Sunday, July 12, 2009

And so the creative process begins....

I realized long ago, I was a project-oriented person! When our Etsy Metal Clay group decided to have a charm swap, I was there! I only had a few guidelines to follow: it must be at least the size of a dime, it had to have a mark on each charm to indicate they were mine, I needed to make 27 total and it had to have a jump ring. So I was off and running!

My first step in the creative process starts with me looking at other artist's designs, both in books and online. I also searched for other charm swap photos to get an idea of what other artists were doing when designing charms. I loved some of the ideas, but I still couldn't come up with a design that I felt would not only be unique, but would be wearable on a charm bracelet. Some charm designs online, although cool and unique, really didn't think feel like they would be comfortable to wear. One thing I always strive for is wearability. What's the point if it isn't?

My next process is to look at pictures I save from past calendars that I like for inspiration. I think about the texture and form to see if I can duplicate it onto fine silver clay. My mind kept getting drawn to the photo to the left, but I wasn't sure what I could do to replicate it. I mostly like the shadows that the trees created against the sand. I also like the texture that was created by the sand. Somehow looking at this picture drew me to start thinking about earth as a planet and then the earth as a planet in the solar system. Then it hit me . . planet charms!

Now for the fun part! Not that looking online and looking at pictures wasn't fun, it just that I love to get my hands in clay. I poured over all my texture pads, stamps and molds and started selecting those that might represent the texture I would like to see on the stamp. Before I broke out the good stuff (fine silver clay), I started testing the textures on polymer clay so I could get a feel for what the texture might look like in circular form. To the left are my first "test subjects." At this point, I was inclined to think that the wavy texture was closest to my original design idea.

I wanted to create a kind of three-dimensional look, as if shadows of other planets were passing in front of my planet. I knew that if I did cutouts and placed a backing on the main circle, those circles when oxidized would remain dark creating the shadow I wanted. The polymer pieces helped a little, but I really needed to create a few samples in fine silver before I could make a decision on the final texture. I chose the four textures that I felt carried out my design idea the best. I also wanted to make sure that my idea about oxidation would actually work like I thought it might. I also wanted to be able to dome the charm to give it a more 3D look. The results are show in the picture below.

At this point, I needed a second opinion so I asked my husband for his. What most people don't realize about him is that he really has a great eye for design. Like me, he favored the two designs at the top of the picture, and although the second from the top was most "planet-like", both of us agreed that the top one had a great kind of retro-look. My original favorite, the wavy texture, just did not convey the feeling I wanted. I think it was mainly because the wave was too large for the size of the charm. Before I made the final decision, I wanted to see how the charms looked like on a bracelet. When I placed them on the bracelet, it felt like something was missing. I wanted to give it a little more oomph! I had a few Swarovski crystals lying around, so I added a crystal to each charm to see what it might look like. It was as if each charm had its own little moon set to revolve around. Now it was perfect! My design idea was complete and I was ready to start the process of mass production.

What I love about the challenge of a project like this is that it forces you to tap into your creative side in order to solve problems. My first problem, which I never dealt with in the past, was how was I going to mark each charm so that someone would know it was mine. I knew as an artist, I should be marking my pieces with initials or a logo, I was just too lazy to do it! I realize that buyers really like to have a sort of signature on the pieces and at this point all I was doing is marking each piece with a fine silver mark (.999 FS). I knew I wanted it to be unobtrusive yet distinct. I did not want to use a stamp because it seems that whether you mark the piece wet or after it has been fired, it always distorts the piece. The only other chance to add a mark is when the piece is leather-hard, but a stamp doesn't really work well at this stage. At leather hard, I could carve something on the piece, but I wanted something that was a little more uniform and that I could apply to pieces I would be doing in the future. As I was staring at things on my work table (specifically my PMC+ sheet cutouts and letter stamps), it hit me that perhaps if I could use both of these somehow. And so my idea of cutting a small circle and stamping my initials on it came about. Not exactly the best or most creative idea, but certainly for this project, it would work. So I began to cutout my little circles and stamping my intials on them.

Now for the main show! I began with the top layer of my charm, the part with the texture and the cutouts. While these were drying, I cutout the plain circle backs out of PMC+ sheet. Realizing I did not have enough sheet to do 30 charms (a few extra than I needed), I had to make my own thin flexible sheet to use. Using a couple drops of glycerin, I rolled out some clay to complete my backs. Once the top pieces were dry, I set myself to sanding the cutouts and increasing the size of the jump ring hole. Using a little water, I added the plain back circle to the top layer. When these were dry, I set of to sanding the edges so they would be nice and smooth when fired and would feel good against the skin.

Now with the edges all smooth, they were ready for the final stage, adding my little inital marks. Here are my before and after photos on that step.

Now they're ready for the kiln!

While I am waiting for my little beauties to fire, I set my sites on the little moons. My first step is to take 22g fine silver wire and cut it into lengths that will help create my loops. Next, I take my butane torch and ball up one end to create my head pin. Lastly, I string my crystal and create my dangles for my charm using a standard wrapped loop.

My beauties were ready, so after I brass brush them, into the vibratory tumbler they go and voila! Here they are . . . all nice and shiny.

Next, into the liver of sulfur bath they go. I really wanted to make sure I get a nice black shadow effect so I let these babies get a good soaking so I get a nice dark shading. I thought about using Black Max, but it tends to look a little on the flat side. I wanted to get a get a more metallic finish so I stuck with the LOS.

After they come out the bath, my next step is to remove just the right amount of oxidation. I wanted to make especially sure that I did not remove the oxidation that in my cutouts.

Now it's off to the dapping block for doming! I wanted to give my charms that 3D look, so each one gets hammered into a nice round shape.

They are now ready for the final assembly. After trying different sizes of jump rings, I found that the a 6mm 20g jump ring fit the best. Together with the wrapped loop, my charms get assembled. I am a bit early in completing my project, so my charms have to wait awhile before I send them out to get distributed.

This whole process has been so cathartic for me. Most of the time, my projects are one of a kind. I rarely go back to duplicate something I have done in the past, nor have I ever created two of the same kind from the beginning. This mass production process was a first for me and I have to say I really enjoyed it.


  1. pretty! Here are mine:


  2. Oooh I really love the process you took us through and the charms are gorgous. Can't wait to get my little planet.
    Here's mine
    Nic x

  3. I love the charms and this post. It's so great to see your entire process from start to finish. Photographing each step in the process is time consuming, so I appreciate that.

    Can't wait to see them in person. Great work!

  4. Linda - the charms are fabulous and you are a gem to share your process!

  5. Loved the charms and reading about your process. Can hardly wait to receive all of the charms!