part b

Here in Melbourne we have a small group of jewellers who like to get together once monthly to chat. We usually meet up at an exhibition (jewellery related, when possible) after which we head for a beverage, to continue the discussion. Nothing complicated.

If you’re interested in joining us, Sunday the 21st of Feb will be our next gathering. We’ll be at the Wisdom of the Mountain show at the NGV international from 2pm. We’ll meet outside the main entrance. If you’re not sure what we look like, look out for me in a large blue hat (with red and white stitching). I’ll be wearing the above brooch too, for ease of identification.

got gas?

Melissa gets her microtorch to work; feels about as proud as the first person to make fire must have been.

My Grandma, a Canadian born Australian, always said when you’d finally mastered something under her tuition “now you’re cookin with gas.” I’ve latterly suspected it was something to do with advertising, and it was a phrase she picked up ‘back home’. (Turns out when you google it, that’s pretty much what they say.)

So I had to send a picture to my Dad today to tell him I was finally ‘cookin with gas’ in my own studio. I’d like to think that for anyone who has set up their own studio, the moment the torch is fully operational is the one where you think you’re finally getting somewhere. Or maybe it’s just me. It’s ok, I’m used to being alone on these things… To me being able to solder today felt like an achievement.

In a similar vein, I also remember a sticker on the wall of my tech drawing classroom in high school. It said “HAND A GIRL A SPANNER”. Today I bought one, to set up my gas.

What else can I say? I’m living the dream!

studio setup

Melissa complains about having to work hard. And lift heavy things. All in the name of jewellery

Yep, I’m still at it. Don’t be fooled people, setting up a studio is bloody hard work. It combines the physical and mental drain of moving house, with the decision challenging complexity of buying a mobile phone – before the days of the iphone (and if you found that relatively easy, try thinking of having to buy one for your mum, or better yet, your grandma) and the stamina necessary to run a marathon. Or at least a half marathon.

Monday I bought torches from AJS and Koodak. I could have got a cheaper gas only number from Koodak, but I liked the quality of the AJS setup. From Koodak I got a good little microtorch – based on the design of the famous Smith Little Torch but slightly cheaper. If you’re after the brand, Tool World downstairs (all this went on in the Century Building in the city) had Smith’s for pretty cheap, but I like shopping at Koodak, and got a good deal.

Tuesday I bought gasses. BOC South Melbourne got me fitted out with regulators for oxygen and LNG, as well as a rental bottle of oxygen and a 9kg swap and go bottle of LNG. Apparently jewellers don’t buy 9kg bottles, they like to get 4kg ones instead. Having hefted our BBQ gas bottle all the way to Richmond for a refill recently (we got the BBQ there, so we get a free fifth refill, and meanwhile ms neck injury 2005 has to escort the empties) I figured more pain but less often would suit me fine.

Mr BOC had a great sense of humour, and couldn’t believe that little me would want a whole 9kg bottle of gas as well as all the rest of his expensive equipment, so I think he went easy on me and discounted the oxygen regulator. In all I think I got a pretty good deal, which was confirmed by Vito back at the Monash studio yesterday who showed me an alternative price from a supplier who could provide the torches and regulators as a package. Had I but known… Anyway, all I know is that the package mob are in Preston if you ever want to seek them out.

Now I’m arranging delivery of the most complex item, the blasted sand-blaster. I went with Pan Abrasives as they had their PB250ES model on ‘sale’. Since signing up for that one I’ve been investigating air compressors, finally settling on the Peerless P14. It’s made in Bendigo, and is on a par price wise with the others (Ublast again had a Royce contender, and there was Machinery House’s Super 12) but it’s a slight bit better in terms of L/min free air delivery. Yeah, I know a lot more about compressed air than I ever thought I’d need to. The Peerless unit will likely be light on for what I need, but it’s the biggest you can get to run on 10Amp power.

I am perilously close to being able to solder something, I bought plastic containers for storing pickle, but forgot the chemical itself, as well as bricks/a mat to protect the workbench. (I had one, but it got busted in a move.) So I’ll be schlepping back into the city sometime to arrange the last bits. Meanwhile, I’ve been checking out how to actually set up the torches, and have come across a good (on the face of it), safety aware, description. Of course, I never remember to check Oppi Untracht’s books, so I have just found some more good advice in Jewelry Concepts and Technology, P409 + 410. (From here on in to be known as Oppi’s Bible).

Yessir, I’m pooped. And in this last week I’ve sometimes found myself questioning if it’s all worth it. But I’ve come so far, and I’m so close to being able to get to work…

drawing a blank

Sandwiching metal in blankers to cut out blanks – single sheet blanking for jewellers

I know, how many puns can I wedge into my posts on blanking? How long is a blank…?

When describing blankers earlier, I never mentioned how they actually operate. Once you have cut out the blanker, you have to turn it up side down and pull the middle of the blank (rather than the outer frame section) towards you, in order for there to be space to insert your metal. Using the desired metal, that has been rolled (unrolled stock is too soft and might just get stuck rather than shear cleanly, this part was missed in my previous tuition and yes, it makes a difference), you sandwich it in the opening you created in the blanker.
Once the metal is sitting snugly between the two leaves of the steel, you pop the whole thing (with inside portion of the blanker facing up) onto a press. Then squish it! The press crunches down on the metal and shears it, hopefully cleanly. We used a fly press, but in a class I did back at Curtin the hydraulic press was preferred – which is what Helen says she uses in her studio. She also rigged up a pretty good system to press with a large vice, involving two thick (3-4mm) sheets of steel and some gaffa tape.

Day 5: pieces

Day 5 at the masterclass. Final day, all cards on the table.

So, this is where I got to at the end of day 5. The top work was my work in progress when we downed tools at 4:30pm, so it’s lacking a pin and catch (and also hidden is that the middle piece isn’t soldered on… yet.) The other two are wearable, and in fact the bottom one I was wearing at the pub afterward, despite its soldering-induced softness making it still a little too flexible to withstand wear unscathed.

They lack finishing – I’d like to blacken them and highlight the texture on them. They were all roll printed before blanking, and I sand blasted the middle one (mostly to harden it), so it would be interesting to see how each piece reacts to the colouring.

As a way to speedily prepare metal for work, blanking process has a bit fat tick. Its other strength is as a process for playing with design ideas in metal. My usual process is drawing based, with which I play with combinations of lines and forms in AutoCad. The benefit of this (that is, the blanking) process is that you could take a line, or a form, and stamp it directly into metal, and play with it in actual tactile pieces, rather than with the simpler (and two dimensional) representations of such pieces.

Day 4: let the jewellery commence

Day 4 at the masterclass. Once again, the effort was concentrated, and incredibly tiring.

Today the discovery period ended and our ranging band of experimentalists, like jumping salmon, switched streams. We battened down to become a concentrated group of studious studio jewellers. Work was slowly evolving around and within each of the mounds of blanks that had previously been left to accumulate on every desk. In every hand, jewellery was becoming.

Once again, the effort was concentrated, and incredibly tiring.

Day 3: Blankety …

Day 3 of a Helen Britton masterclass for jewellers in Melbourne.

Today we got down to bid-nez. I made a couple more blankers, and a whole lot of blanks got cut. And re-cut. Working straight in metal with immediate results is so different to my practice, and really seductive.

I’m a big fan of repeat patterns, (to which my third blank attests) so the whole idea of being able to punch out a bunch of pieces exactly the same really appeals. Of course it does.

Now I just gotta find a way to use ’em.

Day 2: fill in the blanks

Day 2 at Where Do I Come From, a workshop being hosted by Helen Britton.

We’re making blanking tools with Helen. This is where you make a tool that is used for cutting multiples of a shape in sheet metal. To do this you saw through a sheet of sprung steel while it is held against an angled bench pin. The angle is necessary so as to enable the metal that is later sandwiched between the two surfaces to be sheared easily.

Using this method you can make the punch and die in the same stroke of the saw blade, as both are part of a single sheet of sprung steel.

And in keeping with the title, there’s no image today as I forgot to take a snap of the tools, called ‘blankers’, as well as the blanks – the cut out pieces of metal that were the ultimate result of todays graft. Tomorrow, for sure.

Day 1: Where do I come from?

Day 1 at Where Do I Come From, a workshop Melissa is attending at RMIT, being hosted by Helen Britton.

So like I said, I’m doing the short course at RMIT this week. I thought I’d share what I get up to each day, so here goes.

Day 1: two images of the city.

After being instructed to go out and take photos we sat to study what we captured. Before departing we were told to try and see the city with news eyes, as if we were tourists. It was tougher for some than others; being a fairly new recruit to the city myself I found it pretty easy to forget what little I know. But then again, I seemed to find what I always do in any city – junctions, slippages and odd details.

Master Class Workshop

Melissa anticipates getting schooled by (the famous) Helen Britton!

This week sees me getting schooled. By Helen Britton no less. Last year I did the Bettina Speckner workshop (again at RMIT), which was a really great experience, and during which I made many new friends. This year will be different as I’m more knowledgeable about the artist and her works (yeah, I’ll admit it, I’m a fan), I know some of the people going, and because I’m now familiar with the studios and format. Last year was great in part because it was all so unexpected – I had no clue what I was getting in for, so I just drank it all in as it bubbled along.

This year it’s hard not to have some expectations.

The first formal schooling that I did that had anything to do with research jewellery (or artist jewellery, if you prefer that term)  involved Helen, back in 2004. (Well, outside of high school that is, which was arguably not in the ‘research jewellery’ arena  – and thanks LSHS for the jewellery workshop and for employing Sarah Elson to teach art when I was in year 12.)

In April of that year I attended a mini-symposium, organised by FORM, to present the four jewellery artists who were in Perth topping up their local inspiration for the exhibition to follow –  Home Ground. Helen and Carlier Makigawa on the one bill (and lets not forget the aforementioned Sarah and Bronwyn Goss) speaking about jewellery was very inspirational. And for me, an interior designer at the time, taking in all this amazing-ness was intertwined with the knowledge that they all started off in Perth… Incredible!

During my studies that followed I even read the MA thesis that Helen completed at Curtin Uni.

I’m going to try not to get all night-before-Christmas, but, in the words of the long-since-departed Big Kev, I’m excited!