Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Mise en Place

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

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It's all about the prep work. In the kitchen it's called mise en place, the tradition of organizing all the ingredients that will be used in a dish before the real cooking begins. The chef (or his assistants) will get out the bowls, pans, meats, and spices; chop the vegetables; and go over the recipes one last time to make sure that everything needed for that evening's meals is available at the slightest stretch of a fingertip. Prepping the kitchen in advance ensures that there is no time is wasted looking for a single item. Prepping the studio before opening a package of metal clay is just as important to a jewelry maker as assembling the correct herbs for a bouquet garni is to a cook.

I taught a Level One Certification this weekend. I always recommend that L1 students have at least 40 hours of personal, unguided studio time under their belts so they can trouble shoot for themselves and have a cache of design ideas in their mind's eye to draw on as they complete each prescribed project. Certification classes teach techniques, but they don't offer an opinion of how to execute and decorate a finished piece. In this class, there were a couple of students who were very talented and wanted to challenge themselves, although they had only been taking classes for a few months. So, there were some drying lumps of clay as someone got up to search for a texture or hunt for a cutting tool. And hard to get at sanding areas when another forgot to finish an element before attaching it to the focal. And bails, perhaps, weren't quite the right size to compliment a pendant.

Knowing what to do, in what order, and with what tools - as well as how you're going to finish, patina, and hang the piece post firing - is the best preparation you can do when starting any creative endeavor. This applies whether you're making a complicated design that may take weeks to finish, or just cutting out a simple charm to give as a gift later that afternoon.

My tips for a stress-free day at the metal clay bench are:
• Get out all tools, textures, lubrication, cutters and templates before you sit down at the bench.
• Have a game plan for what you're going to make and the steps you'll need to follow before you open the package of clay.
• Sand and perfect each element before joining them.
• Know how you're going to finish, texture or decorate the back of the piece.
• Think about how you'll hang a brooch, pendant, or earring before you begin work on it. You may need to add reinforcements to accommodate a particular finding.
• Always touch the piece before you put it in the kiln, feeling for sharp corners or potentially uncomfortable protrusions.

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