Monday, May 30, 2016

Challenge Update

It is now 6 months into my personal challenge to NOT purchase any seed beads or two hole beads for weaving.  I have been like most of you and impulse purchased too many to count and needed to no longer rely on using the easy way to complete projects, you know just buy more beads.

I first started with this bracelet that I had been meaning to complete but I had misplaced the size 11 beads I was using. I did not get a picture of the unfinished part.

So I went hunting through my boxes, including the ones I throw the tubes I had already used and the UFO's.

That was the best thing I could have done because I not only found the beads I needed I also found some others to help me extend a necklace that I had made a bit to short.

I am so happy I am able to wear this now.  And of course you all know I am all about having matching sets so I made this fun little bracelet with the left over beads and a few additions.

And now we go back to the original bracelet I started with and you know it needed a necklace to match.  I was so inspired at that point I was able to hunt through my extensive Jenny Davies-Reazor stash.

Yes I do have an addiction but I will never stop wanting all of her beads. I found exactly what I wanted and this happened.

I am so pleased that I have challenged myself in this way.  It can be frustrating but it is so worth it in the end.  Have you met any of your challenges so far this year?

Friday, May 27, 2016

Using Jewelry Components in Non-Jewelry Work

One of my goals for 2016 involved learning mixed media techniques outside of the realm of jewelry. To accomplish this goal, I signed up for the yearlong class called Wanderlust because the price was right (I signed up early enough to get a discount) and it didn't feel too new age-y to me (I don't do new age-y's just not for me). Plus, with all the classes able to be downloaded and saved forever, lots of teaching about products, and all the different teachers sharing their style of art, it sounded like a great class for a clueless beginner. 

I don't know about you, but whenever I sign up for an online class, I have the best of intentions. However, when it comes down to it, I never actually do the class. Sigh. So much wasted money over the years. I decided I would NOT let that happen this time. And I've done ok. Not stellar, but I've watched every video put out so far, and done a couple of the exercises. I'm finding that my lack of supplies is seriously hindering me. I didn't even have the basics like paint, gesso, or really anything except lots of papers, some found objects, and a few other random bits and pieces.

I guess that is why I latched onto the tutorial by Finnabair. I had the canvas, paper, and the bits and pieces to glue to the canvas. I did have to pick up a few other supplies. I started by making the base layer on the canvas. While that dried, I gathered random found objects, broken jewelry pieces, old toys, etc. Realizing I really didn't have enough stuff, I started gathering bits from my bead boxes. After realizing that STILL wasn't enough, I thought of using rejected beads, seconds from other artists, etc. 

How many of you have a box of beads or components that you were going to use, then forgot, etc and now it's like "why did I even buy (or make) this thing?" Or maybe you made something you think is a little on the wonky side? Those are good candidates for a project like this because they are painted in black gesso, you never see them after the gesso step and everything gets tied together. 

Let's take a tour of what I used before I paint over it. 

First up you can see my focal in the lower left of the photo with the old pocket watch innards with other pieces attached to it. If you look at the pencil to the right, above it is a bead I really love, but the bead release got stuck to the end making it unusable. I thought it might add some interesting texture, so I glued it on.

In the photo below, the filigree flowers are from a mangled necklace I got at a flea market. The brass heart is from a bead shop now out of business, and the flattened penny from a vacation on the North Carolina Outer Banks almost 6 years ago. 

The black ceramic piece is a shank button made by Lisa Peters. It was considered "seconds" and Lisa was offering them up for things like mosaics. The texture is great, so I added it into the canvas. 

The below compass is a Tim Holtz collection piece. The glass ball in the center was a headpin until I mangled it and had to cut off the wire. Now it is glued in place. 

In the next photo you can see a Vintaj butterfly, a piece of cork from a bottle of wine we drank, another Lisa Peters Art ceramic piece, and lots of found objects. 

I thought the most difficult part would be finding enough fun stuff to add to the canvas to create a good texture and interesting composition. But no. That was NOT the most difficult part. The hardest part was painting over all that stuff, which was super scary. 

I happened to start this project on my 23rd wedding anniversary weekend, so I incorporated several items which symbolize something about our lives together. 

I wanted to have this piece completely finished before I wrote about it here, but the truth is, I don't have the correct types of paint to start adding color. However, I do have  mica powder now and will try to make my own. And honestly, at this point, it feels like a toddler's glued pasta picture. We'll see if it gets any better. But even if it doesn't, it's been a learning experience for sure and I found a new way to use jewelry components and beads. 

Have you used jewelry components in work OTHER than jewelry? What was it? How did it turn out? Share a link if you have one for it so we can all see it too. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Ceramic Art Bead Buying Guide

A little while ago Jennifer wrote a guide for buyers of lampwork beads and that got me to thinking that something similar would be useful for lovers of ceramic art beads. There is a vast array of these for sale today and a huge variance in quality too. Every day I see beads that are precious little works of art but all too often I see work of dubious quality too so, after consulting with my fellow ceramic bead makers at on the AJE we've come up with this guide

Ceramics in itself is a topic with huge breadth and depth so this guide will of necessity only cover the basics as they apply to jewellery components but, I will add a few links at the end for anyone who wants to investigate further.

Types of Clay 

There are literally thousands of different types of clay on the market so I am only covering the three basic categories and their distinctions: Earthenware, Stoneware and Porcelain. Different clays 'mature' or become vitreous (will not absorb water) at different temperatures and the higher the firing temperature the more vitreous the end product. Whilst water absorption is not as critical for jewellery components as say an outdoor planter, the level of maturity does have an impact on strength.

When buying ceramic beads you may have come across the terms high fire, mid fire or low fire clay or to cones - a term derived from the pyrometric cones used to monitor the  temperature at which kilns fire (see link to video at the end of this post). Commonly used temperature ranges are:

High Fire – Cone 8 – Cone 10 (2305 F -2381 F or 1263C to 1305C)
Mid Fire – Cone 5 – Cone 6 (2185 F – 2232 F or 1196 C to 1222C)
Low Fire – Cone 06 – Cone 04 (1830 F – 1940 F or 999 C to 1060C)


Porcelain, often considered the hardest clay to work with is a fine grained clay that fires to high temperatures to produce a very strong vitreous ceramic. It is usually pure white in colour and can be translucent when used thinly and is therefore often used for delicate pieces.


Stoneware is a coarser grained mid to high firing clay that becomes very durable after firing with little or no water absorption due to the levels of iron and other impurities it can contain.


Earthenware is a low firing clay (includes terracotta) and because of this the most porous of the three clay types and therefore the least durable. Earthenware will melt if fired at higher temperatures.

Note: You may have seen beads made from air dry clays for sale - this is not a fired clay and by it's nature therefore not as robust as fired clays but since I have no personal experience of working with it I am not including it in this guide.


When it comes to glazing there is also a basic difference between the different types of clay. With mid to high fire clays the glazes fuse more fully to the clay body further increasing its strength. With earthenware the glaze forms a separate layer over the clay which still strengthens the piece but not to the same degree. Because they are highly vitreous, porcelain and stoneware pieces can be used unglazed whereas earthenware is usually glazed (although outside the bead world you will of course have come across unglazed terracotta where the 'breathability' of the clay can be an advantage for items susceptible to cracking in climate changes).

None of this means that earthenware is not suitable for jewellery components - it is and there are many talented designers working with low fire clays. One of the big advantages of low fire clays is that there is a far wider range of glaze colours available particularly in bright and vibrant shades (as you can see below) that don't tolerate high firing. It just means that there are a few extra things to look out for when buying your beads as I will highlight shortly .

Whilst I've used 'glaze' as general term colour and decoration can be added to ceramic beads in many different ways depending on the clay type and firing technique.

To colour these porcelain pods Rey of Grey Bird Studio mixes her own colours and sealants to her own recipes from pigments, oils, waxes and resins - and to great effect.

Porcelain beads by Grey Bird Studio

These pieces use standard mid range stoneware glazes...
Stoneware components by Lesley Watt
And these use standard low fire glazes...

Earthenware components by Lesley Watt
Underglazes are pigments that can be used with a clear glaze or unglazed as here...

This lovely piece by Jenny uses Oxide stains and underglaze on porcelain for a more earthy effect.

What to look out for when buying beads

Whatever type of clay the beads you are considering buying are made from there are some basic things to look out for but I would like to add a caveat here... I am talking about handmade artisan beads so I am in no way suggesting that beads have to have precise uniformity and no imperfections - that would just stifle creativity and miss the point completely.

The aim is simply to point out some areas to look out for to make sure you're getting value for money.

Strength and purpose

The first thing to remember when buying ceramic beads is that however strong they are they are not indestructible. I've dropped plenty of stoneware beads and had them bounce but I've also had them land on ceramic tiles or granite and break or chip. Porcelain is tough but if your piece is delicate it's not going to withstand rough handling. As a rule if you treat your ceramic beads as would lampwork beads you should be ok.

As the less durable of the clays I would add a couple of caveats when buying earthenware pieces...this is what happens when you drop one getting it out of the kiln...poor puss!

Very thin pieces may not be that strong as you can see from this early bracelet bar of Caroline's which she managed to snap just with her fingers. At 3mm this was a bit too thin, especially for a bracelet bar which is likely to get knocked about about during wear. Pendants don't get so much wear and tear so perhaps don't have to be quite so robust.

If you're planning to use your purchase with jump rings or wire, make sure the holes are big enough and not too close to the edge of the piece. Wire wrapping or opening and closing too tight jump rings will put the piece under pressure and beware those pliers!

Bead holes

Bead holes should always be clean and smooth with no rough edges, no blockages in the holes and no chips to the glaze. The last thing you want is to make a piece of jewellery only to have the beads slice through your stringing medium!

Good holes...

Not so good holes... here you can see bits of clay stuck in and around the holes and chipped edges.

Caroline very kindly supplied these images of some of her bead 'fails'.. and we all have them. Here the glaze has run into the holes and stuck to the wires during firing causing sharp edges and an imperfect appearance.

Another thing to look out for around bead holes is cracking... here are some of my stoneware beads that were fine after the first bisque firing (lower temperature) but when fired to maturity cracks appeared.

The positioning of the holes is also worth taking note of too as badly placed holes can have an impact on how you design with your beads. I made these lentils by joining two halves together but when I put the holes through I missed the centre which means the beads will be heavier on one side and may not hang well.

Wire Attachements

High Fire wire (Kanthal/NiChrome) is often used in component design and again there are a couple of things worth checking. First up make sure that the wire is substantial enough to support the piece and the plans you have for it. Although it is designed to be fired at high temperatures the wire does weaken somewhat during the firing process and if the gauge is too thin it may buckle or break further down the line. 

Wire can also cause cracking in the clay as I found to my cost with these poor bunnies and whilst the wires are still firmly in place I would not sell them in this condition.

Here the wire shank on a button has been pushed too far in and is protruding sharply through the front of the button - not good.


Warping is a common problem particularly at higher temperatures and with thinner pieces. This is not necessarily an issue if you're looking for an organic design or not too worried about it being flat - then a little warpage can add character. If you're looking for a cabochon to fit in a precise setting that requires a flat back though, it may cause you problems so it pays to think ahead a little.

Rustic style

Rustic or free form designs are growing in popularity and well made they have a wonderful aesthetic appeal but rustic is not an interchangeable descriptor with rough. Artists making this style of component will go to great lengths to ensure that any organic or unfinished detail is safe to the wearers skin and their clothes by smoothing away any sharp edges that can catch. This piece by Jenny is a good example...

Glaze faults

One of the most exciting thing about working with glazes is that you're never quite sure what alchemy is going on in your kiln and what you're going to get when you open it. Glazes often do things you don't expect and things can happen that theoretically are flaws. Sometimes these flaws become a happy accident that creates a whole new look but sometimes they're just flaws and should be consigned to the reject bucket...

Tiny pin holes in a glaze can sometimes create a nice textural effect but not when they look like the ones I got here which are likely to chip and could snag on clothes and skin.

Glaze application should generally be smooth and even unless there is an intentional design element at play and sadly this little fellow has a nasty case of blotchy glaze that has been applied too thinly in parts.

So there are just a few things to look out for when you are buying ceramic art beads and I hope you've found it useful. As I mentioned before we are talking about handmade beads and the very fact that they are all unique is their charm. Good designers will always be aware of the limitations of their mediums and create accordingly with love and attention to detail because they want you to be as happy with your purchases as they are making them.

 Of course, it can be difficult to pick up these points when you're buying online but good clear listing photographs should make any issues apparent (personally I do not buy from poorly photographed listings) and if for any reason you're not happy with your purchase contact the seller as soon as you can to discuss.

If you're new to ceramic art beads and want to see more pop along to the Facebook auction group Ceramic Art Bead Market.

Glossary of ceramic terms

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Pottery Adventure

I was a bit stuck over what to write about this week. I've not touched anything bead or jewellery related for a while, so I thought I'd share some of what I've been up to while not making beads. About 3 years ago, I acquired a pottery wheel. Every so often I would sit down and have a go and when beautiful pots didn't appear before my eyes I would put a board on it and it would go back to being a table.

My wheel
Here it is looking unusually clean! Can't say the same for the surrounding area... I'm a messy worker!

It's been a dream of mine since I was young to have a wheel, but each time I sat down, I got the feeling that the time wasn't right and I'd give up and pack it up again. A couple of weeks ago, I moved it to the other side of the shed where it was a bit more accessible and tried again... something clicked and I managed to make a few things I was nearly happy with.

Wedged clay ready for throwing

Throwing the clay down


Opening up to create the base

Lifting the walls

Tidying up

Cut off the wheel

I'm not quite up to making a matching set yet, but I like different!

Drying overnight so they're ready to trim

It's great to finally feel like I'm getting somewhere!

So with my new found confidence, I decided to try out some mugs. I've been mad for carving recently, (it all started with Lindsay's Eye challenge when I made Egyptian eye cabochons) and wanted to try the technique out on a larger scale. So after trimming my pots, I carved the design on to them and pulled some handles.

Action Shot - Trimming the foot

Scoring the design

Carved and smoothed

Extruded sausages ready to pull handles

Curving the handles

This is the first one drying out ready for a bisque firing.

Waiting to fire. 

Still a bit wobbly, but getting closer to looking just like a real one!

I'll be working on the rest of them this week... hopefully I won't mess them up in the glaze firing!