Sunday, February 28, 2010

These are a treat - but NOT to eat!

These are enamel powders - washed and set out to dry. Using the coffee filters for this process makes them look like treats, but enamel is NOT safe to eat. It is however, a treat to work with, and truly "eye-candy" in finished form. This time last weekend, I was finishing the second of two enameling workshops. Students had the opportunity to spend a day becoming more comfortable enameling on silver. They washed, wet-packed, and fired many samples, then enameled a metal clay piece. It was loads of fun and everyone left feeling more confident in their ability to try enameling on their own. This picture shows some of the washed colors left over from the workshop - drying for later use (note: after taking the photo I covered them to prevent contamination while they dried).

Enameling seems daunting to many people - and understandably so. If not done properly, it has the potential for disappointing results. But by following some simple rules and taking the time to practice, your results should be beautiful.

Rule #1 - The rule of "clean." Your metal, your workspace, your hands, tools and enamels must be clean. This means no dust/dirt, metal filings, metal clay, oils, etc., should come in contact with enamel.

Rule #2 - Test colors before using them on a final piece. Pay attention to the firing and don't over-fire. If using Thompson Enamels, The Thompson Enamel Workbook contains a wealth of useful technical information about the enamels.

Rule #3 - Record your results - for example, if you test two layered colors - make a note. Don't leave anything to memory.

Rule #4 - When in doubt, counter enamel. If you're not sure whether your piece needs this support, err on the side of caution.

Of course, this isn't all you need to know about enameling and you can most certainly expect a learning curve. Nothing takes the place of experience. Be patient and your efforts will pay off. And be sure to familiarize yourself with safety considerations in both handling and firing enamels (never ingest enamel).

One of my favorite books on enameling is by Linda Darty. It's called The Art of Enameling: Techniques, Projects, Inspiration.

If you're interested in enameling on metal clay, I wrote a little book that provides an introduction to the process. It's called The Little Book of Water Etching and Enameling for Metal Clay. It contains instructions for water etching and enameling - two techniques that go well together. Here are images of metal clay pieces that are water etched and enameled:

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Eternal Optimist...

Attitude is everything.

I've been watching the Olympics and can't imagine a better example to illustrate this statement. Do the athletes (medal-winning or not) ever doubt they can do it? Maybe at times - but I suspect that in their hearts, they all hold a strong belief that they can succeed.

Believe in yourself. Believe that whatever you do will be successful. You can do anything until proven otherwise (and that will happen - just accept it). But you'll never know unless you try.

I remember some classic, inspirational stories from my childhood. One was The Little Engine that Could. The concept of that can-do attitude really stuck with me. I am extremely grateful that my parents not only read these stories to me and my sisters, but they (and my grandparents) exemplified this attitude. I'm sure this helped encourage us to be positive-thinking people and I can only hope that we've done the same for our children. "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can... I knew I could, I knew I could, I knew I could."

Another story I loved as a child was Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. Mike and his steam shovel, "Mary Ann" had done a lot of digging in their day, but times were changing and technology was making their ways obsolete. Mike believed they could dig as much in a day as a hundred men could dig in a week. He believed in himself and in Mary Ann. There are lessons of confidence, hard work, support, encouragement and problem solving in this simple story. If you've never read it, check it out on your next visit to the library.

Speaking of stories... once upon a time (a long time ago - the 1970's), I was a competitive swimmer. There was no swim team for girls at my high school and many other schools in those days. To compete, we had to swim against boys. I can't tell you how empowering it was to hear the crowd shout "you're not going to let a GIRL beat you...?" Somewhere deep inside, I heard the chug, chug, chug of The Little Engine that Could.

Believe that whatever you set your mind and heart to is possible. And if you don't achieve it, it's OK, at least you'll know it's not for lack of trying. Not every Olympic athlete will win a medal, but they're all winners because they believed - they went out there and tried their best.

This is a wonderful reminder to remain optimistic - written by Christian D. Larson almost 100 years ago. It's not always easy think this way (and admit I don't always), but at least it's worth trying...

The Optimist Creed

I promise myself:

  • To be so strong that nothing can disturb my peace of mind.
  • To talk health, happiness, and prosperity to every person I meet.
  • To make all my friends feel that there is something worthwhile in them.
  • To look at the sunny side of everything and make my optimism come true.
  • To think only of the best, to work only for the best, and to expect only the best.
  • To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as I am about my own.
  • To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
  • To wear a cheerful expression at all times and give a smile to every living creature I meet.
  • To give so much time to improving myself that I have no time to criticize others.
  • To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.
  • To think well of myself and to proclaim this fact to the world, not in loud word, but in great deeds.
  • To live in the faith that the whole world is on my side, so long as I am true to the best that is in me.
Eternal Optimist? Sure. And why not? Anything is possible. It's all in your attitude.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Trusting the process...

Recently some of the artists I know have been talking about "hibernating" or have expressed feelings of frustration or the need for change, etc. To this I say: take heart - it's all part of the natural ebb and flow of the creative process - sometimes we just need to be reminded of this. I wanted to share a book that I have found to be a great resource. It's called Trust the Process: An Artist's Guide to Letting Go by Shaun McNiff.

It's not a how-to book or a step-by-step system. And while it addresses creative blocks, it's not only for those in the midst of one. It's more food for thought - ideas about how creativity works and how to tap into that which helps us nurture and explore our creative side. Maybe I like this book because I agree with a lot of what the author has to say. Most of what he says - but not all - fits with the way I think about the creative life.

One of the things that I've come to believe (and found confirmed in this book) is the concept what may appear as a "block" (or whatever label you might use) is really a period that is part of the process. I've learned to accept and even embrace those times when I feel less productive because in retrospect, I almost always see that they had a purpose.

McNiff talks about practice and preparation for art-making and likens it to an athlete training for an event. It seems that if you keep working, creating on even some small scale, that the process is helped - and this period functions as an "unconscious buildup for creation." He addresses the effects and importance of attitude - both positives and negatives - and risk taking, as part of the process.

He suggests that all creative people need not be "full-time artists," and that for some, having another "job" actually works to enhance their creative expression and cites examples. He reminds us that working in concert with other artists can enhance the experience - this is why some artists like to take classes. I have experienced this feeling and my students have had discussions about how working in a group acts as encouragement or helps them through a less inspired period.

McNiff talks about the concept of multiple forms of creative expression working together in the process. I know this to be true. I often move more toward music-making when my art-making feels less inspired. Sometimes I like to find other forms of creative expression for a while, whether it's photography, drawing or whatever - but understand that they are all part of the process and contribute in some way to the next inspiration in my favorite medium.

I highly recommend this book and hope that if you don't already, that you can learn to "trust the process." It's creatively freeing...