Greetings, everyone, and thanks for visiting my blog! Boy, oh boy, has it been one wild month since last we met!!! Not only is the McKinney Arts in Bloom festival THIS FRIDAY, but I just got done with not one but TWO Jayne Redman workshops! My brain is a little overstimulated at the moment, but in a good way, so let me fill you in on all the fun! Go grab a snack and a beverage and settle in, because this is going to be a long blog.
First of all, the workshops! For those of you who don't know, Jayne Redman is a jewelry artist based out of Portland, Maine, who is reknowned for her multiple forms based on flowers and plants, plus her skill at keum boo (more on that in a minute) and tool inventing. I was super excited to get into both sold out workshops. One was die making and forming multiples, and the other was keum boo (patience, grasshopper, for I shall explain later).
In the first workshop, which lasted three days, the objective was to make a blanking die (also known as a pancake die) out of tool steel that we could use to form multiple shapes or a continuous pattern. I chose a shape similar to a rose petal. Once we determined our shapes, we cut out our steel. The tricky bit is to cut the steel on an angle so the separated parts would form a cutting edge like scissors or shears. The design should also have a hinge built in so it can spring back over and over. If cut properly, the die can last for decades.
As you can see from the above picture, cutting straight lines by hand is easier said than done, especially while trying to keep your saw perpendicular to the plane of your bench. To do this work, you really need a rotating bench pin and a magnetic protractor to set everything up. Thankfully, those tools were available for purchase, so I bought some for home use.
Once my die was cut, I tested it on some really thin copper. I had to use a hydraulic press to get it to work. For those of you who are interested, a hydraulic press is similar to what mechanics use to jack up a car off the floor to change the tires or work on the engine. It transfers the power through oil pressure and a lever (or a compound lever? I can't remember off the top of my head) and brute force, and the result is that the die pops the piece of metal out without me having to spend a lot of time cutting each individual one. The best part is that all the pieces will be uniform. After trying my die out on copper, I tried it out on some 26 guage argentium.
After I completed my tool steel die, I decided to skip ahead to carving a die from clear acrylic. This was great fun, and also very messy. I kept making my bench mate laugh because my safety glasses had static electricity and all the particles kept sticking to them and I couldn't see what I was doing. Don't worry, I was wearing a mask! Inhaling acrylic will cause severe lung damage! My first attempt was a fancy and subtly textured rose petal. I used ball burs of different sizes to carve out a recess for my metal to be pushed into in the contouring die with the hydraulic press. Well, it was SUPPOSED to be a rose petal, but it kind of ended up looking like more of a sad cabbage leaf when I finally decided to step away from it. The really sad part is that I found out that 26 gauge argentium silver was too thick to pick up all the details I had carved in, so the resulting piece looked kind of like a rabid possum bit into it. Oh, well. Live and learn.
Since I had so much making a mess with the acrylic, I decided to cut another contouring die. On this die, I decided to do the smart thing and make it less detailed. I came up with a generic shape that mimicked most fish as they jump, and went with that. The plan is to puff the general shapes and then cut the fins and stuff from the flange. This shape will make trout, marlin, possibly catfish, and I think killer whales. You'll have to use your imagination for the time being on how this will turn out, because I ran out of time. Experimentation will have to wait until after the Arts In Bloom festival.
I also made an open acrylic die to puff out my rose petal shape. Unfortunately, I didn't cut it big enough (which is better than it being too big, because then I can't use it with my cutting die. I ran out of time on that one, too. I had to use a router-like device attached to a bench vice to keep the cutting bur at 90 degrees to cut a completely straight edge. The reason for this is to be able to use either side for puffing in case I need a mirror image or whatever. I have to confess that I am a bit intimidated by the hydraulic press, and I didn't use the die to its full potential because I was afraid of splitting my argentium in the test. I should have used the test copper, but I was so fried by that point in the three day workshop that I just decided to go for it. I got a pretty nifty shape, but if I want the cutting die to work with minimal waste, I'm going to have to cut the puffing die a bit bigger. This will just have to be a later problem.
The next workshop was a two day workshop about the keum boo process. Keum boo is an ancient Korean technique where you get really thin gold foil to adhere to fine silver by high heat and burnishing with an agate burnisher. Jayne told us that she preferred to roll her own gold foil so she could get a better thickness for cutting precise shapes. Tradition gold foil is SUPER thin and flakey, and it does not appreciate being cut into pieces. Also, don't have the ceiling fan on while you're doing this, because it will blow your gold all over the place. Trust me on this.
The first day, we rolled out a small piece of 24 karat yellow gold to a thickness of about 0.025 millimeters. It felt thinner than aluminum foil, but was a lot more substantial than factory made gold foil. We had to anneal the gold each time we put it through the rolling mill, and by the time we got down from 30 gauge to 0.06mm, it was really hard work to crank that tightly through the rollers. Gold turns a peach color when it anneals, and you have to take care to anneal the whole thing thoroughly, otherwise it will crack when you put it through the rolling mill. Anyway, I won't bore you with the steps, but it took until after lunch to get it completed. After that came the real fun: fusing the gold to the silver!
To do this, you need a piece of brass and a hot plate, plus agate burnishers and gloves to protect your hands from the heat. Yes, the silver and the brass will get rocket engine hot, believe it or not. I also discovered that for those of us with substantial frontal real estate, it might make sense to wear a leather apron, or you could melt your brassiere. Ask me how I know that. Anyway, once the brass turns black and you can tack the gold onto the silver, you use your burnishers to rub the gold into the silver. You would not think that it would work, but it does. Ain't science neat?! The gold becomes molecularly bonded to the underlying silver, so it won't come unstuck unless you buff it off. This is such a neat process, and I can't wait to show you what I have in mind in the future!
Here are the two pieces I did. One is fused argentium and the other is sterling silver. The sterling silver piece ended up cracking because I overheated the metal to try and bring the fine silver atoms up to the surface and like a doofus, I quenched it too quickly. It's the first time I've ever seen that happen, so that was a learning experience. I ended up cutting off the cracked bits and experimenting with patina. Fun fact: diluted acid will turn gold black. Another fun fact: you can get the gold to raise back up using a pencil eraser and a lot of elbow grease.
PLEASE NOTE! The workshop descriptions are by no means a complete rundown of the processes I learned about. If you want to learn more about them, YouTube is a wonderful thing, or better yet, you can look up Jayne Redman's classes on her website and see when her next workshop is and take one. You'll be glad you did!
I really wanted to do a sneak preview of my new collection for the McKinney Arts In Bloom show, but alas! I have run out of time! You'll just have to come out and see for yourself, or wait until i get around to writing another blog. Well, okay, ONE sneak peek, but that's it!!! Hope to see you this weekend in historic downtown McKinney, Texas!