Sunday, May 30, 2010

I Read This Book in One Sitting

I have to admit - I have a Kate McKinnon bias. I know I've said this a gazillion times, but just in case you don't already know - I was introduced to Kate's work by Sarah Moran, right before I started working with metal clay. I met Kate herself at the Bead & Button Show a few months later, just 2 weeks after I had started working with the material. I walked away from her booth with copies of her Annuals tucked under my arm (and a cute spinny ring with one of Sarah's beads on top on my finger).

These were the right publications at the right time for me. I had a lot of ideas of what I wanted to do with metal clay, but I badly needed some technical instruction. I basically used Kate's books (including her later published Structural Metal Clay), as well as two other publications, to educate myself in working with this material. And, frankly, they are still the basis of my education in metal clay. So I knew, as soon as she announced that Sculptural Metal Clay Jewelry: Techniques and Explorations would be published, that I'd be in the market for a copy.

Kate is not only a skilled artist, she is also a very experienced teacher and a talented writer. As a result, the instructions in the book are very detailed and very clearly written. It's actually hard for me to describe how packed with information the book is except to say that words are simply not wasted in these pages. She not only provides step-by-step instructions, but she takes the time to explain why to do things a certain way and what the consequences of deviating from this way can be. She problem solves in a way that I imagine might come up in a live class but really rarely does in this type of book. Frankly, it's hard to select just a few points to highlight, but I'll give it a go.

I love the fact that the most basic issues are addressed in detail in these chapters. As anyone who has worked with metal clay knows - it can dry out quite quickly. She not only recommends her favorite storage method to keep the clay fresh over time, but instructs the reader on proper, minimal handling of the clay, and, again, why it's important to develop these handling techniques to extend the life of the clay to its maximum. Although taking up just a small section of the book, the topic is important, and it's clearly presented.

Now, I came to work with metal clay with a slight background in wheel-throwing (I was never very proficient at it, but I did take classes at a local pottery studio). I learned to work with clay in ways specific to stoneware or porcelain on the wheel. So, issues like the importance of compressing metal clay or maintaining a slow and even dry time to avoid warping made a lot of sense to me from from the get-go. Kate discusses the importance of these issues, which I think is a little unusual in itself. However, she also takes care to discuss certain differences in clay handling - such as the fact that you do not score a piece of metal clay before attaching it to a piece, in the way you would score a mug handle before attaching it to a thrown mug, or that water is simply not used in the same capacity or quantity when working with metal clay. This is useful stuff, whether you have experience in wheel-throwing or not.

One of the reasons I really covet this book is because it emphasizes work-hardening metal clay. For someone like me, whose education in metal clay is solely from books, it was hard to find instruction on this issue, specifically as it applies to metal clay. (In the end, I attended an introduction to metalworking course at my local art center last fall, to try to get the answers I needed on this and related subjects.) Kate covers work-hardening for a variety of forms, including a simple method for work-hardening rivet posts which was completely new to me - and I can't tell you how happy that makes me.

I also enjoyed her coverage of domed shapes - discussing cases in which it's better to fire the shape flat and then dap them and other cases which really require shaping the clay on a form before firing.

Finally, of course, Kate continues to cover metal clay safety issues comprehensively and clearly. For more information on this, please visit my related post, here.

Really, though, all of the above is just the tip of the iceberg. There's a ton of good information in this book (including a few points that had me tearing my hair out, as I spent too much time and wasted too much clay taking the long way around figuring them out on my own). I highly recommend this book. Buy it from Kate (she will include a free additional project if you buy it directly from her), buy Sculptural Metal Clay Jewelry: Techniques and Explorations from Amazon - but just buy it.

Thanks for visiting.


kate mckinnon said...

Melissa, what a lovely review. I thank you for taking the time to post this.

Melissa J. Lee said...

Thank you, Kate! It's a wonderful book.

Kavita said...

How do you handle the cost that comes with having such an expensive hobby? I find trouble in that area. I've been wasting clay learning how to use it correctly.

Melissa J. Lee said...

There's no getting around it - this is an expensive craft, especially with the current price of silver. I don't make a move without making detailed plans in notebooks. Also, for those times you really can't avoid a mistake, fine silver metal scrap can be sold. Check out Rio Grande's Scrap Return Kit, for example. Good luck!