Sunday, October 12, 2008

Capturing Nature with Liquid Silver

Well, okay, maybe not liquid, but certainly squishy silver. Today's feature is about another Etsy artisan, Marina McCarran, a.k.a. Meridian Studio. She creates amazing, organic snapshots of nature that you can wear! She creates these beauties using real leaves, petals, and other objects from nature and combines them with colorful semiprecious stones. Rather than making a mold and casting these natural pieces over and over again, her work is as unique as nature, because she picks her petals and uses them directly to create her forms using precious metal clay and paste. I had to do a little side research to really understand what she was talking about, since I couldn't see it, but after a quick trip to Rio Grande to look at some of these products, I think I get it. Precious metal clay or art clay silver comes in a variety of textures, but began as a clay, feeling sort of like modeling clay. The original material was invented by Mitsubishi Materials in the early 1990s, and is composed of tiny particles of metal (in this case fine silver), an organic binder and water. The resulting material can be formed by hand or pressed into things to take on their shape and texture. This form is then allowed to air dry (at which point it can be sanded and refined somewhat) then is fired in a kiln or with a torch or gas stove. The heating process burns off the binder and causes the piece to shrink a small amount. After it emerges from the heat, the result is composed of fine silver (0.999 pure silver, as opposed to sterling silver, which is 0.925 pure), is utterly indistinguishable from the pre-fired form and can be further finished by polishing, grinding, or oxidizing. The different products available today vary in firmness (from relatively hard clay to toothpaste texture to near-liquidy slip for gluing slabs together), degree of shrinkage (anywhere from 8% to 30 %), and curing time (depending on the size of silver particles).

Marina tells me that she has a couple of ways she makes these organic forms. If the leaf or petal is light and delicate, she uses the silver art clay paste, applying it with a paintbrush until there are 10 to 15 layers of paste. Once the paste has air-dried, she must carefully remove the leaf or petal, then sand the edges and add other features (stone settings, bails) made out of the clay before it is fired. These are some of her most impressive pieces--you can almost imagine the little petals nearly falling to pieces under the weight of the silver paste!

She has also created pieces using a rolled out layer of clay which she then presses the leaves into. She tells me that this method is usually reserved for more delicate, fragile objects that would fall apart under the weight of the paste. Often these leaves are dried or pressed leaves or flowers, giving her only one shot at getting it right! I have a feeling that method is the one she used for the leaf print that I purchased from her, pictured below:

As an added bonus with my purchase (and because she's such a sweetheart) she also sent me a pair of her ear-huggies! They are simple, ear-hugging designs that are comfortable to wear and so pretty! They cling right to the front of your earlobe and have small earwires that do not really show up when you're wearing them. Check them out, they are a really great idea!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Lotion in a Bar? Who'd've thought?

Today's post is a bit of a departure from my other posts. The technique I'll be talking about today involves a woman who pours her creative passion into creating Earth-friendly, vegan, luxurious body products. Her name is Nicki Leigh, and she sells her handmade bath and body products in her Etsy store, at She and I are in a Buy and Replace group together where we happily promote each other's wares and usually wind up buying from one another. She has created a unique product that I had never heard of before called a lotion bar. A lotion bar, I was told, is a solid bar of emolients that you warm up with your hands (or somehow with your body heat) and smooth it over dry hands, elbows, legs, or wherever. I asked her if it was her own invention, and she said no, that she had heard of them before, but she did come up with her own special formula. Upon questioning her further, she told me that many of the people in her family, herself included, have skin allergies and have great difficulty finding bath and body products that are not irritating to their skin. Additionally, she also said she wished to create something with vegan ingredients, as she also knew many vegans who would appreciate body products that do not contain animal products, such as beeswax. After numerous attempts at perfecting a recipe (25 or more attempts!) she found a combination of vegan oils and waxes that moisturized and softened the skin, but did not melt too easily or with too much difficulty. Further still, she came up with her own way of presentation of the product. Rather than pour the ingredients into deodorant tubes or other dispensers, she has chosen some pretty little round molds with a pattern on top. She then wraps it in wax paper and puts it in a little carrying tin. The picture above is her Lavender and Clementine Lotion Bar, the fragrance that I chose, and I find it to be a delightful citrus scent. Next on my list to try is the Green Tea and Cucumber scent, but I have a ways to go with this bar--it lasts for a long time!