Pratt Fine Arts Center – Class!

Julia at Pratt has me slated to lead a workshop in April. Please come, it’s probably your last chance to see me teaching at Pratt Fine Arts Center here in Seattle for a while.

Workshop: Liquid Enamel for Steel and Copper
Saturday April 14 and Sunday April 15 
9:30 AM-5:30 PM
Jewelry Studios – Pratt Fine Arts Center
1902 South Main Street

Fingers crossed I get to see my two favourite regulars there (you know who you are 🙂 )

Nancy’s Sewing Basket is closing

This is my favourite room in all of Seattle:

I’ve written about this place before, because I love it, and it’s chief inhabitant (at least in the hours that I visit), the dedicated 77 year old ribbon mistress Susan Pasco.

But now it’s closing. I’ve been in three times since I got the email, and no doubt I’ll sneak in one more time before it closes. In one of my missions I bought a yard of wool binding that I promptly used on a Halloween jewel (see instagram). On finishing that piece I quick-marched back up there to get some more. On the second trip I got 3 yards, then Susan, having remarked on liking the colour both times she measured it out for me, said she was “Going to deep six the rest of this.” and piled it behind her, then shuffled papers over it. I look forward to what she makes out of it – more likely a suit than jewellery.

Anyway, the ribbon room does not look like that photo (from 2015) any longer,  it’s been well depleted already, but if you do want to stock up on vintage grosgrain, this might be your last chance.

Goodbye, dear friend.


Laser Cutting

Clouds - One Design

In response to a pretty consistent question, I’m going to share with you my laser cutters. I know, it’s either a very brave or completely overdue move…

OBLIGATORY CAVEAT: both of these companies will only deal with you if you have a drawing capable of being machine-read. Which means, you need to have a drawing in vector format (Autocad .dxf or .dwg is most common, [if in, say, Rhino, I’d imagine that’s a ‘save as’ option] or perhaps an Illustrator file saved to .eps – I have had some cutters deal very well with Corel Draw [and if you remember playing/working with that program, you’re older than you look!]) before they will look at the file to quote you a price. Real talk: if you need help with that, I’m not your person. I dream in AutoCad (*not actually true, but admit it, I almost had you?!) so I’ve never had to outsource that part of the process.

The drawing part is essential as the quote that either of these companies will want to give you is based on the machining time – which is a calculation on how long it will take the laser to trace the lines you have drawn. Part of that calculation is an allowance made for the thickness/hardness the material. For instance, working in wood is normally faster, ergo cheaper, while working in 1.5mm/0.59″ stainless steel is going to challenge some lasers, and therefore be more expensive.

These two cutters are best for very low tolerance work; they are precise, as I like to be able to put a .5mm hole in the middle of a 1.5mm channel (see above). If you’re looking for less precision, take a look at other options, as it’s likely that there are cheaper local people who can do your thang. TBH, that might even be a challenge for one of these people to do neatly, but I know their machine is more or less capable.

One Design - #07 Ring 01Image of Melissa Cameron, 2014


Ok, no more pfaffing:

Starting at the top – and I mean in terms of price, and from the image at top: expensive, great quality, medium turn time, will source and cut low carbon steel (for enameling)and titanium along with their regular lineup of metals: Laser Services USA

My preference for wood and mass production:
Cheap, medium quality (some deburring required with metal, depending on the cut), stainless steel and a huge array of default non-metal materials and with the option of very, very fast: Pololu

Please be nice to them, y’all, I want to be able to show my face at either of their establishments (or rather, web portals) well into the future 😉

Material Concerns – Part II

There’s a theme developing here.

I recently wrote for AJF about The Ribbon Room, a mythical place here in Seattle that I’ve written about before. A few times in fact

If you’re in Seattle, the window of Nancy’s Sewing Basket has one of Susan’s amazing garments on display at the moment. If you check it out be sure to wave toward the north, where I’ll be ensconced in my freezing but otherwise comfy hermit hole.. I mean, studio.



1/ I’m in Bright at Rose Turk–o! From the exhibition media:

“Bright and shiny. Sometimes wearing jewelry with a little extra spark can help remind us of how we shine as individuals. Art Jewelry has the ability to convey strong messages from the wearer’s body. This show consists of Bright pieces that add confidence and play to the world. On the body the work is bold, positive, and radiant.

This jewelry represents brilliant makers as well as wearers.”

Curated by Maggie Smith, Bright opened last night at Rose Turko, located at:
1202 N. Boulevard, Richmond VA, this is the second collaboration between The Dame (aka Ms Smith) and Kathy Emerson at this new space, and I for one am hoping it will turn into a full-blown residency!

Jewel for a wall - neckpiece Jewel for a wall - PendantJewel for a wall - red rhombus

Jewel for a wall - 8 rhombii. Melissa Cameron. 2014
Jewel for a Wall pendant, brooches and neckpieces. Directly above – 8 rhombii, assemblage made from multiple Jewel for a Wall pieces. Stainless steel, vitreous enamel, silk thread. Melissa Cameron. 2014.

For the show I sent a few pieces from a series that was begun while I was in Germany for the enamel residency with the Heat Exchange mob last year. I returned with the enameled parts to my studio where I welded, soldered and threaded up a storm, thus completing the Jewel for a Wall series. The Bright exhibition seemed the right place to debut a bunch of big and colourful works; some which are wearable on the body and others which, as per the name, were designed to be worn by a wall. The placement of holes that dot the rhombus base shape was carefully considered to maximise both the pieces’ jewel and wall-joining potential, with the colour palette similarly chosen to make sure that the many possible configurations would suit one another.

You might have seen on my Instagram feed that the works are up and looking great – it’s a nice arrangement on the wall with quite a few neckpieces in the group. If you’re a fan of my work as well as the bigger jewel / smaller collectible object you should definitely check it out. And, if you happen to call in over this weekend, you will see an amazing Trunk Show from the indomitable mistress of mesh, Caitie Sellers! Get along, her works will dazzle you!


Image of dress by Susan Pasco, taken from
Image of dress by Susan Pasco, taken from her site;

OK, I have one more tip for this weekend – and while it is bright, it is not entirely jewellery. The Susan Pasco Costume Collection – Art of the Costume is on display in Seattle at the Glenn Hughes Penthouse Theater at the University of Washington.

“In this wide-ranging retrospective of Seattle artist Susan Pasco’s work, mounted in collaboration with the university of Washington School of Drama, more than 40 distinct, historically-accurate garments bring late 17th- through early 20th-century dress to life. combining vintage materials, couture quality, extensive hand embroidery, and exquisite craftsmanship, each garment in Art of the Costume is a feast for the eyes and mind, alike.”

(above taken from her website)

I’m going to brave this weekend’s weather (it’s Seattle, what choice do I have?!) to see it, and since is on until Sunday you still have time to get over there.

Wednesday-Friday, Nov. 11-13 :: 12 noon – 4 pm
Saturday, Nov. 14 :: 10 am – 4 pm
Sunday, Nov. 15 :: 12 noon – 4 pm

I know Susan from practically every trip to the local sewing store, Nancy’s Sewing Basket, I have ever taken, where I see her remarkable and detailed work as modelled by her, so I cannot wait to see a room full of her exquisite detailing!

Lasers and welders and sanders, oh my!

A couple of things. I’m working hard on pieces for the One Design exhibition – I’m just about done with the titanium pieces, and I’ll be starting on the stainless cut possibly as early as this Friday, so long as my new (cheap) orbital sander arrives on time.

Orbital sander on stainless steel? Are you nuts, Melissa?

Probably, but that’s of no consequence to the matter at hand. (Or perhaps I should replace ‘no’ with ‘little’…)

The cuts I have been working on have a bit of laser spatter over the surface, which, I might add, is quite normal. The job shop I used in Australia would either dunk the finished cuts in acid to clean them, or linish them if they were of a suitable size (or cuts in titanium.) Not owning a lishishing machine, and having been subject to a spatter (perhaps not even – there’s a weird shadow on my cuts that seem to have gone into the metal – see the photo – though once I start cleaning I might find that I’m just not seeing them right and it’s still atop the sheet) or something that’s being a little more persistent, I’ve decided to try sanding them before sandblasting them with fine glass beads.

Ripe for sanding -spatter  'shadows' after holes - upside of lasercut
Ripe for sanding -spatter ‘shadows’ after holes – upside of lasercut
shadows and colouring of side profiles
shadows and colouring of side profiles
Shadows around lines - underside of stainless steel lasercut
Shadows around lines – underside of stainless steel lasercut

If this is not more time effective than changing out the glass beads to aluminium oxide for a first pass then switching back for the finale – ie blasting all of the pieces twice (necessary in some recent earrings) – then that’s what I’ll end up doing instead. Preliminary attempts to grind back the offending marks on the titanium cut, using my diamond abrasive pads (normally reserved for working on enamelled surfaces), were not bad, so I’m crossing fingers that a little more elbow grease (in the form of a machine to actually do most of the grunt work) will be quicker than a double-blasted finish. Which is what I must have done in previous situations. Though I think the more-matte Al-Ox finish was predominant in my earlier works. It makes heat-colouring look more vibrant, but is a little less resilient when worn.

OK, to be less confusing in this next paragraph is a new goal. I’ve already failed… I do backwards sentences well, in case you hadn’t noticed. I’m like Yoda.

I have also been testing out a new laser cutter called Pololu, specifically for the timber cut that I’ve had done more recently. They actually specialise in electronics and seem to have picked up laser cutting to help build the robots they were supplying all the electronics for, and happily they were super fast and super good. And they advertise timber as a preferred medium, so they had what I wanted in stock. The one big caveat? Their site says the thickest stainless steel or spring steel that they can work with is .060″, which comes out at about 1.5mm in my native tongue. Luckily I work in 1mm, so I am going to test them when I next have a cut to do, and I’ll see if they might do titanium for me – I’m guessing I’ll have to provide the sheet, but I’ve done that before.

PUK welded titanium - posts and lasercut Ti
PUK welded titanium – posts and lasercut Ti

Finally, I mentioned welding. Just today I slipped out to my buddy Kirk Lang‘s studio to have a demo of and a play on his super-awesome Lampert PUK welding machine. And what can I say? It’s love. It is a very pretty machine and it welded these titanium posts to these old Sieve parts soooo easily. The reason I still have Sieve parts lying around is because I didn’t have a machine like this to weld titanium back in 2010 (or 2011, or ’12 for that matter). In fact the titanium welding shown at the JMGA conference I went to in 2010 was in a sealed argon environment (looking quite like my a sandblast chamber it necessitated doing the job in gloves whereas the PUK allows one TO USE HER BARE HANDS) that had me thinking that I’d be lucky to play with one in my lifetime. Incidentally, excitement about this technology is why you might have noticed me barking on about the Orion Pulse Arc Welder in previous posts, and I finally saw one at SNAG a month ago and I liked it a lot, but now I’ve seen then Lampert… There’s something about precision German engineering, y’know? And did I mention that it’s pretty..?

It’s a design thing.

String theory

01 String

Last week I had 10 different types of string lined up for a piece I’m working on. It doesn’t need 10 types of string, but I didn’t feel that the finished work I was trying create resonated with any one of them. I had already discounted some satiny cord, the usual pearl-silk that you can get at most jewellery suppliers as well as the nylon thread that is often used on beaded (especially when used in combination with jade beads) bookmarks and key chains. They weren’t quite old or rustic enough.

In case you’re not Rain Man and don’t want to count them – there’s 19 different colours of cords, threads and strings up in that image, of eleven different types. There’s embroidery thread, two types of kitchen string and two more of what appears to be jute string (one is for sure), a couple of leather ones, several cottons in varying colours, some linen and my usual weapon of choice, a length of stainless steel cable.

Despite my misgivings, I loaded myself with strings and cords from my different stashes around the house, and headed to the basement. Being unsure of which to use by this point in the process is a bit unusual, because usually when I’m visualising something and the material for the body of the work has been decided, I can see the finished object in my head, including vague ideas about adjoining materiality. If not, and I actually have to go find the last ingredients, when I find a part that I think will complete the work – say when I’m looking at thread in a shop – I can then see it working in my minds eye. In this case I hadn’t reached that point, but I figured that playing with the different types and colours against the actual object that I was working on would solve the problem for me. It wasn’t like I didn’t have plenty of options available.

Then as I sat with all the cords, strings and threads and the saw pierced parts of an ex-object I’m working with, I remembered that I had in an even more secret stash in the bottom drawer of my bench, that I had dived past earlier in the week in a hasty search for some neighbouring steel chain.

The centre bottom four threads in that photo are waxed linen – the ones in red, blue, green are joined by the burgundy one that runs along the bottom and finishes to the right. They’re little samples given to me by Lauren, who I stayed with in Pittsburgh earlier this year. After Lauren had kindly given me 4 little samples I had packed them into my bag of steel cable, a stash of my usual threading material, which I had taken over to Pittsburgh for use in the workshop I gave there. Upon returning home and having unloaded my bag of tools and materials, I had forgotten about the thread entirely. So rather than in my filing cabinet with all my other threads in the studio, they were stored with my steel cable, next to my steel chain, in that bottom drawer. And when I sat in my chair with all the other strings and threads I had bought and found around the office, kitchen and studio, I realised that what I was really needing was in the bottom of that drawer.

When Lauren showed me the thread back in March I thought it was nice, but I didn’t really have a place for it in my practice, especially given that my introduction to the material was somewhat alien to how I now plan to use it. Lauren uses it for the precise art of miniature basket making, in which she often uses a 1c coin – a penny – as the base of the basket. Her use of it shut down my thoughts of what I might do with it, and dictated how I thought the material would work best.

Since I reopened my package and played with the thread in a completely new context, it has been occupying so much of my brain space it’s been insane. Once I ordered it I was counting down the days til the delivery, obsessively checking the arrival time as if it were a mask running late for my Halloween costume (late delivery is one of many shipping misfortunes I encountered this week, along with deliveries landing at the wrong address entirely – it’s been a bad week with UPS here at the Embassy.) I was so grateful to Lauren that she insisted I take an image of her sample card, which I clearly remember thinking at the time was overkill for my level of interest. But now I know first-hand that she is absolutely right, the samples on the card do not match the images of the thread on the website.

Royalwood Waxed Irish Linen Sample Card pre 2013

This whole process has made me wonder at the nature of creativity. Was I waiting, rather impatiently, for my brain to re-make the connection to the linen thread? If that’s true, then I was never going to be completely happy with anything but the waxed linen. Or if not, if in fact if I had never seen that such a thing existed, would I still be foundering in the studio trying to find a replacement, perhaps braiding different fibres or even waxing my own thread (I’ve done that before in small sections; in fact one of the embroidery threads above has a 2cm section where I recently tried it,) or scouring more shops or the internet for yet another alternative. Lucky for me though, I had come across the perfect filament, and it was patiently waiting for me, snuggled up right next to a big stash of my old favourite, the stainless cable.

The scene with Laura has also haunted me this past weekend. How I had outwardly showed interest, but internally had already moved on from thinking that the thread could useful for me. How wrong was I. And how lucky was I to have had the opportunity to listen up regardless, to be given the chance to realise the import of her words much later.

It reminds me of the movie Wayne’s World (before you interject with “Objection, your honour. Irrelevant!” hear me out…) where Wayne and Garth meet up with Mr Big’s security – as played by Chris Farley. The scene closes with Wayne practically breaking character to placate the audience for the clumsiness of the exposition just witnessed. But thanks to a 30 second encounter with a single ‘fellow enthusiast’, the characters and the audience now know something that is of supreme significance for the progress of the story.

Perhaps it’s the same notion. Once I had ownership of such information, after a seemingly chance encounter with Lauren and her spools of waxed thread (a material with very specific properties – never before have I wanted a cord that would grip and kink so readily,) like Wayne and Garth, it was just a matter of time before I had reason to use it.

Somewhat coincidentally (as if I wasn’t already wondering about the nature of intuition versus perception…) I read this article “How Our Minds Mislead Us: The Marvels and Flaws of Our Intuition” by Maria Popova today, discussing a recently released book called Thinking, edited John Brockman. I totally believe that perception – knowledge that I already had – led me to re-finding the thread when I finally sat down to make with my gathered fibres. But where does the creative intuition – that I simultaneously knew that this thread was the ideal that had haunted me – fit in?

Orchestra, some thinking music, please.

Enamel Workshop

The weekend before last I taught an enamel on steel workshop at Danaca Design, located  in the nearby University District (nearby if you’re in the Queen Anne neighbourhood of Seattle.) Dana Cassara’s studio is well suited to teaching enamel – she has a sandblast unit with garnet grit, two kilns (that fact became very important on day two) and a raft of materials from brushes to klyr fire mixes to masks and green glasses and an assortment of jewellers/sifting enamels. And now quite a large supply of liquid enamels.

After ordering via Dana a bunch of extra enamels from Thompson, some low-carbon-steel test squares then having found some mild steel at the local legendary super-hardware store, Hardwicks, and having checked out the kilns and the sandblast cabinet in the leadup to the class, come 10:30am Saturday we were ready to rock. To add to the collection of tools and enamels at Danaca, on the day I took in a bunch of my enamels (my trusty low-fire clear turning out to be the most important) as well as some sgraffito tools, a pre-blasted tin (steel) can, my favourite marker for making linework on a pre-fired surface to stick more enamel powder/sand to (Pentel seems to be the brand, y’all), as well as my trusty Rotring tech pencil (from my hand drafting days) and a graphite ‘crayon’.

My students were the local enamel aficionado Nancy Bonnema as well as two jewellers who had made the trek down from Canada to get involved, Patsy Kay Kolesar and Simone Richmond.01 Class

As it turns out, the GC-16 Cobalt Blue, which I had been relieved to find was the Thompson ground coat earlier in the month was not with the other enamels that we had ordered, so I got to teach enamelling my way – using the exact method of how I treat my steel surfaces. To start we laid down some Thompson Low Firing clear on to a well blasted pieces of a recycled whiskey can (yup, it’s 100% steel, under the paint) and got down to business. We then all had a go at mixing the powdered enamels with water, after which the colour tests began in earnest.

Removing a galvanized surface - the zinc is the lighter coloured material. This needs to be totally removed before the piece is ready to be enamelled.
Removing a galvanized surface – the zinc is the lighter coloured material, the steel coming through underneath is darker. This needs to be totally removed before the piece is ready to be enamelled, as zinc is hazardous at high temperature.

Owing to a small glitch in the sandblast system I ended up taking most of the blasting work home with me at the end of day one to get it into shape in my own sandblast unit. Following this I then searched the basement and office for my supply of enamel decals, to fulfill a request – my Canadian students have a large supply of decals but were yet to have any luck at having them fire correctly. To remind myself of how it’s done I went straight to the source, Elizabeth Turrell’s instructions of course! In my research I found a bunch of links on the internet that also provided some other reliable firing instructions that supported or provided an alternative to Elizabeth’s.

03 Samples

Day two saw the application and successful firing of the decals.  We went the two-kiln method, firing off the plastic slowly using a kiln which had just been turned on from cold, and then pulling them out and straight into the second kiln which was at full temperature, to fuse them properly. It worked a treat. (Nancy, a seasoned decal-er, watched on with interest and shared her method – similar to the second set of instructions linked directly above.) Look out for the decals on the samples above, and my little sample below. They were mostly words taken from a larger decal I had made in Bristol for the Two Mugs exhibition in 2011.

My sample - a fired 'Sydney' decal, over a drawing in graphite by Chloe Vallance
My sample – a fired ‘Sydney’ decal, over a drawing in graphite on enamel by Chloe Vallance

After our adventures in decal-ing, there was many more pieces of steel to work on, so the class got down to the tough business of more experimentation with sgraffito, working with graphite over stoned and porcelain slip surfaces, layering and adding jewellery enamels over the top. Expert enameller Nancy kindly brought in her work to show us, which was suitably ah-maze-ing both conceptually and in execution. She also brought in her supply of P-3 Underglaze (as I learned, they come in the form of little pellets of pigment that can be ground and suspended in oil – this we were told works better than the pre-mix you can buy) and then used it with a dip pen (calligraphy stylez, y’all) to draw onto a pre-enamelled surface. Then she got all inspired and worked with a dash of watered-down Thompson Flame Red to try using the same technique with the liquid enamels,  which seemed to work well.

04 Enamel table

By the end of day two we had a great team of confident steel enamellers in the house, who had all enjoyed the chance to ‘play around’, a change from going into the studio with ideas and outcomes in mind.

Since we finished I have heard from my students over the border; they have made an order from Thompson to get the ingredients to continue working with steel. As we cleaned up on Sunday, Nancy and I also discussed her pleasure at knowing how to enamel with steel without the ‘pinging’ that had turned her away from it previously, as she has some larger steel works on the drawing board. I sense we will see some enamel atop their surfaces… Call it a hunch 😉

Day 1: a perfectly productive mess!
Day 1: a perfectly productive mess!

More on enamel


I’ve cracked the code! This is Thompson Enamel’s ground coat:


Also known throughout the Enamel on Steel – some insights article as Grip Coat and otherwise known as an enamel undercoat, this enamel, when applied as a base layer, will help enamels applied over the top to stick to the steel.

I had mentioned that WG Ball had a version yet despite my inklings that they also did one, I could never find it on the Thompson site. Until now!

I know I’ve said it before, but it’s the small things…

Laser Sintering

**edit** I got so excited about the technology yesterday, I didn’t clearly articulate that I was referring to specific source material, just published by the BBC. So here goes:

Chris Vallance for the BBC has just published an article on How tech is transforming jewellery. In his piece he specifically reference a new machine that uses laser sintering to create gold jewellery works. As I mentioned in my presentation at the 2010 Jewellers and Metalsmiths Group of Australia conference – the next big thing in jewellery manufacture would be laser sintering. Finally I have some justification!

Sintering? Printing directly onto a granulated media using a laser – in this case with gold powder. (In my presentation I mentioned steel and titanium, but it was only a matter of time before gold got a guernsey.) It’s similar to the existing forms also known as direct deposition printing which are available through your average print shop (Shapeways or Ponoko), which to date have been able to work with plaster and a few types of plastic, in that there is a deposition of the media, then the laser comes in and fuses that layer to the one previous. (With plaster/plastic there is not necessarily a laser involved in fusing layers, instead a layer of adhesive is applied, then the next layer of material.)

Unlike building with a wax, you don’t need to also deposit supports as the loose media surrounding the object stabilises the piece until it is finished, after which you just brush the excess material off. My guess is that it will still have striations, a hallmark of other ‘printing’ processes, but being gold they will be relatively easy to work with. Cleanup of these kinds of printed works present their own challenges however, in that the resolution of a print is not always kept during sanding and buffing procedures. Speaking with a local designer who works with many ‘grown’ objects, he tells me that you have to be careful of your resolution, since if you design really small features as a part of a larger object, they might not survive the cleanup.

Cookson’s, the company featured in the article (Ok, full title, Cookson Precious Metals), are like the Rio Grande of the UK, and are located (well, at least the branch I visited) in the jewellery quarter in Birmingham. They have invested in a new machine that you can use (obviously with the right 3D file – and plenty of money to pay for the print and the actual part), which now takes its place alongside all of their other supplies that they sell for jewellery makers.

Interesting times ahead!!

Thanks to Wing Mun Devenney (@ispymagpie on Twitter) for the heads up.