More Bits and Pieces – September 2021

Oct 25, 2021 | Challenges, Guest Blog

When I was asked to write a guest blog last year for the first Bits and Pieces Challenge, I was a little bit worried that nobody would be interested in my musings on the subject. But when I started to write it I found I quite liked the idea I was just talking to myself. So when I was approached again to write another one I had no hesitation, as talking to myself seems to be a bit of a theme for each monthly challenge anyway!

Having started out all guns blazing last year by not planning or writing anything down, I now have myself a small sketch pad that I write the 5 elements and theme in as soon as I see it posted. Pretty soon I have a rough idea of where I want to go with the piece.

The theme for September, Freedom, threw me completely. My immediate thought was a butterfly because “butterflies are free to fly” as sung by Elton John. I was then totally stumped for any other ideas. After giving myself an annoying earworm by singing the song over and over for 3 weeks, I posted on the Metal Clay Fun with AMCAW Facebook group that I ‘wasn’t feeling it this month’ to be met with other members’ frustrations with lack of time, broken pieces and Julia threatening a wonky, shiny, bobbly clay challenge! Fun as Julia’s idea sounded, I gave myself a good talking to and decided I would just give myself the freedom to create something using up bits and pieces I had lying around in my dehydrator. At least then I would still be able to keep up my personal challenge of completing a piece each month.

Without any planning or ideas of what I might like to see, and instead of creating a piece that fulfils the 5 elements, I set about making the elements fit into the piece I was creating. I think we all have pieces lying around, waiting to be reconstituted at some point if nothing else comes to mind. In May the challenge required something curly. I had cut out 4 spirals for one of the ideas I had but went in a different direction, so they had been sitting waiting for inspiration (or the coffee grinder, which ever came first). I also had a long thin tapered snake of clay that has been in there for so long I can’t even remember what I originally rolled it for. I threaded the snake through three of the spirals and loved the overall look of it. The piece was quite delicate, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to just keep taking it apart so immediately pasted the spirals into place where they touched the spike and left it to dry overnight.

The following evening, I was pleased to see the piece had dried nicely and noted that although I now had a spike and negative space, 2 of the elements, I needed another spike as it specified ‘spikes’ so I decided it would be a pin. I set the pin back into a small disc of clay, and when it was dried, I pasted it into position on the back. Quite pleased with how the freedom to just make it up so the elements fit was gaining traction, I checked the remaining challenge requirements. We still needed texture made with paste, something natural and fabric to be used for texture or in the design.

This was when I thought about my winter hat, the faux fur cuff would be lovely with a hat pin and this fit very nicely. So, I had another element, albeit a very loose connection, being used in the design but it worked for me! The look of the pin on the hat gave me the idea to add paste in a stylised, feather-type way, so using thick paste I made a line of paste around the left part of the curve of the large spiral and drew into it with an upward motion from the centre using a wooden cocktail stick. I then repeated this on the remaining spirals in a curve down the design.

This just left one more element, something natural. I had a good rummage through my selection of semi-precious cabochons, I’m sure we all have a stash of these too, and found some small garnets. I thought in the back of my mind I had read previously that these could be fired in a kiln, so after a quick check which confirmed that it is possible, I decided I would try to set them directly in the clay and fire them in place. I pushed the cabochons into a slab of clay, making sure they were level with the top of the clay and used a small circle cutter to cut out each one. When they were dry and tidied up I set each one in the centre of the spirals and fired the piece.

The following day I opened the kiln with a little trepidation, not knowing how the garnets would have fired or even if they would stay in place being flat backed cabochons. I was so pleased with how the piece looked, the garnets fired beautifully and provided the little punch of colour the pin needed.

Although the whole pin only weighs 6.7g and is quite delicate, it fared very well in the tumble polisher, always a good test of fragility, and cried out to be patinated to show off the texture.

This story does end on a sad note for me though, I loved the way it looked on my winter hat, but a friend loved the way it looked on her black jacket, so it has gone to live on a lapel. I need to make my hat another pin, so I am on the lookout for some more tiny garnet cabochons…

I hope this blog post inspires you to look at your dried pieces lying around with fresh eyes, and would love to see you post something on the Bits and Pieces Challenge. Come on, you know you want to!

Guest blog: Joy Wignall