Tuesday, August 25, 2015

When "DIY" can hurt your business

This thoughtful post is from my daughter, Laura Lewis Albright, Manager of Painting with Fire Studio

First I would like to say that I absolutely love do-it-yourself projects. From making my own garlic olive oil to dying lace curtains (to replace the ones that my dog destroyed during her puppy chewing phase!) But when does "do-it-yourself" become do-it-inferior?  Maybe a better question is, "When a company or individual gives you an idea or teaches you how to 'do-it-yourself,' how do you show your support of that small company or individual?" 

I will admit that there are times when I've picked up Elmer's glue from the grocery store to make my own "Modge Podge" instead of going to my local art supply store. But you know what? Most of those times I couldn't get the right consistency and I didn't feel good about not supporting a small business, like the Art Supply Store across the street from our studio. 

I know the purpose of do-it-yourself is to be more cost-effective and experience self-gratification for a job well done.  However, when does that come at the cost of quality?  For example, in our small city of Saint Petersburg, we have a specialty olive oil shop. My husband and I love to garden and are growing garlic. So, of course, we want to try making our own garlic olive oil :-)

It would be very easy for us to go out to our local super center or grocery store and buy an inexpensive brand, but we like to support the business that gave us the idea!  To show our support of Kalamazoo Olive Company, this is what we do. We buy one of their simple olive oils that has no zest or extra pizzazz.  We can take James' great olive oil and spice it up ourselves, while saving a few dollars and supporting a small business. Voila!  I feel good about supporting the individual or small business that was generous with their knowledge and ideas while still being able to do it myself.  

For our family, we see teaching and, hopefully, the inspiring of others to "D-I-Y" as our calling in life. We truly admire and appreciate our customers, friends and those who inspire us! We appreciate their support so that we can continue to do what we love to do which is to ... you got it ... teach and inspire others.  Through their support, they give us a reason for our calling.

Sometimes it may require a little extra effort, but it can be so worth it for all! 

Please share if you love do-it-yourself projects and have a calling or desire to support creative individuals and small businesses. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

An interesting use of torch-fired enamel!

I have to remind myself that not everyone who uses the immersion process of enameling is a jewelry maker.  Recently I received an email from Robin of The Dancing Goats saying that he bought my book and taught himself how to torch-fire enamel to be used as an accent to his spectacular turned wood.   Isn't this stunning?   I just love the enamel tide pool with the turquoise inlay!  Take a look at his etsy shop.  You'll find some really beautiful things ...

Do you use the immersion process to enamel items other than jewelry?  I'd love to feature it here. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Silhouette Die

Inspiration can come from the unlikeliest place.  How about the result of cleaning out your garage? Absolutely! Some time ago I picked up this hunk of metal from a recycler.  I don't even know why or when I bought it but it sure made a great silhouette die for the hydraulic press! 

Hunka, hunka metal!

24-gauge copper over the silhouette die produced a great form, but I see this as only "the beginning" with this die.  Liquid enamel painted on the front and back with 2300 Opalescent Green sifted on top produced the "canvas."  A few strokes through the liquid enamel with the end of a mandrel produced some graceful forms.  These particular pattern decals have become a favorite for background texture.  

Multiple layers usually equals rich design.  Sometimes I think we stop too soon. Keep going with color, scratch marks, decals and see what you get.

Have you ever had the experience that you stopped too soon in the design process?  I'd love to hear about it.  

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

True Confessions: I was a color-phobe!

I know, it's hard to believe that I really disliked color ... in the past!  I used to wake up and wonder what shade of beige I would wear that day.  It wasn't until I was introduced to over-fired enamel that I became enamored! 

Over-fired white enamel features subtle color with added texture being added by copper oxides that bubble to the surface.  I was in love!

But over time, more color crept into my work ... 

Although, currently, a little less color appears  ...

Now I find that I want a BALANCE between having color that will KNOCK your eyes out and no color at all, plus now I want BLING!  But I know very little about stones because, like I said, I never liked color.  I mean, my birthstone is Diamond so I guess I could  have been working with Diamonds!  LOL!

Today I signed up for the Accredited Jewelry Professional course offered by the Gemology Institute of America.  Shane Socash, owner of David Reynolds Jewelry and Coin, can be credited with bringing this information to the students of the Jewelry Making and Repair Program at Pinellas Technical College.  AJP classes begin July 7, 2015.  I've always loved being a student.  Thank you, Shane, for sharing your information and experience. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Alternative shopping sites for jewelry tools!

I make jewelry so I usually check out sites that sell jewelry or metalworking supplies when I need a tool.  But friend, Larry Mellgren, St. Petersburg jewelry artist, tipped me off to another way to shop.  He buys many of his tools on Ebay by searching "Machinist Tools" instead of "Jewelry Tools." He's found that he pays a fraction of the price had he bought the same tool through jewelry searches.  

Taking his advice, I searched Ebay for a digital caliper.  I was looking for a Mutitoyo, which I discovered are quite pricey.  The budget doesn't currently permit this purchase, but some darling dividers popped up on the screen.  In a recent workshop with Wendy Thurlow I admired her smart-looking 3" divider, which was easily maneuvered in one hand.  Mine, on the other hand, were big clunky things. 
Say hello to my new "$15 purchase," a divider made by Starrett, a USA company manufacturing precision tools since 1880  You'll notice the $58 price tag on their website. Mine even came with little covers to protect the points of the legs, which may no longer be offered by a review of their listing. 

Just to visually compare the Starrett divider with the others I own, the divider in the middle is one I bought from Eurotool.  There's nothing wrong with it, but it's unwieldy when compared with the Starrett.  The divider on the right end has some nice replaceable points, but is even larger.

The divider doesn't replace a caliper.  It is simply used for marking ... or dividing ... lengths.  For instance, you can easily mark off a strip of metal by placing one point along the edge of metal land drawing the other point along the metal; mark divisions on a ring; mark lengths of a prong, etc.  These tasks can all be done with a divider.  I'm still in the market for a digital caliper.  I'm sure I'll be checking Ebay! 


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The beauty of Liquid Enamel!

I absolutely love the versatility of liquid enamel!  I also love the satin surface of the fired enamel, which is very unlike other enamels. The porcelain clay in liquid enamel contributes to its buttery smooth surface.  

Liquid Enamel over Copper Pipe, Copper Mesh, and Copper Sheet

I use liquid enamel ... 

  • as a replacement for Klyr-Fire.  You can apply it to the entire piece of copper and sift 80 mesh enamel onto the surface before the Liquid Enamel dries.  This approach gives you a good foundation for other techniques
  • when I want to do sgraffito.  Sgraffito is a technique where you scratch through the unfired surface of the enamel to reveal either a different base layer of enamel or the metal beneath.  The lines of the sgraffito design remain dark as a result of the oxidation of copper during firing. Sifting colored transparent enamels on top doesn't budge the toasty brown color of the oxidized copper.  In fact, the transparent enamels can be layered upon each other to create shading and entirely new colors. 
  • when I want to accent etching. You can dip an etched piece into liquid enamel, allow it to dry, and finger sand the enamel from the high points of the etched design. 
  • when I want to preserve a very delicate material, such as copper mesh.  Because glass is an insulator, applying liquid enamel to delicate metals will protect them. 
Pictured below is "A Mother's Heart," by Kathleen Kilgore, Tampa Bay Sculptor. Welded from strips of steel, Kathleen wanted to add color.  White liquid enamel was handpainted by Kathleen on each of the strips.  Orient Red (1870) and Sunset Orange (1840) with a smattering of Raspberry (2836) enamels were sifted onto select areas of the sculpture. The heart received multiple firings.

"A Mother's Heart" by Kathleen Kilgore
This is a "first look" at liquid enamel.  Stay tuned for more. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Let's Talk About How to Get Clear, Bright Enamels!

Today let's talk about the flame you get with a Hot Head torch.  This "single gas" torch has been around for about 40 years and is the workhorse of portable torches. Hooked up to a 1 lb. tank of MAP gas (propylene),   it is meant to be fired in an upright position.

Take a look at this video and then continue reading.  I hope the information is helpful to many of you who are making torch-fired enamel, but may be questioning … or reaffirming … your color results. :-)

There are three types of flames: an oxidizing flame, a neutral  flame, and a reducing flame.  When you light your torch, 99.9% of the time the flame will be at too great an intensity for general firing.  The flame is very loud … it's nearly roaring.  This is a reducing flame.  This bushy flame has an orange interior with yellow mini flames flashing at the edges. This fuel-rich flame has a lot of non-combusted fuel.  This extra fuel will be deposited in your beautiful enamel and turn your colors a muddy gray or brown.     

To reduce the flame intensity, turn the knob to the right. Turn, turn, that's right, keep turning.  Turn the flame down until it is nearly off; then turn the knob to left about a half a turn.  This is an oxidizing flame.  An oxidizing flame is a cool flame. It is a flame with a clear blue cone.  It will take you forever to fire a bead in this flame. 

Now turn knob to the left about one to two turns.  This is a neutral flame.  It should have a clearly defined inner blue cone with slightly bushy yellow edges.  This is the ideal flame … the one you're shooting for.  

Within the neutral flame, however, there is a reducing part of the flame, a neutral part of the flame, and an oxidizing part of the flame.  Remember, we're talking now about a flame that is set to the  perfect intensity.  Starting at the torch end,  you'll find the reducing flame.   If you move 2.5" to 3" from the torch end, you'll find the neutral flame.  Beyond the neutral flame is the oxidizing flame.  Each of these flames are useful to the torch-firing enamel artist. 

The neutral flame is where you'll find the "sweet spot".  It is where there is a near perfect balance of oxygen and fuel, which is what makes the flame hot AND clean.  This is the area with which you'll have the best relationship!  Bright colors are produced in a short amount of time.

So, when and why would we be interested in reducing and oxidizing flames? I primarily use the reducing flame to create special effects.  After I've fired the enamel to maturity (a glossy finish) in the sweet spot of the flame, I can finish the piece in the reducing flame to create a smokey haze.  Remember, the reducing flame contains non-combusted fuel. 

The oxidizing flame, which is beyond the sweet spot, is a great place for "flame annealing."  Flame annealing allows you to control how quickly the glass cools, which prevents thermal shock.  For a bead with a few layers of glass there isn't a need for controlled cooling.  However, controlled cooling is essential for enamel head pins. 

Use the flame to your advantage, whether you're firing enamel onto metal, getting special effects from a reducing flame, or annealing enamel head pins.  If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section and I'll respond.  Have a great week!  Barbara

Monday, April 20, 2015

Enameling Clay ... Who Knew?

You know what really gets my juices flowing?  It's when I get a fabulous result from a "what the heck?" idea!  That's what happened when I decided to enamel ceramic beads. I mean glazes are glass; enamel is glass.  Made sense to me; in addition to the fact I had at lot of these ceramic beads hanging around from another lifetime.

The things I discovered ...

  • You have to give them a hefty warming-up period
  • A bead with a small hole is more likely to crack because the heat transmitted by the mandrel to that small area gives it an early dose of of concentrated heat before the rest of the bead gets warm. 
  • The beads stay "hot" longer after firing than do metal beads, so be careful not to burn yourself
  • The beauty of transparent enamels over white ceramic beads is hard to describe!
Slip cast and hand-built ceramic beads fired with Thompson Enamels 

Orange and Teal Leaves and Orange Flower fired by PWF Teacher Judi Nystrom, Sprinfield Illinois

Because it is so much fun! ... we decided to offer a workshop on making and enameling ceramic beads in The Studio at Painting with Fire.  Check it out!  We'd love to have you!

Before I go, let me ask you, what has been your unlikely discovery and is it still in use?

Friday, March 13, 2015

Team Building

Last night was a team building event for 12 staff of Intel Security at Tech Data, Clearwater, Florida.   One of their lovely team members, Tracy, had been to Painting with Fire before and tipped them off that we might provide something different for their team building event.  Alex and Silvana conducted reconnaissance ... what could we do for their team, could we have food, would their people be interested? Jim was the lead on our end of the mission.  

We knew we wanted to do a combination of "hot and cold" ...  torch-fired enameling and sea glass wire wrapping.  Bren McCoy designed the project, organized all of the supplies and packaged them in a kraft paper jewelry box tied with a sari ribbon.  The ribbon color indicated the enamel color they be using on their enamel bead.  While this was going on at the studio, Jim was doing what he loves best, which is to cook!  He prepared a great menu for the team.  Laura and David threw themselves into the project by pricing jewelry, setting up the studio, cleaning, etc.

So the night arrives!  We're all abuzz!  Here's a "Before" photo.  

The Painting with Fire team assuring there were no burns! 

After the necklaces were assembled, the troops were rounded up for an "After" shot. 

Compare the smiles on the "After" photo to the ones of the "Before" photo!  They definitely had fun with the event, with their peers, and left with a personal creation and a good memory. 

Thanks to the whole Intel Security team for trusting us and a special thanks to Alex, Silvana and Tracy for making it happen!  

Sunday, November 9, 2014

More enameling fun and a giveaway!

Hi friends, I'm sitting in my room at the Hilton Hotel near the airport waiting for our departure flight to Florida ... and reminiscing over the past week.  It started with two days in Austin.  My husband is a avid fan of Diners, Drive-Inns and Dives so dinner on our first night in Austin was at the Monument Cafe, Georgetown, TX.  The food was great, but we also enjoyed the surrounding sights and smells at the vegetable/herb gardens and market of the Monument Cafe.
Monument Cafe, Georgetown, TX
Traveling for me always includes scouting out craft galleries where I can breathe in the creative energy of local artists.   This happened during a stop at Oxidize Metal Art Gallery.  Oxidize Gallery is a tiny space! But don't be fooled.  It is filled with lots and lots of spectacular jewelry! I had an opportunity to meet the lovely jewelry artist, Elizabeth Boswell.  Guess what we talked about ... enameling!  She's currently adding color to her jewelry with the technique of powder coating. Elizabeth explained that powder coated metal would not chip, even when flexed.  She's very interested in enameling, though, especially after I told her how easy it was!  While in Austin I saw her book order come through the website!  

photo: Elizabeth Boswell

From there we headed to Guero's, a highly-recommended Mexican restaurant on South Congress Street, which is alive with craft vendors, food trucks, and people merrily buzzing throughout the unique indie shops.

Adjacent to the restaurant was a small, but bustling craft show.  Who would I run into there but Carol Bradley, an online friend and registrant in two of my upcoming classes.  Carol's enamel work is gorgeous and we had fun talking about colors and techniques. 

Two hours later would find me at an evening of "performance art" at a creative hot spot for jewelry ... Creative Side Jewelry Academy, where lots of happy campers were finishing up a fantastic metal casting workshop with Kate Wolf.  Jim and I absolutely were enthralled with Kate's hour and a half demo of wax carving.  Like all professionals, she made it look way toooo easy.  I mean, 40 years in the business has a way of doing that!  

photo: Creative Side Jewelry Academy

The following day we fled the traffic congestion of Austin and headed for Texas Hill Country and Rachel Ashwell's The Prairie.  The countryside reminded me so much of my former surroundings in  Maryland, with rolling hills and pastures sprinkled with lush green trees.  Art Retreat at The Prairie was where we would teach our students, learn from our students, and mix and mingle with other students and teachers.  What a beautiful setting to relax and learn something new! 

Carol Myers, Barb Solem, Julie Panusis, Barb Solem, Deryn Mentock, Diane Cook
Results of the Shield of Faith project, which emphasizes overfired white enamel, gives the enamel artist two necklaces in one!  Each side of the pendant is so different, you'll be able to wear it on one side one day and then reverse it for a whole different look!  A necklace for each of your personalities!  

From left to right:  Cynthia Hill, Shonna Estep, Leslie Todd, Carol Bradley, Mary Word, and Gracie Albright

Barb Solem through Vivi Magoo Presents! hosts a well-planned event at a great location, with wonderful food.  Her dedication and planning of the event gives her students and teachers the ability to relax and do what they love to do most ... create beautiful jewelry!  I would definitely do this retreat again in a heartbeat! 

Vivi Magoo Presents will be hosting Art Retreat in the Desert in Tucson,  but don't forget that Painting with Fire will be there, too!  Somehow I think Tucson is big enough for the both of us ... plus a million other people either selling or teaching!  

Now on to the Craftsy class giveaway!  All you have to do is to leave a comment at Stacey Merrill's blog, Artsnark Artifacts.  

Thank you, Stacey, for hosting this giveaway.  I've been getting great reviews from students and I particularly like how students can ask questions at any point in the video.  Their question indicates the lesson and the time in the video when the question was generated.  How genius is that?  Those guys at Craftsy have it goin' on! 

Have you been wanting to learn torch-fired enameling?  Now's the time!  

So let me ask you ... when you travel, are there particular types of places you look forward to visiting?   Have you been to an interesting place lately that just fed your soul?  I'd love to hear about it!