How To get In Touch with Allcraft Tools

Hello Studio Jewelers–

In my last post, my  promise to you was to answer your questions and help you in any way I can.  Believe it or not, my most requested question is not about techniques, soldering, or stones.  It’s how to find Allcraft Tools. It seems that every time I recommend  my favorite tool supplier,  I am besieged with questions of how to get in touch with them. Some of you think Allcraft is very hard to find any info on.  In fact, one reader even thinks I made them up and they don’t exist.  Believe me, they are very real.

Allcraft Tools is owned by Tevel and Sarah. They are two of the nicest people in the business that you will ever meet. Sarah usually answers the phone and runs the finance part of the business.  Tevel answers your jewelry equipment questions and takes the orders.  Their associate, Sue, pulls and ships the orders, and is very knowledgeable about what they have in stock.  That’s the entire company–one of the largest suppliers in the US–and 3 people run it!  Pretty self-sufficent.  When you call Allcraft, you are speaking with the owners, not an order-taker or someone in customer service.  You get personal service from the owner of the company.  That’s pretty impressive.   Tevel is honest and will ask questions about your choice,  and may give you other options you didn’t know about.  He will tell you, to the best of his knowledge, exactly what tool you need for whatever it is you need to do. and if he does offer an option,  it may be less expensive than one you originally thought you wanted.  With the price of jewelry-making tools, that’s unusual to hear, and very welcome advice.  But enough of a sales pitch for Tevel.  You will learn that on your own. Here’s the info you want.

Allcraft Tools is located at 135 W. 29th Street, New York, New York , 10001 if you choose to visit the store.  This is not a wander around the store and look at everything he has (because I sometimes wonder if he knows everything he has!) It’s basically on the 2nd floor, you can walk up or take the “picturesque” elevator, and it’s easy to find on the 2nd floor.  Go to the counter, and see all the boxes stacked floor to ceiling, and you tell him what you want  He can go right to it—usually. (grin)

If you prefer mail order, the phone number is 1-212-279-7077 OR 1-800-645-7124.  This is NOT the biggest secret in the jewelry world, but I get at least one email a day asking how to get in touch with them.   They are working on a web page, and they do not have a catalogue listing everything they have.  Allcraft has been known for their hammers and anvils for several decades, but they have so much more than that.  During the year I will be writing about some of my favorite tools that I purchase from Allcraft.   These tools will make your jewelry making much easier and more fun, and besides, I’m very much a tool person. I usually know of the newest on the market. I’ll share that with you, too.  So if you don’t know exactly what it is you want, but you know I have recommended it, just tell Tevel you want “what Lexi uses”.  I’m sure he hears that several times a week.

So I hope that if you have not tried Allcraft Tools, please do.  I know that you will find what you need, and if they don’t have it, they will lead you to who does. Just remember to tell them “Lexi sent me.”

Have fun with your new tools,

Hugs to you all,

Lexi

Lexi

A New Year with New Goals and Ideas

Welcome 2013!

Ok.  I’m a bit late in welcoming the New Year, but I have been very busy giving a workshop during the 2nd week of the month and then spending a number of days rearranging my studio for better traffic flow.  So far this year I’m teaching in Canada, at my home studio, and will be teaching at the Santa Fe Beadfest. I always enjoy a trip to Santa Fe, and this year will be especially great as two good friends from my Pennsylvania Society of Goldsmiths days will come for a visit.

Last year was especially wonderful, with every week filled with workshops or teaching or traveling.  It was great, but exhausting.  The  year ended with 3 packed workshops at Beadfest Texas and the filming of my next DVD, “Artisan Bails”, which will be a much less calorie filled Valentine’s present  from your loved ones than a big box of chocolates.  So order soon to avoid the rush of first day orders!  (Shamless promotion here!)

Also, on a sad note, the Beadfest Texas is no more.  I know there will be much gnashing of teeth, but the choice was not mine, and I have already heard from many students who are heart broken.  I am, too, because I loved the drive back home every year.  I will miss all my Texas students–a lot!  Let’s try to keep in touch and no telling what will happen–maybe a Texas reunion someplace.

So I will try to make it up to some of you by posting more often.  Last year’s schedule just prohibited me taking the time to write posts, so my promise to you is to keep you updated on jewelry trends and tips on jewelry making.  Nothing fancy, I’ll continue to write just as I talk, so I will be sitting right alongside of you, helping you though any technique you wish.   But let me know what you want.  If I don’t hear from you then you may just get boring stories of life with 3 cats.

As this issue’s tip, I want to share how I design.  There is a bit of info coming out in the April issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist with my ammonite earring design.  I show a bit in the Artisan Bails DVD, too, but I don’t have time in either place to fully explain it.

It basically works like this:  You draw a design in your sketch book, and use tracing paper to alter the design.   Lay the paper on top of the design, and redraw with the addition of an element, say a small spiral.  Now fold the tracing paper over that drawing and redraw, maybe making the spiral a bit larger.  Keep doing this, changing the design each time, until you are happy with an idea.  Then redraw this in your sketchbook, adding all the details such as stone color, textures, noting different metals, etc.  I have found that when I am really stumped, this helps. What is more important, if I am working with a stone I find the process easier to draw around the stone and just play with ideas.  Yes, I do have days when something just won’t work out…and I do have days when I write in my sketchbook, “These all look horrible.”  Its ok.  We all have days like that, but just don’t give up.  Change stones.  Look at your old idea book.  Look to nature (She’s my greatest inspiration.)

We will discuss this more later in the year. I just want you to get started.  I have so many goals this year, and one is to help you in any way I can.  I’ll share ideas and tips with you as we travel though 2013 together.  I also want to share some of the many questions I receive from my readers and DVD watchers.  If you have special questions, please send them to me at lexi.erickson@mac.com.  I’ll answer them to the best of my ability and quickly. There will be some surprises which I hope you will like too.  I just want to get back in touch.

Hugs,

Lexi

Oh NO! Someone’s Copied My Work!!!

I remember my first cover for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist.  I wish I could say I was thrilled.  I was horrified.  I always imagined my first cover would be beautiful, elegant  and colorful.  I would be so proud of it.. Well…not even close.  It came from the step by step  in that issue, and later I found a number of people really liked those earrings and attempted making them.  Now I laugh and accept the cover…sometimes. They were simple cones, and I certainly don’t have a copyright on a cone.  Since then, Todd Reed has riffed on a cone design, and so has Phil Porrier.  But I have no reason to be angry, a cone is a cone, and I get to tease Todd about how his look like mine (OH, how I wish!)  But there are only so many things you can do with a cone when you are teaching beginning jewelers, and the magazine asked for a beginning project.  Since then I hope I have redeemed myself with other more graceful and complicated projects.

But as a teacher, my students sometimes cry  “Someone copied my work!”  Well, I write step-by-step projects for  Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, the 65-year old leading art jewelry teaching magazine, so don’t expect any sympathy from me.  I struggle over designs just as hard as you, and then put them out there for them to be made world wide.  Without you knowing it, if you post all your work on the  www, you will be copied, too.

Not only do people copy my step-by-steps,  but  also what I put out in the Contributor’s Page, which is not taught in the magazine.  Some people even send me the photos of what they have made when they were  inspired by my work.  Some look like my pieces,  some are way off base but they tried.  They are learning, and they liked my piece enough to try an copy it.  I am sincerely flattered.

I know one teacher who teaches the technique project, and then get upsets if the student makes something that looks like it.  That’s not nice.  If you teach, your student ‘s work may emulate your work.  That’s just part of the game.  They will soon find their wings and their own style.  Be happy that you were part of the process. But what about those of  you who are not teaching?  Your work gets copied, and suddenly something appears in a store or gallery, or just a photo shared online, and it looks like yours?  Does that upset you?   Now, think about why.  Is it because the other person’s may sell, and yours may not?  Believe me, everything will sell if you find the right niche.  Is it because you were so brilliant that nothing like this has ever been done before?  Well, maybe, I have seen several artists whom I consider brilliant, but in the history of the world, there MAY have been something that looks similar.    What can you do about it?

Oh, you have a copyright?  Ok, your copyright is only as good as the money you have to defend it.  Don’t worry.  A lawyer will get most of the money, anyway.

One day at the Peter’s Valley Craft Show in Layton, N.J., I was horrified to find “my” piece in the collection being shown and sold by a very  well-known artist..  I had just designed and made this same design, and though the stones were different, the design was exact.  EXACT.  Size and everything.   I hadn’t seen his piece, and I’m pretty sure he hadn’t seen mine.  So I approached the artist, and told him I had just designed one just like it, I hope he wasn’t offended.  He laughed, and said “Well, then I think you are a pretty good designer.  I just finished this piece, and there’s only a few things to do with that shape stone. I hope yours sells, too.”  What a gracious professional.

In my  my first semester of college jewelry I did try  to copy a piece of Jeff Wise’s work.  His stuff is gorgeous, and there was no way I could copy anything of his, even now!   I finally confessed my dastardly sin to  him last summer.  He laughed and said “I hope it worked out for you.  I did the same thing when I was learning.  I’m flattered you liked my work enough to try.”  Again, a very gracious professional.  And my piece never looked even close to his.

As Harold O’Connor once told me.  “Congratulations!  Your piece is in a book.  Now there will be a thousand copies out there.”  Maybe, if others liked it. Maybe not. It doesn’t matter.  I made it because of what it meant to me, and if someone copies it, they won’t get that same feeling.  So I tell my students, “You don’t want your work copied?” Then make  it, put it in a zip lock bag,  put it in a drawer and never, ever let anyone else see it.  They laugh and say “Yea, right.” Truthfully, that is the only way your piece may never be copied or inspire anyone else.  Personally, I think that is sad.

So everyone, just relax.  Will some one copy you exactly?  Heck, I can’t even copy my OWN work.  But if someone does,  think highly of yourself, you have inspired someone.  Be proud of that.  Someone thought enough of your work to imitate it.  Now if they sign your name to it, that’s a different story. But with the internet, and you put your work out there, it may be imitated or copied if the design is good.  But also think back,what inspired you?  Maybe somewhere in the back recesses of your mind you saw something similar to it.   You changed the bail or added a longer stone.  To truly make someone’s inspiration your own, change it 25%,  then change it another 25%.  Then it becomes your own.  Just try it, because its easier than you think.  My idea book is full of pictures by other artist that I pasted in and love to look at for inspiration.  But that’s what it is–inspiration.  Please don’t  copy designs from a fellow artists sketchbooks, that just not nice, but to use something as inspiration and to change it and make it your own, then you can call yourself an artist.  And work on being a gracious professional.

That being said, I still find the greatest inspiration is nature, and not someone else’s work.  But I still LOOOOVVE looking at other’s jewelry.

Now I have to go call Todd and hassle him again about using “my  cone” earrings.

Have a great time designing  and exploring jewelry–

Lexi

The Zen of the Process

As I go around the country teaching jewelry making workshops, the students are astounded when I push certain techniques like hand filing and burnishing.  To my full time students at Baum School of Art in Pennsylvania, and at the different colleges I have taught, it’s just part of a natural process.  In fact, in Pennsylvania, it was joked that if you took my classes, you would learn to make Amish jewelry….that is, I use no electricity, and expected my students to do the same thing.  Yes, it has paid off, like the night that I had my pieces due for a gallery show the next morning, and one of those severe Pennsylvania thunderstorms struck, and I was without any electricity all night   So I finished the pieces with hand sanding and by the light of 4 candles and my cell phone!  They looked just fine.

While teaching a week-end workshop a few months ago, a student from the third semester class left the room, and I asked where she was going.  She said  innocently, “Over to the belt  sander to  sand my piece.”  “Oh NO NO NO!” , was my horrified expression as I handed her an #0 Grobet.  “Here. Learn the old fashioned way.” She grumbled a bit, and sat back down at her bench,  tried to sweetly glare at me, and a few moments later  was learning to work a file.  I was shocked that she had ALWAYS just put her work on the belt sander, and had never really held a file, much less a #6  finishing file (Oh be still my heart–such a delight to hold and fondle–such a magnificent little file!  But I digress.) But, 15 minutes later she said she was really enjoying putting her “spirit”  into the piece.  And she was humming and smiling.

Last week, Kathleen Krucoff, my sister, student and best friend, wrote a post on her Talking Tools blog about files.  While she was really writing about files, if you read between the lines, what she was really blogging about was The Joy of Filing, kind of like “The Joy of Cooking” and that other more infamous “Joy of”  book.  (blush). But anyway, as my student,  she has learned to sit at her bench and simply file.  We recently participated in the Boettcher Mansion Arts & Crafts festival, which celebrates the joy of the Art & Crafts period.  Yes, there was electricity back then, and even a treadle buffing wheel or two around.  But part of the the Arts and Crafts philosophy was the rejection of the industrialization of goods,  furniture, pottery, jewelry, etc.  and the lack of fine craftsmanship as everything was made by a machine.    However,  the joy that came to Kathleen as she sat there and simply filed one of her elegant  pieces was a thing of beauty.  She smiled, no, she beamed, as she looked at her handiwork, and I know her blood pressure dropped.

So as I think about it, yes, as I get ready for 3 large upcoming shows,  I do find myself panicking and wanting to whip out 5 pieces this afternoon.  But life is full of compromises.  I don’t make my living through doing shows, so I admit I’m a bit spoiled. But I do have a hectic teaching schedule, so  I only make about 150 pieces a year.  While I’m not saying this will work for you, give it a try some afternoon when you are not so rushed.  Cut your pieces out by hand, and go from a #0 file  to a #2, then a #4 and finally, if you have one, a #6 ( pattter-patter-patter goes my heart again).  And then hand sand, (YES!)  using the 3M finishing film, no buffing wheel or flex shaft.  AND THEN…..use a burnisher and hand burnish your edges.  (horrors!  No one uses a hand burnisher any more, do they?!)  Hey, I even have a set of Thrumming strings…. I’m really antiquated!  But by doing this, and when I hand my piece to someone at a show, they usually say  “WoW!  This piece feels powerful” , or  “This has a great feeling to it.” It makes me smile.

So what I’m saying is, enjoy the “Zen of the Process”.  Maybe you already do this, but if not, try it.  It’s not for everyone, but give it a try.  My mentor and good friend Harold O’Connor says “If you don’t enjoy the process of making jewelry, why are you doing it?”  He has given me so much good advice over the years.  My “Conversations With Harold” series is dedicated to him and  his years of sage wisdom.

And  if you are in a dry spell right now, with no new ideas coming to you, don’t dispair.  Know that as you were full of creativity  and ideas 2 months ago, now you will need to plant new seeds to germinate for your new ideas.  Its a simple yin/yang thing… involution and evolution …yin…spiraling inward to darkness,the esoteric, the involution,  and contemplative self examination,  growth. Then, sometimes, and even without warning,  here comes the yang, the evolution, as you spiral outward,  and you create and manifest your new project. It’s something I believe in strongly, partially because I grew up in the American Southwest. The people of Taos Pueblo celebrate “The Quiet Time,” as Mother Earth sleeps and prepares for Spring,  when her greatness bursts forth in all it’s glory.  But it’s a natural process, and its all around us with Mother Nature, with the dark seasons and the light seasons, the dark of night and the brightness of day.  So enjoy the entire Zen of the Process….the involution and evolution, the contemplating and the creating. And know that when your evolution comes, the sun will shine brighter than ever before.   Enjoy the blessed Zen of the Process.  End of lecture.

Crying may endure for the night, but joy commeth in the morning.  Psalms 30:5

Love and peace to you all–

Lexi

The Price of Silver

As I starting writing this, today’s price of silver was at $39.33.  It’s gone up 24 cents since I started writing this post.   (I used to have an app that beeped my cell phone every time the price of silver/gold changed.  Well, I quickly got rid of that annoying little pest!)

Silver is quickly headed toward the $40.00 mark. It’s up about 3 dollars from my last silver purchase, about a month ago. Adjusting for inflation, the price has never been this high.  Back between 1973-1979, the Hunt Brothers of Dallas, Texas, (yep, Hunt’s ketchup and tomato sauce–the same Hunts), along with some wealthy Arabian friends,  tried corner the market on silver.  They amassed over 200 million ounces of silver, which was basically half the world’s supply at that time.  Silver had been at $1.95 in ’73, and by the time the Hunts got through with their little shenanigans, around 1979-80, it was peaking around $53 dollars an ounce!  Well, the Federal Reserve got involved and halted the buying.  In one day, March 27th, 1980, the price dropped from $21.62 to $10.80! Countless speculators lost millions, and the Hunt brothers were convicted of conspiring to manipulate the market. When I got into making jewelry back in the 80’s, the price had dropped even more.

We will probably never return to 1973 prices, and if we do, that means the US and global markets are in a severe crisis. The stock market and  global situations continue to control the silver, gold and other precious metals prices much more than the Hunt brothers were able to manipulate. Here in the US, there are more people buying into gold and silver as inflation protection.   This speculation has a great deal to do with pricing, but also the worlds population is growing, and with the astounding price of gold, more people are buying silver and  hoarding it. Even when we think of gold, in the US, we use and wear a lot of 14k gold.  In other parts of the world, in societies where people wear their wealth, their jewelry is 18, 22 and in some cases, even 24k gold.  They consider 14k to be “junk” gold.  So that, along with foreign governments hoarding precious metals as inflation and civil unrest grows, creates more demand and more price increases.  Also, gold and silver are used in many industrial uses, in automobiles, in medical equipment, in so many other aspects. Gold and silver are  historically linked in prices, but in the past year or so, silver prices have risen at a  higher percentage rate than gold.

All this has greatly hurt jewelers, especially the little guy who is not a major buyer of precious metals.  When we buy 2 or 3 6×6 sheets of 20 gauge, while it sets us back quite a bit, that doesn’t constitute much of a purchase in the whole scheme of things.

Several students have asked why the jewelry supply stores charge so much more than the “spot” market price of silver.  “If I buy two ounces of wire, how come I’m charged $100.00 if the spot market is $37.00.  I should only pay $77.00”, they complain.

Well, the mill (the refiner) must buy  a set amount of raw material–say 5000 ounces of unmilled silver, or other metal.  I’m not sure of the exact amount you have to buy, but at one time it was 5000 ounces. Then that silver must be refined. Copper must be added to silver in the correct percentage, thus making sterling silver.   (925% silver and 75% copper) Then the sterling silver is melted and milled into sheet, wire, tubing or whatever that particular mill makes.  The cheapest way to buy sterling is in casting grain form, but if you want plate or a “milled product”, you are paying for that.  That is called a “mill charge” and it varies from mill to mill. Sheet is one form of a milled product, and if the mill must make wire, that’s one more process, and they charge for that. You want decorative wire, that’s another thing the mill must do to the wire, so they charge a bit more for that.  Oh!  Tubing?  They really charge for that!

Then they ship it to the jewelry supply store.  Well, you can imagine, shipping metals is heavy, and UPS doesn’t do that for free, so there’s an additional charge. Finally your supplier must make a profit, so that’s tacked on.   Jewelry stores do not buy silver and mark it up 100%, or even 50% and sell it.  They make very little profit on metals. Most stores carry metals as a convenience to their customers who come there to buy tools and supplies. (I remember in my innocence as a beginning jeweler, coming from a family who had owned retail shops and galleries, I thought that if I had a tax number, I could buy my silver and tools “wholesale”, 50% off the marked price.  I blush now, thinking about that!)

So if you think the price of silver is high, feel free to go out, find and buy your own raw silver, remove all the dirt, rocks, bugs, roots, etc.  Then melt it, add the copper, and roll it into a sheet.  And let me know how that’s workin’ for you.  You will learn that you just have to bite the bullet and pay the price.

Supply stores are now in a tenuous position.  With the uncertain pricing of metals, what they buy today may be worth more tomorrow, or it may drop and they lose money.  Some supply stores are cutting back on ordering silver from the mill, and you really can’t blame them. What would you do? We think twice now about going to buy $200.00 worth.  What if you had to order $5,000.00+ worth so your customers would have what they need?  So cut the supply houses some slack and don’t growl too much, its not their fault.

Where will this end?  I don’t know.  No one knows.  It’s all just a guess. I love making silver jewelry, so I will continue as long as I can, and I love copper, too, and am making more copper and brass (bronze?) jewelry.  But copper is going up in price, too.   I refuse to make paper jewelry.  It’s a bear to solder!

For more info and to keep tab of the daily changes on all precious metals, go to kitco.com and you can download that annoying little beep for free, or you can just check it several times a day yourself.

Frustratingly yours,

Lexi

What is Pickle?

There has been a lot of panicky talk going around in various circles about “Pickle”.  Lately, on some of the forums,  there has been some very scary and potentially dangerous information given out. I will try to clarify some of the questions which have been sent to me about these statements and also about my ongoing series on soldering which appears in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist.

Back in the middle ages, the most widely used solution for removing copper oxides from metal was alum.  This is also what cucumbers are soaking in to make “pickles” like we eat.  It was probably some medieval jeweler, who, as a joke, called the alum solution for removing copper oxides “pickle”, and the joke is still around hundreds of years later.

Later on,  a sulphuric acid /water solution was found to work better.   Unfortunately, not everyone knew how to appropriately use /mix the solution, and there were undoubtably some severe burns and numerous other unfortunate accidents which occurred.  For us modern day jewelers, there are several brand name products which are much safer and produce pretty good to excellent results.  They are a buffered solution of  sulphuric acid.  In chemspeak,  it is NaHSO4, commonly called sodium bisulfate.  This won’t eat your skin off if  accidentally splashed on you, but it will make holes in your clothing which will show up when your clothes are washed. To confuse the issue, sodium bisulfate is also used in food production in soft drinks and salad dressings and in preserving meat. However, more confusion comes when jewelers say they use a dry form of “sulphuric acid” as a pickle. This causes undue panic among some people who don’t understand exactly what sodium bisulfate is.

Some of the safer and more earth friendly pickles are sour salts, used in Eastern European cooking and available from gourmet stores.  You can also use citric acid, or lemon juice with vinegar.  Yes, vinegar is a mild acid.  These tend to take a lot longer to work.  Today we have several dry, granular commercial pickles available, such as RioPickle, available from RioGrande, or one called Citrex which is citric pickle, or Sparex #2.   (Opinion: I don’t like Sparex #2 because of the nasty skin which appears on the water, and it’s hard to see into the pickle pot with the brownish solution.)  I use PHDown, which is available at your local pool supply store and is used to regulate the PH balance  of water in swimming pools and hot tubs.  It’s much cheaper, almost half the price of jewelry store pickle,  and is the same exact thing,  (sodium bisulfate)  as your higher priced commercial pickles.  It will last a long time when stored as dry  granules.  In fact, many jewelry supply stores just sell pickle in white plastic containers with a generic “Pickle”  label, and it’s just PhDown that they buy in a 5 (or more) gallon size and put it in their own containers.

Mixing pickle isn’t exactly rocket science.   In a small crock pot, (I like the 1.5 quart size available at big box stores)  put 4 cups of water, and about 3/4 cup of dry pickle. It doesn’t have to be exact. Always add the pickle to the water.  Mix with copper tongs, and let it sit on the “Low” setting until the  crystals dissolve. Pickle works best when it is warm, but not boiling.  As your pickle gets used, it will turn a beautiful blue green color.  (Think of the verdigris color of outside copper faucets….its about the same color) That means that the pickle is working.   It does not mean it is instantly disintegrating  your silver, nor copper plating your pieces.  (Both of these  statements have been put out on recent forums.)  Your pickle will still work as it turns blue/green.  I change my pickle when it gets too dark to see my jewelry laying on the bottom of the pot.  Sometimes its been 6 months or more between changes.  It still works.  There are some instances which call for new pickle, but for general soldering clean-up, blueish/green pickle works just fine.

Have you ever heard jewelers speak of “superpickle?”  Superpickle is  regular pickle to which you add 1 cup of hydrogen peroxide, H2O2.  It works best with a batch of new pickle.   This will boost the cleaning properties of the sodium bisulfate for about an hour, and then the H2O2 will give up its oxygen atom and become H2O. In no way does it harm your pickle. Continue using the same solution as usual.  You may want superpickle to extra clean sterling before you keum boo, or if you get a copper oxide  (a copper “blush”) on brass due to overheating.

If you accidentally leave your piece in the pickle for a long time, like overnight, it will usually be OK.  Leaving it in for a month or so is not a good thing, and you may find pitted solder joints or pits in your silver.  (If you put silver in nitric acid for a month or so until it dissolves, you will have silver nitrate, which will turn your skin blue, but makes a great pottery glaze!) Always place your pieces into the pickle after quenching in water first, with copper tongs, and retrieve them with copper tongs.  That’s another long chemistry lesson, so just trust me on this one.  You may also use plastic or bamboo tongs.

If you accidently leave your pickle pot on for a long time, all the water will evaporate.  Blue/green crystals appear on the inside of the pot,.   I just start over with new pickle.  The crystalized pickle stuff gets yucky if you just add water.  If  your pickle has evaporated, but still has water and no crystallization has occured,  just add more water.  It’s fine to do that.  To dispose of my pickle, I merely add  4 cups of tap water and water my rose bushes with it.  My acid loving plants love it. It’s like a fertilizer for them.  You can also neutralize it with 1/2 cup of baking soda and pour it down your drain or toilet.

Does this help?  Please email me or reply with any questions.  Don’t panic that pickle is ACID!  There’s been enough panic about this going around recently. Acids are all around us and we use them daily.  Just use some common sense.

The Most Amazing Workshop

It’s already Summer Solstice.  It’s amazing how quickly time passes.  I was afraid when I “retired” from my archaeology days, and decided to do jewelry full time, that I would sit around with time on my hands and just stare at my bench pin.  Well, not exactly.  My days are packed with discussions with my friends about techniques, stones, and preparing for art shows.  I don’t have time to do anything else, (and have been so tardy about updating my blog)  and though it gets frantic at times, I’m extremely grateful to be able to pursue my passion.  I think my life is very blessed.

This past week end, I took one of the most amazing workshops I’ve ever taken, in fact, my  first workshop in 3 years.  I took this eagerly awaited workshop because I have long been a fan of master metalsmith, David Huang.  He makes those fabulous  chased and repoussed vessels, with those “out of this world” patinas.  Then they are  lined in gold.  They positively glow from within.  I first saw them several years ago in Metalsmith magazine,  and have longed to see one in person.  His pieces are truly the kind of art that you just stare at with your mouth open and say “How does he do that?” I knew two days of chasing and repousse would tax my dyslexia, not to mention my shoulder, but I really wanted to know how he got those fabulous patinas.

David Huang making patinas

I must be doing something right because  The Denver School of Metal Arts, where I also teach, hosted the first ever  patina workshop that (gasp!) the real David Huang presented. I had met David last year at the Colorado Metalsmith Assoc Salida Conference , which takes place in mid-July each year.  David and I were sitting close together in one of the presentations, and (embarrassingly)  I just had to  gush.  I mean, he’s truly an unbelieveable artist.   He was so gracious, (not to mention, very good looking, too),  much too young to be such a master metalsmith, and one of the nicest guys in the field.  But I digress.

The first few minutes of any workshop are rather awkward, with people not knowing each other, or the instructor.  David put us at ease immediately with his self-deprecating humor, and talking about his work.  He’s very humble and allowed all questions.  As he started to talk about the chemicals I tried to remember chemistry class of….hmmmm, say  “several”  years ago, but he speaks like a real person, not “chemical engineer speak”. Also,  I was expecting a massive Bible of technical recipes as hand-outs, kind of like that patina book that I own, which I either (a) can’t afford or (b) can’t pronounce the ingredients, but no.  We started out with basic ingredients that all of us had already had heard of, and, I was fairly sure, would not accelerate the growth of a 2nd head.  David fired up the torch, applied the patina, and we all stood around and “oohed” and “ahhed”  as the metal turned a juicy turquoisey-greenish blue.  But the master of any technique can make it look simple, right?

Then was our “hands on” time.  I cut my metal, got my little jar of chemicals and was at last “one with the torch”.  I eagerly fired up the torch to  a soft annealing flame,  heated the metal, reached for a paint brush and cautiously applied the chemical and waited.  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing  No color. Nada. Zilch.  David looked over my shoulder and said “More heat”.  “More?”  He reached over and cranked up the heat.  I applied more chemical.  There was a tiny bit of green, but only if you looked at it under a 4000X power microscope.  “More stuff”,  I heard, as the master was standing right there.  So I slathered the “stuff ” on, and there it was, just baby steps, but there was a green.  It didn’t look like his, but there it was.  So I stood there adding more “stuff”  and more heat.  Suddenly, there appeared this luscious turquoisey-green. “Oh Wow!”  escaped from my lips, and I gazed upon my first tile as if it were my first newborn child. Around the room my classmates experienced their own color-induced euphorias.

Patina Samples

Soon we were all comparing our sample tiles, and eagerly reaching for another.  David showed us more patinas, we practiced and experimented,  and suddenly someone announced it was lunch time.  No way!   I had about 7 tiles with different patinas….a rich green, an olive green, a forest-y looking green, and a deeply polished leather brown, something that looked like my old saddle for my childhood horse.  That quickly became my favorite patina. Not one “failure”.  By now we were all friends, sharing patinas and how we did this or that,  “oohing and ahhing” over each others test tiles.  All too soon the day was over. I had 13 fabulous tiles.

That night I was exhausted and fell asleep in my chair at 9:30. I was eager to get to back up to the school the next day and buy more metal at The Naja, and some little copper bowls, too.  I wanted to get there early to look at the vessels he brought, and actually get to touch one.   That day David showed us a deep velvety black patina, so much richer and deeper than Liver of Sulfur.  As he encouraged experimenting, he was just as excited and surprised as we were with some unexpected results.  He was very honest if we asked about putting this chemical with that, and he’d say “I never tried that. Go for it.” How refreshing.  David is a very giving teacher.  He shared every secret, every possibility and even talked of chemicals he wished to try in the future.  I also try to teach that way and really appreciate when someone who I consider a true master is so giving.  My philosophy is “Why make students re-invent the wheel?” My last patina was  a real surprise….a rich, elegant pinky-red-salmon, and a pattern that could be an O’Keeffe painting.  On the back of the tile, by happy accident, were colors that looked something like a Rothko painting with rich purples. That I will just put on a mini-easel and just look at.

It had been one of the most wonderful workshops I’d ever attended.  I’d like to thank Darlene Armstrong and Travis Ogden and everyone at The Naja and Denver School of Metal Arts for bringing in an artist of David Huang’s caliber. Though my styles of jewelry will not change,  you will be seeing a lot more color.  “Knock your socks off” color.  Thank you, everyone, and a very special Thank You to David for sharing.

The Vessel

As we packed up, I was able to purchase the vessel which I loved with all my heart.  It fit perfectly as I cupped it in my two hands.  Have you ever wanted something so much that when you got it, the only thing you could do was stand there and grin at it?  Well, that was my  feeling as I chose and packed my beloved new treasure.  I have looked at this piece, dreamed of it, and longed for it for at least 3+ years.  It’s that magnificent turquoisey green that I love, and the gold interior just glows. It smiles back at me.   David graciously let each of us pick out and have some of his tiles, and I’m honored to have my favorite 4.   Those, and my test tiles are all on the dining room table, with my gorgeous vessel.  I just go down and stare at them and grin. Yes, my life is very blessed.

Galleries vs Festivals and our Future

I’ve been doing a lot of really Deep Thinking.

Galleries vs. Shows is a big question in my mind right now.  Do I REALLY want to be in more galleries?  The galleries do all the work, display my work, maybe advertise it, and they are taking all the risks. They have a lot invested in me and a number of other artists.  For that I get 50%, or in the case of my most recent check, 30% because the buyer bought “more than one piece.”  I was not contacted on this, and I took the entire “hit”.    (RANT ALERT!  It was an out of state gallery.  They no longer represent me, as of 30 minutes after the arrival of my check.   So I didn’t even cover the cost of my supplies in this one.  I guess you win some and you lose some.  After checking my contract, discounts were addressed, “with the permission of the artist”, which they never got my permission on this.   I understand they have all the bills, but it didn’t seem fair, whereas most galleries are very fair.)  There are some galleries who are really feeling the pinch, and just scraping by, and doing what they have to do to keep the doors open for all of us.  I understand and appreciate that.   The economy has played a huge part in the art jewelry market, and I’m sad that my friends with galleries are hurting.  But it seems like the check is never really what I am expecting.  Sure, it’s an ego thing that lasts for a few minutes when I get asked into some well known gallery, but in this case, that feeling didn’t replace the price of my materials.

On the other hand:  I apply to a show,  have photos made, (they aren’t cheap) pay the jury fee, ($25-50.00),  pay the fee to be in the show, ($300-700.00), buy a tent,  (not the $199.00 one that won’t stand up to the Colorado winds, but the EZ Up Express II, the $359.99.00 one with the sides and a roller bag,   http://www.EZUpdirect.com),  spend $200.00 for  mammoth sized weights to keep my “stuff” from blowing away,  buy display materials  (the shows are getting so uppity that the jewelery booths are looking like some portable mall store and you look like one of the Beverly Hillbillies if you don’t have all the glitz, halogon lights, pro panels etc), have postcards and business cards made, travel to the show, and either get a motel room or buy a 5th wheel ($48,000.00, or $85,000.00 if you have to buy the big truck, too!)  set up, stand there in the heat, cold, rain, snow, wind, dust (pick one) and smile while I’m dying to take a break, put up with hoards of people in your booth, or stand there wondering why no one is stopping, then take down everything when I’m dog-tired,  (sometimes in the aforementioned rain, snow, wind, etc), lug the mammoth weights, tent, and pricy display cases to the car,  repack, drive home, and I get 100% of the money.

It seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it?  Galleries win hands down.  Still, all that said, I do get really excited when I get into a dynamo show.

I like doing shows for the first 6 hours.  I don’t like having no customer contact through the gallery.  It’s a real toss-up.  Sometimes I really miss the old days of the hippie art festivals, the Rhinebeck Craft Shows of the 1970s, everyone  in tie-dyed t-shirts and their treasures spread out on a wobbly card table for the world to see.  Not that I was into jewelry or art at that time… I was off digging square holes somewhere in the world then.  But  it’s my idealized version, a nostalgic look back and maybe a sanitized version,  of what really went on.

But now that back to basics really appeals to me.  Am I the only one who feels this way?  Bruce Metcalf wrote about so many of the shows looking so glitzy and so much the same. Is that true?   The big shows like the Buyers Market of American Craft  was just not a good fit for me, though they are for some of my closest friends. Wouldn’t it be fun to have a show where a bunch of friends just get together, and put on a nice art show?  I’m  thinking this indie-craft  (independent-craft)  market really has some valid points.

But what has become glaringly apparent in the last few months is how much I make my jewelry just for the pure joy of the process.  I’m at the point that I don’t do it for money, though I do feel the need to sell something to justify my rabid purchases of Gary B. and Clamshell stones. And metal.  OK, more tools, too.    If it sells, hey, that’s really great but I’m not beating myself up anymore if something doesn’t sell.   I enjoy the process. Many of my friends buy my pieces, and I am in a co-op gallery where I get a very fair per-centage of the sale price.  I like this grass-roots feeling of all this.  I am the one maker, only one person,  I own my own multi-dollar company, and I am the premier, outstanding jeweler on my block.  And I like it that way.    I don’t know if I still have that need to set the world on fire, jewelry-wise.   I am enjoying my teaching and writing so much, but I do want to share what I make with the world, just for the joy of being out there with the artists. It makes me feel creative, a part of something really cool.  If I’m successful at a show, Ok, if not, well, it wasn’t the right fit for me.   So I have mixed feelings.  All of life is a trade-off , and I dont know which way to go, thought I have some strong leanings.  Does anyone else feel these confusing feelings? I can’t be the only one who feels this.

So what do you think?.

An Interview with “Jewelry Report”

Hi Everyone–I was very honored to be interviewed by Jewelry Report. If you are interested, please read the following interview.  My friend Kathleen Krucoff said I really needed to put it on my blog, so here it is.    I was thrilled to be included in this list of  some  really outstanding artists who have been a part of this site.  I hope you enjoy it. –Lexi

How to Get a High Polish on Silver

HI Everyone–It seems like I’m always getting this question from students, so I decided to write this to answer the questions.  Please feel free to print it out for your notes or easy reference.  It’s very handy, and if you like high polish, this technique will work every time.  The most important thing to remember:  “You must put scratches in to take scratches out.”  This means you must make the piece’s finish look consistent and then start your finishing process.  Good luck. -Lexi
FINISHING TECHNIQUES
Lexi Erickson

The Lowdown on a High Polish

You have worked hard on your piece of jewelry, designing it, cutting, and filing and soldering. Now you are ready to “start finishing” your jewelry. You have a few more decisions. How should it be finished?

Give a lot of consideration to your finishing process. When deciding what texture to use on a piece, a mirror finish may not be the most appropriate. It’s beautiful, shiny and elegant. However, it is difficult to achieve and almost impossible for your client to maintain. Nevertheless, sometimes it’s the only finish that will do, so now you need to know how to achieve that sought after look. Pieces with large bold designs work best, not too much texture or detail.  To achieve a mirror finish on a piece takes lots of work, and that work starts the moment you purchase your piece of silver sheet from the supplier.

The metal will usually be stored in some type of vertical storage arrangement while at the supplier and will come to you fairly scratch free. Inspect the metal before you purchase it and make sure it’s free from major blemishes. Don’t be afraid to ask for a different piece if it’s badly scratched. At that time, have the seller seal your metal in a zip lock bag; and do not put it in the same shopping bag with tools. When you get home, if you’re not planning on using it immediately, store your silver vertically, still in a zip lock bag, in a letter holder, such as is sold at Office Max or Staples. These are great for holding all your metals according to gauge. Sometimes I stick clear contact paper on both sides of my metal to protect it from scratches. Just remember to pull the paper off before soldering.

There are 2 steps to achieving a high polish—-polishing, which is removing the highs and lows in the metals, and buffing, which is basically melting the top layer of the metal to achieve a mirror finish, actually moving the molecules of metal.

You will start your finishing process after all soldering is done. No matter how careful you have been, you will have some scratches on your metal. To take scratches out, you must put scratches in. Start by polishing the piece all over with fine sandpaper, and gradually use finer and finer sandpapers. 3M makes some dynamite finishing papers. My favorite is called Imperial Micro-finishing film. It is long lasting and can be used with water or without. This wonderful sandpaper is excellent at removing firescale also. The papers are screen-graded in microns, each grain of “sand” is uniform, thus giving a more consistent finish. If I have some deep scratches, I start with 40 micron, then move to 30, 15 and finally 9 micron. Another favorite is the 3M wet or dry Tri-M-Ite polishing papers. By using these cloth-like papers it is possible to keep fine-tuning your work to almost a mirror finish. Please remember, I love doing the final hand work, and since I’m not a production jeweler, I have the luxury of languishing over a piece for some time  I usually just finish my pieces with sandpaper, and never do the polish wheels.  But I regress.  Both sets of polishing papers are available from most jewelry supply stores.

If you wish, you can use regular sandpaper, starting with a 320, then 400 grit and finer.   Finish with an extra-fine crocus (emery) cloth. Crocus cloth can be purchased from an auto supply store and can be torn into strips for getting into tight spots.

To finish this pre-prep process, use a pumice and water paste rubbed on with your fingers and rub the piece of jewelry until the water sheets evenly on it.  Barkeeper’s Friend, found in the household cleaning section of your local grocery makes a fine pumice paste.

Now you are ready to start working on a wheel, either a larger 6″ buffing machine wheel or the flex shaft wheel. If you are working with wide flat pieces, such as a cuff bracelet, or a large flat piece, use the 6″ wheel. You do not want to create grooves in your piece, which when finished will make a wavy surface, which reflects light unevenly. If working with small pieces, your flex shaft will be the appropriate tool. Use the flex-shaft wheel that will work best with your piece of jewelry, probably a 1-inch wheel. Also, don’t forget to wear goggles and a particulate respirator. 3M makes several very good masks.

TIP: The piece may get very hot. It’s fine to have a small bowl of water close by to dip your piece in to cool it. It doesn’t have to be dried to continue polishing.

When working on the 6 inch wheel, you will use the lower front quadrant of the wheel.  On a clock face it would be the space between 6:00 to 9:00. The wheel is going approximately 50+ mph, so hold on to your pieces carefully and with both hands. Hold the piece in what is called a “break away grip”, which means do not wrap your fingers into the piece. Do not wear long necklaces, loose clothing or gloves, and tie back long hair. Do not take your eyes off the wheel or carry on conversations while working at the wheel. This potentially is one the most dangerous machines in the studio, and must be treated with caution at all times. Always wear goggles or safety glasses.

The term for loading compound on a wheel is to “charge” it. To “charge” the wheel, you hold the polishing compound lightly against the wheel. If you have a new wheel, it’s best to hold an old hacksaw blade with both hands, to the wheel first and get rid of the lint on the wheel. You only have to hold the polishing compound on the wheel a few seconds to coat the wheel. Too much compound will build up on your piece and the wheel cannot do its job.  Re-charge as needed.  Experience will tell you when.

IMPORTANT: There is no need to push your piece of jewelry hard against the wheel. It’s the speed of the wheel doing the polishing, not the pressure. Too much pressure will cause the piece to rip out of your hands. The piece can be slung with maximum force against the back of the machine or across the room. This is then called “redesign by buffing machine,” and can lead to some exciting new design possibilities, but probably not what you originally had in mind.

DO NOT mix compounds on the wheel, which means do not charge the crocus wheel with tripoli or the rouge wheel with crocus. The tripoli wheel is only for tripoli, the crocus wheel is only for crocus; the rouge wheel is only for rouge. If you go from one polishing wheel (tripoli or crocus) directly to the buffing wheel (rouge) without cleaning in between, you are contaminating the buffing wheel. You are putting a cutting compound on a buffing wheel and you will never get a scratch-free polish if that happens.

TIP: I like to put the polishing compounds on treated, colored wheels. Tripoli is always on the yellow wheel, while crocus is always on the pink wheel. Those wheels are specially treated and are a little harder, so they are better for holding the cutting compounds. The white cotton muslin buff is softer and is always for rouge. That way I never get them confused. Also, use a Sharpie to mark the sides of the wheels with the type of compound if you don’t use colored wheels.

It will be fine to use the different metals on the same wheel. You can polish silver, copper, bronze, brass and gold with the same wheel if using the same compound. If you are using platinum or white gold, you will need to use a different set of wheels just for those metals.

Polish in different directions. Do not keep the piece of jewelry in one position. Turn it constantly, and don’t forget to polish the edges and back. For good craftsmanship, the back of the piece should look as nice as the front.

Polish first with tripoli.  Tripoli is a cutting compound and will round off sharp edges and can remove or blend details, like roller printed textures.  Pay close attention to what’s happening on the wheel.  The piece will get very hot, also, and you will get the compound on your fingers. Clean the piece, and your fingers in water, with an ammonia/Liquid Dawn solution and an old, soft toothbrush. Liquid Dawn has a great de-greaser in it, so it cleans the greasy compounds quickly. Take extra care to clean difficult hard to reach areas.  To leave any compound on your piece means it will transfer to the next wheel, which will then contaminate that wheel

Next, use the crocus wheel. This is a step many jewelers leave out, but if you want to have a truly high mirror finish, crocus is essential.  Polish the piece evenly, and look for a consistent finish. Again, clean carefully with the water, and ammonia/Dawn soap solution and a soft toothbrush.

Finally, use the rouge wheel to buff the piece, remembering to constantly keep the piece moving. Personally, I like to finish the polishing with a chamois wheel and red rouge, but chamois wheels are very pricey and get eaten up quickly. I can’t afford to use many chamois wheels! When you have finished with the wheel, do not use a toothbrush to scrub off the stubborn rouge.  Clean under running water with ammonia and Dawn detergent. To get the buffing compound out of crevices, use a cotton swab or toothpicks dipped in the ammonia/soap solution.

There are different colored rouges which may impart different finishes on your work. Some are available under a variety of trade names, such as Golden Glo, used for bronze, brass and copper.  It will make Nu-gold look similar to 18K gold! Use a black rouge for a darker silver look, and blue rouge (sometimes called Picasso)  for an almost pure silver-white finish. White rouge is usually for harder metals like platinum.

Experimenting by using the polishing and buffing compounds is fun. Each one gives you a different look. If you have done your homework, and taken care of your metal all along, you will have a minimum of finishing. If not, you may have more hand polishing to do. To do too much polishing with the machines will lead to loss of detail on your piece and possibly some smoothing out of edges and blending of surface textures. In some cases it will thin the metals when overused.

So, the final finishing processes should be:

1. the hand finishing

2. tripoli (the brown compound)

3. clean

4. crocus, (the green compound)

5. clean

6. rouge (the red compound) on a soft white muslin or wool wheel

7. final cleaning

TIP: As an alternative, you can use Zam as a final polish. It is a greaseless formula, which yields a high polish.

Wash with clean water and blow dry with a hairdryer. Use care if using a polishing cloth as this will leave scratches on your piece and you may have to go back to the rouge wheel again for a spotless finish.  The microfiber cloths will also dry your pieces, but do not rub the cloth on the piece, just let the cloth absorb any water. (Sometimes Flitz or semichrome may be used for a final “glow”. Put it on with your fingers, and wash off with your fingers and then, blow dry.

IMPORTANT: NEVER, EVER polish or buff a chain on the wheel, even if you have those wooden “chain holders”.   Polish chains in a tumbler or by hand. High speeds and loose chains are a dangerous combination and can cause bodily damage.

This is an arguing point among jewelers–I finish all the way up to a crocus finish, even if I’m putting a patina or a distressed finish on my piece.  Nothing is uglier than to have a light patina on a piece, and 3 months later finding firescale showing its ugly purple head and peeking thru a patina. So I “take it up” and then “bring it back down”.  Try it, you won’t be disappointed.

TIP: Ever get “lines” on a highly buffed piece?  Well, then, Check your buffing wheels. If you see strings hanging from the wheels, even short ones, cut the strings. They are cutting grooves into your metal. I keep my personal wheels clipped of all long strings and “fuzzies” and they feel like velvet.
By doing these steps in the correct order, you can achieve the ultimate high mirror finish. All your hard work will payoff with an elegant and sleek contemporary look. Take care, use common sense and good luck.

You may share this info with your classes or friends.  Please give me credit for writing it.  Thanks.

Copyright–Lexi Erickson, 2010