Touareg silver smithing techniques

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So this is what I did in the Easter holiday…instead of studying for college! Mais je ne regrette rien. I still have plenty of time to panic for the exams. 😉

As a part of a late Christmas/Birthday present Mom gave me this course from Iron & fire: 5 days of traditional techniques by Sidi Hamed, Touareg silversmith from Niger (but living in Belgium). It was awesome.

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It was an introductory course in which we’d see basic techniques, but at the end we had seen and practised forging, stamping and engraving and Sidi demonstrated the lost wax process.

So…Here are a few impressions.

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The set-up:
our sandbox 😀  coal, bellows, some bricks as worktables,
little clay cups for melting silver, a long “gutter” to pour the molten silver in

We started the first day with this ring exercise:

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bottom: the silver bit we started out with
middle: along the process of hammering, hammering, hammering…
top: Sidi’s model of a stamped an polished ring

I don’t have many photos of my own projects -the bracelet and the pendant- because I was mainly working myself! But here is a series of photos of Sidi’s lost wax casting demonstration of a Touareg cross:

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each tribe of the nomadic Touareg has their own cross
-from this inspiring book: Fastueuse Afrique by A. Fisher-

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wax model

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the wax model encapsuled in a clay mould

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when the clay mould had dried it was fired…

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…and the melting wax dripped away!

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pouring molten silver into the mould…

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…there. All done!

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after the mould had cooled and was removed, this was the result in silver;
a base form that with lots of hammering, filing, stamping and engraving
would look as intricate as one of the crosses from the book!

I’m so glad I’ve been able to do this course -Sidi was a patient teacher (with 7 women to coach, no small feat! 😀 ) and I’ve learned a lot from him. I’ve tried engraving for the first time, and different forging techniques. It was complementary to the jeweler’s training I’ve received at Syntra and it taught me a lot of respect for artists like Sidi who creates such fine jewelry with just a very basic setup. Now I want a sand box to continue playing! 😉

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I added the chain of “sticks” afterwards in the studio.
So much work has gone in this pendant, forming it by hammering
-lots of it-
filing, polishing
and then engraving…
I love the result. A wonderful memory!

square ring continued:

ring
square ring with asymmetric bezel setting (glass murrine)
ring
a clearer view of the murrina (and my weird fingers…)

ring
for once I managed to get the “925” sterling silver stamp level. I have a knack for messing it up, but not this time!
ring
2nd square ring in the making, still smudgy and firescaled after soldering
ring
you’d have to try it on to know how comfortable it wears!

it’s hip to be square

work in progress:

square ring

In between my busy college schedule I found some time to play with the square ring mandrel. I love working with the amorphous pebble shapes but I also like the orderliness of a (rounded) square. 
It’s also very comfortable to wear, because it follows the shape of your finger knuckles more naturally than a round ring.

To be continued!

look over my shoulder: work in progress

before soldering the settings
soldering the fine silver settings on the sterling silver pendants (without bail, that gets soldered on last)

filing
this is part of a pair of earrings a bit like these: filing off excess solder, texturing, brushing and polishing inside the setting; getting ready to set the cabochon

sanding a pendant
a pendant after the setting: finishing off by sanding, cleaning and polishing

Did you know Aarghh has its own fresh Facebook page?

a polyp ring

green polyp ring

I made a new ring by accident. Well, I made up the design as I went along… the murrina (the little glass cabochon) was the starting point, and at first I wanted to include it in a new pendant design, but halfway into the process I decided it would make a pretty ring. And while the result is not bad, it’s not quite perfect…

green polyp ring

You can’t really see it on the first two pictures, but the ring isn’t round -it’s a little lopsided. On the back, the oval base and the ring don’t fit perfectly (although they’re soldered and strongly connected) and there are some unaesthetic gaps. So I guess this one will have to stay in my own collection… 😉 And next time I work on rings of a similar design, I know how to fix it.

ring

When I’m working on a piece of jewelry, it’s the first realization of a design that I’m most attached to.  They’re the freaks, the poor little monsters and misfits, all cracked and gapped and limping, but they mean a lot to me! With the following realizations of the design, I correct the mistakes so they’re technically and aesthetically better and ready to go out into the big world and I love them too, but they don’t have the same appeal to me as their first-born siblings…

I wonder what would Mr Freud have to say about that, eh? :-p

sunsets & summer trees…

During the week of holidays after my college exams I was able to retreat to the studio for a couple of days, for the first time since September. I guess it’s a good thing the studio is in Ronse and not in Ghent, or I would be there all the time instead of working for school! 😉

As usual, I had many ideas, but I didn’t have all that much time. So instead of rushing to try to realize those ideas, I worked on a couple of pieces that I had started in Feb. 2010, from a batch of glass cabs I had made in the summer of 2009. It was nice to finally get around finishing these! Or at least these three, as I didn’t get to finish  the whole pile…

In other news, you can find them on Etsy!

I called this series essence (on flickr & etsy), because the organic shapes and colors remind me of moments of quietude… Which in these dreary & cold February days mostly means the warmth of summer to me, so here I am again with sunlight and green leaves! 😀 And one starry night too.

sunny green trees brooch
starry night pendant

 
sunset earrings

glass cabs!

summer pendants & autumn plans

Well, I’m home again after spending some time in the studio in August-September. It was much needed, and awesome. And as always, way too short. I could easily do with a month or so more studio time, just to finish what I’ve started…

But time’s up and I have to keep my creative self in check… School is starting again next week and there will be no time for doodling. I can’t believe I’m going back to college! (yes, again…) The time is finally here, and I’m giddy. 😀

And to celebrate, I’m doing a workshop in October with the talented Lotte De Mey on stone setting! Check out her unique pieces on Penelope’s Verbs and her paintings (this is her portfolio). I adore her work and I’m really looking forward to the workshop!

And now for some pictures: this is what happened in the studio this summer!

A green goddess talisman:

green goddess

Pebbles:

3 pendants

A delicate balance in pendants  & earrings:

a delicate balance

a delicate balance

a delicate balance

…Do you remember this ring?

growing ring

It has been sprouting crystals lately:

tube ring

…and something else all together, can you guess what this is?!

can you guess? :-D

tube ring

The Napjesdrager comes to life

(also on flickr)

Here it is, my Napjesdrager, in a long overdue (and just plain looong) post, from sketch to kiln-formed result! And quite picture-heavy, sorry about that.

Napjesdrager
I worked on this project for about a little more than 3 weeks in August, from sketch to finish although it had been sitting in my head at least since 2003! Ideas have their way with me, not wanting to leave and nagging me until I give in and (try to) realize them…

Back then I didn’t have a clue about lampworking yet. I dreamt of stained glass windows in the style of C. L Tiffany, E. Burne-Jones and M. Chagall, and wondered how awesome it would be to mix the colors on the glass sheets themselves (instead of having to use existing colored and patterned sheets).

I had a 40x40cm transparent Effetre glass sheet that would be my canvas for the Napjesdrager, a face/mask with leaves. I wanted to include murrine and all sorts of lampworked elements like curvy/wavy stringers, marbles and pebbles and later on also stars and buds. As if the murrine were pointilist dots and the stringers the stroke of a brush.

Napjesdrager
Most traditional Green Men have fierce looks with their eyes and mouth wide open but I wanted my spirit to be a serene and contented one. More like a Green Buddha. And at night I had the help from a little moth fluttering all over its face! The book on the right is the “Geïllustreerde Flora van Nederland”.

Napjesdrager
On a walk through the woods nearby (Ronse, where my studio’s at, has lots! What luxury we have there…hiking trails practically starting at our front door!) I gathered leaves from all the napjesdragers I could find, and pressed them.

Napjesdrager
Filled the leaves with water color…

Napjesdrager
And decided to color the alder leaf (on its chin) purple, the same color it had turned after pressing and drying it.

Napjesdrager
I had made a bunch of murrine beforehand and seperated them by color. Each leaf has its own color code, and so began the time consuming work of placing each little bullseye or star design on their leaves. I took care not to place them too close to one another, so they had a bit of space to flow into when they were fused and so they would keep their round(-ish) form.

Napjesdrager
Some lampworked wheels and buds were needed, and of course I managed to drop & break one just before I glued it on. D’oh! You don’t want to know how much I drop and break and lose in the studio (don’t speak me of jumpy silver findings and precious stones! They seem to have plotted against me.). The speckled stone floor (you can see it in some of the photos below) doesn’t help much either. So I swear a lot when I’m in there. That gives some relief. 😉

Napjesdrager
The glue I use is just child-safe craft glue. It burns away in the kiln quite neatly, although there can be some devitrification with the smallest murrine.

napjesdrager WiP
Almost done with the leaves… Only one left to go! The murrine are on the small side, from about 1mm to 6mm diameter. Commercial murrine come typically in fixed sizes, but in pulling my own, my designs benefit more from the organic effect of variable sizes.

napjesdrager WiP
Phew, all done! Finally I could start on its eyes, mouth and stems (from bent and wavy stringers like the one of the left), and glue on the stars and buds.

napjesdrager WiP
Now what would I do with the background? I had pulled these bent stringers in colors I used for the murrine for a groovy 70’s style vortexy thing, but discovered the leaves alone weren’t strong enough to mark the face/mask. I had been rather hasty in designing the panel and had overlooked that tiny detail…oops.

napjesdrager WiP
So I decided to trace its face with cut glass rods. It made him a bit more alien and vaguely Humpty-Dumpty, but hey, I liked it. :-p

I tried out a more wall-papery background, but feared it would draw too much attention away from the fine murrine, so finally I decided on just a few stringers.

napjesdrager WiP
And so it looked before heading off to the kiln… Fusing would change the design profoundly and I was curious to see how the lampworked elements would take it.

And then it came back…

F^$#%§!!!!!

Napjesdrager


 Oh NoooOOOOOOOoooooo my baby it had cracked!!!

Was it compatibility? The heating schedule? Yeah, luckily it was just that. The cracks had happened early in the fusing process, you can tell because the rims of the cracks are rounded and have melted a little. So the temperature had raised too quickly. I had modified the schedule I used for the tiny squares, lowering the heating t° rate a bit (180°C/h) and soaking it longer in the annealing state, but apparently I should have lowered the heating rate drastically at probably 40°C/h.

My mistake.

But that isn’t the end of the story. Yes, I’m an idiot for not checking the heating schedule any better, but overall for a first “big” fusing project it did go pretty well, and I now have a schedule I’m more confident in. It was an experiment, something I made just for me…and secretly I’m relieved it is imperfect now, so I don’t have to sell it and can just keep it with me in the studio. It amuses me how attached I am to my projects! I can’t part with them, although it wanes after a while, when new projects find their way in, but at first…I’m pretty possessive. LOL.

I’m looking if I can design a standard on which the bottom side can be mounted, and the top panels can be hung. Maybe a welded steel construction or so, if I can find someone who can do that.

Poor Napjesdrager…but also: that lopsided eye just gives it more character.  Not just serene, but a tough little bugger it is now! Being cracked and still smiling…

The Effetre sheet played nice (it is said to have compatibility issues and not really fit for kilnwork), all the different lampworked elements worked well and it gave me lots of techniques for future projects: maybe using just those curved and wavy stringers in an Art-Nouveau inspired panel, or a dazzling mosaic-like work with just the cut transparent rods, and of course, lots more projects with  murrine. It’s like pointilism but even better, because I get to design the dots themselves…From far off it’s just a colored form, but you can get closer and closer to discover the details.
On my to-do list for this year (my “good intentions”) is creating letter murrine, so I can add text to the forms as well. So far I’ve made an “A”. Well, it’s a start. :-p

Next post I’m showing you some of the fused details of the Napjesdrager, who I feel is the first in a series of masks and guardians.