up in my Etsy store. Amidst all that, I have to complete several bas-reliefs and sculptures for casting and get my PMC studio set up so I can start using what I've learned. I really need to start building the means, finesse and experience in that media so I can start offering PMC pieces in my store early next year.

Busy busy busy! Just the way I like it.

"If you want something really important to be done you must not merely satisfy the reason, you must move the heart also." ~ Mahatma Gandhi


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Gut Bendin' in Bend

I'm still on the road, on a continuous Northwest Adventure. I'm deeply passionate about the Northwest. Any place that has coastline, mist, moss, ferns and forest -- and no sticky heat -- is Heaven on Earth in my book. Then just over the mountains you come to high desert with big sky, dramatic rock formations and spectacular vistas. What's more, I love clouds and, of course, the Northwest excels in all manner of vaporous lighted sculpture. I intend to return next year to spend a week exploring the Olympic National Park, for its own sake, and because I'm intent on creating a series of tiles and jewelry inspired by nature. Food for the soul.

As for food for the body, eating well is always a priority on vacation. The one rule is that chain restaurants and fast food are verboten. Instead, I seek out local haunts that serve local, seasonal specialities and plain ol' good cookin'. So I've porked out on fresh caught fish, local peaches and apples, oysters and shellfish and other sundry local foods. Yum! And right now I'm in Bend, Oregon now, visiting my brother and sister-in-law, and this town is no stranger to good eatin'! No sir!

Speaking of indulgence, I've also been taking photos like crazy. I stayed at a wonderful lodge on the Washington Coast, right next to the Olympic National Park, which had a shore peppered with rocks that allowed me to explore the tide pool critters at low tide. After several dozen photos, I'm now suitably inspired to create a series of pmc enameled pendants based on the ocean shore. Heck -- I'm so eager to get my paws workin' in pmc, and back into my stoneware tiles, that I think I'll go mad! But I'll have to wait until I get home...torture! Oh is my patience starting to whine. But I have my trusty sketchbook and I hope to have some workable ideas by the time I get back home. Until then, I shall continue to wallow in fun, food, family and future imaginings. The food of life.

"I await joyous surprises while working, an awakening of the materials that I work with and that my spirit develops." ~ Odilon Redon


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Brain Spinnin' n' Grinnin'

This pretty much sums up my state of mind right now.

I'm having a ball in these PMC classes and I'm so enthralled by this media. I wish I could show you pix of my finished projects and some play-by-play peeks, but well...I forgot the gizmo that allows me to transfer my pix to my little lap top. DOH.

Tomorrow I start my Certification Level 2 classes, and like an eager blob of bouncing otter goo -- "Squeak squeak squeak squeak!"

Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul." ~General Douglas MacArthur

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