Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Digital Underwater Photography

On Sunday The Boy and I had an assignment at Loch Creran (near Oban) to do the open water part of our PADI Digital Underwater Photography course with Aquatron.  We already completed the classroom and swimming pool sessions a few weeks ago but our first attempt at the open water part (at A-frames on Loch Long) was scuppered by visibility so bad that we could hardly see each other under the surface, never mind anything we were supposed to be photographing.

We had two dives.  During the first dive the objective was to photograph our dive buddy.  We had to take a head/torso shot then a full body shot.  This turned out to be a bit tricky as, when I looked at the screen on the back of the camera to line up my shot, all I could see was my own pink mask reflected in the camera housing.  I had to cheat a bit and look over the top of the camera as well to make sure I was pointing the camera the right way. Sh! Don't tell.

Here is my head shot of The Boy:

Full body shot:

During dive #2 the objective was to take photos of the aquatic life using the PADI SEA method (Shoot, Examine, Adjust) to get the best photos.  It went like this:

Shoot (a common starfish):

Examine: with my eyesight I could not see at all that this was blurry, :o).  However, I was able to see enough to decide that the composition and angle could be better so I adjusted:

Better!  If nothing else, at least this one is in focus.  I really need to get prescription lenses for my mask.

Here are another couple of adjusted photos.  I won't make you suffer the pre-SEA ones.

Some sea squirts (don't know what kind - I might even be wrong about them being sea squirts):

And here we have a Sea Toad aka Spider Crab that kept running away from me:

I also took a photo of a Sea Lemon but I won't inflict that one on you.  I took it by the light of the instructor's torch.  If he hadn't spotted it I definitely wouldn't have seen it.  It looked like a big white slug in the silt to me.  I really should get those prescription lenses for my mask shouldn't I?  When The Boy tells me about all the things he's seen when we go diving I'm convinced we were in different lochs as I never see half of the things he does.

The Boy and I were sharing a camera so while he was shooting, Ally, our instructor, was giving me tips and trying to improve my buoyancy.  Good buoyancy is crucial when doing underwater photography as you need to be able to hover above the bottom so that you don't damage any of the aquatic life.  I'm getting there I think. My buoyancy during the second dive was definitely better than the first.

And, to round the day off, after two dives my drysuit had lived up to it's name and had actually kept me dry.  That is a record.  It's the first time diving in Scotland that my suit hasn't flooded. So I'd like to thank the amazing Eric at Aquatron for taking my neck seal in enough to keep me dry without choking me. :D :D :D  Even the came out and gave us a bit of heat while we were on the surface.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Can brooches be left or right handed?

I have never been a brooch kind of person.  Even as a child I never wore badges.  A friend asked me if I ever made brooches so I thought I'd have a go.  I did actually buy some commercially made brooch backs months ago with the intention of investigating brooches but when I looked at them I decided that using them would be cheating in some way.  So I decided to have a go at making the whole thing from scratch.

I have loads of copper wire in different thicknesses and, as I would be hammering and filing it, plated wire wouldn't do.  I opted for 1mm copper wire in the end as I wanted something that would be firm enough not to bend once it was finished but not so thick that it would make noticeable hole in the fabric that it would be attached to.

The first and most important step was to hone the end of the wire to a point.  This is done in stages.  First of all, hammer the last few centimetres of the wire on a steel block or anvil to taper it:

To be honest, I'm not sure a ball pein hammer is entirely right for this job but it's the only hammer I have at the moment so it had to do.  A flat hammer would be more suitable I think.

Next job is to file the tip to a neat point.  I started off with a mini file for this and then used different grades of sand paper to smooth it off.

I have to confess to needing a magnifying light for doing all of this as my eyesight is just not good enough on its own to see if I've polished it up to silky, smooth loveliness.  And here we have the finished product, a brooch pin that is sharp enough to pierce fabric but not puncture skin.  Though I suspect with enough pressure the skin wouldn't stand a chance either.  Yes I know it doesn't look a whole lot different from the last 2 photos but I can assure you we have progressed from the blunt, cut end of a piece of copper wire to a honed brooch pin.  :o)

Next step, which I forgot to photograph, silly me, was to decide how wide to make the brooch and use the widest part of a pair of round nose pliers to turn a spring at the bottom of the pin.  Now the world is my oyster.  I have a piece of copper wire just asking to be decorated in an awsomely creative way.  But it's my first attempt so I have decided to keep it simple as this is still a learning experience.  I have some cloisonne beads that go really well with copper so I added a few Preciosa beads and made this:

I decided to keep the clasp simple as well.  I tried it on but not being a habitual brooch wearer I wasn't entirely sure what way to put it on.  You are probably wondering what on earth I'm on about but when I showed it to The Boy he told me off for having it on the wrong way round.  I was wearing it with the catch showing at the front but he insisted the catch should be hidden at the back.  I think that is a matter of personal taste and depends on how aesthetically pleasing the clasp is - or is it?  Anyway, when I turned it round to keep The Boy happy I realised I was now having to put it on left handed.  This made me wonder - do brooches come in right or left handed variations?  Is this something you have to bear in mind when creating your work of art?

I kept the brooch on for a while to make sure it was sturdy enough and soon had it pointed out to me by my daughter and her friend that I was totally ignorant of brooch wearing ettiquette.  I was wearing it attached my my top, which apparently is not the done thing.  It is apparently supposed to be attached to a coat or jacket.  I know I'm not an expert of brooches but can someone tell me when the rules changed?  In my day you could attach brooches to all sorts of things, blouses, jumpers, scarves, waistcoats, jackets, coats.....

Anyway, no-one criticised the actual brooch, only the way I was wearing it, so off I went to make more.  I got a bit more adventurous with the next one and made some loops on it so that I could attach dangly things from it.  Here is brooch number 2 with coloured chain hung from the loops and wrapped with tiny metallic beads:

And I didn't stop there.  I carried on playing with the chain and made another brooch without loops.  I still haven't made one with the standard, kilt pin type clasp, the shepherd's crook fastener.  That's on my list to do, as is getting more creative (fancy) with the decorated part of the brooch.  Here is what I've made so far:

I think I'm getting the hang of brooches.  Does anyone have any requests for my next creation?

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

First outing in my kiln

At long last, what you've all been waiting for, the story of the first outing in my kiln.  First I gathered together all my tools and materials.  My desk is really only big enough for it all when it's squished together.  We have silver clay, the star of the show, cutters in all shapes and sizes, texture mats, rollers, spacers, olive oil, water, the all important cling film, paint brush, pointy things....

I decided I'd finish the job I started in my Art Clay class all those months ago. On the right in the photo below you can see 3 of the pieces I made.  An end cap (top) and two little textured hearts that I had intended to turn into earrings until I realised I should have punched the holes in opposite sides for that. Doh!

So, I rolled out a pack of PMC3 Silver clay over a texture mat and used cutters to cut out the shapes.  The bead cap had to be carefully rolled into a tube and joined.

On the left you can see the new end cap and two hearts with the holes punched on the opposite side from the first two.  They are waiting to be dried and fired.  You will notice they are bigger than the first set because metal clay shrinks when it is fired.  This is where I have to hope I used the correct size cutters so that the fired versions are the same size as the first set.

In the photo below you can see my attempt at making Yin & Yang symbols using the silver disc at the top as a texture mat then using a needle tool to carefully cut out the individual shapes.

The next day I checked that the pieces were dry then put them on a rubber block to protect them while I carefully sanded the edges to smooth them.  Here they are sitting on the kiln shelf ready to be fired.  I had 3 options for the firing process varying from 10 minutes at 700 degrees to 30 minutes at 600 degrees.  I decided to play it safe as it was my first time and fire them for longer at a lower temperature.

When they came out of the kiln half an hour later they didn't look a whole lot different from when they went in.  The clay doesn't magically turn silver in the kiln, it burns off the binding agent (which is a bit whiffy) but the metal stays creamy white in colour until it is polished.  You can see the difference below.  The heart on the right has had a quick polish with a wire brush:

And now we have the proof of the pudding.  On the left, my newly fired end cap and hearts.  On the right the ones I made in my Art Clay class.  Miraculously, they turned out pretty much the same size.  That wasn't guaranteed as the first batch was made from Art Clay Silver and the second batch was made from PMC3 silver clay. The two types of clay have different shrinkage rates but thankfully not too different.

Does that mean I know what I'm doing with this stuff? 

Now I need to take all of my little pieces to the Edinburgh Assay Office and have them hallmarked so I have another adventure to look forward to.  Once they're hallmarked I can turn them into jewellery.  I think I may make a necklace with the end caps and earrings with the hearts.  Or I might surprise you all and make bracelets instead.