I spent the last week at the John C Campbell Folk School, in Brasstown NC. On a whim, I did a broom making class. I thoroughly enjoyed it and will probably take another broom making class. However, I did not expect broom making to be as physical as it was. The class ended four days ago, and I am still tired and still have many sore muslces. Broom making  involves a great deal of holding the cords that hold the broom corn onto the broom under tight pressure while one works.

Amazingly, I made twelve brooms in the week. Three of them appear below. From left to right, they are: a besom, or ceremonial broom; a standard floor sweeper; and a cobweb broom, designed to remove cobwebs from ceilings and other difficult-to-reach places. The cat, of course, is inspecting my work. He wants to make sure it meets his standards of quality control 😉

Steampunk Without Gears

TI was recently asked to make a pendant that was recognizably steampunk, that did not include gears, and was fairly small. I was only too happy to take up the challenge.

Other than gears, what imagery says ‘steampunk’? There are top hats and monocles, but I chose to not use those. Octopi are also common in steampunk iconography. I chose to focus on an octopus. I wanted to punch up my octopus with something that said ‘Victoriana’, but was not common. After looking through a great deal of historical images, it hit me — a pennyfarthing bicycle. Pennyfarthing bicycles had a large front wheel and a small rear wheel. That was a place to start. After thinking about it, I decided that I needed an octopus riding a pennyfarthing bicycle.

Historical pennyfarthing bicycles had the seat directly above the front wheel. I decided to move it back a bit, so the image would be less one-sided. I also decided to make the wheel sizes a bit less different than they were historically, so the rear wheel would not be too small to see. The first step was to make a background of silver clay and add wheels.


Of course this is greenware, and will need considerable clean-up before it is finished. Following this, I made the rest of the bicycle. The frame and handlebars were rolled snakes. The seat was made from a bit of clay shaped using a clay shaper.


The octopus body was made by embossing (roll out clay, cover the clay with plastic wrap, put a template atop the plastic wrap, push the template down, trim off the excess) an ellipse. I made the eye by embossing a circle, punching a depression in the middle, and using a rolled snake of clay for the pupil. I gave the octopus body some texture by stippling with a piece of wire.


Tentacles could be made of rolled snakes that were thick on one end and thin on the other. How to incorporate eight tentacles was a challenge. My solution was two tentacles on each pedal (making sure the ones behind the bicycle line up), two for the handlebars, and two waving wildly.


Now it was time to do final clean-up of greenware. All the little dings and irregularities could be filed away, filled in with syringe, or smoothed away by (gently) using a damp make-up applicator.

Once that was done, I added a bale and put my maker’s mark on the back. If you don’t have a maker’s mark, I suggest you create one. It is a way to sign your pieces so they can be recognized as your work. You can either make your mark something easy to carve (like I did) or you can have a stamp made of it.


The piece was then fired, brushed, tumbled, and patinaed. I chose a very light patina. The coin is for scale.


I titled this piece ‘The League of Octopus Wheelmen’, ‘wheelman’ being a Victorian term for bicyclist.

The person I made this for wanted silver. Also, the person I made this for had no qualms about me making copies of this of other metals and selling it. Since brass is popular with the steampunk community, I made a mold of the piece.


I have not yet made brass copies for sale, but I intend to do so.

When one designs jewelry for a specific market niche (like steampunk), one needs to stay within the confines of that market’s imagery. However, the more original one can be, the less competition one will have. When designing for a particular market niche, I encourage you to think creatively. It will help you sell and create a striking piece.


Patina: Simple Color on Silver

After the migrating snow goose, I felt like doing something simple. To make it a bit more interesting, I thought I would add color with Liver of Sulphur (LOS). I’m going to take this opportunity to discuss how one puts color on silver with LOS.

First of all, LOS can turn silver (or most other metals) black. However, with silver, LOS can also be used to provide other colors. To produce a solution that will induce color on silver, add a pinch of salt, a dash of clear ammonia, and LOS to warm water. I give no proportions because, in my experience, controlling proportions and temperature does not give you as much control as you would expect. In short, colored patina really seems to be up the to will of the patina gods.

A quick dip will give a gold-like appearance. A bit more than that will yield a bronze/brass color. A long soak will yield gun-metal gray, and a slightly longer soak will yield black. In between, one can get blue and purple. Very occasionally, red or turquoise will appear.

For my example, I start off by showing you some simple pieces just out of the tumbler.


The pendant in the middle has a bezel cup.

I gave the earrings with the birds a very quick dip (gold). The earrings with the botanical design got a longer treatment (bronze). The pendant with the geometrical design got a longer treatment (purple). The very small pendant got a longer one still.


Because the person I was making these for likes ‘shiny’ jewelry, I removed most of the patina with a polishing cloth. That leaves the pieces very shiny, while, leaving the patina in crevices. I put a moonstone in the tiny pendant, letting the pale stone contrast with the dark background. The result appears below:


One warning about LOS-based color on silver: the patina is not static. Eventually, the color will change. Sometimes the change is for the better, sometimes not. However, I have had patina colors remain unchanged for years. And, if one is not happy with the color, one can remove the patina by (assuming no gems) a quick trip through the kiln or (if there are stones) lots of rubbing. Then, one can patina again.

I encourage you to experiment with LOS and colors. Maybe, with luck, you will even achieve the elusive turquoise 😉

Migration: A Southeast Alaska Style Snow Goose

I have been doing quite a bit of work in the style of southeastern Alaska art. I was recently asked to create a migrating snow goose. I want to detail how it was created, and how you can create your own similar work.

20181014_134106 (002)


The first step in creating anything in the southeastern Alaska style is to create (or use a copyright free image) to work from. Using a copier, resize the image to how large you want the piece to be (allowing for shrinking). You will need several copies of the image. One will be used as the guide, and the others will be used as described below.

You will notice that the style consists of the outline with many stylized decorative bits. The key to producing southeastern Alaskan style art is to use a craft knife to cut out the outline of your image. If you want the piece to be flat, you can dry it flat. If you want it domed, you can dry it on a domed shape. I used a tap light.


Carefully study your image. You will see that the decorative parts stack. Carefully choose the ones that go atop the outline. Using a craft knife, cut there pieces, one at a time, from your image. Roll out a thin layer of metal clay (thickness depends on how you like to work — thinner is harder to work with, thicker makes the piece heavier and takes more clay). One at a time, cut the decorative pieces out and, using the original image as a guide, place the pieces. I said you will need several copies; as you cut out more and more pieces, your original will start to fall apart, and you will need to shift to a different copy.

With the first pieces added, it looked like this:


Some parts can be done with rolled roped of clay (the neck). Some parts can be done with syringe (the feet). Others will need a clay shaper to get them to be just the right shape. Now other layers can be added. At each stage, keep looking at your original. Keep cutting out pieces as you need them, until you have the entire piece in greeenware.




Like any greenware piece of metal clay, it will need considerable refining. With a piece this detailed, refining can take a long time. Be patient.

To make an asymmetric piece hang evenly, place a triangular hidden bail on the back, with the wide end toward the top.

Firing, tumbling, and applying patina is like any metal clay project — although bulky pieces like this should not be fired with smaller pieces. Smaller pieces might fail to sinter, if mixed with heavier pieces like this.

The finished work looks like this:

20181014_134127 (003)

While you are certainly free to make your own goose, one should not be limited to animal styles. Traditionally, Alaskan art is limited to people and animals. However, if you choose to use the style to make something else, no one is going to stop you ;-). Be creative!

I hope I can encourage you to try creating art in the southeast Alaskan style. It takes care but, if one is cautious, it is not as difficult as it might look!

But I Wanted a Smaller Pendant!

After finishing the piece below, the client decided she wanted a smaller version, and with a moonstone instead of an opal.

20180907_105035I could have just started over. However, there is a better solution. (I sold the piece above, sized as is, to someone else.) The solution to the original client wanting a smaller version of the same pendant was simple. And now, I share the information with you, in case you ever need to do the same thing.

I made the original piece of PMC 3, my usual silver clay. Fortunately, I let the client see the piece before it was patinaed or had the the opal put in place. I knew the client wanted a smaller pendant. And so, before applying patina or the opal, I made a mold of the piece using a two part molding compound. The picture below depicts the mold and the original silver pendant, fresh out of the tumbler.


FYI Silver Clay is not a brand that I use very often — nothing against it, other than I am used to working with PMC and Art Clay. However, FYI silver shrinks by about 25% when firing. I bought some FYI clay and used it with the mold above. The molded version, in greenware and with a bezel cup attached to hold the stone, appears below.


It was fired according to package directions (FYI requires a higher firing temperature than PMC 3 or Art Clay silver). It was then tumbled, in the usual manner. The fired and tumbled piece appears below.


I decided to make the new piece different from the original in ways other than just size. I made a  liver of sulfur solution and added clear ammonia and table salt. This combination can produce lovely colored patinas. However, the color that you wind up with is somewhat unpredictable. At best, one can influence, and not control, the color. This time, the color came out nicely — a brilliant blue with some purple highlights. As the client’s request, I used a moonstone — Raven Steals the Moon, an equally important myth of the native people of south-eastern Alaska.


As you can see, the resulting piece was about 25% smaller than the original (both the original and the piece made with the mold are photographed with a coin, so you can see the size.) The client was happy. I was happy, because I had sold two piece from what was originally supposed to be one.

So, if you find yourself in the position of needing to make a smaller copy of a completed piece, I recommend the following steps: using two-part molding compound, make a mold; use a clay that shrinks considerably with the mold, and make a copy; finish, fire, polish, and patina the resulting piece as you would any work in metal clay. Who knows? Maybe you, too, will be able to sell two pieces when you intended one 😉


The native peoples of Southeastern Alaska have a unique artistic style – animals, often with exaggerated features, with their forms filled with stacked ovals, u-shaped filigrees, l-shaped filigrees, and other geometrics. Even if you think you are unfamiliar with it, you have seen the style if you have ever seen travel posters for Alaska. Fortunately, this style adapts extremely well to metal clay.

One of the best-known myths of Southeastern Alaska is ‘Raven Steals the Sun’. In this myth, Gray Eagle hates people so much that he hides the sun and moon, so people have to live in darkness. Raven, the trickster figure, devises a plan to steal the sun and moon (either together or separately, depending on whom you ask) from Gray Eagle. Raven carries out his plan, and places the sun and moon in the sky.

I am going to describe creating an Alaskan style image of Raven Steals the Sun. Initially, an outline of Raven is cut from 0.75 mm thickness silver clay (I used silver – copper or bronze would work as well, but would require more work to affix pieces together). Note the exaggerated beak – this is both to emphasize the sun that Raven carries and to make the piece more consistent with the Raven masks often worn in ceremonial dances. I used a bezel cup to hold the gem that will represent the sun (red opal). Of course you could use bezel wire, or could use a stone that will fire without damage.


The geometric infills are then done one step at a time. Most are 0.5mm thick, although some are thicker (some 0.75 mm, some stacked to higher than a mm). A few were embossed, to give them rounded edges.





Afterward, I sanded, fired and tumbled the piece. I decided to make a mold of it, since I had a request for a smaller copy of the same piece. By using a clay that shrinks quite a bit, I could use the mold to make a smaller copy without having to start over.


I applied a light patina, and polished the raised parts. Finally, I applied the opal to the bezel cup. The coin is for scale. If you are interested in making a ‘Raven Steals the Moon’, a moonstone would be a natural choice. Of course, you can use any stone you like — an Alaskan style human face, in place of the sun/moon, would be in keeping with Alaskan tradition.


I hope I have inspired you to try some Alaskan-style art. It is a bit tedious, but it is not as difficult as it looks. The admiration that the finished piece usually gets is well worth it.