Category Archives: Craftsmanship

The Zen of the Process

As I go around the country teaching jewelry making workshops, the students are astounded when I push certain techniques like hand filing and burnishing.  To my full time students at Baum School of Art in Pennsylvania, and at the different colleges I have taught, it’s just part of a natural process.  In fact, in Pennsylvania, it was joked that if you took my classes, you would learn to make Amish jewelry….that is, I use no electricity, and expected my students to do the same thing.  Yes, it has paid off, like the night that I had my pieces due for a gallery show the next morning, and one of those severe Pennsylvania thunderstorms struck, and I was without any electricity all night   So I finished the pieces with hand sanding and by the light of 4 candles and my cell phone!  They looked just fine.

While teaching a week-end workshop a few months ago, a student from the third semester class left the room, and I asked where she was going.  She said  innocently, “Over to the belt  sander to  sand my piece.”  ”Oh NO NO NO!” , was my horrified expression as I handed her an #0 Grobet.  ”Here. Learn the old fashioned way.” She grumbled a bit, and sat back down at her bench,  tried to sweetly glare at me, and a few moments later  was learning to work a file.  I was shocked that she had ALWAYS just put her work on the belt sander, and had never really held a file, much less a #6  finishing file (Oh be still my heart–such a delight to hold and fondle–such a magnificent little file!  But I digress.) But, 15 minutes later she said she was really enjoying putting her “spirit”  into the piece.  And she was humming and smiling.

Last week, Kathleen Krucoff, my sister, student and best friend, wrote a post on herTalking Tools blog about files.  While she was really writing about files, if you read between the lines, what she was really blogging about was The Joy of Filing, kind of like “The Joy of Cooking” and that other more infamous “Joy of”  book.  (blush). But anyway, as my student,  she has learned to sit at her bench and simply file.  We recently participated in the Boettcher Mansion Arts & Crafts festival, which celebrates the joy of the Art & Crafts period.  Yes, there was electricity back then, and even a treadle buffing wheel or two around.  But part of the the Arts and Crafts philosophy was the rejection of the industrialization of goods,  furniture, pottery, jewelry, etc.  and the lack of fine craftsmanship as everything was made by a machine.    However,  the joy that came to Kathleen as she sat there and simply filed one of her elegant  pieces was a thing of beauty.  She smiled, no, she beamed, as she looked at her handiwork, and I know her blood pressure dropped.

So as I think about it, yes, as I get ready for 3 large upcoming shows,  I do find myself panicking and wanting to whip out 5 pieces this afternoon.  But life is full of compromises.  I don’t make my living through doing shows, so I admit I’m a bit spoiled. But I do have a hectic teaching schedule, so  I only make about 150 pieces a year.  While I’m not saying this will work for you, give it a try some afternoon when you are not so rushed.  Cut your pieces out by hand, and go from a #0 file  to a #2, then a #4 and finally, if you have one, a #6 ( pattter-patter-patter goes my heart again).  And then hand sand, (YES!)  using the 3M finishing film, no buffing wheel or flex shaft.  AND THEN…..use a burnisher and hand burnish your edges.  (horrors!  No one uses a hand burnisher any more, do they?!)  Hey, I even have a set of Thrumming strings…. I’m really antiquated!  But by doing this, and when I hand my piece to someone at a show, they usually say  ”WoW!  This piece feels powerful” , or  ”This has a great feeling to it.” It makes me smile.

So what I’m saying is, enjoy the “Zen of the Process”.  Maybe you already do this, but if not, try it.  It’s not for everyone, but give it a try.  My mentor and good friend Harold O’Connor says “If you don’t enjoy the process of making jewelry, why are you doing it?”  He has given me so much good advice over the years.  My “Conversations With Harold” series is dedicated to him and  his years of sage wisdom.

And  if you are in a dry spell right now, with no new ideas coming to you, don’t dispair.  Know that as you were full of creativity  and ideas 2 months ago, now you will need to plant new seeds to germinate for your new ideas.  Its a simple yin/yang thing… involution and evolution …yin…spiraling inward to darkness,the esoteric, the involution,  and contemplative self examination,  growth. Then, sometimes, and even without warning,  here comes the yang, the evolution, as you spiral outward,  and you create and manifest your new project. It’s something I believe in strongly, partially because I grew up in the American Southwest. The people of Taos Pueblo celebrate “The Quiet Time,” as Mother Earth sleeps and prepares for Spring,  when her greatness bursts forth in all it’s glory.  But it’s a natural process, and its all around us with Mother Nature, with the dark seasons and the light seasons, the dark of night and the brightness of day.  So enjoy the entire Zen of the Process….the involution and evolution, the contemplating and the creating. And know that when your evolution comes, the sun will shine brighter than ever before.   Enjoy the blessed Zen of the Process.  End of lecture.

Crying may endure for the night, but joy commeth in the morning.  Psalms 30:5

Love and peace to you all–

Lexi

The Life of a Jewelry Artist

Hi Everyone–

Here in the Rocky Mountains, the aspen are turning bright gold and some are burgundy.  They are truly magnificent against the turquoise Colorado sky.  But the true mark of autumn is the Denver Gem and Mineral show, which just finished last Sunday.  Though in reality I needed nothing, I cannot help going to see what Mark Lasater at The Clam ShellGary B. Wilson, Greg King-Falk Burger (the duo humorously known as “Burger-King”), Michael Hendrix and many more  have in stock.  They had less in stock after my friend, student and sister, Kathleen Krucoff, my students and I left.  And remarkably, we do not fight over stones.  We all have such different taste in our jewelry and colors that there is always plenty for all of us. Well, truthfully, Kathleen and I do tussle a bit over red jasper, Chinese Writing Stone, and petrified palm wood, but if you follow her blog, you know she is a purple lover, so she buys a lot more purples, while I go for the “earth tones”. (I’m such a child of the 70′s).  As I predicted on my Tucson blog, Mark Lasater had some gorgeous Red Creek Jasper.   Funny thing about names, it’s now called Cherry Creek Jasper, Cherry Creek Valley Jasper and just plain old Red Creek jasper.  That’s the name the owner of the mine calls it, so I’m sticking with that until further notice.  But there was a lot of it at the Denver show.

Fall is also the time for the Castle Rock Art Festival.  The gem show starts the Tuesday after the Castle Rock weekend, so I’m pretty exhausted.  The Castle Rock show was pretty good for me this year, though not even comparable to “The Glory Days” of the 1980-90′s art festivals.   But I had a great time and I always love meeting the other artists.  This year I traded some work with my newest friends,  fabulous wildlife watercolorist Stephen Koury from Lakeland, FL  and metal artist Pamella Goff from Brighton, CO.  Pamella makes diverse art from old spoons, and her pieces are totally delightful.  Her spoon flower hangs in my kitchen.  It reminds me of a delightful and spiritual sister.   Stephen does these unbelievably realistic nature paintings, and my painting features a Harris Hawk and my favorite petroglyph, the “Moab Man”. It is being framed now, and I can’t wait to hang it in my entry hall.  Both of these artists are so outgoing and wonderfully talented that it makes it the whole show experience pretty wonderful.  Plus, the Castle Rock Festival is one of the best run I’ve ever participated in.  They take such good care of their artists.  Kathleen and I have decided that it’s easier to do some shows together so we are  looking forward to doing more shows next year.

Photo of me (on the right) with Kathleen (on the left) at the Castle Rock Festival this year.

A few blogs back I expressed my feelings about galleries and shows, and thought something has to be done about the way we get our work out there, and yet allow us to do more than “break even” on an event.  After some thought, I realized that what we need is a group of sincere artists who come together and present their work at a well-known, but non-gallery,  location and perhaps start a tradition.

Well, I’m very lucky to be on the Board of Colorado Metalsmithing Association (CoMA), so I took my idea to the Board, and they were receptive to trying something totally new.  Previously, CoMA has only shown at galleries.  Now we will have 28 artists, famous, notables, and emerging, those who answered our Call for Artists, and we will be showing and selling our work at the beautiful Denver Botanic Gardens on Oct 16 and 17.

What is so amazing about this venue is that it is timed to take place along with the showing of Henry Moore’s monumental sculptures.   It was Henry Moore who commented “The most powerful artworks are the largest and the smallest”.  I was thrilled to find that quote, and we put it on our postcards.

I would like to thank Kathleen Krucoff of Krucoff Studios for the design of both our poster and postcards.  Everyone has commented on how stunning and professional they are, and it makes them proud to be a part of the show.

Jewelry at the Gardens ~ Post Card

 

28 Artists at the Botanic Gardens ~ The Poster

So what I’m saying, along with please come see us at the show and sale,  is that we, as artists, are creative people. If you are unhappy with shows and galleries, please take this idea and run with it.  It’s nothing new, but it is a first for a great group of metalsmiths in Colorado.

Look for willing locations in your area.  Look for people who will help sponsor a show, and put one together.  Is it a lot of work?  Yes, tremendously so. Maybe a later blog will be a step -by-step of how to do this, but I’ve put together many shows in Texas and PA.  All it takes is a spark, and you can ignite a whole group of people’s creative processes.  Helping others get “out there”, in turn energizes me, and  I feel a lot more creative.  I hope you will come to see us.  I can promise you it will be worth your time to see what these artisans have created and maybe you will find that right item and become a collector!

Show dates / times / location: October 16 ad 17,  from 9 AM -5 PM, Denver Botanic Gardens, 1007 York Street, Denver Co, 80206.

I’m off to create  something for this “New Tradition”– I look forward to meeting you at this new event, “Jewelry at the Gardens”.  Please mention you read about it in my blog as I would love to know.  Thanks.

Lexi

How to Get a High Polish on Silver

HI Everyone–It seems like I’m always getting this question from students, so I decided to write this to answer the questions.  Please feel free to print it out for your notes or easy reference.  It’s very handy, and if you like high polish, this technique will work every time.  The most important thing to remember:  ”You must put scratches in to take scratches out.”  This means you must make the piece’s finish look consistent and then start your finishing process.  Good luck. -Lexi

FINISHING TECHNIQUES
Lexi Erickson

The Lowdown on a High Polish

You have worked hard on your piece of jewelry, designing it, cutting, and filing and soldering. Now you are ready to “start finishing” your jewelry. You have a few more decisions. How should it be finished?

Give a lot of consideration to your finishing process. When deciding what texture to use on a piece, a mirror finish may not be the most appropriate. It’s beautiful, shiny and elegant. However, it is difficult to achieve and almost impossible for your client to maintain. Nevertheless, sometimes it’s the only finish that will do, so now you need to know how to achieve that sought after look. Pieces with large bold designs work best, not too much texture or detail.  To achieve a mirror finish on a piece takes lots of work, and that work starts the moment you purchase your piece of silver sheet from the supplier.

The metal will usually be stored in some type of vertical storage arrangement while at the supplier and will come to you fairly scratch free. Inspect the metal before you purchase it and make sure it’s free from major blemishes. Don’t be afraid to ask for a different piece if it’s badly scratched. At that time, have the seller seal your metal in a zip lock bag; and do not put it in the same shopping bag with tools. When you get home, if you’re not planning on using it immediately, store your silver vertically, still in a zip lock bag, in a letter holder, such as is sold at Office Max or Staples. These are great for holding all your metals according to gauge. Sometimes I stick clear contact paper on both sides of my metal to protect it from scratches. Just remember to pull the paper off before soldering.

There are 2 steps to achieving a high polish—-polishing, which is removing the highs and lows in the metals, and buffing, which is basically melting the top layer of the metal to achieve a mirror finish, actually moving the molecules of metal.

You will start your finishing process after all soldering is done. No matter how careful you have been, you will have some scratches on your metal. To take scratches out, you must put scratches in. Start by polishing the piece all over with fine sandpaper, and gradually use finer and finer sandpapers. 3M makes some dynamite finishing papers. My favorite is called Imperial Micro-finishing film. It is long lasting and can be used with water or without. This wonderful sandpaper is excellent at removing firescale also. The papers are screen-graded in microns, each grain of “sand” is uniform, thus giving a more consistent finish. If I have some deep scratches, I start with 40 micron, then move to 30, 15 and finally 9 micron. Another favorite is the 3M wet or dry Tri-M-Ite polishing papers. By using these cloth-like papers it is possible to keep fine-tuning your work to almost a mirror finish. Please remember, I love doing the final hand work, and since I’m not a production jeweler, I have the luxury of languishing over a piece for some time  I usually just finish my pieces with sandpaper, and never do the polish wheels.  But I regress.  Both sets of polishing papers are available from most jewelry supply stores.

If you wish, you can use regular sandpaper, starting with a 320, then 400 grit and finer.   Finish with an extra-fine crocus (emery) cloth. Crocus cloth can be purchased from an auto supply store and can be torn into strips for getting into tight spots.

To finish this pre-prep process, use a pumice and water paste rubbed on with your fingers and rub the piece of jewelry until the water sheets evenly on it.  Barkeeper’s Friend, found in the household cleaning section of your local grocery makes a fine pumice paste.

Now you are ready to start working on a wheel, either a larger 6″ buffing machine wheel or the flex shaft wheel. If you are working with wide flat pieces, such as a cuff bracelet, or a large flat piece, use the 6″ wheel. You do not want to create grooves in your piece, which when finished will make a wavy surface, which reflects light unevenly. If working with small pieces, your flex shaft will be the appropriate tool. Use the flex-shaft wheel that will work best with your piece of jewelry, probably a 1-inch wheel. Also, don’t forget to wear goggles and a particulate respirator. 3M makes several very good masks.

TIP: The piece may get very hot. It’s fine to have a small bowl of water close by to dip your piece in to cool it. It doesn’t have to be dried to continue polishing.

When working on the 6 inch wheel, you will use the lower front quadrant of the wheel.  On a clock face it would be the space between 6:00 to 9:00. The wheel is going approximately 50+ mph, so hold on to your pieces carefully and with both hands. Hold the piece in what is called a “break away grip”, which means do not wrap your fingers into the piece. Do not wear long necklaces, loose clothing or gloves, and tie back long hair. Do not take your eyes off the wheel or carry on conversations while working at the wheel. This potentially is one the most dangerous machines in the studio, and must be treated with caution at all times. Always wear goggles or safety glasses.

The term for loading compound on a wheel is to “charge” it. To “charge” the wheel, you hold the polishing compound lightly against the wheel. If you have a new wheel, it’s best to hold an old hacksaw blade with both hands, to the wheel first and get rid of the lint on the wheel. You only have to hold the polishing compound on the wheel a few seconds to coat the wheel. Too much compound will build up on your piece and the wheel cannot do its job.  Re-charge as needed.  Experience will tell you when.

IMPORTANT: There is no need to push your piece of jewelry hard against the wheel. It’s the speed of the wheel doing the polishing, not the pressure. Too much pressure will cause the piece to rip out of your hands. The piece can be slung with maximum force against the back of the machine or across the room. This is then called “redesign by buffing machine,” and can lead to some exciting new design possibilities, but probably not what you originally had in mind.

DO NOT mix compounds on the wheel, which means do not charge the crocus wheel with tripoli or the rouge wheel with crocus. The tripoli wheel is only for tripoli, the crocus wheel is only for crocus; the rouge wheel is only for rouge. If you go from one polishing wheel (tripoli or crocus) directly to the buffing wheel (rouge) without cleaning in between, you are contaminating the buffing wheel. You are putting a cutting compound on a buffing wheel and you will never get a scratch-free polish if that happens.

TIP: I like to put the polishing compounds on treated, colored wheels. Tripoli is always on the yellow wheel, while crocus is always on the pink wheel. Those wheels are specially treated and are a little harder, so they are better for holding the cutting compounds. The white cotton muslin buff is softer and is always for rouge. That way I never get them confused. Also, use a Sharpie to mark the sides of the wheels with the type of compound if you don’t use colored wheels.

It will be fine to use the different metals on the same wheel. You can polish silver, copper, bronze, brass and gold with the same wheel if using the same compound. If you are using platinum or white gold, you will need to use a different set of wheels just for those metals.

Polish in different directions. Do not keep the piece of jewelry in one position. Turn it constantly, and don’t forget to polish the edges and back. For good craftsmanship, the back of the piece should look as nice as the front.

Polish first with tripoli.  Tripoli is a cutting compound and will round off sharp edges and can remove or blend details, like roller printed textures.  Pay close attention to what’s happening on the wheel.  The piece will get very hot, also, and you will get the compound on your fingers. Clean the piece, and your fingers in water, with an ammonia/Liquid Dawn solution and an old, soft toothbrush. Liquid Dawn has a great de-greaser in it, so it cleans the greasy compounds quickly. Take extra care to clean difficult hard to reach areas.  To leave any compound on your piece means it will transfer to the next wheel, which will then contaminate that wheel

Next, use the crocus wheel. This is a step many jewelers leave out, but if you want to have a truly high mirror finish, crocus is essential.  Polish the piece evenly, and look for a consistent finish. Again, clean carefully with the water, and ammonia/Dawn soap solution and a soft toothbrush.

Finally, use the rouge wheel to buff the piece, remembering to constantly keep the piece moving. Personally, I like to finish the polishing with a chamois wheel and red rouge, but chamois wheels are very pricey and get eaten up quickly. I can’t afford to use many chamois wheels! When you have finished with the wheel, do not use a toothbrush to scrub off the stubborn rouge.  Clean under running water with ammonia and Dawn detergent. To get the buffing compound out of crevices, use a cotton swab or toothpicks dipped in the ammonia/soap solution.

There are different colored rouges which may impart different finishes on your work. Some are available under a variety of trade names, such as Golden Glo, used for bronze, brass and copper.  It will make Nu-gold look similar to 18K gold! Use a black rouge for a darker silver look, and blue rouge (sometimes called Picasso)  for an almost pure silver-white finish. White rouge is usually for harder metals like platinum.

Experimenting by using the polishing and buffing compounds is fun. Each one gives you a different look. If you have done your homework, and taken care of your metal all along, you will have a minimum of finishing. If not, you may have more hand polishing to do. To do too much polishing with the machines will lead to loss of detail on your piece and possibly some smoothing out of edges and blending of surface textures. In some cases it will thin the metals when overused.

So, the final finishing processes should be:

1. the hand finishing

2. tripoli (the brown compound)

3. clean

4. crocus, (the green compound)

5. clean

6. rouge (the red compound) on a soft white muslin or wool wheel

7. final cleaning

TIP: As an alternative, you can use Zam as a final polish. It is a greaseless formula, which yields a high polish.

Wash with clean water and blow dry with a hairdryer. Use care if using a polishing cloth as this will leave scratches on your piece and you may have to go back to the rouge wheel again for a spotless finish.  The microfiber cloths will also dry your pieces, but do not rub the cloth on the piece, just let the cloth absorb any water. (Sometimes Flitz or semichrome may be used for a final “glow”. Put it on with your fingers, and wash off with your fingers and then, blow dry.

IMPORTANT: NEVER, EVER polish or buff a chain on the wheel, even if you have those wooden “chain holders”.   Polish chains in a tumbler or by hand. High speeds and loose chains are a dangerous combination and can cause bodily damage.

This is an arguing point among jewelers–I finish all the way up to a crocus finish, even if I’m putting a patina or a distressed finish on my piece.  Nothing is uglier than to have a light patina on a piece, and 3 months later finding firescale showing its ugly purple head and peeking thru a patina. So I “take it up” and then “bring it back down”.  Try it, you won’t be disappointed.

TIP: Ever get “lines” on a highly buffed piece?  Well, then, Check your buffing wheels. If you see strings hanging from the wheels, even short ones, cut the strings. They are cutting grooves into your metal. I keep my personal wheels clipped of all long strings and “fuzzies” and they feel like velvet.
By doing these steps in the correct order, you can achieve the ultimate high mirror finish. All your hard work will payoff with an elegant and sleek contemporary look. Take care, use common sense and good luck.

You may share this info with your classes or friends.  Please give me credit for writing it.  Thanks.

Copyright–Lexi Erickson, 2010