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Adventures in Looming (and painting with electricity!)

What I Learned at the Bead&Button Show in 2017!

One of the perks of my job is being able to sample a few classes at our annual Bead&Button Show, which takes place every June in Milwaukee. It is very tough to choose between 400+ different jewelry-making classes; there just are not enough hours in the week. I took three classes, and each one was better than the next. 

I have a guilty jewelry-making secret. Despite being the Content Editor for the online home of Bead&Button magazine, and editing dozens of bead weaving and stitching projects over the past year, I had never actually pushed a needle through a seed bead. UNTIL NOW. 

winding path
What my final project will look like. I chose to make this pattern in purple. 
My actual loomwork, using the loom that Cindy Kinerson sells. The painter's tape is just there to hold my needle and thread in place so that I can pick up where I left off!
I took myself out of my metalsmithing comfort zone and signed up for a class in loomwork with Cindy Kinerson. The class/pattern was called Winding Path Cuff, and it was a beginner-level class in basic loomwork. 

It began poorly. I was nervous, then I arrived late, I had the wrong color of Fireline and to top it off, I could NOT thread a needle. I was just stuck and getting annoyed -- I mean, I can sew, how hard should this be!! Then one of my lovely fellow students introduced me to something new: a big-eye needle. I owe her my everlasting thanks!

Cindy warped my loom for me (thank goodness!) and I was off. She recommended that, as a beginner, I use the word chart, and soon I was beading away! Something clicked and I began to see the pattern emerge. I found myself relaxing into the rhythm of the beadwork and really enjoyed it. I wasn't able to finish in time, but will, and I know that my friend Julia will help me get this off the loom and on to my wrist. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself; I may have annoyed my co-workers a bit though, as I carried the entire loom with me all evening making them admire my work!

My next class was called Morning and Evening Landscapes, taught by the very fun Marti Brown, where we used electricity to create art landscapes on niobium pendants. I had seen the technique of painting on niobium demonstrated, but I was super curious about it. I am an enamelist, so I love to learn about any new way of applying color to metal. 

Niobium is a natural metal, mined in Canada, Brazil, Nigeria, Zaire and Russia. It feels similar to working with silver or copper, but one difficulty is that unlike those metals, niobium cannot be soldered. However, it has the marvelous property of being almost completely hypoallergenic, which means that 99.9% of all people with allergies to toher metals can wear niobium with no reaction. You see it used quite often in ear wires for that reason. 

The other unique property of niobium (and it's metallurgic cousin, titanium), is that when an electrical current is applied to the metal's surface, the metal literally changed color. This process, called anodizing, results in vibrant colors of blue, green, pink, and more, depending on the voltage applied to the metal. There are several ways to accomplish this; for this class we were literally "painting" the metal using a special paintbrush with a diode inside to spread the electrical charge in a controlled fashion, and some soapy water to help conduct the current. Learn more from Marti herself on her website. 

prepping the niobium
We used a basic metal shears to cut the niobium to pendant size, flattened the pieces out, filed the edges and punched some holes. So far, just like working with silver or copper or brass. 
painting niobium
The magic happens when you start to anodize the metal. This is Marti demonstrating her very controlled technique. We all attempted to follow her pattern, but with mixed results!


my first attempt
I started strong! You turn the know on your electrical source to raise the voltage of electricity that comes through your diode; your color palette is somewhat limited but wow, are the colors that you can achieve stunning. 
My two finished pieces. My trees are a bit wonky, and my mountains look more like the Arctic Circle than the Rockies, but hey, it was a first attempt. I loved learning this technique and can't wait to practice some more -- if I can get someone to buy me an anodizer for a present!
And finally, I did a class with the very much in-demand Robyn Cornelius of Little Rock Jewellery Studio in Alberta, Canada. Robyn was the artist who made the Commemorative Bead for the 2016 Bead&Button Show, and her metalsmithing is gorgeous. I was so happy to take this class. The focus was on piercing, which was great for me because I am LAZY when it comes to sawing. 
piercing 1
Just a piece of Sterling silver and a pattern of a tree. Seems simple, right? Robyn walked us though a nice step-by-step. We all managed to use the flex shaft to pierce holes in the metal, thread our saw blades through, saw out small sections, and most importantly, use our bench pins and saws at the correct heights and angles to get a smooth cut with our blades. I think I only broke six blades on this project, which isn't bad!
ready to construct
The finished pendant was a neat, two-layered piece which featured a wonderful patina on the bottom layer, showing through the places that were pierced. Here is my bottom plate (with two jump rings soldered in place) and my finished tree. Note the holes in the corners of both pieces; we're about to connect the two. 
heat riveting
We used heat riveting to connect the two plates in a technique that was at once simple and very complex. I'm so glad to have learned it and already have several sketches for other ways in which I could use it. 
My final piece. Believe it or not, that patina was achieved just with Liver of Sulfur -- we did it in the bathroom at the Wisconsin Center! Of course, there was a trick to getting it just right, but that's between Robyn and her students!
I was so lucky to go 3-for-3 in great teachers at this year's Bead&Button Show! Cindy Kinerson was so patient and found time to help me one-on-one even though she had a pretty full class of students, and she laughed with me, not at me, when I had a few A-HA moments about things like big-eye needles that are commonplace to most beaders out there! Marti Brown was fun and fascinating, and really encouraged us to attempt tricky things. Robyn Cornelius was a master teacher: she had a room full of students at all different skill levels, each undertaking a 20+ step metalworking project, and she was calm and nurturing and had anticipated every one of our questions. What a great week of jewelry making. 

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