Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Tips and Tricks—Working with Plexiglass by Karen McGovern

I add a lot of weird stuff to my jewelry designs.  Found objects, paper and botanicals are high on my list of cool things to work into a design.  Old photographs are one of my favorite things to incorporate into lockets; and bug wings, dried leaves and flowers are lovely in pendants, cuffs, earrings and so much more.  BUT, how do you encase and protect these fragile materials for use in jewelry???
Another version of the "Guilt Free"
diamond ring, this one has a tiny
starfish in with the diamonds.
There are several options.  Thin, delicate items like papers, wings, feathers, leaves and flowers can be laminated, placed under glass, in a vessel, or even in resin.  These options are great if you have the materials, which can be tricky to find in exactly the shape and size you want.  I love working with glass (I especially love vintage optic lenses) but this works pretty much only for pendants, and glass can break.  I once created what I called a “Guilt Free” diamond ring using a copper bezel and glass test tube end.  In the bezel I placed a pile of diamond dust (real diamonds, ground to be used commercially, like the coatings on diamond drill bits, etc.  Mined in the US, less expensive by far than “gem quality” diamonds, but still NOT CHEAP).  The effect was really lovely, a pile of glittery diamonds moving around under the glass dome.  Then it was dropped on a stone floor in the gallery I was showing in.  Smashed the glass and scattered all the teeny, tiny diamonds.  FROWNY FACE!!!!!  Glass test tube ends are great for domes in rings, but you must caution your clients to HANDLE WITH CARE.
One of my FAVORITE optic lens pendants.  Gorgeous
photo from around 1820, cicada wings.

If you don’t want the hassle of working with glass (you have to cut the test tubes, grind them, etc.), don’t have the time for resin (most have to set for 24 hours at least), don’t happen to have a laminator handy, and want the freedom of creating your own shapes for different uses, I recommend hitting your local hardware supply store (Home Depot, Lowes, whatever) and buying some clear plexiglass sheet.  I love plexiglass!  Comes in a variety of thicknesses, and is super cheap.  I just got a thin, flexible sheet of glare-resistant clear plexiglass, 12 x 12 inches, at Home Depot for under $5.00. SCORE!  Thin plexiglass is a breeze to saw, drill and cut (if it is thin enough you can use an exact-o knife) and can be used in so many ways.  Create a template using craft paper, tape it to the plexiglass, then saw or cut out the shape.  Rough edges are easily filed smooth with a flat file or sanding sponge.  Great for cold connecting, you can sandwich paper, photos, leaves, feathers, insect wings and more with ease.  I especially love it for working with butterfly wings, which are created from MAGIC and stick to NOTHING.  AND, since the thin stuff is flexible, you can curve it to overlay on a metal cuff!  Simply drill holes in the cuff and plexiglass, rivet or micro screw in place on one end, curve over and finish the other end the same.  Note:  If your plexiglass is thicker, and not easily bent by hand, use a heat gun on low, heat the plexi, then curve it over the cuff.  WEAR PROTECTIVE GLOVES, MASK and VENTILATE...more on that below.

Two favorite designs in a series I created using vintage photographs.  The
photos are under thin plexiglass, cold-connected behind "windows" of brass.

Real butterfly wings under plexiglass on brass bases.
Plexiglass can also be formed using heat.  If you cut circles, you can dap (curve) them by placing the plexiglass circle in the dapping block, then heat with a heat gun (on low) for a few seconds.  While the plexi is warm, simply press with a dapping tool (I use a wooden dap and block for this) and the material will conform to the curve.  If you over-heat the plexiglass you can get some pretty awesome bubbles and deformities in it.  Experiment!  NOTE:  Plexiglass will give off a chemical fume when heated, so be sure to do this in a WELL-VENTILATED AREA OUTSIDE YOUR HOUSE!!!  WEAR A MASK!  You know, do all of the grown-up, cautionary, safety first things you are supposed to do.

A ring I made using a butterfly wing under a dapped disc of clear plexi.

A brass heart pendant I created
backed with red plexiglass.
Plexiglass also comes in opaque and transparent colors, which is a whole other ball game.  You can create stained glass effects, dreamy filter effects, you name it!  Clear plexiglass can be made to appear aged by scratching it with sandpaper or a needle file, then rubbing a bit of shoe polish over the scratches.  Wipe away the excess and you get a cool, aged effect.  Shoe polish comes in many colors as well, so you can add scratches and spots of color to whatever you create.  SO MANY THINGS!!!
Nothing makes me happier than working with a new material, especially a new material that doesn’t break my bank and offers multiple uses.  Plexiglass is fun, cheap, and endless in the possibility department.  So, what will YOU create with it????


Keri Lee Sereika said...

I know I commented on FB but had to say here too - WOWZA!!!!

Patti Vanderbloemen said...

Wonderful post! I admire your creativity so very much!

Kim Burdette said...

What a great blog. I am going to try it. I draw girls and have been trying to piece together how to make cool bezels for them, and I think plexi will be part of that equation thanks to you. I will be trying it out. Thank you.

Kim Burdette said...

What great information. I love to draw and paint and have been trying to piece together how to make unique bezels with my girls in them. I think after reading your blog, plexi will be part of that equation.

Adina said...

great collection
white sapphire engagement rings

sandi m said...

I think I will be heading off to get me some plexiglass! Those butterfly wings are spectacular.
Thank you for all the inspiration.

Erika said...

Thanks for this informative post! This looks totally do-able.

mairedodd said...

brilliant! thanks - i noticed on ebay they have lots of colors of perspex as well.

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