Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Copper Clay, You Kill Me.

I have have always been fond of copper and bronze. I love the rich, dark colors and organic designs. Having purchased many handmade focals and components over the years, I of course wanted to learn how to make my own beautiful components.  I acquired a kiln 6 months ago, which then sat on my porch for 5 months untouched before I finally worked up the courage to even turn it on. It came to me used, and is a top loading Firebox 8 Ceramic Kiln. 

As you see in my photo, I had it sitting on an 18" tile, which was on top of a wooden, painted table I had on my porch. I had read many posts online, and several said as long as it was on a ceramic tile, it would be fine.

For my first attempt, I started with PMC3 clay, which is a low fire fine silver clay. I fashioned a few little teardrop shaped charms and used a stamp to put a texture on it, added holes for connecting, and fired it at 1600 for about an hour. They came out properly sintered and everything went fine. That was a few weeks ago. 

Last night, I decided to try the copper clay and see how it fared. Things weren't quite as smooth this time around.

My husband and I made 7 pendants and charms with the copper clay. We let them dry a few hours, and they were leather hard, as the instructions said they'd be. I decided to be safe and do the 2 step firing, even though I didn't have intentions of enameling. The first mistake I made was misreading the firing temperature, and I only took it to 500 for the first fire, when it said to go to 560. I don't know if that caused any issues or not, but after the first fire, which was directly on a raised ceramic shelf, the pieces were intact and fine and felt hard. I removed them and embedded them in activated coconut carbon in a stainless steel firing pan. The instructions said to put the pan on stands, but the stands plus the pan combined were too tall for my kiln to close, so I had to put the pan directly on the bottom.  I had about 1-1.5 inches of carbon on the bottom, the placed the 7 pieces in the pan, with space between them, and filled up the container the rest of the way with the carbon. It seemed pretty packed full when I put the lid on. 

The firing instructions for the 2nd fire say to take it full ramp to between 1700-1800 degrees and hold for 3-3.5 hours. I ramped the dial to a 6 to get the temp up. Keep in mind there are no digital settings like an oven, just a dial that goes from low to high with 6 numbers between. The max temp is supposedly 2000 degrees, so I figured that was a good place to start. I got the temp in the range it should be, cut it back to 5, and walked inside to work on something else. I checked on it periodically, every 10-20 minutes, but at some point I must have waited a good 20 minutes, and when I went to check on it, the temp was at 1860. I immediately cut the kiln down to low to try and cool it back down. At this point I get distracted again, because while standing there watching my thermometer, it adjusts very slowly. It isn't like it immediately cools or heats, it takes considerable time. It took an hour or so to even reach the 1700 degree temp. During this second distraction, the kiln gets below 1700, so I freaked out again and ramped it back up, deciding that this time I would stay with the kiln for the remaining duration of the fire time. I got the temp back between 1700-1800 and was keeping it there fine...then I started smelling smoke.

Initially I thought it was my thermocouple, which really isn't made for such high temperatures, but seemed to be functioning fine even though the wire was glowing red hot when I would take it out. The protective sheathing had burned away completely, but the wire was still working. The smoke was not from the wire though, it was from the wood table that was under the tile and kiln. I felt the table and it was quite hot, and obviously burning since I could smell the burning wood. After closer inspection, I notice that the tile under the kiln has cracked and separated. At this point, I begin to panic. 

The kiln is heavy. It is large, ceramic, and was running at 1750 degrees. I do have fire retardant gloves, but even with those on, I could not pick up the kiln without it hitting some part of my body or arm. There was just no way to move it while it was hot like that without severely burning myself. 

I raced into the house and grabbed a 12x12 ceramic tile we use as a work surface for polymer clay and brought it out. Using my gloves, I lifted the kiln enough to push the broken tile together where it had broken apart, lessening the opening where it was cracked, like fitting a puzzle piece together. I then wedged the new, small tile underneath the kiln to add another barrier and lift it higher, and grabbed my fire extinguisher just in case the table went up in flames. I also turned the kiln off for a few minutes during this whole process, just because it was my initial reaction to turn off the heat source, though it takes hours to actually cool down, so it was kind of pointless. I took a sponge to the bottom of the table, ran water into the cracks of the tile, and basically tried to wet any area that was exposed and hot that I could reach around the kiln. I then turned it back on. The temp was measuring above 1600 when I turned it back on, so I knew I hadn't lost that much heat, and I continued the last hour of firing with a hope and a prayer that my house wouldn't burn down, and managed to keep it right around 1750 for the last hour. 
Once it had been going for 3.5 hours total, I turned it off and waited until it cooled off before going to bed. After waiting well over an hour, it was still only down to 800, so I used a screwdriver and propped it open barely - less than a quarter of an inch, to slightly speed up the process. When it was down to 500 and the table was clearly much cooler, I went to bed. At this point it was 6:30 in the morning.

I woke up around noon and inspected things closer, and unfortunately, only 2 of the little charms I made survived. The larger pendants had broken up into pieces and turned to dust when I tried picking them up, but my small ones sintered fine. They are extremely small. There is a shrinkage that occurs because the clay part of the compound dissipates and leaves only the pure alloy, which then sinters into solid metal. I believe this is usually around 20%...but mine look like they are at least 50% smaller, or even more.  I tried breaking the little pieces and they are sturdy. Here are the 2 pieces, and part of another, that survived and weren't dust. Its blurry, but you get the idea. Basically they turned into small tiny scraps, except for maybe the middle one, which I suppose I can use as a tiny charm in some earthy design.

Now for the really fun part...here is what the tile that cracked looks like now.

And here is what the stainless steel pan looked when I took it out of the kiln. It was brand new and shiny when it went in. The top is all rusted and weird and left metal shavings and dust everywhere - I have no idea if this is normal or not.

And here is what my table looks like when I finally moved the broken tile and kiln out of the way. Whoa. It split the table completely and totally cooked it. I'm lucky I didn't burn down my house or myself. Clearly the large tile I was using wasn't enough, or maybe it wasn't ceramic. I honestly am not sure. My apologies to my sister, whose table this actually was, and who took the time to paint it...oops. 

So obviously my first attempt was a total failure and a comedy of errors that I hope to avoid next time. There are a few things that could have led to the demise of my pieces, and I'm not sure if it is one or all of them. I hope someone who knows what they are doing will be kind enough to share some tips or insight, so I don't waste all that clay making the same mistakes again. In the meantime, I believe I will just work with polymer clay today. : )

Monday, May 26, 2014

My 1st Month of Farmer's Markets - Breaking Down the Numbers

It's been awhile since my last post, and there is a good reason, I've been very busy! I recently quit my day job to focus on jewelry full time, had a piece of jewelry worn on the show "Parenthood," gifted 25 celebrities and 5 members of the press necklaces for an Earth Day gifting, and have just wrapped up my first month of doing Farmer's Markets for the first time.

Here was my booth set up on my first day, when I was outside at the Chattanooga Market. As you see, I have 2 tables full of stuff, plus a ladder shelf unit and an easel with a handmade earring board, full of the earring cards that I also make myself.

Here is my biggest table that I set up, which I have old barnwood board makeshift shelves, satin covered shelving for height building, and 32 different necklace busts on, plus more. I actually lost one of my fancy tall busts this day due to wind knocking it over and breaking the bust off the stand bottom.

I've been thinking a lot about pricing lately, and the cost of being in this business. Obviously, I had to give that a lot of thought when deciding to quit my other job, and I needed to have a clear financial plan and goals in order to survive. That was hard to do without knowing what I would make any given day, and wow, that varied a lot. One day I made $990, the next, $118. You just never know. I did the math this evening and decided I would share it, for anyone who thinks we jewelers charge too much, or for anyone considering getting into this business.  You might find it to be a real eye opener.  Lets look at my figures this month for the 3 markets I attended.  

My total sales for the 3 days of markets were $1847 before taxes, and that is including 2 sales that did not transpire at the market, but did stem from connections made there. Now lets look at the costs I incurred over those days: 
Gas: $45 for 3 days of travel an hour to and from the shows in a fully loaded down suv
Parking: $10 
Booth Fees and Commissions Paid: $180.70 (NOT including a $25 application fee and a $30 yearly fee)
Food for 3 days of eating and drinking for 2 people at farmer's market cost: $85
Babysitter for 1 of the 3 days: $40

Ok so my monthly farmer's market costs come to $360.70, really $415.70 if you include the once a year fees, but since those are only 1 time a year, I'm not including them in the typical month costs.

That brings my total down to $1486.30

Now lets consider the cost I have in the jewelry itself.  Every piece of jewelry I make has components and materials I pay for out of pocket to create. After looking up the numbers, the material cost in the jewelry I sold is roughly around $500. So we have to subtract that from my "profit" as well. This brings it down to 986.30 

Finally I have to consider the hours I worked. All of the 3 markets were 5 hours long, with approximately a 1-1.5 hour set up and 45 minute breakdown, plus 2 hours total of travel each day. It basically amounts to at least a 9 hour day for a 5 hour show in either Knoxville or Chattanooga, which I happen to be located right between. That's a total of 27 hours. $986.30 for 27 hours is still just over $36 an hour...which would be fantastic...except it doesn't factor in the time it took me to make all of that jewelry I sold. I do not make $1800 worth of custom jewelry in a day. In fact, I don't think I could even do that in one week. It would take me at least 2, but just for fun we will pretend that I'm superwoman and can make that much in one 40 hour work week (on top of those show days) and that ends up being 67 hours of work. Now I'm making $14 an hour. (If we want to keep it real, its closer to 2 weeks worth of work, which is around $9 an hour, but back to the fantasy.) I'd actually be pretty happy about making $14 an hour if that was the end of it...except it isn't. I also have to purchase organza bags and gift boxes, labels, business cards, jewelry displays, cloths, tables, laminating sheets, cardstock, printer ink for making my cards, tools, inks, patinas, misc supplies that aren't included in the cost...the list does indeed go on and on. By the time everything is said and done, I might be making $8 an hour, and that is if I'm lucky enough to be blessed with customers (who want to buy) and nice weather.   

Is that too much money for a self employed artist to expect to make? Should the fact that I have been honing my craft for 8 years factor into my value? How about the many different skills I use, or the creativity I have? 

Some people think that I have it easy making jewelry. Yes that part can be fun at times, when I'm in the zone and have my music going, but there's a whole lot more involved than just making jewelry. I also make my earring cards (photoshop creations, printing, cutting, laminating, and cutting again) have written my own bios and several press releases about my accomplishments, market my business on social media, set up & break down my booths (physical labor), pack and ship items, communicate with customers, photograph and list all my jewelry, price and inventory, hunt for unique components and beads, and keep up with paperwork on all of my figures from shows, online, etsy, shops, and private transactions. All of that extra stuff takes a considerable amount of time, and it isn't included when I'm doing numbers or figuring out my price. I also have to pay income taxes out of whatever I make, too.

So, having seen what the numbers really mean, I hope the next time you need a gift for a loved one or feel like treating yourself, you will stop before buying that "mass manufactured for cents and marked up 1000 times" item and find a local person in business you can shop with. If you are the type who generally doesn't buy handmade due to the price, consider those costs the artist is incurring, and find value in their unique skills as well as the personal connection you are making with the artist. Know that you are helping someone pay their rent/mortgage, feed & support their families, and survive. You will be buying something unique and special that is a reflection of the artist's soul, quality made to last much longer, and be much nicer than anything mass produced. You can rest assured that you will be in good and grateful hands. : )

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Echo Creative Club September Reveal

In my last post, I shared the beads I am using in this month's Echo Creative Club Challenge. They are gorgeous Caribbean Blue peeled paint beads from Jeannie. Here's the photo of the beads again: 

I created 2 pieces with these beads (and still have a few leftover to work into other projects!)  The first piece is a necklace that is a long, beaded chain with a filigree focal that I used to drop one of these larger beads. I used turquoise and gold Swarovski crystal pearls to keep the colors uniform.

The next piece is a pair of earrings. I plan on doing a pair just like these with bronze findings to match the necklace, but originally I did them with 14K gold filled findings as shown here. They have Czech gold glass metallic pearls and crystal golden shadow Swarovski crystals.
Pardon my crappy lighting - hard to get decent pics inside my house and I haven't been able to get any recently outside due to a hectic day schedule.  

I hope you enjoy the beads and the jewelry. If you want to check out Jeannie's amazing jewelry, visit her store by clicking HERE

Be sure to check out Kristin's and Jeannie's blog post reveals as well by clicking on their names below.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Echo Creative Club September Beads

I am honored to participate for the last time in the Echo Creative Club. It has been a blast getting to use Jeannie's fabulous beads in my projects and share with you all. This month, I had some beautiful round peeled paint beads in a Caribbean blue and gold/copper color.  You can purchase some of her beads for yourself HERE. Make sure to check out her other beads, pendants, and jewelry!

Stay tuned for my reveal tomorrow, Wednesday the 25th of September to see what I created with her beads!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

ECHO Creative Club Reveal

I was so excited to once again participate in the Echo Creative club. Thank You to Jeannie who organizes it all and mails us her fabulous beads and pendants to work with on her own dime.  How lucky are we?!  My last post was a preview of the bead that Jeannie K Dukic sent me for this month's ECHO Creative Club Design Challenge. If you missed that post, here is the bead she sent me.

It is a pretty green gin blossom pendant. She has a ton of other ones in all sorts of colors, but my favorite of her new ones are the patina'd versions. Check them out by looking at her SHOP.

So I decided on using Leather Cord with this one. I'm kind of on a leather kick right now, and it felt more organic than chain, which I just wasn't feeling with this one. I boldly opted for a dark emerald green color, and green beads...yeah I went there. Consider me Irish. Here is what I ended up with:

I know its really green...if I redid it I'd probably try a bronze shade leather instead, but that's ok, its a perfect necklace for St. Patrick's day and any day for someone like my sister, who is a true redhead and wears green a lot. Maybe this will end up being a future gift for her. : )   
Thanks for checking out my piece and be sure to visit the other participants:

Friday, June 21, 2013

Echo Creative Club Design in Process

Once again I am a lucky participant in the Echo Creative Club, where I get to take a handmade set of beads or pendant made by the awesome Jeannie K Dukic and create something with it. This month I am using this cool green Gin Blossom pendant. You can get one for yourself HERE.

I think I'm going to use some of the new leather cord I just got with this piece. The reveal is on June 25th, so check back to see what I design with it!
- Jessica

Monday, April 29, 2013

Mmm That's Some Tasty Soup!

So it may have taken a little longer than expected to get ready for my big 3 day show, and as a result I completely forgot to schedule the Bead Soup reveal in advance and am a day and a half late. My apologies to everyone! So my awesome partner, Cassie Donlen sent me her awesome handmade beads, bead headpins, and enameled pendant (not to mention all the other beads, findings, and cool chain) I was over the moon excited!  Here is what she sent me again:

I ended up making a few different things using what she sent combined with a few of my beads, and I still have lots of beads left over! I immediately knew I wanted to make a bracelet with the larger beads and the focal b/c I love a good toggle clasp on a bracelet! I used the large beads, the small spacer beads she made, and a few of my own beads.

Next I used the long silk in a moon face necklace of mine. The colors of the bermuda blue crystals went great with the deep turquoise color of the silk, and it was just what this long necklace needed to complete its dreamy feel.

Lastly, I used the funky, large silver chain in a fun charm bracelet. I used a different, multi-color blue/turquoise silk, along with a few of her beaded headpins. I added random beads and fun sea charms. I'm calling this one "Sea Spray." There are a few copper pins thrown in the mix...fitting since Sea Spray could cause certain metals to rust, as I learned the last time I was at the beach! 

I hope you've enjoyed my soup, I had a lot of fun cooking it up. Please visit the other participants by going to the main list page HERE Definitely visit Cassie by the link at the top if you haven't already, the necklace she made is awesome!