Alaskan Halibut or: Making an Accident into an Advantage

I have been doing quite a bit of work that is based on traditional Alaskan imagery. In the last few months, I have done an Alaskan-inspired salmon, eagle, raven, and snow goose. I decided to add a halibut (a type of flatfish, which means it lives on the bottom and has both eyes on one side to the list). Here, I am going to document how I did it and how I turned an unfortunate accident into an advantage.


I started out cutting a 1 mm think halibut shaped outline of the newly-reissued original PMC. I chose that clay because I wanted to make the final halibut fairly small, and original PMC shrinks a great deal. Since making the ‘fiddly’ details in a clay that shrank less would have required me to make some really small pieces, it seemed like a good idea.

That was when I ran into one of the issues with the original PMC: it sometimes warps while drying. Well, the halibut shape warped, as you will be able to see in subsequent pictures. Since original PMC produces a soft silver, I planned to bend it back into shape after firing and kept going.

I added some details in 0.75 mm thick clay. As you can see, the halibut shape warped with the middle rising and the head and tail staying relatively flat.

Then I added more details. 

Then more.

Then more. The fins, which I did not want to be prominent, were added with 0.5 mm thick clay. I smoothed out the edges both by filing and by wetting a make-up applicator with distilled water and gently going over the piece many times. Using a make-up applicator in this  manner allows one to smooth out harsh edges, and makes a piece look more organic.

I added a hidden bail. Because original PMC shrinks so much, i used a fairly large bail. That was when it hit me: the warping isn’t as much of a bad thing as I originally thought. With the bail adding height to the halibut’s head, the head and body now fit together nicely — only the tail was problematic. 

I then fired the piece following package directions, brushed it, and tumbled it.  Then, using plastic coated pliers, so as to not mark the piece, I gently bent the tail. Bending metal clay is harder than bending sheet silver, but it can be done if you move very slowly.

I used LOS for patina, but then decided that it only needed a bit of patina. I went back over the piece with a polishing cloth. Then I used silver polish to make the halibut’s back and eyes as shiny as possible. 

This is the finished piece, with a coin for scale. The moral of this story is: if something goes wrong, don’t panic — there is probably a way to fix it or turn it to your advantage.  Here, my warped clay wound up (after a small amount of bending and adding a large hidden bail) making my halibut lie in a nicer manner than it would have if it had stayed flat.

I hope this story helps inspire you to take advantage of errors — or, as the late Bob  Ross would have put it, ‘happy little accidents’. 😉


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