Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Exploring Enameling

What is enameling? The most basic answer is the fusing of glass to metal. This is a specialized field requiring patience, attention to detail and lots of planning and preparation. I was surprised by the variety of enameling techniques practiced. Through my research, I found an article on Ganoksin (a jewelers online resource) about the early roots of enameling (by Dr. Panicos Michaelides - © Glass On Metal - Vol. 8, No. 2, June 1989). The earliest cloissonne enamels (enamel applied to cells of metal) were from the 13th century B.C. in Cyprus. I found this article fascinating and am intrigued by the detail and quality of work created thousands of years ago.

I am learning this ancient technique in my jewelry and metalsmithing class at El Camino College. I purchased Linda Darty's book, The Art of Enameling, to bone up on some basic information. I really like the book, it is informative for the novice and intermediate enamelist. The book features several projects and lots of photographs. Enameling is an art form that takes time and patience to master, but there are many easy enameling projects that don't require a high degree of technical skill.

My assignment is to create a cloissonne pendant with an abstract landscape design. It only took me a second to decide on my subject. I had just witnessed the most extraordinary migration of whales along the peninsula. There were hundreds of blue whales feeding on the abundant krill as they make their way north. This sight was a miracle like no other. I decided to create a landscape of a whale spouting water in honor of this beautiful creature's migratory trek to the arctic.

For my project, I sketched out a design and colored it to show what it would look like enameled. The colored sketch will help me in my selection of enamels from a variety of test tiles. These are the steps I performed:
1) Clean copper plate. Apply scalex to one side, let dry. On the opposite side, fire with a clear flux. Clean edges between each firing.
2) Apply silver foil to plate, fire
3) Outline the sketch with cloissonne wire
4) Apply wires to plate with glue, fire
5) Clean transparent enamels by washing thoroughly
6) Mix enamels with a little 50/50 klyr fire/distilled water.
7) Apply enamels, fire; repeat twice
8) Abrade the surface of the piece with an alundum stone under running water. Even out surface.
9) One last firing to create a vitreous finish
Clear flux and cloissonne wires fired

Fired piece before stoning

My next step is to fabricate a setting for my piece. I designed a frame with a scalloped edge to give the effect of clouds around the upper half and line stamped around the lower half to create the idea of rays of light penetrating the water. To tie in the idea of the whale's migratory trek, I cut out small discs and stamped 'N' for north and 'S' for south on them. I formed two half-round circles of wire and soldered them to the discs. This entire piece was soldered around the outer rim of the bezel. The back of the piece has a tulle roller printed design that looks like a fishing net. After soldering the bail, I sanded, polished, oxidized then set the enameled piece. Here's my finished piece.

Northern Migration
My sketch turned out well in the enamels with the exception of the yellow I was trying to achieve to represent sunlight along side the sky blue. Instead, the yellow turned out a muddy green. I realized later that I should not have mixed the colors together while wet and should have packed the yellow along side the blue instead of mixing them together.
Learning is about doing and making mistakes. Each step needs to be thought out to ensure success in execution. I am happy that my finished piece conveys my idea and design. Now that I have some basic skills under my belt, my next piece should be even better. I guess we'll have to wait and see!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Contemporary Crafts Market - Inspired Creations

Every November, I look forward to seeing fabulous art at the Contemporary Crafts Market in Santa Monica. It is an opportunity to replenish my creative well and be inspired by fine artistans. I just love the selection of artists at this show, the wide variety of crafts and the unique point-of-view of each artist. The show was already buzzing when I arrived on Friday at 10:15 in the morning. By noon, the isles were crowded with potential customers. Many of my favorite jewelry artists were showcasing their newest creations.

One of my favorite jewelers is Adam Neeley. He was featuring his latest creations fabricated from several colors of gold graduating in color from yellow to white. Adam alloys his own metal to create these one of a kind pieces. The color change is subtle, the effect luxurious. He is featured in the August 2010 Lapidary Journal magazine.

Cezua, another jewelry artist, creates bold fanciful pieces. His designs are for the fashion forward and worthy of a rock star. The Bachelorette, Ali Fedotowsky, wore one of his rings. His designs showcase the unexpected. One ring featured a transparent diamond slice that had a prong set diamond viewable through its window. Another piece featured a bangle studded with diamonds and large dangling baroque south sea pearls. Definitely not a piece for the shy and conservative!

There were several enamelists, each with a unique style. There were three that shined for me. Marianne Hunter creates stories using colorful gems such as boulder opals and combines them with vitreous enamels. Her work is mystical, mysterious and beautiful.

Another enamelist, Anna Tai, creates cloissonne art jewelry. She had several striking pieces that combined colorful vitreous enamels and matte black enamel. The matte black finish provides a great contrast to the colored enamels. Anna explained how she packs the enamel colors to create the vivid colorful effects.

My favorite enamelist is Karin Pohl. She works in the enamel technique limoges. Her work is absolutely gorgeous, like a painting from an old world master. Each piece is created in 18kt gold, enameled on both sides and studded with fine gemstones. I am drawn to look closely and marvel at the amazing detail.

This was a great show! Lots of inspiration. My creative juices are over flowing and I can't wait to spend time in the studio. I'm inspired to tackle another enameling project to turn in for my class project.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Plating Creates Options

With the price of metal these days, I am always looking for more ways to create reasonably priced art jewelry. I looked into plating my designs as an affordable alternative to create a high-end look without the high cost. I decided to do a test exercise on several pieces trying out gold, fine silver, and rhodium plating.

The photos below show hammered cuffs in red brass before plating and after plating in 22kt gold. I requested a heavy plating for the cuffs.

Red brass cuffs before plating

Cuffs plated in 22kt gold, oxidized finish
I had several sterling silver pieces plated in fine silver to minimize tarnishing. Fine silver is .999 pure and has a lovely white finish.
Fine silver plating over sterling silver
The sterling silver rings below were plated in rhodium. Rhodium is in the platinum family and is often used over platinum, white gold or sterling silver. It is white, highly reflective, hard, and does not tarnish. Its hardness makes it great for finishing rings. Sterling silver scratches easily, but with a rhodium finish the surface is protected with a hard shell. I personally like the color of sterling silver and don't mind the scratches or light tarnish. I think this adds character to the jewelry. I'm not sure if I'll use rhodium for future rings, but I do have another option.

Plating can also be used as a design element to create a bi-metal look. An area can be masked to protect the metal prior to plating. The hammered cuffs above could have been plated in gold and silver, or for a more dramatic look, white and black rhodium.

The pendant on the left shows how a bi-metal look can be achieved using a plated bronze pod that is hinged to a sterling silver bezel set agate.

While plating may not be the solution for every project, it gives me options. I can create a signature look with rose or green gold or even black rhodium, add sophistication to copper or brass, or just prevent silver from tarnishing. I am blown away with the new options available to me with this process.

I love sharing what I've learned and hope you find this information helpful. Check out the yellow pages to find a plating company in your area.

To see my handcrafted artisan jewelry visit my etsy shop,

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lovely Ocean Jasper

I just love ocean jasper or orbicular jasper. The stone is a combination of agate, quartz, and trace metals. It is known for its beautiful orbs, wavy lines and gorgeous colors and patterns. Ocean jasper is a rare material that comes from a remote location in Madagascar. It has been mined out and is one of the most sought after collector stones in the world. Quality specimens sell for hundreds of dollars.

I was lucky to be given a piece of ocean jasper. The stone is red, white, and green and mostly opaque with several orbs. My brother-in-law cut this stone with beveled edges and a flat face. This material takes a beautiful lustrous polish.

When designing with stones with multiple colors and patterns, I often opt for very simple settings. The gemstone should be the focal point, not a busy or fussy setting. For this gemstone, I create a classic bezel setting with an open back. I roller printed a paper towel texture on the backside to minimize fingerprints. The bail is made out of double half round wire and soldered to the back of the frame. The glint of the high polished bezel against the ocean jasper and the snake chain give this pendant a sleek modern appeal.

The handcrafted pendant is a gift for my brother-in-law's sister. This note was included with the finished piece:
Ocean Jasper, also called Orbicular Jasper, is found only on the coast of Madagascar and is mined at low tide. Ocean Jasper has dots, wavy lines and comes in multi-colored designs of green, pink, red, black, white, and blue. This stone is said to increase your expression of love in words and actions and bring into focus the positive and relaxing aspects of home life and business. It is also believed to lift negativity so you can fully appreciate your blessings as well as ease and balance emotional stress.

For more handcrafted artisan jewelry visit my Etsy shop,

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Inspired by Nature

Koko at Pt. Fermin Park
My artisan jewelry nature series is inspired by walks along Paseo Del Mar on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Koko and I are lucky to have a beautiful scenic view while we both get our exercise. She sniffs and I look for interesting subject matter. There is so much inspiration - the wintery stormy seas, the whale migration in spring and the end of summer, squidding time, the tidal pools. The beauty of the area fills me up.

Winter is the best time to collect... right after a storm when the wind cleans the trees for spring. The park has all sorts of interesting subject matter - twigs, pods, flowers, peanut shells and pine cone cobs eaten by squirrels. To create my nature series, I chose several pods, leaves, and twigs to cast in silver or bronze. I also selected several interesting lapidary slabs to fashion into cabochons.

Here are photos of some of the handcrafted pieces I created. Each piece has a story.

Tidal wave - inspired by the February 2010 tsunami warning in southern California. The blue lace agate's raw edge and the waves in the stone reminded me of the swollen ocean and frothy waves on that day.

Blue Light - inspired by the moonlight on the ocean at night. In the summer, I often walk at night. It is beautiful when the light of the full moon reflects on the ocean.

Seascape - inspired by Catalina Island and the abundant seaweed along the coast.  I always pause to look at the breathtaking view.

Fortnight Lily Pods with Tahitian Pearl drops - natural pods found on one of my walks. I love the organic texture of the pods.

To see more "Inspired by Nature" handcrafted artisan jewelry visit, LisaMiwa on Etsy.
For my one-of-a-kind beaded gemstone jewelry, visit

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Shapeshifting Metal

Inspiration came knocking at my door with a two day fusing workshop with Marne Ryan. She hand-fabricates each of her designs by fusing sterling silver patterns to a base sheet. Much of her work uses 24 karat gold and sterling silver. Photos of her work can be seen at

Marne generously shared her 30 years of knowledge, showing numerous demonstrations of fusing sterling silver in different patterns and the specifics on how each pattern is created. The variety of patterns are limited only by one's imagination! There is a definite technique to fusing- the intensity of the flame, how closely the flame is held to the metal, waiting for the flash of melting metal. The sterling silver used in this project is made by Hagstoz & Sons. Marne says sterling silver is not created equal. She has tried other manufacturer's sterling silver with poor results.

After the demonstration, we were given our sterling silver metal packets to create our own fused patterns. I was so excited, imagining richly textured patterns created from wire and pieces of textured sheet metal.

The photo to the left shows the preparation of pieces for fusing. This pattern will look like bamboo leaves. Each piece is folded in half to give the piece depth and is filled edge to edge.

More pieces are added to the first fused layer. Once all fusing is completed, the sheet is flattened in the rolling mill. Now, the sheet is ready to create your design.

Now, what to make with my metal packet? Marne's silver and gold bangles are so attractive, I decided I needed to have one. A pattern with a smaller design would look better on a 1/4" wide bangle bracelet. So I chose a checkerboard pattern design made with 1/2" x 1" pieces of sheet metal that are folded in half, then rolled through the wire portion of the rolling mill. These pieces are opened and flattened, then placed on a fluxed 2" x 3" silver sheet for fusing. The first time you fuse, don't forget to breathe. In the space of a couple of minutes I had to judge flame size, the distance of the flame to the metal, remember not to flick the torch when I saw the metal melting, and watch for the flash of metal fusing. Wow, what a rush!

This is what the fused sheet looks like. 

Fusing is counter-intuitive to soldering. Your mind is screaming "pull the flame away" when you see the metal melting. But to fuse, a steady flame is required on the area until the flash of melting metal is visible before moving on to the next area. Once the piece is fused, pickle, rinse and dry, followed by flattening in the rolling mill.

To make the bangle, three 1/4" wide x 3" long patterned pieces are cut from the patterned sheet and placed  on a 1/4" wide base strip. The patterned sheet is not thick enough alone, so the pieces are soldered to a supporting sheet. The ends are overlapped, one end over the other, then sweat soldered to the base strip. The piece is pickled, rinsed and dried, then formed into an oval bangle. The ends are soldered together, then it is formed on a bracelet mandrel. Final steps include filing, sanding, polishing, and patina. I was able to achieve a golden patina to simulate the 24 karat gold Marne uses in her designs.

I am elated with what I accomplished during this class. My bangle looks like a million bucks! This technique produces such wonderful textured patterns that are to die for. I see earrings, pendants, and more bangles in my future! It's not difficult, just requires nerves of steel until you get used to the technique. Stay tuned for my own original fused designs, coming soon!

Many thanks to Marne Ryan for a great workshop. You can see her in person at the Contemporary Crafts Market on November 5-7 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Hanging from a Hinge

After making all of the hinges in the hollow form bracelet, I started thinking about other ways to use hinges in my designs. I've seen hinges used in many types of jewelry, but never used them because it seemed too difficult to execute. What I like about the hinge is its functionality and sophistication. My next two pendants are designed with a bail that connects to the main setting with a hinge.

Modern Turquoise Pendant

The bail is created in the same manner as the hollow form bracelet in my 'Summer Bliss' post. A rectangular form is created with holes for a chain and a tube for the hinge. The setting for the turquoise is made using a roller printed silver sheet used face up so that texture is visible around the base of the bezel. The bezel and tube for the hinge are soldered in place. The pieces are pre-polished, riveted together, then set with a turquoise cabochon. I like the seamless transition from the bail to the setting with the hinge element.

Rose Labyrinth

The next pendant includes a hinge with a cast eucalyptus pod and a pink moss agate cabochon. I fabricated a half-moon shape for the bail from a 1/8" strip of metal that spans the diameter of the back of the pod. The opening is large enough to accommodate a thick chain. The bronze pod is embellished with a bezel set rhodolite garnet and a soldered tube for the hinge.

The setting for the agate is textured around the perimeter and on the bezel. The stamped and hammered metal has a rich look and complements the organic texture of the eucalyptus pod. The parts are pre-polished, then riveted together. Once the stones are set, the piece is given a final polish.

I really love the hinges in my new pendants. They were easy to make and give me another design option to create movement and flexibility. This is especially helpful when the pendant is on the large side. Before using hinges, my options would have been to solder the parts together (a large piece would be stiff) or connect them with jump rings.

I say thumbs up for hinges!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tink, Tink, Tink

Today, I was inspired to finish two cuff bracelets made from Nugold.

They were already cut to size so my next step was to create the design. I decided on a hammered texture combined with stamping for one, and a hammered texture with a roller printed stripe for the other.

Hammering is therapy for me. The tink, tink, tink of the hammer on the metal puts me in a meditative state. I hammer and examine, hammer and examine, and repeat again and again. The process is easy, and pretty fast. And, the gratification comes quickly for this project.

Cuff #1 has a "v" shape pattern made with a pointed tool. I hammer short linear lines inside each "v" area. I think using two textures makes for a more interesting piece.

Cuff #2 has recessed wide roller printed stripes. I decide to hammer a linear pattern in each raised area. I like the contrast between the smooth recessed area and the linear lines.

I complete the look by hammering the side edges. The cuff is turned on its side for this step. I think this extra detail gives the cuff a more finished look.

The last step is to send these off to be gold-plated, followed by a patina. Yeah! Don't you just love it when a project turns out great!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Summer Bliss

Wow, summer is coming to a close, kids are back in school, and fall is quickly approaching. My summer went by so quickly because I was able to take a jewelry making class from Brad Smith. Brad's classes are always full so registration is by lottery. I got really lucky when they pulled my name from the wait list!

The summer project was to construct a hinged bracelet of hollow links of our own design with a box clasp. I was so excited that I would learn how to make this clasp. This is the kind of clasp used on high-end jewelry. We had twelve sessions to complete our project. It was a challenging assignment when first presented, but each step was first discussed, then followed by a demonstration. Everyone was so proud of their bracelets. Photos are posted on the Venice Metal Facebook page.

What did I learn?
  1. I love jigs. Jigs make it easy to make multiples. And, I have my plastic jig to use for future projects - just alter the design for an entirely different look. I am going to make more jigs for future projects.
  2. Paste soldering was a great revelation to me. So much quicker than using chip solder. We were shown how to condense the number of soldering operations. Wow, the thought of higher productivity dangles before me.
  3. Hinge making, while not difficult, just requires me to really focus on the task at hand. One wrong cut and you have a do-over.
  4. The box clasp is the best feature of this bracelet. It adds sophistication to the piece and looks more complicated than it really is. The step-by-step instructions made it an easy task.
I am so happy with my 'Summer Bliss' bracelet.

I liked this project so much that I got a head start on my holiday gifts. I made a pair of clip-on earrings and a pendant set with a peridot.

If you are interested in jewelry making, checkout classes taught by Brad Smith at the Santa Monica Adult School. This project has inspired two new creations that I'll share in a future post.

Don't stand on the sidelines. Be inspired to create!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

My First Blog Post

Today, I'm networking with fellow artists today. Robyn Hawk has been great providing us with step by step instructions in setting up our first blog. Today is the jumping off point. My goal is to create, inspire and educate!