Saturday, May 25, 2013

Stamp carving process

Over the years I've been asked how I make the stamps or molds I use for my coin pendants and thought it might be nice to see my process. This is the overview version, since I'm pretty absorbed in making things for the Bead and Button Show, but it should give a good idea. 
The first thing I always start with is sketches. Sometimes I'll draw an idea over and over for years before it will look just right and I'm ready to carve it. Other times I will know exactly how I want the piece to look and all I will draw is a quick thumbnail.
 The next step is to form a lump of clay (any clay that hardens will do - in this picture I am using polymer) into the shape of the stamp. The dark purple disc is a glass sun catcher, but I often use small glazed tiles as surfaces to work on. Then I draw the design onto the clay backwards. I can do this now without tracing my design with pencil and pressing the clay onto the paper to get a reverse image, since I've done so many.
Then, I slowly begin scraping away the design. This part is tricky. The rule is, the deeper the marks, the more they will stick out in the design, so really faint, shallow marks will look far away. The first designs I made were flowers, almost like lace and they translated well in this format. The hardest things to make are faces. I avoid these as much as possible, but I like to carve mermaids, so I know there will be a lot of filling in and recarving. 
When I've finished carving, I harden the clay (curing polymer in the oven, firing stoneware in the kiln or air drying - depending on the clay) and then I get to the fun part - testing the design! I use water as a resist for polymer and olive oil for other clays, then press in clay to see my work. Sometimes it's a lovely surprise, other times, its a deep sigh, knowing it will have to be made over, with modifications. This piece is good and I'm pleased with the depth and little details. From this point, production begins and either soft wax or metal clay can be used to press into the stamp. I use both materials, depending on what metal I want to end up with. I used to use just metal clays, until the price of silver clay tripled, making it too expensive for production. 
This type of mold wears out eventually, so one can only pull a finite amount of copies. I have mixed feelings about this aspect. It's sort of precious, only getting so many copies, but since the mold is the master, its also a little distressing. I'm very much like a dragon and like to have lots of piece, in case I might run out. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Out West

When I return from being away for awhile, I feel like home looks a little different. I realize it is my perspective that has altered - but its those minute differences that make going away so interesting. I spent last week out west, enjoying San Francisco and Montara. It was wonderful spending time with good friends, eating all kinds of delicious food and looking at lots of beautiful art. Really, its such lovely experiences that make life feel so amazing.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Here's a new wax master that's almost finished. It needs to be cleaned up, so the details are tight.

Small victories

The processes of artists is often portrayed as a blissful or tempestuous state, steeped in emotion, the product of deep yearning. While this might be true of say, Andrew Wyeth or Jackson Pollock, it hardly bears resemblance to the way my work is made. I draw or paint, making things I'm not sure have any meaning, let alone the truths Andrew Wyeth says artists should unearth. I look, draw, observe some more, daydream about whatever it is I'm sketching and wonder all the while if I can make what I'm drawing or if the drawing itself is worthwhile.

The real work of an artist is in that space where the first tentative attempts are made and the later ones that fall short of perfect. This space of time is so frustrating, so blood boilingly annoying. How I hate to return to the drawing board - to figure out a hinge, to get a tiny piece to cast or to fix resin that refuses to set up. I have a pile of projects in various states of 'almost there', so close, but for a few hours (days, weeks, months) of work.

The moment when a piece comes together, after so many hours hunched over, after making it over several times, is actually pretty damned blissful. Those few moments of utter happiness when a piece is examined and found without's a bone deep satisfaction.

So now I'm sitting in front of a pile of things that need more work, or that have to be sculpted from scratch (again). Sometimes it's the thought of painting the last dot in the eye, or seeing a flawless resin piece pop out of a mold that keeps me in the studio.
That desire to create something beautiful, something that will transmit an idea perfectly, is a bewitching force. The thought of small victories, overcoming a difficult material or finding the perfect color is enough for me. Better get some coffee on.