Thursday, June 12, 2014

Sometimes A Negative Can Be Positive

Returning to my vacation, I spent much of my time in Milwaukee attending a variety of technique classes. I look upon the Show as my opportunity to try techniques that I haven't done before, or revisit techniques that I haven't played with in a while. This year was no exception.

Choosing classes and attending them is like looking at a table of
possibilities. They are all exciting and all vying for your attention.
Sometimes you choose the perfect component, and other times you miss
the mark. 

I had registered for two days of intensive experimentation with anodizing niobium. Niobium is an unusual metal with an extremely high melt point, meaning it cannot be soldered or altered through the application of heat. This means that joins in niobium have to be rivets or tabs or items need to be constructed so that they will be encased in a more malleable metal. But niobium can be colored into brilliant colors by the application of electrical current in a specific carrying bath, and it is that technique I wanted to learn.

Chains and jump rings are a common use for anodized niobium. But I also
have to wonder why? Anodized niobium is very subject to scratches and
wear and each piece of jewelry needs to be kept in a separate bag to keep the
colorized surface from being marred. Chains, by their nature, abrade at each link. 

I already own a rectifier - the box that generates the electrical current through cables that you attach to your jewelry or other items depending upon the type of work you want to achieve. I use it for electroforming, which is the application of copper onto selected areas of an item. I have electroformed glass, other metals, and bone in the past and have had quite a lot of fun playing with it. I was hoping to broaden the application of my tool by introducing another metal into my array.

An electroforming set up uses a rectifier to supply electricity to copper
anodes which are suspended in a tank of a carrying solution. The copper
is stripped from the anodes (in this case, sheets of copper) and the copper
is reapplied via electrical current to another surface, molecule by molecule.
It's a lot of fun. 

Alas, it was not to be. It was not that the niobium didn't anodize beautifully. It was not that I couldn't get these lovely colors on the metal or that the process was difficult, unusually expensive, or so unpredictable so as to make reproduction of it in my studio unlikely. No. It was that I just didn't enjoy the process or the end result. After more than twelve hours sitting in front of a rectifier with various pieces of niobium attached to the electrodes and dipping the metal into the carrying solution, I was bored.

These are the standard colors that can be achieved on niobium
via electrical application. They are beautiful, but this is it. It's really a
very limited palette. I need more color. I love the intensity but I need
a bright red and a brilliant yellow and a Christmas green. 

Yes, bored. Bored out of my mind. The instructor, Marti Brown, was wonderful. The projects that the others in the class made were marvelous and many were extremely inventive and complex. I looked at how variable it was and the color range as well as the order in which the colors had to be applied and decided, NO. So, as I packed up to return to the Cities, I now have some sheet and some wire of niobium, and I have my rectifier so that I can continue to experiment, but as of right now, I'm thinking that this horse won't be joining my stable of techniques. That in itself was well worth learning. I'll stick with my enamels and glass work and leave the anodizing to another artist.

We learned the technique for making these delightful 3-D beaded
starfish in Denise Denny's class on Saturday. I had such fun and got
one starfish and the clasp completed in the class. I have more
beading to do before I'm finished with the project, but the technique
is one that can be used for many things. 

That said, the beaded starfish class that I took on Saturday was excellent and so much fun. It had been ages since I last picked up a needle to make something for myself and my fingers just jumped right back into it quite happily. So with the beading and the soutache cord classes, I had two winners, and with the niobium anodizing I had two fails. All things considered though, it was a highly effective and very fun four days of classes.

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