Monday, March 24, 2014


My Humble Gourd Now on Hawaii Five-O TV Show!

I had to share this with other gourd enthusiasts, as I'll bet they will be encouraged by this surprising turn of events!

I live in Tucson, Arizona, and love Southwest petroglyph designs. I grow my own gourds and like to hand-paint them with Native American, African and Southwest tribal designs.  This particular gourd had some spots that weren’t perfect, so I first painted it all black and then penciled this design on the gourd.  I took a small wood carving tool and carved out the design.  It was my first attempt at carving.
I was happy with the finished piece (above) and, just for the fun of it, listed it on my Etsy shop,  (
Whooeee!  Much to my surprise, I got an email from a very sweet Hawaii Five-0 TV Production Assistant who wanted to buy my gourd as a prop for the set on their TV show! It was a rush order!  She said they “needed it by Monday” (last week), so I boxed it up and shipped it off to Hawaii!  It arrived on time and, the next day, they submitted a very nice "review" in my Etsy Shop for the gourd! I was ecstatic!
Since the design has a "Tiki Hut" look, I’m guessing it will appear in a future episode on Hawaii Five-0, as a prop for a restaurant, or perhaps a bar scene.  Please let me know if you see it on their show.  I'd hate to miss it!
I'm so happy that my humble little gourd will have earned its 5 minutes of glory!
Here are a few other gourds that I have had fun carving and painting, all grown in my humble little garden in sunny Tucson, Arizona!

Mischievous Thoughts! - Virginia Vivier

Mimbres Inspired Design - Virginia Vivier

Started out to be a Clock! - Virginia Vivier

Among the Ruins - Virginia Vivier

Shaman's Ritual Brew

I love hanging gourd planters in my kitchen, filled with realistic looking plants!  They are easy to maintain and adds a nice touch of greenery in our sunny desert climate.

I must admit that I have been carried away painting everything I can find with African, mystical Shamanistic, or Southwestern designs.  I made tiny earrings using baby gourds, painted bamboo wind chimes, wood spice jars, and even painted clocks, furniture, boxes, an Ironwood tree branch fetish, a bird house and an old steer skull  !  I guess it's a form of therapy because I enjoy every moment doing it.
One started out to be a clock face, but it became "so busy" that I decided it looked better, without any added clockwork parts.  I was so surprised when the author, who was publishing a book about African Designs, contacted me asking for permission to use this design in his book!

I DID get carried away.  But love doing this!  I even painted all my wooden spice jars and made a coordinating Africanized spice rack.

Hanging Planter - Virginia Vivier

African Spice Jars - Virginia Vivier

Tiny Gourd Earrings - Virginia Vivier

African Gourd Planter - Virginia Vivier

Kitchen Gourd Hanging Planter - Virginia Vivier

Shaman Ritual Gourd - Virginia Vivier

Banana Gourd - Virginia Vivier

Shaman Tribal Hanging Planter - Virginia Vivier

Tribal Banana Gourd - Virginia Vivier

African Inspired Table Vase - Virginia Vivier

African Hanging Banana Gourd - Virginia Vivier

Southwest Mirror Frame - Virginia Vivier

Mimbres Ritual Treasure Box - Virginia Vivier

African Spice Jar Set - Virginia Vivier

Gourd Trellis Tucson, AZ - Virginia Vivier

Virginia Vivier
Tucson, Arizona

Friday, October 18, 2013


PMC Clay Fine Silver Pendant

PMC Clay Fine Silver Jewelry
Would you like to make sterling silver jewelry like this with only a minimum investment in equipment and tools?  Here is a description of how I did this.

I started out, 20 years ago, taking classes in making sterling silver jewelry at a local Community College.  I had to keep signing up for the same class because I couldn't afford to buy all the equipment necessary for casting silver on my own at home.  After a few years, I had enough equipment and tools to make jewelry using silver metal sheet and wire, but still didn't have any casting equipment, or the space at home for that kind of a workshop.

I continued to work with the tools I had, but wanted to create 3 dimensional designs and still couldn't afford to buy any more equipment.  I was stuck between a rock and a hard place.

In 2004, I took a new class in "BronzClay" at Rio Grande Jewelry Making Supply in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  (I highly recommend these folks!  They have video tutorials and tech support on almost everything they sell.  They bend over backwards to get you the right tool for the job.  Usual disclaimers - No affiliation, just a happy customer.)

I started with BronzClay, since it was relatively inexpensive, compared to Silver Metal Clay (PMC).  Since then, I have developed a good business on my own website ( and my Etsy Shop, selling jewelry and key rings made from BronzClay and Precious Metal Clay (PMC).

Precious Metal Clays (PMC) are ingenious materials that combine fine particles of metal (gold, silver, bronze, or copper) with fine particles of a clay binder.  You can mold PMC just like regular clay.  When dried, they are fired in a small kiln between 1000 & 1600 degrees for a few minutes, to a few hours, depending on the clay.  The clay binder burns off and leaves the silver, gold, bronze, or copper, just like a piece of cast precious metal jewelry!   Here is a piece of dried clay (BronzClay) before it was fired in the kiln: 
Dry BronzClay before firing in kiln
 Here are some examples of what polished BronzClay looks like after it was fired at 1550 degrees for 3 hrs:

I learned a lot from working with BronzClay, such as, how to turn my original drawings into stamps and molds, but I still hadn’t achieved my goal of creating 3 dimensional Sterling Silver pendants and key rings.  So, I bit the bullet and ordered some PMC Fine Silver.  I already had a small kiln to fire BronzClay, so I could use it to fire PMC silver.

I was nervous!  PMC Silver was 5 times the cost of  BronzClay, and more expensive than purchasing silver sheet and wire. But, my customers kept asking if I could make the same designs in silver.  I decided it was worth the expense because if I made a mistake, I could easily “recycle” PMC Silver by melting it down, or sending it to a Refiner for CASH.  You can’t recycle BronzClay, so mistakes are tossed in the trash and considered a $$$ loss.  That is why, going forward, I am concentrating on PMC silver.
Here’s a breakdown of the minimum of tools you can get away with to make items like those above:

        Programmable Kiln with kiln shelf

Rio Grand New Kiln $680
Kiln Shelf Kit $14

     Roller to roll clay (6 inch piece of 1” diameter PVC pipe)

     Scraper – thin metal (found at Metal Clay suppliers or, on Rio Grande website)
     Glass sheet working surface, or smooth acrylic sheet, to work on so clay won’t stick. 

       Texture tools – Make your own original designs with Rio Cold Mold Silicone Compound.
Silicone Mold Compound
Variable Speed Lathe for polishing and grinding
Muslin Polishing Wheel
For smoothing rough edges

Drawing - Stamp - PMC
Stamp and Pendant
Create your own design stamps.  Press PMC into the stamp to form a pendant.  Check out YouTube for a wide variety of ways to make your own stamps.

 Find large antique buttons to use with mold material or, press buttons directly into clay.
Antique Brass Belt Buckle
PMC Silver Pendant

 You can also use Polymer clay to make molds and press PMC clay into the hard-baked Polymer clay.  Check out YouTube for lots of interesting ideas on how to make your own molds.

         Texture stamps
   Or, make your own texture design using found objects.

S       Shape cutters – Round circles or squares work well (cookie cutter bakery supplies).


Swanstrom Hole Punching Pliers $40
Economy 4 Pliers and Cutter Set - $50
Sunshine Tarnish Removing Cloths 25 pack for $26
Patina for Silver - Liver of Sulfur $15

         Here is another way to get started with many of the items listed above.  It doesn't include a kiln, but it does include a torch and DVD with directions.

Rio Grande Starter Kit using Propane Torch instead of kiln $360

       This kit includes:      -

-     - PMC3™ clay; 25 grams
- PMC3™ slip; 15-gram jar
- Rio PMC® work surface
- Rio PMC® tool kit
- Rio 2-part mold compound; 1 lb.
- 3M polishing paper asst.; pkg/12
- Straight, serrated util. tweezers
- Pocket needle file set, cut #2; set/6
- PMC® greenware file; pkg/3
- MIDAS® liver of sulfur; 8-oz. can
- Sunshine® Cloth; 5" x 7"
- PMC Basics DVD

       If you don’t have time to take a class in PMC, then check out all the You Tube videos!  You will find all the answers to your questions and lots of creative ways make your own tools.

       The bottom line is, that all the jewelry equipment I worked so hard to buy many years ago, are now   gathering dust, since I am concentrating on PMC instead of sheet silver.  I have increased my rate of production and eliminated waste.  I didn't have to make a special room for casting silver and didn't have to purchase more equipment to achieve 3 dimensional pieces.
       I have sold (and eliminated the need for) the following equipment and tools:

         Rolling Mill ($1000) - Metal Brake ($900) - Ring sizer ($300) - Acetylene torch/tank ($350)

         20 Ton Hydraulic Press ($600) - Scores of hydraulic press dies ($600) - Drill Press ($150) 

         Ultrasonic Jewelry Cleaner - Tent for Art Festivals ($500) - Foredom Flex Shaft and

($300) - Pickle Pot and solution ($50) - Soldering Station with Fire Extinguisher

      If I had started out with PMC in the beginning, I would have been able to sell jewelry online sooner,  with less investment in tools.  If your budget is what is holding you back from selling online, I hope this helps get you started.  It might work for you!  Feel free to contact me with any comments or questions.  I am happy to help!

      Virginia Vivier
      Tucson, Arizona
      email:  Designs (at) Esprit-Mystique (dot) com