Scythian Stag

The Scythians were an ancient people of Central Asia/Eastern Europe. To the Scythians, the stag was a symbol of the sun and its daily journey across the sky. The famous Scythian stag (you have almost certainly seen it somewhere) can be reproduced in bronze clay. If the bronze is highly polished, it even resembles the gold of the original.

I started by cutting out the general shape of the stag, 0.75 mm thick. I used Aussie Ruby Bronze for the entire project, because I like its shininess, and thought it would reflect the golden original.

Then I added the rough shape of the antlers. They don’t look very good yet, but that will be fixed later.

The head was made free-form. A simple depression was left for the eye, to be filled in later with a sphere of clay, creating the eye. The shoulder was rolled 1 mm thick, and then formed by cutting out the shape. I used a clay shaping tool to slightly round the shoulder.

The rest of the body, and the tail, were made by free-from shaping of clay. The hooves and mouth were put in place by using a needle tool.

Previously, the image was somewhat rough. That is to be expected. Smoothing it out came from a great deal of sanding and shaping.

If it is to be worn, it needs a bail. I struggled with the decision– hidden bail (which would obscure the openings in the antlers) or visible bail (which makes the antlers a little harder to read from a distance). I made the latter choice. The texture on the bail helps it stand out from the un-textured stag. Also, the bail’s sloping sides will help the asymmetric shape hang evenly when someone wears it.

Aussie clay requires a two stage firing. I fired according to package directions, then brushed, then tumbled. I chose to not apply a patina. Since this is made in homage to artwork of the 6th century BCE, I chose to let it weather as nature directs.

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

The Scythians had a unique style of art, much of it produced in gold. This artistic style provides inspiration for working in bronze clay.

Taking it Easy

The Cernunos figure that I described in my last post took a lot of effort. After that, I decided to do something simple — and use up the clay left over from making the Cernunos. I made three simple rings, each with a twist to make it somewhat unusual. All were both easy to do and visually appealing. I will describe the three of them here, and say something about how they were made.

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This ring is the easiest to describe. I made a simple textured ring, although I made it a bit thicker than usual (1.25mm instead of 1 mm). Then, using a small plastic straw, I punched evenly spaced holes in it. The increased thickness is to make up for the ring not being as solid as usual. I patinaed the ring, and then polished the patina off the raised part of the texture. The holes complement the texture, which combines light and dark, giving the ring a unique look.

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For this ring, I rolled out a snake of clay. I then gripped it by the middle, held it up in the air, and spun it slowly, so the snake would twist around itself. I then placed the twisted snake over a ring mandrel. I used a clay shaper and a bit of slip to make sure the ends would stick. After firing, I decided that this ring looked best shiny. In other words, I did not apply a patina.

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To make this ring, I extruded a snake. An extruded snake is even; a rolled snake, as in the ring above, is not. Neither is better than the other. It’s simply an artistic choice. I then rolled the extruded snake around a ring mandrel. I made a ‘cinnamon bun’ shape around a bezel cup, making sure the extruded snake was snugly fit around the cup, so it would stay in place. Using a clay shaper, I cut around the edges of the cup, so the setting would stand out and so it would be easier to set the stone. After firing, I decided that this piece, also, did not need a patina. I set it with an aquamarine stone. The combination of the twist of the rounded band, the ‘cinnamon bun’, and the pale stone give the ring a lovely ‘organic’ look. One caveat — a ring like this has a top and a bottom — if worn the other way, it tends to twist. However, it is easy to figure out which way is correct — just wear the ring a few minutes and, if it needs to be reversed, you will quickly know it.

These pieces are all easy to make, and provide attractive alternatives to standard rings. They are also light-weight, and do not get in the wearer’s way. Give ring design some thought — there are many easy ways to make unique rings!!

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Cernunos

I was recently commissioned to make a silver pendant of Cernunos, the ancient Celtic god of death and rebirth. While there are many historic images of Cernunos, they don’t agree on appearance. The only communality is a severe looking human face with horns or antlers. That gave me lots of freedom.

I started by making Cernunos’ head from an embossed puffy triangle. This shape is good for making a face look severe. I used a clay shaper to form cheekbones, brow ridges, and a prominent chin. I cut out the eye sockets. I then embossed shapes for the eyes, giving them a more natural look. I attached them from the rear of the piece. I free-hand sculpted a nose and lips. I embossed antlers, and added them to the head. I used syringe to add a few more details to the eyes. I sculpted a torc (a piece of jewelry ancient Celtic men often wore around their necks).

Both to reinforce the piece and to make it look more Celtic, I used a commercial mold to make a circle of knotwork. I attached that to the back of the head, covering up the work I had done placing the eyes. I then made a thin puffy triangle decorated with a tree design, from a commercial mold. I attached that to the back (because customers will often turn pieces over and look at the backs as soon as they have seen the front). I used extra clay to smooth the transition between the back and front. Of course this needed a great deal of sanding and finishing. However, prior to cleaning the piece up, this is what I had:

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I thought a piece as elaborate as this one deserved more than a simple bail. To make one, I started with a rolled snake of silver clay.

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I picked it up by  the middle and slowly spun it, letting the snake spiral.

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I then formed a vine bail from this, and let it dry over a soda straw.

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Deciding that the two strands were not enough, I made a third spiral and attached it between the two. I then attached the bail to the back of the pendant, using slip. I made a thin circle with my maker’s mark on it, and used this to cover up where the bail joined the piece. At this point, the front and back of the piece looked like (my apologies that the photo of the front is blurry):

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I then fired the piece. Before brushing it, I applied accent rose gold to the eyes, requiring a second firing. I then burnished the eyes and brushed the rest of the piece. I tumbled until it was quite shiny.

The gold on the eyes did not show up as much as I would like, when compared to the shiny silver. Therefore, I decided to do a heavy patina. I chose LOS, since it will not color gold. I carefully cleaned the finger oils off the piece, and made a solution of hot water, salt, ammonia, and LOS. I dipped the piece until I liked the color, and then dipped it into cold water to prevent further changes. I wiped some of the patina off, so it would not be of a uniform color.

The front and back of the finished piece appear below. The coin is for scale.

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The client was quite happy with what I delivered — a stern-faced Celtic man with antlers.

If a commission gives you the chance to exercise your creativity, go for it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silver Whistle

Can a whistle, that produces a note, be made from metal clay? Surprisingly, it can. It’s tricky and requires a lot a trial and error, but you can do it.

I have only used silver for whistles. I have heard that base metals tend to slump, and do not work. I can’t say if this is or is not correct.

Let’s start with the ‘anatomy’ of a whistle. The mouthpiece needs to have a rectangular hole through it. This is best done by building the mouthpiece around a strip of laminated plastic, and then removing the plastic when the mouthpiece is about half dry. You need a hollow body. There are any number of ways of producing a hollow form. The method I used here was to sculpt a bird body out of silver clay, let it start to dry, then carefully slice it in two down the middle. The inside is still wet when the outside is dry. You can scoop out the wet clay, producing a hollow body. The mouthpiece need to connect to a sound hole. It is important that the sound hole be square, lined up with the mouthpiece, and of equal width to the rectangular opening in the mouthpiece.

To make a whistle work, the sound hole needs to bisect the airflow coming from the mouthpiece. This will require a combination of trial and error in placing the mouthpiece, and in filing the sound hole to make it a ramp instead of a square edge. If the whistle is going to work, it will sound in dry greenware.

If you want the whistle to produce more than one note, drill a small hole in the body. The whistle will produce one note with the hole opened and another with it closed with a finger. In firing, this hole might become plugged. If so, it can be re-opened by sticking a broom straw through it.

Whistles are challenging pieces of work. That’s why I have given a sketchy description of how to do one — explaining it in words alone is difficult. However, you now know that it can be done.

The tail is the mouthpiece. The sound hole is on the bird’s top. There is a tiny hole drilled in its stomach, so two notes can be produced. As usual, the coin is for scale.

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Penannular Brooch II

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I earlier discussed making a penannular brooch of silver. A client saw my work, and asked for a similar one of bronze. While the process is similar, it is not identical. Here, I am going to discuss making such a brooch of bronze.

Like the silver, the brooch started out by making the pieces. Laid out, they appear below.

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The brooch itself is  made by texturing metal clay, cutting out a circle, and then cutting out another circle, leaving a small edge. The cat face was made from a mold. The biggest differences are the pin and the pivot that holds the pin. While silver is soft, bronze is hard. Therefore, I made the silver pin somewhat broad, so it would not bend. The bronze pin is quite narrow. Since it is so narrow, I made the hinge longer, so I could blend it into the back of the pin and have a stronger attachment. Also, since untextured bronze is not as interesting as untextured silver, I put a texture on the bronze pin, while I left the silver one plain.

The pieces were assembled as before, with paper between the hinge and the pin. A sharp-eyed reader might recognize that this is not the same brooch, and they would be right. This is one that I made before I realized that bronze would allow a narrower pin.

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I fired the clay in coconut activated charcoal, according to package directions. I folded the pin to one side so it would not touch the brooch while firing. The paper burned away in the kiln, and left only a few ashes to be swept away.

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I then tumbled the brooch and patinaed it. The beginning of this post showed the finished brooch with the pin in place. The picture below shows it swung to one side.

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Metal clay penannular brooches are not common. However, there is no reason to avoid them. Just remember — if two pieces of greenware touch and you don’t want them to fuse, separate them with a bit of paper. It will burn away in the kiln, and your piece will emerge as you wish it to be.

Simple Projects

After doing a number of complicated projects, I thought I would take it easy and do some simple projects. Also, these projects used up the left-over copper clay from making the cuff.

From top to bottom, these are two pendants, one ring, and one pair of earrings. All were patinaed with Max Black. The patina was buffed off the sugar skull face on the ring, and Baldwin’s Patina was applied locally, giving an interesting effect.

 

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Recovering from Disaster

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My intention was to post about making a Navajo style cuff. As you can see in the picture above, it didn’t work out. I decided to still post about the process and how I recovered from this disaster. I wouldn’t sell theopiece, but there is no reason not to keep it.

A Navajo style cuff is a cuff with geometric cut-outs, and a layer below the cut-outs. While these are traditionally silver, I chose to use copper. This was the first one I ever made, and I didn’t want to invest too much in case it didn’t work out.

The first step is cutting out the shape of the cuff. It needs to dry around a bracelet mandrel. To do this without squishing the clay, I placed it around a mandrel, then fasted plastic wrap to the mandrel with rubber bands. The clay will only dry to leather hardness this way. That’s not a problem. When it reaches that stage, take it off the mandrel and let it finish drying in the normal way. The leather hard stage will stand up by itself, so that is not a problem.

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The next step is to cut out another thicker form for the cuff, cut the geometrics into it, and then let it dry in the same manner, attached to the lower layer by copper slip.

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This layer has the same drying issues as the first layer.

Once both layers have dried, one finishes the greenware with the usual methods. The layers might not match perfectly. A bit of sanding can make them match. Any gaps between the layers can be filled with slip.

I then fired the clay according to package directions. When it came out of the kiln, the layers had separated and a piece had broken off. Had I been using a one-fire clay, I would have fixed it with slip and refired. However, I was using Cyprus brand copper, which has a two stage firing. I was afraid that fixing it with slip and then doing the first firing would result in so much firescale that I would never clean the piece.

Why did this happen? My best guess is that I did not apply enough slip along one edge. While the piece shrank from firing, the thicker and thinner pieces shrank at different rates and pulled apart. The lesson from this is, in my next cuff, to be very generous with the slip joining the layers.

I resorted to metalsmithing to bend the pieces so they matched, tumbled the two sections, redid a bit of bending to make them fit, and then used two-part epoxy to join them.

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I wouldn’t sell a piece like this, since I don’t sell work that I have glued together. However, I can use this as a learning experience. Soon, I will try another cuff. With what I have learned from this one, I can do a better job.