Sea Spirits

TI continue to explore Pacific Northwest art in metal clay. The shrimp is rarely depicted in such art, so I chose to do so. Also, I had not incorporated a stylized human face into an animal body (a common feature of Pacific Northwest art). I decided to do so.

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I began by rolling PMC Original (I wanted the shrinkage) into a 0.75 mm sheet, and cutting out a shrimp outline. I added a few details, including layering the piece to suggest the shell and adding a ball of clay for eyes.20190529_112301I added a few more details, including a partial human face.

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I rolled more metal clay, 1 mm thick, and cut out a rounded triangle. I textured the triangle, but put the textured side down, so that the texture would be on the back. I attached the shrimp to the triangle, and added more details, including eyes for the stylized human face.

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I then, in keeping with the ‘sea spirits’ theme, added an embossed humpback whale to the back. I added a bail. The marks on the bail are my maker’s mark.

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I had heard that one can give a particular shininess to untextured silver by applying an agate burnisher prior to firing. I sanded and cleaned up both sides, and then did the burnishing, both on the untextured part of the front and on the body of the whale. Note that this brings out the silver in silver clay.

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I fired the piece according to package directions and tumbled it. I decided to apply a light hand with the patina, keeping the silver shiny and just showing the details.

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The coin is for scale.

Pacific Northwest art provides a wealth of inspiration for the metal clay artist — including subjects that would rarely be portrayed, like shrimp. I encourage you to explore this area yourself. You will be amazed at what you can accomplish.

Lentil Beads

Lentil beads are hollow pendants that look much heavier than they actually are. I’m going to talk about making a lentil bead with an unusual bail, with a touch of Keum Boo.

First, a look at what we are working toward:

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The first step in making a lentil bead is to make two rounded pieces of the same shape, typically 1 mm thick. The simplest shape is a circle — that can be formed on a plastic Easter egg. Other shapes can be done, but we will reserve that for later. Also, I cut openings in the two pieces of the bead. That is not standard — usually, you would leave the bead intact and attach a bail in some other way. However, here I am using an ususual bail design, that I will discuss later.

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Once these are dry, they can be attached to each other with slip. The two pieces will never fit right on the first try. That is not a problem. You can fix it by a combination of sanding the high spots and filling in the low spots with more slip.

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I chose to attach a hidden bail on the back.

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The piece would be sanded to even out the rough spots. Be sure that any gaps remaining between the front and back have been repaired. When this is done, the piece can be fired, brushed, and tumbled. I chose to add some gold, using Keum Boo  techniques that I have talked about before. For a quick refresher, prior to brushing, heat the piece to around 800 degrees F — a quick test is that, if it is hot enough, it will char a toothpick with a quick touch. Using tweezers, place gold foil on the piece. Burnish with an agate burnisher. The gold and silver will bond — it will be visually obvious when this has happened. After applying the gold, either let the piece cool naturally or crash cool it. Then it can be brushed. If the gold is properly attached, it will stand up to brushing. However, as a precaution, I cover the gold with my thumb while brushing. After tumbling, if you have left an opening like mine, there will be shot inside the bead. It can be removed by turning the bead upside down and shaking.

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Now for the unusual bail. Run a thin chain through the hole on the front. Then run it through the loop on the back. Then run it through the hole on the front again.

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Seen from another view, it looks like this:

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The net result is a striking pendant that, while quite easy to make, looks hard. Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone if you don’t. 😉

 

 

Deep Guardian

There are many ways to add color to metal clay;  enameling (at least on silver and copper, alcohol inks, and colored pencil (on silver) are among the best known. I’m going to describe making a bronze pendant (titled ‘Deep Guardian’) and how to add color to it: Pebeo brand Moon Fantasy colors.

Pebeo Moon Fantasy is type of oil paint that is particularly well suited for painting on metal. Its colors are deep and lustrous, but not at all harsh, and therefore well suited for jewelry work. As with any oil paint, one should work in a well-ventilated area. I encourage you to use odorless paint thinner for cleaning your brushes. Traditional paint thinners smell terrible ;-), and odorless paint thinners do the job just as well.

For ‘Deep Guardian’, I started with a mental image of an orca (killer whale if you prefer, although ‘sea panda’ would also work 😉 ) swimming over a large stone. I worked with bronze clay, both because I like the look of bronze and, being the first piece I ever painted, I did not want to cover up silver. I started with a background piece, with a bezel cup that would eventually carry the stone. The texture was created using a texture sheet intended for polymer clay. I realized that not too much of the background texture would show, so I wanted to choose something that, when I finished, would have a pattern without the pattern being obvious.

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Next, I found an image of an orca and carefully copied it in textured clay. Of course there were details to add, but that could be done later.

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When both pieces were dry, I joined them. I added a few details to the orca, and refined the piece. Obviously, refining is not complete in this picture. However, it is far enough along for you to get the idea.

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At this point, it is pretty much a standard pendant. I did more refining of the greenware and added a hidden bale. The bale is triangular in shape — this allows asymmetrical pieces like this one to hang straight.

I fired according to the package directions for the clay. Then I tumbled it.

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At this point, you’re probably thinking ‘it doesn’t look that much like an orca’. Well, it didn’t, even though the shape was copied from a photo of a real animal. However, the Pebeo paints fixed that. It took several coats to get the color I wanted. When applying these paints, be patient. Allow each layer of paint to dry before applying the next.

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All that was lacking was the stone and a chain. I chose a diorite, because I thought the green would look nice against the bronze. Since I did not patina the bronze, I chose a shiny chain. The completed piece, with a coin for scale, appears below.

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Just as I had envisioned it — an orca swimming above a stone, with a background that more suggests than makes obvious a pattern.

Pebeo Moon Fantasy paints open a new world of color for metal clay jewelry. I hope you are encouraged to try it.

Texture Without Texture Sheets

There’s nothing wrong with using texture sheets. I certainly use them. However, when you use a texture sheet, your pieces will have the exact same texture as many other people’s work. There are many ways to add texture to your work without using texture sheets, which makes your textures truly one-of-a-kind. I’m going to describe two of them.

The simplest one is to use syringe (on silver) to draw a design. While syringe looks simple, there are several tricks. The first is to be sure the tip of your syringe is damp, but not too damp. I achieve this by dipping the tip of the syringe in water, and then wiping it almost dry before I use it. The reason for this is that, if the tip is slightly damp, the syringe will come out in a straight line. If the tip is completely dry, there will be a slight curl to the syringe. The second trick is to (usually) not place syringe directly on the greenware. If you let the syringe tip touch the greenware, your drawing will be bumpy and uneven. If that’s the effect you want, great. If you want the drawing to be smooth, hold the syringe tip a few millimeters above the damp greenware (if the greenware is slightly damp, the syringe will stick better). Let the syringe drop onto the greenware as you draw. When you are through with a line, let the tip lightly touch the greenware. That will break the line of the syringe.

As an example, I made a pendant with silver clay. I cut out a left shape, and placed a bezel cup in the middle. I used syringe to draw the veins of the leaf. After firing, brushing, tumbling, and patinaing, I added an amber stone to finish the piece. The coin is for scale.

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Another way to add unique texture is by slip dragging. While the clay is still wet, saturate a brush with slip. Drag the brush over the wet clay. The slip will stay behind in an interest rough texture. You can modify this texture, before the slip dries, by using a clay shaper. Don’t have a clay shaper? A toothpick will do the job too!

As an example, I made a pair of earrings with a bezel cup for stone. While the clay was still wet, I loaded a brush with slip, dragged it over the piece, shaped the slip with a clay shaper, and then let the earrings dry. I finished them as usual. I fired, brushed, tumbled, and patinated. Then I added two blue topazes. The finished pieces are below. The coin is for scale.

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There are many ways of achieving texture — directly sculpting with clay shapers, using natural objects to make impressions in the clay, making molds from other objects. There’s nothing wrong with texture sheets. But there’s also nothing wrong with letting yourself experiment with textures that will be yours and no one elses!

Post Earrings

Most of us start in metal clay by making a pair of dangling earrings with a texture sheet. Some people prefer post earrings, with a stone setting. It turns out that post earrings are quite easily made. The secret is to use titanium ear posts with silver or bronze clay.

Titanium ear posts are available from most suppliers of jewelry supplies. While stainless steel and sterling will often become brittle after a trip through the kiln, titanium is safe up to 1650 degrees F. That is why you need to restrict yourself to silver and bronze — copper fires at a higher temperature.

The ear posts, out of the package, are as seen below.

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To convert them into earrings, one cuts thin disks of metal clay. I used 1 m20190314_195952m thick, but other thicknesses would work. I placed bezel cups inside the disks. Be sure to match metals on the cups and clay. A silver bezel cup will sinter with silver, and a bronze cup with bronze. Other than that, and undesirable chemical reactions are possible.

When these are dry, turn them upside down. Place the ear post on the back of the disk, and use more clay to affix it in place. It is not crucial that the ear post be straight, although you should make it as straight as you can manage. Minor errors can be fixed with pliers after it is fired.

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After the clay dried, I sanded it to make the backs as flat as possible. They don’t need to be perfect. They just need to be close enough to wear comfortably. After sanding, I fired, brushed, and tumbled, as usual. I set the bezel cups with chalcedony, a stone I really like but, for some reason, rarely use. Since the fine silver bezel cups are soft, it is not hard to bend the edges so they will hold the stones in place.20190318_154935.jpg

The finished product appears above.

If you, or your client, prefer post earrings, there is no reason not to use metal clay. Just be sure to use titanium ear posts!

 

 

 

A bronze cuff with a stone

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I have previously talked about making bronze cuffs. I wanted to add a stone to one. While the technique for building is similar to making a cuff without a stone, I thought it was worth an update.

I used Fastfire Bronz clay. This clay has the advantage of being pre-mixed (comes as clay, not powder) and of having a good record of sintering well. First, rolled out the clay 2 mm thick, and, using a texture sheet (the hexagon pattern was made for use with polymer clay, but it works fine with metal clay) textured the piece,  leaving it 1.5 mm thick.

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I have a wooded bracelet mandrel. Wood plus metal clay is not necessarily a good thing, because the wood causes the clay to dry too quickly. Wrapping the mandrel in plastic wrap addressed this issue. I then formed the cuff around the mandrel and added a bezel cup. It might take several attempts to make the bezel cup stay in place. If it doesn’t the first time, add more clay thinned with distilled water and stick it in place. Eventually, it will hold.

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There was some distortion of the pattern due to fixing the bezel cup in place. I turned a weakness into a strength by doing a bit of simple sculpting, thereby hiding the distortion. After standard greenware finishing, the piece appears below.

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After that, it was fired according to package directions, then patinaed. I chose to add a green stone, because I thought it would stand out well against the bronze.

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That’s it. Making a cuff in bronze is in no way difficult. The only issue is overcoming the psychological barrier or working with so much clay at one time. If you use bronze, copper, or some other relatively inexpensive metal, that needed be a barrier. I encourage you to try your own!

Metal Clay with an Iron Hand ;-)

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I recently encountered iron metal clay for the first time. I have done some blacksmithing, but it never occurred to me that iron could be a jewelry material. Prompted by this, I decided to try it.

I’m going to describe my experiences with iron clay. Yours might differ. As you might expect, it has some good and bad properties.

First, Goldie iron clay comes in a powdered form. Powdered clays are a bit less convenient that pre-mixed, but have the advantage that you can make as much or as little as you like. However, when I had used other powdered clays, I had no problem getting the clay to take on a texture that I found workable. This was not so with the iron clay. I went through many rounds of ‘too dry, add more water’ and ‘too sticky, add more powder’ until I got it right. My guess is that the other powdered clays I have used were more forgiving, while iron clay probably has a fairly narrow range. Still, after substantial trial and error, I finally got it right.

The first thing I tried to make with the clay was a traditional ‘roll out the clay, texture it, then cut it with a needle tool’. This did not go well. The needle tool left a very ragged edge that would have been difficult to fix in greenware. I don’t know if this is a property of the clay, or if I still didn’t have the water/powder blend down correctly.

I then tried molding. Years ago, in Estonia, I bought a small bronze image of Kalevipoeg, the Estonian national folk hero. I had made a mold of this (for my own use, I do not sell images created from molds of other people’s work). I decided to try the same mold with iron clay, since Kalevipoeg feels like an Iron-Age character. While the clay did not take fine details as well as silver, copper, or bronze, it was quite satisfactory. The greenware, with added bail, appears below. The bail is deliberately somewhat uneven, giving it the look of forged iron.

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Next, I decided to try sculpting. Following on the Esonian theme, I sculpted an Uku’s Hammer (Uku is an Estonian sky god, similar to Thor in many aspects, with a similar tradition of hammer pendants). That worked beautifully. The greenware Uku’s hammer appears below.

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Inspired by this success, I tried a more demanding sculpture. I made a Cthulhu (for those who don’t know, Cthulhu, an ultra-powerful alien who has been mistaken for a god, comes from the works of horror writer H P Lovecraft). My sculpted Cthulhu came out even better than the hammer.

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Goldie iron clay requires a two stage firing, the first on a bed of charcoal and the second buried in charcoal. I fired according to package directions. The pieces came out of the kiln looking like lumps of rust. However, with a bit of brushing and then tumbling for a few hours, the appearances completely changed. The pieces, post tumbling, appear below.

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I then applied a light coat of Max Black patina, polished the pieces, sprayed with a fixative (so they don’t rust), and attached chains. The finished pieces are below. As usual, I have included a coin for scale.

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Will I use iron clay again? Definitely. It is a bit hard to work with, but the results appear to be worth it. In particular, iron clay seems very promising as a sculptural medium.