Over the last 8 or 9 years I've really struggled to find my voice as a metal artist. I've focused a lot of time and energy in learning new skills, practicing techniques and acquiring new tools and equipment. For a time I considered that maybe I was wasting my time and really wondered if I had done the right thing in leaving the stability of my 9-to-5 job and dismounting my "cubicle jockey" status. But - today, I know I have chosen the right path.
For the first time in my journey, I've created something I'm VERY proud of and will carry this experience with me through the next phases of my journey.
As some of you may have seen, these lovelies started out as a chunk of wax and miscellaneous pieces of my Grandma Myrt's hunting spoils. What you may not know is how this was inspired, other than the wonderful objects I was given.
Grandma Myrtle (aka Myrt) has macular degeneration and can only see from her peripheral vision. This must be really difficult for her since she has been an avid bow-hunter for many, many years. She loves Native American art and this summer, I finally met her for the first time in my 41-year-old life. We have communicated through letters all throughout my childhood, but she's always lived in Oregon and I had always lived in California with about 18 hours of travel time, by car, between us.
I can honestly say meeting Grandma Myrt changed my perspective on life, art and what's important to me. For years I've wondered about missing parts in the confused puzzle of my life. I've known my mom's side of the family my whole life, but had only parts of my dad's family over the years - granted they have been very important parts of my life, but had never known the female side of my dad's parents. Today, I can say I still don't know a lot about that part, but meeting Grandma Myrt really made a big impact and helped me to find some pieces of myself that were missing.
So, on to the rings... I started my Master's Program in Jewelry & Metal Arts in September 2014 and really had it in my mind I would be developing more skill and eventually have the paper to "prove" my ability to teach students. What I didn't account for... the development of concept, design and ultimately rounding out all of my years of "floundering" in this world of metals.
This very first semester has opened my mind to the myriad of possibilities for my future designs and perhaps even set me on my path more clearly than ever before. My final project called for a series of rings with a cohesive theme. Immediately, I thought of the spoils from Grandma and started sketching... Yes, I said sketching - I haven't been one to do this very often and now it's forever a practice.
I took my ideas on paper and started developing my wax models for the series of three rings. I knew I wanted to use some of the gorgeous pheasant feathers, porcupine quills and possibly some of the deer teeth from the collection of items I was given by Grandma Myrt.
I used my flex shaft tool and my wax burs first to rough cut the shapes of each ring. Honestly, I did not measure anything except the cut for the ring size and the stone settings because those absolutely have to be precise. I used my sketches to kind of guide me in a general direction for the three different dimensions. While carving, I kept the image of Native American Indian Chiefs in my head - the one will full headdress, feathers and beads to keep my images of my finished waxes in the same vein.
You can see the final carvings below, then the setup of the sprues I used for the investment and casting process. It's critical to get enough sprue and gate points on your casting in order to get a full cast. If you place the sprues incorrectly or don't have enough of them to get the molten metal into the mold, you will end up with a partial cast or, quite possibly, no cast at all. Then, you end up with countless hours of work that just didn't come to fruition. Trust me, it's happened many times in my experience, so if you can, make a room temperature silicon mold of your original wax models BEFORE you invest and burnout, it will save you heartache and disappointment later.
NOTE: I was lucky, this time... My castings came out fantastic, but if they hadn't, my final project would have been a bust.
The pictures below are the raw castings in sterling silver. I invested the wax models in SatinCast and did a 10 hour burnout & cure for the castings. Once the burnout was complete, I melted my sterling silver and poured it into each of the investment flasks and voila! Out came the final castings. I should mention, I use a vacuum assist casting table since gravity will not cooperate without a little help. Some people use the centrifugal casting arm, but I prefer the vacuum table.
All three were perfect with the exception of one flaw in the porcupine quill ring. This created quite the brainstorm for a repair before I could get to the actual clean up, sanding, filing and setting of all the elements, but it was well worth the effort and time to fix the huge pit I found in the casting.
The pinkish coloring you're seeing around the gate is the copper from the sterling silver. This usually means the metal was heated a little too long and maybe a little too hot so the copper has separated from the fine silver (.999) portion of the 92.5 sterling silver casting grain I used.
Once the sprues were cut off, I spent several hours filing, sanding and refining the areas that had too many scratches, lumps and bumps before I even thought about setting the stones and the miscellaneous animal parts. When I felt I couldn't remove any more scratches with my hand tools, I put all three rings into a barrel tumbler with mixed shape stainless steel shot, a little Borax powder (from the laundry aisle at the grocery store), filled it halfway with water and tumbled them for about 12 hours (overnight) to get a high polish and then to burnish out any remaining imperfections.
The next day, I pulled the rings from the tumbler and began to set my stones. The first thing I needed to do was make sure the seats for the stones still were tight fitting and would accommodate my 8mm round Sun Ray cubic zirconia stones. I picked this stone because it was both pink and red. Pink to pull the colors from the feathers and reddish to symbolize the blood from the bow hunt.
When the stones were set and the engraved decorations were complete, I began setting the animal parts using a clear quick-setting epoxy. Each quill was measured, cut and set in place with tweezers. Every feather was carefully selected from my collection and the deer teeth were meticulously sawed to get the full tooth as the attention grabber and the sawed off roots of the teeth as the three accent pieces.
The photos below are the final photos of the rings at my bench. You can see they're all set up straight and were ready for the overnight cure of the epoxy. The submission photography (top of the page) wasn't taken until the epoxy was set and all of the remaining polishing (matte finish) was added to each ring. I also had to make sure I had my 92.5 stamp in place on the inside of the ring shank.
So... this gives you a little insight into the process of wax model carving, lost wax casting, stone setting, finishing and design that I use to create my jewelry. Whether they are art pieces like these or custom rings, bracelets or earrings, you know I put my heart and soul into every item I create.
This life of an artist and fabricator is fulfilling, joyful and meditative all at the same time and I wouldn't trade it for the world. I've found my voice and know exactly how to plan my year for growth and success for 2015. On to the next challenge, engraving from start to finish!
I'd love to hear your feedback, questions or comments, so please, ask away!