Monday, February 14, 2011

I love a challenge

Recently I took part in a challenge on Lampworketc, a forum where I like to hang out.  Several lampworkers each chose a picture and the challenge is to create one bead for each of the other lampworker's pictures.  It is a way to stretch artistic boundaries, exploring glass techniques or colorways a person would not normally choose.  It is also a great way to combat a creative block.  You know, when you sit down at the torch and look at your glass and are at a complete loss as to what to do.  Everyone who creates in any medium has experienced this and exploring another person's creative interests or preferences is a wonderful way to find your way back to your own muse.

This was the picture I chose:

This is the necklace that resulted from the exchange, I am really happy with it.

and again......

I still have a few beads left over that I plan to work into a matching bracelet later when time allows.

I received some wonderful beads and was truly amazed at the different interpretations of my picture.  I think as people sometimes we get caught up in the idea that everyone else sees the world in the same way that we do.  It's a great reality check to do an exercise like this that celebrates our differences.

After I received my beads I had a new challenge.  How could I take them and create something that would express me and do justice to the all the little pieces of art I had received?  I knew I wanted a dark stringing material.  What I had on hand was lots of copper wire.  I also had liver of sulfer.  Hmmm.

I thought it would be fun to take you through a bit of my process and how I arrived at my final product and also talk about a couple of tools I use along the way.  It wasn't a big leap for me to go from copper wire to chain maille as I had just purchased one of these:

This amazing little tool is the Pepe Jump Ring Maker.  I love chain maille and have for quite some time but the cost of buying rings to create all the things I wanted to create was becoming prohibitive so when Otto Frei had a sale on this I jumped (lol) on it.

The tool is pretty intuitive and not hard to figure out with the exception of figuring out which way to cut with the foredom.  I'm probably the only person who struggled with this in the known universe but I'm lefthanded.  Yes, that's the reason, that's my story and I'm stickin' to it.  The little instruction page that came with the Pepe was about as clear on cutting with the foredom as those instructions written in chinese for assembling your child's first swingset.  Thank goodness for the internet.  I went on a hunt for better instructions and found this lovely little video which is solely responsible for the fact that I now can cut rings like a pro and love my Pepe as opposed to having scattered mandrels and a slag heap of wood and metal where I threw it at the wall (which, after fighting with it for two hours and breaking one blade I was just about ready to do).

I know that Rio Grande has a more expensive jump ring maker but honestly I'm extremely happy with the Pepe.  I already want more mandrels. The Pepe comes with mandrels in metric system measurements but I find patterns frequently refer to US measurements so I can see that in order to do any pattern you wish you need a comprehensive amount of mandrels in both US and metric systems.

So, now what pattern to do?  That's an easy fix because I have a book that I've had for awhile now and that I just love.  It's Becky Goga's chain maille book.

If you plan to do quite a bit of maille I would encourage you to invest in some quality smooth flat nose pliers and then dip those in Tool Magic which will not only protect your wire from marks and marring, it will protect the face of your pliers as well.  Store your Tool Magic upside down (turn it over and set in on it's lid) to keep air out and one jar will last you a long time.

I cut my rings and made my chain maille in sections.  Chain maille is not something you can hurry.  It's not a hard craft but it does take patience and attention to detail to have it turn out well.  Your rings should meet so that it is difficult to find the join.  It really helps if you can see what you are doing so I always wear an Optivisor which I first learned about when I took metalsmithing.  I couldn't do without them now, I wear them for everything from beadweaving to micro-macrame but especially when doing chain maille to get the joins as perfect as possible.  I've never worn them for lampworking though, I think that would be too awkward. 

After I made enough chain maille I wire-wrapped my beads.  I plan to blog on wire wrapping as well but we'll save that for another time, shall we?  Then after much tinkering and adjusting I managed to get the balance of the piece the way I wanted it.  Now it was time for the tumbler.  If you do chain maille I think a tumbler is essential.  It's the best way to fix any slight mars you may have made on the metal and it also cleans away burrs and the wax you use when cutting rings.  My tumbler is a Lortone.

Tumblers are really easy to use, all you need is the tumbler, a pound of stainless steel shot, water, and some slivers of ivory soap.

I put the entire necklace in the tumbler with the exception of the resin centerpiece and ran it for two hours.

When it came out clean and smooth it was time to apply the liver of sulfer. 

I like to use the chunk LOS.  You can buy it in liquid but this is easiest for me.  I just grab a rock of it (while not breathing, the stuff stinks horribly so it's best to work with it outside) and throw it in some hot tap water.  Stir it around until it melts and the water turns a dark golden color.  Then I submerged my necklace for 5 minutes.  The length of time you leave your metal in LOS determines the degree of darkness.  In this case I wanted a black gunmetal look so I left it in longer.  Experiment with LOS and you can get a range of blue purple tints, it really is amazing stuff.

When I took the necklace out I gave it a good rinse, scrubbed it well with Dawn dishwashing liquid and a brass brush, and put it back in the tumbler for two more hours.

When I took it out the second time I let it air dry and then the final step was to use a toothbrush to apply Renaissance Wax. 

You can pick it up at Woodcraft stores and it's well worth the price, one jar lasts forever, especially when using it on jewelry. 

So now my challenge is over.  Well, this one anyway, I'm already part of another.  When you end up with such wonderful little artworks how could anyone resist?

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