Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Hallowe'en! & other (technical) topics

Working on a few projects at once, as usual. Keeps it interesting...

I have been working with bronze clay over the last few weeks. My first experiences were with domes that fired to about 1.5" but I had some problems with uneven shrinkage so had to cut them to a smaller diameter. Warping is always a strong possibility, but uneven shrinkage is when the edges of your shape pull in; a circle is no longer a circle, in my case. I have been doing some research which has helped me consider the issues.

The following can effect shrinkage:
1) thickness--thinner pieces not only warp easily but if pieces have uneven
thicknesses, edge to center shrinkage can be affected, leading to #2
2) added decorations--I found that waiting for the dome to dry first, then
adding decorations later kept the dome from irregular shrinkage. Three other
domes I made in which decorations were added to the wet dome ALL suffered
shape deformations
3) with bronze, air quality can be important. Mardel Reins at Cool Tools cautions to keep air flow at a minimum, and humid air at a maximum. Uneven temperatures and pockets of dry/humid air will affect bronze clay more than silver clay. I have had very few problems of this nature will silver clay.

As for warping with bronze clay, it will likely happen no matter what you do. But fired bronze is easy to bend back into shape. One important point, though: after firing, it's important to anneal the bronze because one dome I began hammering right out of the kiln developed cracks. Annealing prevents this.

The next photo shows a project in the works. The bronze discolors with firing; sometimes it's a nice effect. This one is another disk with three cabochons on it for a pair of earrings. I made another pair like this earlier with three chrysoprase stones; the new ones will feature chrysoprase's a secret! These domes fired nicely and kept their shape despite the pre-cut holes.

I am very careful with arrangement of pieces in the stainless firing box, placing them at the back and sides, avoiding the front of the kiln if possible since it's a front-loader. Always arrange the pieces in exactly the same way in the box--for example if firing a pair of earrings, place them in "mirror" positions along the same horizontal or vertical. There are other considerations such as gravity (fire domes in a "bowl" position). I use Mardel's schedule for firing with can be found at

So far I have been cutting holes for the fine silver bezel cups I am using, seen in the photo, but making my own bezels may be the next step. It isn't easy to fire the proper sized hole so time's spent filing them to the correct size. Then, bezel cups need more filing, or filling to make sure the stone sits at the right height. And another discovery: as an example, all 4mm stones do not fit 4mm bezels, and so on. I have had to stretch bezels because I don't want to file a stone--but that's an idea. It all adds up to more time and more cost to the customer.

Making your own bezels isn't the easiest thing, either, because matching up the ends for a good closing soldering point can be time-consuming. But I can do it, and it would mean the holes I cut in the bronze pre-fire would not have to be precise. No filing of them would be required; they would just need to be large enough to allow light to penetrate from the back. So I think that might be a plan.

Bronze polishes beautifully. I love the its soft golden color. I always treat with Minwax polyurethane to preserve the color and prevent tarnishing, which is a necessity with bronze since it tarnishes quicker'n you can sneeze. The photo below shows my latest project, and I simply love the gold color setting off the cornflower blue of the topaz. I am going to make more of these earrings, but without the shrinkage issues suffered with the earlier domes. I had to cut these earrings down to 1.25" after drying in order to achieve a true circle, so they are smaller than I had wanted but no less attractive. #2 in the list above was the culprit: I added the decorations to the wet circle, and because of the uneven positioning of the petals and stem, shrinkage was uneven. Wish me luck that this theory holds water when I make more of these earrings!

Happy Halloween, y'all, and happy creating! Ciao.

Friday, October 30, 2009

All Hallow's Eve

ArtoberFest 2009, Galveston, Texas

Tomorrow is Hallowe'en! It's always been my second favorite holiday. Mom used to make donuts in our kitchen, and we trick-or-treated faithfully until well into junior high. So now our kids are carrying on the tradition! I will be out contributing, dressed witchly with my pit fire burning, enticing the juicy little ones into the backyard lair....

But that means it's after Artoberfest 'way back on the 17th-18th! Seems like months ago by now, but we had a great show and need to thank Galveston! My earlier post explained how much we love going there, and this year was even better since we had the best show ever. We rearranged a few things and it must have been the ticket because we were busy selling a lot of jewelry! It's put us in a great mood for the Mary Queen Bazaar that will be coming up the first week of December, and inspired us to apply for the Bayou City Art Festival in Memorial Park this spring in Houston. We had so much good feedback from customers and non-customers alike.

I also want to report on the good energy in the Gulf city because of its comeback from Hurricane Ike last year, which stole the Artoberfest and devastated the region. Residents told us they were so happy to see the festival back in swing, because it was just another sign of life coming back to the island. The weather was beautiful and cool, and there was good art to be seen! My favorite was the rock art of Carlos Moseley, seen at You have to see his work in person--I was blown away (sorry for the overworked descriptive). There were a few very talented painters, too. We were happy to see that Artoberfest is thus far keeping its character as an artist-driven show. There are no food booths still, but remember that New York Times booth we complained about seeing at Pecan Street? Yep, in Galveston, too. YUCK. But the rest was happily crafted by the artists who attended. Kudos to Kathy Modzelewski for her hard work keeping it reallllll-y a great show!

So please come see us in Friendswood on December 4-5 at Mary Queen! Remember, it's a lovely Christmas show and really brings out the holiday in you. Pretty tables are set up for luncheon, there's a dessert table a mile long, and the wares are always top quality and varied. Alice Malek does a great job every year to keep this show true to its high standards and we love being a part of it.

See you there!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ready to show!

The last new pieces have been finished and we are now in our packing mode, getting ready for the trek to ARToberFEST!

This pendant is called "Warmth" and features a Rhodolite cab (garnet family) and 24k gold, which was applied using the Keum-boo technique. Read more about the pendant at our site.

We hope to see many friends at this show. Please come by if you are out and about this weekend.

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

ARToberFEST is this weekend!

We are burning the midnight oil getting ready for ARToberFEST on the 17th and 18th! It's great to be down in Galveston--an important historical town in Texas, and there's nothing like being at the Gulf! I anticipate meeting the artists who will be on either side of us--an inevitable and pleasant aspect of doing these shows. Last ARToberFEST we met Becci King and Kathy Spanier, very nice people to say the least. We traded with Kathy for some of her beautiful watercolors. Best news of all though is that it's supposed to be SUNNY! We have had buckets of rain lately--yesterday I thought the curbs might wash away but the local forecast is looking up as the week works itself out. HOOK 'EM HORNS! BEAT THE SOONERS!

I make the Indian Head Nickel bracelets but this time will offer several with the Buffalo side of the coin showing. Last night I put two on a deep red-maroon dyed leather that is quite stout. Lovely with the silver. Several other kinds will be available at the show; these bracelets are popular. I wear mine all the time and love how leather ages, softening and conforming to your body. Plus, silver and especially bronze, as I learned with these new earrings-- look wonderful on leather (

I am working on a design for a "Lonesome Dove" bracelet along the same lines. The Indian/Buffalo nickels are one of the very few items (outside of sterling chains and clasps, etc.) that we purchase from a supply house, since we make 99% of our metal components in our studios. You can look at the bracelets here:

We have several new pieces for the show, so come and visit us! I was up at 5am this morning in anticipation, so it's off to the studio for a little bronze sanding until it's time to get my 10-year-old off to school!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

One Down and Two to Go

Alone Star was in Austin at the Pecan Street Festival just a couple of weeks ago. It was a good experience for us going back to Austin, our home town, and as usual, such jaunts continue to be learning experiences as we hone down just what we want to to with our presentation during shows. Every show is different, so our displays have been different for each. One thing we know for sure is that we want to make setting up and breaking down much simpler than it has been in the past, for all the shows. And we think we are getting closer to that goal as we get ready for this weekend's show down on the Strand in Galveston, Artoberfest 2009.

How was Pecan Street? This is a show that's been a tradition in Austin for a few decades now. We saw a lot of good work there, some really nice art. I was very impressed with Alan Christopher Smith's work of Battlefield Texas. Chris makes wonderful stippled images both in paper and canvas print media, and since he was right next to us I had opportunity to look and talk to him. Aside from artists like Chris, though, were other booths promoting say, the New York Times. Wow! Does something like that belong in an art fair? How about motorized scooters?

Artoberfest, at least what we saw 2 years ago when we participated (Ike blew away any chance of the show last year), remains a pure fine arts event. We will see what it's like again this year, and I can speak for Lisa too when I say that we are looking forward to it! I am posting some pictures from Austin's show; we may have questions about the changing character of the festival (at least from an arts standpoint), but we certainly loved the entertainment and being able to watch the Longhorns from outside a bar just across the street! Austin is definitely keeping weird!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

ARToberFEST Gallery of Artisans

Shauna and I have received special mention this year in the ARToberFEST gallery. Please take a moment to go view the gallery to get a small taste of the outstanding art to be shown this coming weekend. We hope to see you there!