Earlier this year, I decided to take a silversmithing course that was being offered at a local arts centre. I had been suffering from feelings of stress, inertia, uselessness and lack of motivation so I figured maybe taking a class would help.
The course was taught by an elderly no-nonsense lady. She taught us some basic techniques like filing, sawing, and soldering the silver and then we got to design projects and work on them with her help. Some people in the class did not appreciate her teaching methods; for example, while learning to solder, a student asked her how you know if the soldering worked. The teacher picked up her project, dropped it on the floor, and stated "That's how." as it broke in two.
Also, the course was mostly self-directed and this did not sit well with some people. You were supposed to design your own projects and then work on them during class. Many people were afraid to try things out, could not think of any designs, and needed a lot of help which didn't work well when there were 15 students and one teacher. Many people designed one piece and spent every class perfecting and fussing over their design. Others incorporated techniques that were beyond their beginner ability and needed a lot of help.
Being that I took this class as a stress reliever, I was kind of surprised at the level of frustration that people expressed. Our first project was a simple ring with no embellishments that allowed us to practice soldering, filing, sawing, and shaping. For some people, it was not going so well and they got very upset! I guess since I am in the vise grip of stress and accuracy at work I like to give myself a break when I do other things and just see how they go and if I f*ck them up, who cares. Since it was just a recreational class to try something out I was a bit miffed at the attitudes of some people.
I decided to just go for it and try making things on my own and seeing how they turned out. Since I was a beginner, I figured I would use the basic techniques that I knew to make some simple, graphic jewellery. I came away with 3 pendants and 2 pairs of earrings. My pieces are not really "classic" in the realm of silversmithing; if you were a true silversmith you would be much more careful about your polishing and the finish of your pieces. I decided that I wanted my pieces to have a bit of an "unfinished" look to them.
The first thing I made was this pair of earrings. It required sawing, filing, and drilling holes. Since I used this piece to learn how to drill holes, they are not quite straight. I was experimenting with polishing and ended up with a somewhat brushed yet unfinished look.
The second piece that I made is a pendant. I had to file and saw the silver into this shape. Sawing in a straight line is definitely a learned skill and I need to work on my technique. For this piece, I decided to use a hammer to try out different textures. On one side, there is a coarse texture and on the other side it is smoother and duller. You can wear it facing either way.
One of the unfortunate things about this class is that silver is expensive. I had some scrap brass that we were given to practice on at the beginning of the course and I decided to saw it, file it, and drill some holes in it to make earrings. I also practiced bending and shaping with pliers. Another technique I used (and failed at) was soldering silver to the brass.....as you can see, I melted the squares of silver when soldering them. I must say that I did truly suck at soldering.
This pendant was quite difficult. When you solder silver, you have to be careful about the order in which you solder things and the weight of the solder that you use. If you use the wrong solder or your torch is too hot you can undo other parts of the piece that you have already soldered together. Since I knew how to make rings, I decided to solder together several circles to make a cluster pendant. Unfortunately, when trying to finish the piece, one of the rings in the middle popped open and the other circle next to it warped a bit. I fixed the piece by soldering the popped circle as it was. That is one thing I liked about silversmithing; you can screw up and still end up with something neat even if it was not your original design.
My final piece was a pendant made out of the remaining scraps that I had left over. Since silver is pricey, I did not want to waste it. I left it with a fire-stained partially polished finish to give it that gritty, handmade look. Also, I learned that when soldering, some of your pieces can move so you have to be careful. The shapes ended up a bit jumbled from where I placed them originally.
Once you have taken the basic class, you can sign up again for further classes and just use the studio to work on your own stuff. I think I will do this in the coming spring. There are a lot of techniques that I would like to work on such as setting stones and filigree work. I like silversmithing A LOT more than I like sewing! When you screw up a silversmithing piece you can usually salvage it.......this is often not the case with sewing!
Have you ever tried silversmithing or taken any recreational classes lately?