by Melody Pierson
I needed to make something out of metal clay that would work. I’d had a string of bad luck or I was just missing something somewhere. Remember when you starting learning Algebra in High School. You had a series of steps to follow to find what “X” meant. If you missed a step, you would scratch your head and keep asking yourself “Y”?
WHY wasn’t anything working? I am not so NEW at this anymore. It’s been a few years and I’ve made and sold some cool pieces; even learned a trick or two ON MY OWN by experimenting. Then came the LULL. When you stop using your information, you forget stuff.
So there I was, saying, DO SOMETHING EASY. Make earrings with just two metals, fire them and be done with it. I’m lying. The earrings were going to be one type of metal. Period. But NOOOOO, that would be too easy. Here’s the deal, NOTHING is easy. I don’t care what the teachers and your friends say, NOTHING is easy. Ahem, unless you are over-eager and start rushing through things and feel nervous because you think you have just lost any bit of talent you have had.
First challenge. Cut out two rectangles. The same size. Wait, first step, make the clay, roll out the clay with the proper thickness and then cut the rectangle(s). Well, I have all the materials. The mixing bowl, the stirring knife, the “mister” with distilled water, a self-healing cutting mat (has more scars than Pacino in “Scarface”), 3 kinds of craft cutting blades, (choose one, Melody and stick to it for crying out loud to cut a simple shape), olive oil and on and on…
The first problem, really, was the thickness and the dampness of the clay…too thick, too damp. So I rolled the clay some more and took out thinner slats (I have colored slats, the green thickness surfaces, playing cards set up by thickness…) I stuck with the slats. I rolled out the clay again but first I had to choose which roller. I have the same 3 clear plastic standard size rollers everyone first gets. Why 3? I don’t know. I think two of them got together and had a roll in the clay somewhere, with no protection. I also have the dark grey rollers, one bigger, one smaller and finally the new uber-roller, acrylic and solid. It’s a very scary roller. I chose the scary roller and it laughed at me when clay started sticking to it. I glared back at it. Thinks he’s so smart because he’s bigger than the other ones. Yeah, well, I’ll show you.
I decided to roll out the clay again on the cutting mat of a thousand slices and put a thin, but oiled, plastic bag over the clay. I reached for the acrylic and then backed down. Choose your battles carefully. The grey roller.
Well, it went nicely, I must say. I rolled out a very nice piece of lovely smooth clay and took out a plastic template shape cutter with different size rectangles. I picked the wrong size rectangle only twice and on the third I used the biggest one, in case I made more stupid, ridiculous cutting mistakes, like not cutting evenly around and inside that rectangular space. What was my problem? I tried every cutting tool. You know, the HARD part was really lifting the cut clay OFF and OUT of the template. Then, I wised up. I lifted up the template and just cut away the excess. It worked! Now, I just had to do another one exactly the same.
You are all saying, poor, poor girl. Cut two rectangles at the same time. Why are you making your life so hard? Well, I don’t know. I had lost my mojo and it was hard getting back into the process.
Finally two rectangles. YAY. They kind of looked alike. They were both crooked because when I moved them onto another area of the cutting mat, they swayed a bit. Maybe my hands swayed and they went along for the ride. I don’t know, for crying out loud. All I know is that I couldn’t make two simple rectangles and I was very close to hitting the bottle, of distilled water and mushing them together again. Yeah, well, actually, that’s what I did. It took me three hours to make two acceptable rectangles.
When they dried and were transferred off the coffee mug warmer which actually does work as a coffee warmer, I stared at the two pieces. Sanding was required. I have sanding paper, sanding metal files, sanding thin sticks, sanding smoothies, power tool sanding attachments and a sand tray with rocks in them and a little rake to play with to calm myself down. I used sanding paper. I should have used those big sanding smoothies and pretend I was doing my nails. Joke. Nobody who works with metal clay has nice nails, except one woman in a video and they are clearly fake nails, but I digress.
They became as straight as they were going to get. Anyway I convinced myself that if it all looked so perfect it wouldn’t have that “hand-made” feel to it. I can lie to myself with the best of them. In any case, I thought they looked kind of boring. I made two holes on each of them, one at the top for the jump ring for the ear wire and one at the bottom because hey, what’s a pair of earrings without a little dangle? I decided the dangle would be a smaller rectangle. Back to the cutting mat, the clay, the slats, the roller…
Now, began the process of not one, but two, fatal errors. I decided that these earrings were going to have a second metal, inlay, in a geometric shape, an L form, on each rectangle (four of them) in complimenting positions. No, I’m not joking. Of course I first used the wrong kind of metal clay for the inlay and then proceeded to not position them equally nor properly. After such time, when it had dried all on its own, I had to sand them out and use the proper clay and begin this process again. Earrings. Just a pair of metal clay rectangular earrings. Really?
Finally, finally, 16 hours later, I tell no lie…I decide I am now going to fire the two phases in one programming effort as clearly explained by Hadar Jacobson, whom I adore. Whatever made me think I could follow these simple instructions after all these hours of trial and error and exhaustion and just not stick to doing it the old-fashioned way, I don’t know. I really don’t know. I figured it was an “all or nothing” kind of decision. Throwing carbon to the wind, if you will.
The earrings were a disaster. Over-fired, mostly melted. Thank goodness it wasn’t a total loss. I had thrown in some hand-rolled beads with leftover clay and at least I could string a few of those.
Is there a moral to this madness?
Yes there is. When you haven’t done something in a very long time, do not presume it is like getting back on a bicycle. It’s not. Not with with me and metal clay. I have to read everything all over again and take baby steps.
I must plan the work and work the plan, blah blah… How does that leave room for Divine inspiration? It doesn’t, really if we remain too strict with ourselves.
OK, the real moral of the story is that if you are an artist, any kind of artist, in order to get creative and execute any kind of flourish or special design, you have to know the rules. I repeat. You have to know the rules SO WELL, that you can bend them and break them because it’s there in your head.
Then and only then, can you “think outside the rectangles”.
Later, that week, Melody attempted to make a ring…(to be continued).