Sunday, April 29, 2018

Two Super Classes in August 2018 in NC

Metal Clay Fans & Friends:
I would like to let you know, just in case you missed it, that I will be teaching 2, one day classes at the Metal Clay Artists Symposium August 24 & 25 at the Sawtooth School of Visual Art in Winston-Salem, NC.
I taught at the Symposium in its first year, 2017, and it was a great event:  lots of classes to choose from, and best of all, a whole bunch of time to chat and get to know all the folks who were there.   Sawtooth is an amazing art facility with a helpful staff.  I know we had fun in our previous class(es) so, if you can make it, please join me again!

On Friday, I will be offering a new workshop called “Put It In Writing”

Lately, I have been making my own glass cabochons with words, initials or phrases on them.  I then fire them into pendants made with PMC3.  
The results are ultra-personal, mysterious, funny, or ??? depending on your own slant.  When you sign up for class, I will contact you and make you a custom cabochon.  That and another one of your choosing at the workshop is part of the class fee.  I will be demonstrating the method of making the cabs so that when you go home, you will be able to make your own.  (Time just won’t allow us to do the cab and the pendant.) See some of the examples in the photo.

On Saturday, I will teach a class I call “Petit Carved Charm Necklace.” ( 

This is a deceptive looking workshop.  These charms look small and simple and they are, BUT the accompanying skills learned in order to make the necklace are EPIC!  First we will learn about carving: for texture plates or stamps or in the dry clay itself.  This is a technique that has far-reaching potential for many, many metal clay projects.  Secondly, learning how to roll clay on a textured surface is one of the most paramount skills you need for metal clay.  Of course, dry finishing techniques, firing procedures (including torch firing) will be demonstrated.  After firing, we will learn the most successful way to use Aura 22 for that touch of gold!  We will finish by connecting with jump rings to a chain with a clasp.  If you are a Mc’er with experience, you will love this.  If you are a beginner with Metal Clay, this is a bonanza class for you—I guarantee it!

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Truth about Work Hardening and it's Pal, Annealing

This is my metalsmith persona talking here. Please excuse the length of this but I wanted to explain something to folks who have no background in moving metal.

Ahem. there are only four ways to work harden non-ferrous metals: rolling in a rolling mill, drawing wire through a draw plate, hammering (usually between steel hammer heads and steel bench plates--sometimes a hard plastic, like a delrin mallet will compress metal over steel) and lastly, by bending/twisting. That’s it. Period. (There are some kiln heat treatment procedures that can harden sterling and Argentium--available to find online)

Tumblers have a burnishing action and not an action like a hammer. Tumblers rub. A hammer head has weight and mass and as it falls through the air to its target, it picks up velocity which gives the strike more power. That power compresses the internal microscopic structure of, say, a piece of sterling sheet.  A tumbler, even if you tumble for 3 days straight, will only compress the surface molecular layers and not all the way through the piece of metal--that's what gives the shine. If you tumble fine or sterling silver or base metal clays, you will merely "case harden" the object. Kinda like an M&M's thin candy shell!

Fine silver has no copper added like sterling alloy does. The addition of a copper (7.5%) to fine silver (92.5%) makes an alloy that is still very malleable but able to withstand abrasion better and able to be work hardened--the quality of springiness that a forged neckpiece has is work hardened by the use of hammers and steel surfaces to create the form.

A fairly thin (18 ga., say) piece of silver metal clay (fine or sterling) that is tumbled will look shiny but will be able to be bent by hand. A thin piece of sterling clay that is subjected to one or more of the four methods of work hardening mentioned above will be quite difficult to bend. So for sure, a thin wire-like form in fine or sterling will be easily bent by hand after lots of hours of tumbling.

Fine silver, some say, cannot be work hardened as it doesn't contain that bit of copper. I think, technically speaking, that is correct. Fine silver will change its "temper" when continually compressed with a rolling mill, for instance, but nothing at all like a similar piece of sterling.

Here's the point of all this jabber: If you are making something out of fine silver clay and it needs to be springy or unable to be distorted in any way, you need to choose a different material (metal) to make it. OR make it thicker, OR use sterling or 960 clay OR use a base metal clay (they tend to be less maleable), OK rant done, sorry

Monday, August 08, 2016

Things I know about TEACHING ! ! !

Barbara Becker Simon

I love teaching.  I get a real rush when I experience those first moments before I say “Good Morning, Let‘s get going!” and when I sense the eagerness in the class that the fun is just about to begin.

We are all here in the room to experience new things.  I say “we” because teaching is a two-way street where I learn a great deal from the students.  Besides, the technical tips I might pick up, there are:  new tools, what new sci-fi books to read, new sources of supplies, recipes, new materials, other good classes to take, best restaurant and other points of interest in town, new jokes, travel tips, where the nearest Trader Joe’s is, and simply getting to know new people and reconnecting with friends.

A portion of my teaching history took place in two university settings: courses in metalwork/jewelry and basic design at the University of Wisconsin-Menomonie and Iowa State University.  Granted, the students chose to major in art and were technically “happy” to be in class, but it was a serious learning situation with tests and grades.   Since I have been teaching workshops such as we are used to, it has been such a pleasure to stand in front of groups of people who, for the most part, are squirming with delight at being there!  So right from the get-go, the atmosphere is prime for a great experience.

I would like to offer some things that I, as a teacher, try to do to make the workshop experience the best it can be.

First, I like to know who is going to be in class.  No, not Mary Jones specifically, but, are they beginners? advanced? mixed bag?  A teacher needs to know her class and what the expectations are.  Often, I will blatantly ask what folks want out of the workshop.  Can’t hurt to be direct!  First thing, I like to go around the room and have everyone offer short introductions.  I ask where they are from and what their experience is with metal clay.  This not only gives me an idea of the skill level of the class and the personalities, but everyone else is listening too and getting to know their classmates.  It sets the tone for the workshop and gets the engine greased!

Weeks and sometime months ahead of the workshop, I plan what I am going to teach and how I am going to teach it.  A basic time line of daily activities is either in my mind or actually written down.  Previously, I have sent detailed class descriptions revealing the topic and the techniques that will be emphasized.  The students and the host of the workshop receive a specific set of supplies and tools to be responsible for.  I make sure to include my email for questions.  There is nothing sadder than a student who comes to class with the wrong stuff or the absence of stuff.  Bad for every one!  If possible, I always try to have back up tools and materials with me just in case this happens.

When presenting information, realize that there are different ways that people learn.  Luckily, most of what I teach is demonstration.  There is nothing better than seeing things happen right before your eyes.  And repeating a demo as many times as necessary is a good thing.  I can tell from the blank and/or confused look on faces, that I didn’t get through.  So I will do it again, with variations if possible, until I see the light bulbs click on overhead!  Sometimes I will ask a student to stand or sit right behind my shoulder so she can see exactly what I am seeing as I perform some technique. 

I will ask the simple question, “Is that clear?”  And I will wait for an answer.  If the time lapse between the question and the answer is longer than I like or I don‘t hear a rousing chorus of yesses, I know I have to figure out another way of explaining.  Maybe a diagram, maybe better, more exaggerated hand motions, maybe a joke or a funny phrase such as “slip flicking“?  Humor is an excellent memory tool!  

Many students, for lots of reasons, are afraid to ask questions.  I try to establish an open, free-wheeling atmosphere where no question is out of bounds. Often, before I answer a question, I will complement the asker by saying how much I like the question.  You just know that there are others in the group who are saying in their heads, “Thank goodness she asked that!”  And maybe next time they are puzzled about something, they won’t hesitate to ask.

The rhythm of the class is important to the enjoyment of the workshop.  No, we don’t get up and cha-cha.  (But of course I am not above doing that if it helps get the point across…)  What I mean is that a good teacher varies the length of each segment of activity.  Don’t sit the group down for hours on end doing one thing.  

I like to start with a demo that has enough information to get the students going on the first project.  I organize it as a need-to-know process.  Don’t overburden the students with info that they don’t need to know for the next 30-40 minutes.  That way, they can focus on the task at hand.  Then follow up that work time with the next demo and add more info. 

I also like to inform the class at various times that there will be X-number of minutes of work time; usually 30 minutes to an hour, where they are in full control of their time.  Always let the class know what is coming next; or even what the whole morning or afternoon will hold.  It’s comforting.   In addition to keeping info in bite-size increments, physically moving to a new area from time to time keeps things fresh.  It is very disturbing to see a yawning student…….

Speaking of yawning, be very attuned to the mood of the group.  Speed things up, slow things down as needs be.  Be thoroughly prepared but also be able to change your plans based on what the class sensibility is.  I am never averse to going off on a tangent if the class is curious about something and we have the time.  I like to have an “organic” approach to the learning experience even though I have formally established what will be covered in the workshop.

One last thing that will make a good teacher, is to be taught by a good teacher.  I have had some stellar examples in my past, from which I have unashamedly stolen teaching methods.  A good teacher always remembers what it is like to be a student in a disappointing class as well as a great one.   

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Oh That Nasty F Word: Firescale!! and metal clay findings too!!


(***NOTE:  I wrote this article before the advent of PMC Sterling and the 960 alloy, so please read this with Fine Silver Clay in mind.  Now that we have the above alloys, strong clasps can be constructed entirely of these two new metal clays.  In addition, you can implant all the silver wire into them as well.)

FINDINGS, the mechanical bits that differentiate a bracelet from a tie tack, from an earring, have a number of things in common.  To function correctly, clasps and findings must have strong working parts to hold together and to support weight.   The finding must be fashioned in such a way that the wearer feels secure that the piece will stay on the body.  Ease of use is an advantage.  Integration of the finding into the overall design is always desired.  Commercial findings have their place, but when a designer can meld function with form, it is the best solution and tends to make a more successful and pleasing piece of jewelry.

Wire is the main form of metal that makes up a variety of clasps and findings.   Since PMC is fine silver, it is obvious that the implantation of any piece of fine silver wire will survive the highest firing schedule of 1650° F for 2 hours and anything below 1650° F.  Jump rings or eyelets of a thin gauge of fine silver wire are suitable for any small, light element that might dangle from an earring, for instance.  Even larger, heavier gauge jump rings in fine silver will function well if they are embedded to cover the joint.  But relying on fine silver of any gauge would be a mistake when the finding needs to have tensile strength (tension or spring) in order to function properly.  Without the presence of the small amount of copper as in sterling silver, fine silver wire cannot be work hardened for strength.  Therefore, sterling is the material that is preferred for creating findings in PMC.

A red flag should wave when considering implanting sterling into PMC.  At temperatures above 1200° F, sterling’s molecular structure will begin to change.  Initially, heat will soften the sterling and anneal it (about 1100°F).  Beyond about 1500° F sterling will become brittle and begin to reticulate or wrinkle on the surface.  Sterling silver melts at 1640° F which would be an obvious problem when using the 1650° F firing temperature for any duration of time.  Therefore, it is preferable to use only PMC 3 at the 1110° F temperature.  The duration of time at 1110° F doesn’t seem to be an issue.

Another change that Sterling undergoes when heated in the presence of oxygen is the formation of copper oxide, or firescale.    During heating, the copper at the surface is converted to Cu2O, cuprous oxide, which has a reddish color and then to cupric oxide, CuO, which is black.  We are used to seeing the black CuO on the surface after removing a finding of PMC 3 and sterling wire from the kiln, but what you don’t see easily is the Cu2O which is absorbed by the silver and the copper and then resides in the interior of the silver.  Prolonged heating and in the case of soldering, insufficient flux or wearing out of flux, causes firescale to go deep into the surface making abrasives necessary to remove it.

Firescale can be dealt with in a number of ways.  After firing, abrasives such as emery can be used to scrape into the surface of the sterling and remove the firescale.  As a total preventative measure, one can paint the entire surface of the sterling with PMC 3 paste. The paste will fuse to the sterling and create a layer of fine silver over the sterling and negate any oxidizing action in the kiln.  Depletion gilding is also useful in removing copper oxide. Pickle can be used to remove some of the surface firescale.  If the firescale is deep, abrasives must be used.  If using pickle make sure to neutralize the acidic action by soaking the metal clay in a saturated solution of baking soda and water.  Leaving pickle in the porous structure of metal clay is not a good practice.  ( see a comprehensive article on firescale:

If a mirror finish or without patina finish is desired, firescale must be removed because of the off-color of the oxidized metal.  Polished firescale has a grayish, purplish tinge that is immediately noticeable if not removed or disguised by patina chemicals.  (Tumbling will not remove firescale—only acids, acidic chemicals and abrasives will work.)  It is not good craftsmanship to see polished firescale on a finished piece.

(If I know that I am going to be using patina chemicals to blacken my piece, I just leave the firescale surface intact and use it to my advantage by integrating the color of the oxidized sterling with the patina treated areas.)

To create various clasps and findings one can insert pieces of sterling wire into the soft clay.  Even though the sterling is fused to the PMC and captured by the shrinkage, a little insurance in the form of a wiggle in the imbedded wire is not a bad idea.   If one has a dry, unfired piece of PMC or one that has already been fired, sterling wire can be buried onto the surface with unfired  PMC 3.  Fire those types of PMC and then add your sterling and fire at the 1110 F temperature.

Once you have fired your piece with the implanted sterling, and removed the firescale, it may be necessary to work harden the sterling so that it will function properly.  For example, if you are making a hook and eye clasp, the hook must be strong and springy.  One can carefully hammer that hook form with a steel hammer on a steel block and create that spring.  Another finding that needs this step would be French or shepherd-type earring hooks.  Jump rings and eyelets whose joints are buried don’t usually need to be hammered.  Tumbling does not work harden annealed sterling sufficiently for it to function as a finding.

The configurations, forms and varieties of findings that one can create with PMC and sterling are limitless.  Being able to create a customized clasp that integrates aesthetically with a piece of jewelry is very advantageous to the overall look of the piece.  Not having to haul out the soldering paraphernalia is also a pleasure!  


Monday, May 04, 2015

Come to METALWERX in the Boston MA area in JULY and take 5 days to immerse yourself in every aspect of metal clay hollow forms: PMC BEAD-O-RAMA!
It's going to be a blast!!

Level: Intermediate and aboveRequirements: Experience Working with Metal ClayProgram: SummerStatus: OpenLength: 5 DaysTuition: $ 795Only $ 755.25 for registration before 29 June 2015 Materials: $ 0Date: July 29, 2015 - August 02,...

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Greetings all you metal clay fans! This is an invitation to join me and a bunch of other metal clay lovers in a workshop that I will be giving at the Metal Clay Mojo Conference on August 18 & 19, in Chester, CT.

The Mask Ring is the title of the workshop. What you will be doing in the class is modeling a face (or part of a face—like the eyes or the lips!) in polymer clay, using liquid silicone to make a mold, and then filling that mold with 960 Sterling Metal Clay. You will then make a shank, put the two together and Voilà, A really cool ring will result!!

Don’t be intimidated one teeny weeny iota by the modeling of the face because I have a sure-fire method that ANYONE, yes I said ANYONE can do! No lie; honest to goodness, it’s true. In fact, in previous workshops, I had to beg people to stop working on their models so we could get on with the metal clay part!!

You will see pictures of some rings made with this technique. And as you can see, there are many variations. There is no reason why you couldn’t expand this project to pendants, earrings, or bracelet links.

So if you would like to join in the fun of the workshop (and the conference, too) go to, and find out more information. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Calling all lampworkers who want to compose fabulous jewelry using their beads!!!
Bead Camp ( is hosting my workshop, April 26-May 2, in Nokomis Florida.  We are really going to tackle jewelry design as well as some basic metal clay knowledge and some lampworking tips and techniques. 
Bead Camp is a unique, casual, dare I say “beachy”? venue that is so much fun!  Join us in the beautiful Florida weather next month!

Combining Metal Clay Components and Your Glass Beads to Make Unique Jewelry
Learn to make a focal bead, spacers, components and custom findings, using fine silver metal clay for your glass bead jewelry. In this five-day workshop, students will make a set of lampworked beads to coordinate with a fine silver PMC focal piece and/or components. We will spend some time on the process of designing jewelry with glass beads—color, size, shape, function, etc.—so that the final product will be a strong, cohesive piece. Techniques for creating a matching clasp will also be demonstrated. Custom findings made with silver metal clay will set your jewelry designs apart from the crowd! Those with no  experience with metal clay will be welcomed right along with those who have experience. Base metal clay will also be demonstrated.