Friday, March 4, 2011

Ch ch ch ch changes ...

Maybe it's just that my brain is wired in a strange way, but when I get a commission to create a special piece, it almost always starts out in my mind one way and inevitably ends up being something entirely different when it's completed. Perhaps this creative process is common in those who do this kind of thing; all I know is that it's a fun, stressful, creative and frustrating adventure every time .. and I love it. Especially since the end product is usually as much of a surprise to me as it is to the recipient!

This Remembrance Anklet began as a request by a friend of mine on behalf of five women (the five named on the tags) who wanted a special retirement gift for a friend of theirs. The recipient wanted an anklet - I don't make many these days, because they just don't sell much up here, but got the measurements and started thinking about how to go about it.

The spokesperson for the group and I went back and forth regarding using initials, versus entire first names, and whether or not to add crystals or stones to indicate birthdays for each of the five and to create a little sparkle in the piece. I also toyed with different clasps .. a commercial clasp vs a handcrafted item. I decided I could do complete first names; but putting five name tags on a length of chain (even ten inches of chain) is going to take up most of the space. So I had initially looked in all my various supplier catalogs for existing blank sterling tags of a particular size and shape with pre-punched holes on either side. The longest name was six letters, so I needed something long and narrow, yet high enough for the letter punches I have in the studio.

I wasted a lot of time in that process .. most of the blanks I found were round, square, too big, too small, not pre-punched, etc. I knew I wanted a sort of elongated oval .. that was my ideal; and perhaps there's a source out there somewhere that sells exactly what I was looking for, but none of my usual sources had anything like it. So the sterling chain and charm piece I had originally planned on wasn't going to work. There was nothing for it but to create the thing from scratch. I have some sterling sheet and could have cut out five ovals and punched them all in the appropriate places before adding the individual letters. But as I had some PMC3 on hand .. the strongest of the three silver metal clays .. I decided to make the thing entirely out of fine silver. An added benefit of using PMC3 is that the initial letter size would end up being about 10% to 15% smaller when they all came out of the kiln (which wouldn't have been the case if I'd stamped directly onto sterling silver blanks).

Well, the decision wasn't exactly a mistake, because I loved the finished piece, but geeeeeeez! Can't tell you how many times I rolled and re-rolled a piece of clay because I didn't get the letters P E R F E C T. I finally decided that as this was a handcrafted piece, the natural flaws in the piece were indicative of the "handcrafted" process and were to be enjoyed as part of the love and attention that went into the giving of the gift and the making of the gift. Not your machine-made piece of perfection, but a solid piece of backbreaking work (believe me, all that micro sanding of each and every little name tag charm was indeed back breaking ). And I won't even mention the trouble I had with the kiln .. oy!

After I had all the charms cleaned up, fired, tumbled, work hardened, and then dapped to create a slight curve, I wound and cut a length of fine silver wire into all the rings used to connect the pieces and create the additional chain needed to bring the length out to what was needed (plus a little more, just in case). For just a moment .. and a moment only .. I thought about adding the "birthday crystals" to dangle prettily at the end. But it wouldn't do .. it was no longer the kind of design that would support crystals aesthetically. So, what I used were small Thai silver beads .. which are also fine silver. They're a lot sturdier than the crystals would have been .. and they meld into the design so much better. As the rings in the chain were large enough, I was able to create a long, narrow hook clasp that I'm certain will prove to be secure and which could hook into any of the rings along the length for a perfect fit. Once all the rings were fused, I went down the entire length of the chain and tapped around each and every ring on an anvil to work harden them for strength. And after all THAT, I dipped the entire piece into a dish of liver of sulphur to blacken it .. I mean really blacken it. Then I systematically went over the entire piece with steel wool to clean up most of the blackening, but allow the letters to "pop" on the name tags. The final touch (like adding the title page to a paper you've slaved over for weeks!) was tapping my business name into the back of one of the tags.

I hope the recipient was as truly happy with the end result as I was .. not having sold it directly to her, I only have the word of my go-between (which was positively glowing ). It's always great to sell a piece I've made .. but these particular kinds of sales never fail to make me feel like I've really accomplished something. The emotions attached to it are a little more intense and personal, and that just makes it all so much more worthwhile.