Last Minute Commissions

Holidays are often good for metal clay artists. Commisions come in. People want to buy pieces as gifts. However, many people don’t understand how long making something by hand takes. This is the tale of a holiday commission for which the client did not give me enough time to finish.

A client, named O’Haggerty, wanted a piece based on the family crest. The crest is three birds, on a dark background, above a tree, on a light background. The client wanted a silver pendant on a circular background.

I would have enjoyed sculpting this. However, the commission came in on Dec 10, about two weeks. Having both a house and a full time job (not to mention part time gigs as a musician) to attend to, there was no way I could sculpt this. That didn’t mean I was stymied, though.

First, I found some old beads in bird shape. I used two-part molding compound to make a mold.

There are two birds because I wasn’t sure which design to use, and a branch for another design I am considering doing. Since that design has no place here, I won’t mention it further.

The client wanted a fairly small piece. Since that was a ‘rush’ order, I had to find pieces that would fit. The solution? I had a bit of original PMC available, which shrinks around 25%. That gave me more flexibility. I then rolled out the clay and cut out a circle.

Three of the rounded birds fit across the top of this circle. I cast them in the mold and attached them. To clearly delineate the upper and lower regions, I rolled a very thin rope of clay. Doubling it over on itself, I let it spin slowly. This produced a nice ‘spiral’ effect that I could place beneath the birds. I would like to have sculpted a tree, but … no time. I looked at various commercial molds of trees until I found one that both fit the space and had intertwining roots. Since O’Haggerty is an Irish name, I thought the Celtic touch would be nice. Then, following usual metal clay methods, I cleaned up the greenware.

I added a hidden bail and fired the piece. To speed the work along, I crash cooled (there were no glass or jewels which might be damaged). I brushed and tumbled.

I used Liver of Sulphur to apply a patina. Then, I wiped the patina off the birds and from the tree, using a polishing cloth. Because the lower part of the image was white in the original crest, I wanted to make the part behind the tree as shiny as possible. I sanded the part of the pendant around the tree, making it even smoother (using progressively finer grades of sandpaper and changing direction for each sanding). I then carefully applied silver polish, polishing until the silver was as shiny as I could make it. 

The finished piece, with a coin for scale, appears above.

The moral of this story is ‘if you think you have to turn down a commission because of time, rethink — if the client will accept molded pieces, you can hurry things along.’

I hope I have inspired you to think of ways that, if you need speed to meet a client’s needs, you can find a way to do it.

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