Tuesday, March 19, 2013

New Hound Dog Necklace joins the Cats and the angst of his prototype birthing process.

The various Hound Dog pieces are available for sale from MelodyODesigns at Etsy
A winsome French blue and lavender Hound Dog pendant necklace that converts to a brooch is the newest addition to our polymer clay jewelry menagerie. After making cat jewelry and ornaments for many years, it only seemed fair that the doggie segment of the population should be honored as well. I've tried numerous times over the years to make a dog companion for the kitties and had always failed before. I think that was because a cat is pretty much a cat, but there are so many breeds of dogs in all sizes and configurations it's hard to make a generic dog. What I did this time was to design a fantasy dog with no particular breed in mind and components of many breeds all mixed together to make him a real Heinz 57 special. What I ended up with was a French blue and lavender pup with long floppy ears, a big nose and a soulful expression that sort of looks like there might have been a bit of Hound, Beagle or Spaniel in his heritage. For some unknown reason, it seems to me that this dog loves jazz, eating hot dogs off the kitchen counter, the New York Yankees and of course, his new prospective owner. 

Hound Dog Pendant Necklace converts to a Brooch
He and I had a some quality time together getting to know each other during the two 15 hour days in my studio it took to design him and get him ready for production. In a discussion about inspiration someone recently asked me how long it usually takes me to complete a design from first kernel of an idea (or dream) into production and then into my shops. My answer, not really meant to be flip was, "As long is it takes to FINALLY get it right". The ideas usually come quite easily, but the technical demands of actually constructing the design can be very challenging. It's frequently an extremely time consuming process to overcome problems and make the design actually work. My mind can visualize things, but figuring out how to persuade the polymer clay to DO IT is an entirely different matter! I make numerous mock ups and samples........ and my trash can constantly filled and overflowing. I save my "almost" samples and give them to the Boy's and Girl's club arts and crafts program, so at least I don't feel like the "oops learning experiences" are totally wasted.
Some of the raw materials and tools needed to make Mr Hound Dog.
I mention the time it takes to go from idea, to prototype, to reality for several reasons. People trying their hand at using polymer clay for the first time often seem to get frustrated because they can't create what their mind "sees" on the first try. I think one of the most wonderful things about polymer clay is the versatility of medium, but that characteristic also makes for a wide learning curve. It can takes a lot of trial and error to learn to make the clay "comply",....... and even then its more like the artist learning to compromise and come to grips with accepting what the clay actually WANTS TO DO on its own and make it a collaborative effort instead.

Customers who see a completed item and price tag often have no idea how long it might initially have taken to design the item, or how many prototypes hit the trash along the way. That's one or the reasons I've started to include behind the scenes studio photos with many of my shop listings. I'd like to try to help educate the consumer who likes buying handmade, but may not understand why things may cost more than the mass produced "Made in China" competition.
Hound Doggie in beaded chain version

Angel Hound Dog Hanging Ornament

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Daffodil Spring Cat and Eliminating the Bumpies when curing Polymer Clay

Introducing Daffodil Cat, the newest member of my Cat Collection who was inspired by the gorgeous blooming daffodils in our garden. When daffodils bloom can spring be far behind?
Entire Daffodil Cat Collection is now available at MelodyODesigns at Etsy
The daffodils in our garden that inspired me thriving beneath the Palo Verde tree
Bumpies, they have various innocuous names, but I call them the BUMPIES!#%^&*?!*. They are the small bumps that appear on the surface of raw polymer clay that are much more visible once the clay is cured. Bumpies are caused by tiny air bubbles that are trapped within the clay. The air can inadvertently become trapped when conditioning with a pasta machine, so it's wise to place the folded end into the rollers first. The cats I make require a sheet of FLAT clay without imperfections and when "cat acne" appears on a piece I'm making for sale it's VERY noticeable and is banished to the garbage can. I normally use PREMO clay, but there are some colors where I prefer to use Kato clay. In spite of taking care in conditioning I've found that no matter how much I've tried to prevent them, I get about 95% more bumpies when I use Kato brand than when I use PREMO.

I recently tried staircase or ramp curing, as recommended by both Jana Benzon Roberts and Tony Aquino (the chemist at Van Aken, the company which manufactures Kato) and I've found it very helpful. One puts the clay piece in a cold oven and cures at the lowest temperature for 20 minutes and then raises the temperature to 200 F for 20 minutes. Then, without opening the oven gradually increase the temperature 50 degrees every 10 minutes until the target temperature is reached and start timing of the actual curing time. For me, ramp curing seems to help a lot with PREMO, but not so much with Kato. I've seen an increase in the problem with both PREMO and Kato since they changed their formulas and I've noticed it's worse with mushy clay that needs leaching.

When I first encountered the problem, about 3 years ago, I contacted Tony. He suggested a "work around", but at the time it wasn't  practical to use it with my designs. This week, when my newly designed Daffodil Cats began sporting roaring cases of acne, I knew I'd either have to find a solution or discontinue using Kato, even if it meant changing my design. I am pleased to direct your attention to the Daffodil Angel Cat hanging ornament below. Look ma, no acne!
Daffodil Angel Cat Hanging ornament
So what did Tony suggest? It's really rather simple, but I think it's only practical to use with FLAT clay designs, like one might make from a flat clay sheet using a cookie cutter. I'm going to paraphrase his burnishing method of eliminating Bumpies adding my own suggestions to his. It seems to work even for clay sheets that were made from bits and scrap pieces flattened together in a pasta machine, a process notorious for producing Bumpies.

The following temperature recommendation and timing are for a piece of Kato clay that is the thickness of #1 Atlas or #5 D.R.E.A.M. pasta machine, roughly 1/8" (3.1mm) and must be adjusted according to the manufacturer's recommendations when using other brands and thicknesses.

Condition the clay any way you like. You don't even have to be TOTALLY meticulous about not introducing air into the clay, though it's a good idea.  Place your flat clay item on a piece of regular copy paper sitting on a ceramic tile, ideally cut to size. Place a slightly larger piece of paper on top of the clay item. Using your fingers, gently burnish the paper onto the top surface of the clay. If you rub too hard you risk distorting the shape of the clay. If you rub too little the paper won't totally adhere to the clay. Place in a pre-heated oven at 300 F for 30 minutes. 15 minutes into the curing time remove the paper from the top surface (careful, HOT!) and finish curing for the remaining 15 minutes. Once the piece comes out of the oven release it from the paper on the bottom (careful, HOT!)so that it doesn't curl as it cools.

According to Tony, "What is occurring is the paper is suppressing the ascent of the rising air bubbles and creating a detour. If there's not an outlet for it, it will not rise above the surface. It also mattes down the sheen, but sanding and buffing will provide an excellent gloss." I have found that using laser paper, which has a smoother surface than regular printer/copy paper lessens the matte occurrence and allows more of the characteristic Kato gloss to show without my having to take the time to sand and buff.
Daffodil Cat worn as brooch
Does the Burnishing Curing Method also work to prevent "Moonies", those light colored crescent shaped imperfections that are also caused by trapped air bubbles?  I don't know because I don't seem to get Moonies, but I would think it might. I'd love to hear from any readers who might try it for Moonies.
Readers tell me they enjoy seeing studio photos, so........
here is a photo of some of the various components that go into the making of the Daffodil Cats
EDITED UPDATE: Yesterday as I was "test driving" my new Daffodil Cat necklace by wearing it with a heavy winter sweater I thought, "Wouldn't it be nice if I could make a necklace variation that had a substantial beaded chain?" I had recently received a large order of colorful 8mm smooth round acrylic beads from Pedazos at Etsy and was thrilled to find I had PERFECT color matches already in my stash. I wore it this morning for the first time and I absolutely LOVE these colors together. There's something so optimistic and sunny about French Blue and bright yellow together.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Anita's interview article in Making Jewellery Magazine on sources of inspiration in making jewelry

I was so honored and thrilled to receive a copy of the February 2013 issue of "Making Jewellery" last week and find an article that featured me and my jewelry. "Making Jewellery" magazine is based in the UK. Kira Withers-Jones had interviewed me last fall about what inspires me when I create a new jewelry design. My husband Sy’s photography makes it all come to life in living color. The article involves some text and well as showing pictures of the jewelry piece and pictures of what inspired it.  (Some of the showcased pieces are available at MelodyODesigns at Etsy)

I thought I'd include some of the item/inspiration photos from the article here on my blog as well, so you can see them full size and also show a number of item/inspiration photo pairs that didn't make it into the article because of space constraints.

Monarch Butterfly and Autumn Leaf Necklace was inspired by...........

Autumn in the White Mountains of eastern Arizona
Stylized floral necklace was inspired by........
the gorgeous embroidery on a vintage circle skirt

Monarch Butterfly and Pink Poppy collar style necklace was inspired by.......

this beautiful pink Shirley poppy that grew in my garden for years AND also by......
 this lovely vintage Japanese fabric

Faux Red Rock and Turquoise "Tribute to Sedona" Necklace was inspired by....
Gary Austin's Mesquite Burl and turquoise Inlace Pot and by.....
Bell Rock Sedona, Arizona
 I wanted to mention that this week I set up a number of Social Media pages and I'd love to invite you visit them and "Like" or "Friend" or "Whatever" them if you do. I'll do my best to return the favor.

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