Our First Denver Botanic Garden Show

OH WOW!  I can’t even begin to explain how I feel right now.  First, to have the gorgeous Denver Botanic Gardens as a venue for us was astounding, especially when we are showing alongside of  a fabulous presentation of Henry Moore sculptures.  Second, it was two of those Colorado fall days—not a cloud in the turquoise sky, and snow clad mountains in the distance, while Denver was a balmy 70 degrees.  And then, add  25 spectacular tables filled with glowing and colorful baubles.  OK,  now you have a picture of our First Jewelry Show at the Denver Botanic Gardens.   We were inside Gates Courtyard, with full picture windows and tall glass doors behind us.  It was spectacular.  Just as much fun was looking at the individual diplays of each artist.

Harold O’Connor’s display was elegant and sparse, with trays lined with white Japanese paper, which showed off Harold’s exquisite craftsmanship to a “T”.  His newest collection, “From My Backyard” was composed of artistically cast elegant rings and pendants of twigs, string and unusual pods he found  in his Salida, Colorado yard. Exquisite Spectrolite from Finland accented several of his pieces. It was such an honor to show alongside of one of the True Masters of Metalsmiting in the world.

Kathleen Krucoff had a stunning display of lanterns, which showed off her earrings and pendants.

For my usual art festival display, I dress in my archaeology gear, and have trowels and archaeology tools in my display cabinets. But for this truly upscale show I had a collection of “antique” suitcases, from which spilled my treasures, and I forewent my archaeology khakis.  Since it kind of went along with my adventure and travel themes, I was happy with my display.

For weeks before  the show I had nightmares that here we were all at the Botanic Gardens, all dressed up  and just standing around visiting with each other because no one came in to see our jewelry.  Well, nothing could have been farther from the truth.

We opened at 9 on Saturday morning, and our first customers started arriving at 9:27. By 10:00 we were having a light stream of customers, and by 11, we were constantly busy.  Jennie Milner said that she didn’t expect it to be like a cocktail party.  There was a constant flow of new people.  The wine and music started at 1:00, and there was not a moment to stop after that.  Sales were brisk, and there were lots of questions about our jewelry, the artists, and  Colorado Metalsmithing Association.  We were packed with customers who were actually buying, not just “thinking about it”.  Customers returned to tables several times to make their final choices.  Gallery owners talked to many participants about showing in their galleries, and the jewelry market seems to be returning.  It was a joy to watch everyone.  It was so great to see so many of you COMA members and friends, and I really appreciate each of you for coming out.  And in addition to that, it was great to sell so much jewelry. As artists we felt validated and appreciative that so many of you like our work well enough to purchase and wear it.  We are truly honored.

I have already started plans for next year’s show.  New ideas are flowing, and I want to start drawing in my sketch book right now.  But my precious 4-year old grandson is spending the week with me as his mom and dad return to Austin and pack and move back to Denver.  I am thrilled. They will live nearby, and I don’t have to make that 1100 mile trek down to Texas 4 times a year!  They are just as exited to be returning to Colorado.

So to each of you, I had a vision.  I acted upon it and didn’t let anything stop me.  The Denver Botanic Gardens Show was the result of that dream.  So follow your dream, follow your passions. Were there some nay-sayers? Oh yeah. And one really hurt my feelings.  But I knew in my heart that this would be a hit, and with the talent we have in Colorado, this would be a stunning show.

I want to thank Harold O’Connor for the initial inspiration from something that he said about 3 years ago, and I thank my sister, Kathleen Krucoff, for the poster and postcard designs.  She made us look beautiful before anything ever happened. And to the artists and Board of Colorado Metalsmithing Assoc, thank you in letting me, as a new Board member with a dream of where we could go, have free rein in doing what I visioned.  To each of you, GO FOR IT!   Follow your Passion! And watch this space for updates about our next show.

Passionately Yours,

Lexi

Beadfest Texas! WooHoo

I’ve been teaching a long time.  A quarter of a century (!) seems to have passed in no time.  Some classes have been great, some not so great.  But October in Texas is such a glorious time of year that I knew these classes would be special.  The drive in from Denver is always a grueling drive when  I leave at 4 AM, and drive down Hwy 287, through all those Texas towns.  And to make matters worse, this was Texas-OU week-end, plus the opening of the Texas State Fair,  the week-end for the big Cottonwood Art Festival, and the Intergem show, plus a Rangers game.  So no wonder I spent 30 minutes driving around  in the new Cowboy Stadium parking lot, which was packed with overflow cars.  I could see the Sheraton, I just couldn’t drive to it!  But the days of packing, planning, making copies, ordering tools, supplies, etc  were through, and I was so pleased I remembered everything.  I was feeling quite good, thank you very much.  I met my dear friend Jane from Fairplay, who now lives back home in Pauls Valley, OK. She was my “roadie”.  We had some dinner Friday night and got to bed early, I was prepared for a good day of classes, and Jane planned a day of lounging by the pool.

At 4 AM I sat straight up in bed.  OMG!  I had forgotten the strikers for the torches!  Where would I get strikers at 8:30 in the morning for class?  Oh, man!  How could I be such an idiot! So I gnashed my teeth over that for a while, until I got to Beadfest, and I should have known, my sister Texans would come to my rescue. (The phrase, “Don’t Mess With Texas Women” comes to mind.)  Wild Beads has become my favorite bead store in the world!  They had a booth at the vendor section of  Beadfest,.  They must have seen the panic in my eyes, and they asked the owner, Beverly, bring me three strikers. They let me use their workshop strikers. Thank you so much.  You saved me from tool disgrace!

I knew from the moment people started arriving, it would be a good class.  We were in a tiny room, all 20 of us, ready to learn sawing, filing, and soldering.  The seed beaders had huge rooms.   But we made it work.  (They’ve promised me a larger room next year.) I had the joy of re-acquainting myself with Joanie, one of my favorite students from Big D who took my class in Santa Fe.  We later had dinner at Papadeaux’s (yum) and we will meet again for Santa Fe Beadfest on my birthday in March.  This was a great class, they laughed at my jokes and I got to laugh at Bruce and Kathryn’s “matching luggage”–all their tools, like mine, were packed in the same matching green plastic boxes.  What exquisite taste we have.  The day went fine, and I enjoyed teaching people who don’t make fun of my Texas accent–which got a bit broader as the day progressed.

The students made my signature triangle earrings.  Because I use no electricity when making jewelry,  I introduced them to a tool that has been around for centuries, the old bow drill.

The Egyptians built the pyramids using a drill very much like this, and it’s what we use when I’m teaching in South America.  It’s a bit tricky, and the drill bit broke a few times, but those who got the centrifugal force going really enjoyed it. During the afternoon we  got into “The Joy of Soldering”, and everyone made 3 stacking rings and saw how easy my soldering technique is to learn.

I loved getting the hugs as we parted and want to keep in touch with all of you. I want to say a special hello to Janna from Thrall.  Your smile lights up a room!

I was most impressed with Tony, (pictured) who took the class because his wife was taking another class at the same time, but wanted to learn soldering techniques, so mucho kudos to Tony!  You certainly deserve the Golden Torch Award.  And to Kathryn (pictured with Tony) and Bruce, you were so much fun.  And I can’t forget a big “Thank you” to Tom who gave me some great flush cutters.  They are very appreciated.

After dinner with Joanie, Jane and I went to sleep tired, but happy.

Sunday was another great day.  I snuck away during the lunch break to buy some Gary B. Wilson stones from Gary’s daughter Jesse and future son in law, Spencer. I got some great shapes in petrified turtle shell, which I’ll pair with fossil palm and red jasper, and maybe dino doodoo.   In this class I met more wonderful women, especially Jude and Monette, who we later shared Sunday breakfast with. J, you are my inspiration.  And Glory, no one works that Egyptian drill better than you.  Laura, I love being your friend on Facebook!  Thanks for “Friending” me.  And a special thanks to Patty for  dinner at Gloria’s.  What a cool place!

And mostly, Jane, I can’t thank you enough.  I couldn’t have gotten everything moved without your help.  And thanks for making me stop now and then and laugh.  I love you!

Then it was off to Easter Island, (called Isla de Pascua or in the native tongue, Rapa Nui.)  The Navel of the World is indeed a long, long way away.  Though I was hoping to find some nice beads, I did purchase some unique shell  necklaces, the kind worn by the islanders for the last 400  years. I will hang those with my personal beads, those I can’t part with from the 4 corners of the world.  Rapa Nui is amazing, and the moai are haunting.


The Moai at Anakena

On the way back from Chile, it was announced that the drill had broken through to free the Chilean miners.  God bless those brave men and their families.  My husband is a metallurgical engineer, and I understand their plight so well.

Upon landing, its rush-rush now to get ready for the Denver Botanic Gardens, Jewelry Show.  Twenty eight of us will be showing our jewelry.  Our artists, including the  famed Harold O’Connor, are all very talented and every one is totally different.  Please join us this coming Saturday and Sunday at the Denver Botanic Gardens, from 9-5. You will be amazed at the talent in Colorado.

Thank you everyone in Texas for two of the most wonderful classes I’ve ever had, and I will always remember your eagerness and enthusiasm (and matching “luggage”) and keep these memories in my heart. It was good to be back home in Texas for a few days..  Please keep in touch, as each and every one of you is forever my friend. Email me!

Hugs,

Lexi

The Life of A Jewelry Artist

Hi Everyone–

Here in the Rocky Mountains, the aspen are turning bright gold and some are burgundy.  They are truly magnificent against the turquoise Colorado sky.  But the true mark of autumn is the Denver Gem and Mineral show, which just finished last Sunday.  Though in reality I needed nothing, I cannot help going to see what Mark Lasater at The Clam Shell, Gary B. Wilson, Greg King-Falk Burger (the duo humorously known as “Burger-King”), Michael Hendrix and many more  have in stock.  They had less in stock after my friend, student and sister, Kathleen Krucoff, my students and I left.  And remarkably, we do not fight over stones.  We all have such different taste in our jewelry and colors that there is always plenty for all of us. Well, truthfully, Kathleen and I do tussle a bit over red jasper, Chinese Writing Stone, and petrified palm wood, but if you follow her blog, you know she is a purple lover, so she buys a lot more purples, while I go for the “earth tones”. (I’m such a child of the 70’s).  As I predicted on my Tucson blog, Mark Lasater had some gorgeous Red Creek Jasper.   Funny thing about names, it’s now called Cherry Creek Jasper, Cherry Creek Valley Jasper and just plain old Red Creek jasper.  That’s the name the owner of the mine calls it, so I’m sticking with that until further notice.  But there was a lot of it at the Denver show.

Fall is also the time for the Castle Rock Art Festival.  The gem show starts the Tuesday after the Castle Rock weekend, so I’m pretty exhausted.  The Castle Rock show was pretty good for me this year, though not even comparable to “The Glory Days” of the 1980-90’s art festivals.   But I had a great time and I always love meeting the other artists.  This year I traded some work with my newest friends,  fabulous wildlife watercolorist Stephen Koury from Lakeland, FL  and metal artist Pamella Goff from Brighton, CO.  Pamella makes diverse art from old spoons, and her pieces are totally delightful.  Her spoon flower hangs in my kitchen.  It reminds me of a delightful and spiritual sister.   Stephen does these unbelievably realistic nature paintings, and my painting features a Harris Hawk and my favorite petroglyph, the “Moab Man”. It is being framed now, and I can’t wait to hang it in my entry hall.  Both of these artists are so outgoing and wonderfully talented that it makes it the whole show experience pretty wonderful.  Plus, the Castle Rock Festival is one of the best run I’ve ever participated in.  They take such good care of their artists.  Kathleen and I have decided that it’s easier to do some shows together so we are  looking forward to doing more shows next year.

Photo of me (on the right) with Kathleen (on the left) at the Castle Rock Festival this year.

A few blogs back I expressed my feelings about galleries and shows, and thought something has to be done about the way we get our work out there, and yet allow us to do more than “break even” on an event.  After some thought, I realized that what we need is a group of sincere artists who come together and present their work at a well-known, but non-gallery,  location and perhaps start a tradition.

Well, I’m very lucky to be on the Board of Colorado Metalsmithing Association (CoMA), so I took my idea to the Board, and they were receptive to trying something totally new.  Previously, CoMA has only shown at galleries.  Now we will have 28 artists, famous, notables, and emerging, those who answered our Call for Artists, and we will be showing and selling our work at the beautiful Denver Botanic Gardens on Oct 16 and 17.

What is so amazing about this venue is that it is timed to take place along with the showing of Henry Moore’s monumental sculptures.   It was Henry Moore who commented “The most powerful artworks are the largest and the smallest”.  I was thrilled to find that quote, and we put it on our postcards.

I would like to thank Kathleen Krucoff of Krucoff Studios for the design of both our poster and postcards.  Everyone has commented on how stunning and professional they are, and it makes them proud to be a part of the show.

Jewelry at the Gardens ~ Post Card


28 Artists at the Botanic Gardens ~ The Poster

So what I’m saying, along with please come see us at the show and sale,  is that we, as artists, are creative people. If you are unhappy with shows and galleries, please take this idea and run with it.  It’s nothing new, but it is a first for a great group of metalsmiths in Colorado.

Look for willing locations in your area.  Look for people who will help sponsor a show, and put one together.  Is it a lot of work?  Yes, tremendously so. Maybe a later blog will be a step -by-step of how to do this, but I’ve put together many shows in Texas and PA.  All it takes is a spark, and you can ignite a whole group of people’s creative processes.  Helping others get “out there”, in turn energizes me, and  I feel a lot more creative.  I hope you will come to see us.  I can promise you it will be worth your time to see what these artisans have created and maybe you will find that right item and become a collector!

Show dates / times / location: October 16 ad 17,  from 9 AM -5 PM, Denver Botanic Gardens, 1007 York Street, Denver Co, 80206.

I’m off to create  something for this “New Tradition”– I look forward to meeting you at this new event, “Jewelry at the Gardens”.  Please mention you read about it in my blog as I would love to know.  Thanks.

Lexi

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