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Copyright 2010 - B. de Corbin and Splendid Fish Studio

What's new, Bill?

Last update 4/16/2010

Michigan Witches Ball 2010

I am very excited to be a sponsor for this great event! To find out more about one of Michigan's best parties, click the link above.

All sales are now being handled through my Etsy shop: www.splendidfish.etsy.com
Click on the link above to see what is currently available.
Don't worry, friends, it's still me behind the scenes!

I've added a new section called

Gods, Heroes, and a Couple of Regular Guys:
Corbin's Tall Tales

When I create a new piece
of design work, it often happens that they come, much like a baby with a silver spoon in it's mouth, bearing a story. Unfortunately, when I sell a piece, the story is sometimes lost with it. I've decided to collect these stories into a section all
their own, for your enjoyment.

Enjoy them!

Don't forget to click on the BLUE WORDS anywhere on this site to enter
new worlds of mythic imagination.

Splendid Fish Studio's
2010 Michigan Witches Ball Door Prize

The Glamour of Lady Vivien
Sterling Silver Neckpiece and Earring Set

I always like it when I get to take on a project like this. Normally, I have to think like a businessman and balance what I want to do against what is profitably salable in a price range that my customers can afford. I really don't want to get into a hole where I make stuff just for rich folks - I'd really like people who are like myself to be able to buy the things I make.

Although I don't mind selling to rich folks when I can...

But, anyway, when I do something like this, I get to cut loose completely, forget all about selling the thing, and just do what I'd really like to do if I didn't have to sell things. Giving gifts is kind of like my path to artistic liberation.

Well, I really like doing the work I do, and it occurred to me that people who aren't familiar with what goes into making a handcrafted, one of a kind piece of jewelry might be interested in following along as I make one. Or, if you are already a jewelry maker, maybe we can compare techniques, and you can send me some tips.

So here goes - but, before I start, I want to make an announcement.

Splendid Fish Studio's Special
Michigan Witches Ball Sale

Between the time you are reading this (whatever time that may be!) and October 1, 2010, everything in my Etsy shop is on sale at 10% off. To take advantage of this sale, hop over to my Etsy shop by following this link: www.splendidfish.etsy.com .

When you find something you like, click the "BUY" button and follow the instructions for buying and making the payment. To get the discount, BE SURE to type "Michigan Witches Ball" in the "Notes to seller" box. When your order goes through I will deduct the 10%.

OK - back to work, then!

The Making of
The Glamour of Lady Vivien

In the old stories, Merlin the famous enchanter is seduced into teaching a young lady his secrets of magic. After learning all he has to teach, the lady - who is referred to by a variety of names, Vivien being one of them - uses his own magic against him, trapping him in a crystal cave. I've used this story as the basis for this jewelry set, trying to imagine what magic she might have used to accomplish her nefarious ends. I've written up my version as a scroll which is included along with the jewelry set., but , if you want to read it yourself, you'll find it here: Gods, Heroes, and a Couple of Regular Guys: Corbin's Tall Tales.
Beauty shot of finished neckpiece
Drawing of projected finished jewelry
This is the sketch of my original idea. I already know when I start that the final piece won't look exactly like this - as I work, I'll see some places I want to make adjustments, but I need to have a pretty good idea of where I want to go before I start cutting the metal out. You can compare this to the picture of the final piece at the top of the page to see how it changed in the making.
forging hammer, silver sheet, blood drop garnet, scarlet silk ribbon cord
Here you can see the basic raw materials that I'll be using. On the upper left is my forging hammer. Technically, this type of hammer is known as a "raising hammer." It's most often used to "raise" a metal bowl from a flat piece of metal, but, in this case, I'm going to use it to shape metal that will stay almost flat.

Just below the hammer is the stone I'll be using. This is a deep red garnet. This is one of my favorite stones - it is so deeply red that it looks black, although when it catches the light, it shows an incredible blood red. Check it out (my fingers are pretty filthy pretty much all the time. The curse of a working man):

layout drawing for cutting silver sheet

Next to the hammer and garnet is the sheet of Sterling Silver I'm going to use. This is the single biggest chunk of Sterling Silver I've ever used in a project before, and I'm a bit nervous about using it. I don't want to screw it up...

And finally, the scarlet silk ribbon cord I'll be using. I really like these cords - they cost me more than a silver chain, but this one will add the visual drama I want for this piece.

beauty shot of garnet
In some ways, this is the trickiest part of the job. My original drawing showed how I want the piece to look when it's done. But I'm going to be forging the metal, which means I'll use the hammer and an anvil to move the metal around into the shape I want it to end up in.

What that means is that I have to visualize how the metal is going to move throughout the forging process so I'll know what it has to look like when I start.

To do this, I begin with the final shape, them make a mental movie of the whole process, and run it backwards in my head. Then, I draw the beginning shape of the movie. That's the shape I have to cut out.

Once I have this shape drawn on paper, I can glue the paper to the sheet of silver and cut it out with a jeweler's saw.

jeweler's saw and silver sheet cut out
This is a picture of the saw used to cut metals, and the design after I've cut it out of the silver sheet. That blade on the saw looks pretty delicate - and it is, they break easily - but, once you learn how to use it, it can cut through some pretty hard metals. I use them on steel, occasionally.

They're sitting on top of a piece of wood which is screwed to my workbench. This block is called a v-block (because of the v-shaped notch cut into it), or, if you want to get fancy, a bench pin. It's used to support the metal while cutting.

Now I'm ready to start the hammer work - almost. First, I have to soften the metal up a bit.

heating silver to annealing temperture
To soften metals you anneal them. Everybody has seen pictures of a blacksmith quenching red hot steel in water. This hardens steel. However, weirdly enough, the same process - heating the metal to red hot and then quenching in water - softens most metals used in jewelry work - gold, silver, copper, brass.

I'll have to do this a couple of times while I am forging because every time I hit the metal with a hammer, it gets harder (called "work hardening"). If the metal gets too hard, it'll start to crack, and then crumble like stale cheese. One of the tricks to forging is to know how much you can hammer before you anneal. You can actually tell by the way the metal feels and sounds when you strike it.

hammer forging 1
hammer forging 2
Here's the actual forging going on. Silver, unlike the blacksmith's iron, is forged cold. In the first picture above, you can see that the metal is mostly flat, while in the second picture, you can see that it has begun to curve. I am also spreading out the metal so that the edges of the silver will curve and overlap, creating an organic, foliage kind of look. I really like working with metal this way because, with forging, you can actually get complicated organic forms through the direct application of the hammer to the metal. It's almost as if the piece "grows" while you work on it.

The trick at this point is to understand how the metal moves when struck by different shaped hammerheads, and, using that and some experience which teaches how hard to hit, you can push the metal around in any way you'd like.

I'd also like to point out that, if you look closely at my anvil, you'll see that it's a chunk of old railroad tie I picked up while rambling along the railroad tracks. I mention this because I've noticed that a lot of people imagine that they need all kinds of expensive tools to make nice jewelry. You don't. You could probably outfit yourself to make most of the things I do for less than $200. I do have some very nice hammers currently, but for a lot of years I got by very well with two ball pein hammers I got for $3 each. Good work comes from the hand of the artist, and from the mind the moves the hand. Good tools can make the work go faster, but, unless you have a mind for the work, and take the time to develop the skills in your hands, good tools will only make junk.

makeshift forging tool
Here's another example of doing quality work with minimum tools. I want to curve an edge over, so I need some kind of form to hammer against. I could buy a stake for this - stakes come in or can be made in a huge variety of shapes. But they are expensive. They can run anywhere from $50 to $250. That's EACH.

If you have particular stakes that you use a lot, you'll probably eventually want to buy good ones. But for occasional use you can often find something like the ball end of this ball pein hammer that will work.

That's one of the $3 hammers I mentioned earlier, by the way.

preparing layout for piercing
all ready to pierce
I'm going to do some careful pierce work on this to subtilely draw attention the looser, more organic shape. To do this, I have to very precisely measure and find centerpoints so that everything will look visually centered. If I make a mistake here, it's going to end up looking all lopsided, with no way to correct it.

I start by temporarily gluing the stone in place, then line everything up around that. I've marked the silver with a permanent marker. The marker will burn off later on when I heat the silver again.

I've already drawn the design for the piercing on tracing paper. All the measuring is simply to help me get it located properly on the silver.

One final check with the pattern glued in place. I really don't want to make a mistake at this point!

Everything looks good, so I can go on to the next step.

Hey - there's my pipe in the back there! Yeah, it's true. I'm a hillbilly. I smoke a corncob.

And my fingers are still filthy.

piercing in process
In order to do piercework - cutting inside a piece of work without cutting in from an edge - I have to start by drilling holes into the place I want to cut. Then I thread the saw blade through the hole, and reattach it to the saw frame. The blue arrow in the picture is pointing to the saw blade.

All I have to do is saw following the line. Ideally, I want to saw directly through the center of the line. That isn't actually as hard as it sounds - with a little practice - but it's more difficult in this case because the metal is no longer flat.

It would have been easy to cut this while the silver was flat, but the forging moves the metal around. If I had cut the design before I forged, the design would have been distorted as the metal moved under the hammer.

piercing complete
bezel cup
setting the garnet
Here it is all cut out, and ready for inspection. I'll clean up the saw cuts a bit with a needle file, but otherwise it looks good to go.

What I need to do now is peel off the paper pattern. I use rubber cement as the glue because it sticks well when I need it to - there's nothing more annoying than when the pattern comes loose while I'm sawing. When I want to take the paper and glue off, I can just peel up the paper, and rub the metal to remove the rubbery glue.

I skipped a step here - actually, two steps.

The first step I skipped was soldering the rings to the back of the neckpiece that the ribbon cord goes through. This was a PITA step of very picky soldering which took me two hours, and I was in no mood to stop and take pictures while doing it.

The second step I skipped was making the silver bezel to hold the stone, and soldering it to the silver neckpiece. That's what the red arrow is pointing to...

A bezel is like a little cup made out of pure silver that holds the stone. Pure silver is used because it is softer that Sterling Silver (which is an alloy made of a mixture of silver and copper). The bezel has to be soft because when the stone is in place, it is pushed up against the stone to hold it.

Notice that I've also cut a hole through the piece where the stone will go. That's there to allow light to come through the stone from the back, which will show off the red color of the stone better than a solid back will.

In this picture, the stone is in place, and I am using a bezel pusher to push the bezel up tight against the garnet to hold it in place.

I have to be really careful here - if I don't do it right, the bezel will wrinkle and look sloppy. If I push too hard, I can crack the stone. If the tool slips while I'm using it, it'll leave a ugly gouge across the neckpiece which is very, very difficult to remove.

But, if I do it right, the bezel will be nice and smooth, and the tool will polish the soft silver as I work. You can usually tell the general quality of a piece of handmade jewelry by looking closely at the bezel.

light comes through
A quick look with the light shining through...

Kinda purty, yeah?

Hang on, we're almost done... I want to change the color of the metal a bit to show off the hammer marks from forging. I was very careful when forging to align the hammer blows in such a way that they would accent the final piece, rather than detract from it, and a bit of chemical wizardry is needed here to bring out the full effect.

Liver of Sulphur bath
Metals react with oxygen, forming rust. The color of the rust depends on the particular metal - iron rusts red, copper rusts green, and silver rusts black. Putting a "patina" on metal involves causing it rust in a controlled way.

I love patinas on metal, and if you look at my work, you'll see that almost everything I make uses a patina in some way. The patina on this piece is going to be the final step in making the physical reality of the piece match the mental picture I had of it when I started.

The yellow liquid in the picture (no, it's not urine. Although urine does give metal nice colors) is "Liver of Sulphur" (potassium sulphate) and water. This stuff really, really stinks. It's kind of like a fart, but a hundred times worse. Sulphur is the "brimstone" in "fire and brimstone." I think they have it in hell because of the aroma.

funky colors on metal from liver of sulphur bath
Notice all the funky colors I can get out of the silver while it's on it's way to turning black. The colors are caused by thin layers of oxide (rust) forming on the metal. Light goes through the rust, is bounced off the surface of the silver, and defracted (bent) as it comes back through the oxide layer. The bent light is what causes the colors.

I actually want a grey/black color to contrast with the silver color of the metal, so I need to dip it a bit longer.

You can change the color of the patina on metals by altering the technique you use to patinate them, but it all comes from the magic of rust!

completed metal work
After I turn the metal black, I rub it gently and carefully with fine steel wool. This takes the black off the raised areas of the metal, and leaves it in the recessed areas made by hammer blows. The contrast between the light and dark areas brings the surface texture of the forged metal to your visual attention, creating, what I think, is a very nice effect.

At this point, the metalwork is essentially done. I'll put a light coating of wax on it, buff up the wax, and string the silk cord through.

And there ya go!

I wanted this to be a particularly special piece, so I made a pair of matching earrings to go with it, and put the whole thing in a handcrafted wooden chest. I'm not going to show you how I did all that, I think I've already used up enough of your time, but I hope you'll forgive me for showing off a bit - I'm pretty happy with the way it all came together.

box for cased set of handcrafted jewelry
opened box for cased set of handcrafted jewelry
The brass plate on the top reads "2010 Michigan Witches Ball" in script letters. I did this by etching.
The Glamour of Lady Vivian cased set for 2010 Michigan Witches Ball

Thanks for visiting my studio and giving me a chance to talk about the work I love! Ya'll come back now, hear?