Using Metal Clay for Cartoon Images

I have done a number of posts about using metal clay to make jewelry that resembled Alaskan Native art. This is done by making a basic shape, and then adding the ‘bits and pieces’ until it resembles Alaskan art. Then, one uses a damp sponge to smooth out the edges so the piece looks ‘organic’ instead of having sharp edges.

I was recently asked by a knitter if I could use the same methods to make a cartoon sheep for her from silver. Starting off from a cartoon sheep face, I used the same methods — cut out the overall shape; add the shape without ears (so the ears would recede in the background); add the shape of the face without the ears or topknot (so the face would come forward). I made the eyes by making depressions in the face and then, when the face had dried, adding small sphere of clay for eyes. I made the nostrils by making depressions with a clay sculpting tool, and then refining them after the clay dried. It resembled a sheep, but still did not look right. Then I realized the problem: to look like wool, the topknot needed some curls. I used syringe to add that. Having started on this, I used additional syringe to define the ears and muzzle. That was the look I wanted.

I fired, brushed, tumbled, and patinaed the piece as usual. I used a very light patina and polished the face, to give the impression of a light face and dark muzzle and ears. A photo of the resulting piece, with a coin for scale, appears below.


I think the technique is more successful with Alaskan art, which is highly stylized. However, the client was happy with the sheep. If the client likes it, it is good enough 😉


How do you show a customer what a piece will look like?

Today’s post is a bit unusual, as it does not directly involve metal clay or jewelry. However, there is a very real indirect link.

A customer commissions you to make a piece. You plan what it is going to look like. But do your plans truly match the customer’s expectations? The only way to know that is if you can provide a drawing of what the piece will look like when it is finished. To do this, you have to learn to draw. In particular, you have to learn to draw metal, with its highlights and reflections.

I have been working on learning to draw. I have chosen colored pencil as my medium, because colored pencil is a dry medium (I have several cats, and cats and wet paintings do not necessarily mix well). While I am still learning, I decided to post two of my practice pieces.

The first is an exercise in depicting metal (a tea pot, not jewelry). I drew on dark blue paper, using the following colors of Prismacolor pencils: white, black, French gray 70%, French gray 90%, and cream. My drawing wound up as follows:


Following this, I chose to go for full technicolor, and not restrict myself to metal. I copied a photograph of a rooster (you might notice the makers mark for my jewelry studio in the lower left hand corner):


Learning to draw, with whatever medium you choose (graphite, colored pencil, charcoal, or painting) seems far removed from jewelry making. But learning will help you make jewelry. And it will help you sell jewelry. It sounds like a digression, but, if you learn to draw, you will be repaid for your efforts.

Using Metal Clay for Purposes other than Jewelry

The main use for metal clay is, of course, jewelry. However, one can use it for other purposes as well. This is particularly true with bronze and copper, which are relatively inexpensive.

A friend, who is a huge fan of the fiction of American horror writer H. P. Lovecraft, asked me to sculpt him a statue of Cthulhu, Lovecraft’s fictional ultra-powerful alien who has often been mistaken for a god. I carefully read the story in which Lovecraft introduced Cthulhu, titled ‘Call of Cthulhu’. An image of Cthulhu, of unspecified size but small enough to carry around in one hand, features prominently in the story. In that image, Cthulhu is seated, with arms and legs at rest — in other words, something not too hard to sculpt. I took that as my departure point.

I used copper clay because the figure would need quite a bit of clay. To do it justice, it needed to be 40-50 mm tall (it wound up, after firing, being 42 mm tall). I sculpted a hollow (to save clay) cube for the base. Then I added the figure, one feature at a time. Once I had the figure sculpted, I added texture by making a think paste of copper clay, dragging a paint brush through it until the brush was thoroughly loaded, and then dragging that over the figure. That gave it the sort of rough, primitive carving aspect the Lovecraft described in his story.

This was the largest piece I had ever fired. I let it fire an hour longer than the package directions, to make sure it sintered all the way through. It sintered! The heat had given the copper a vague purple patina. I chose not to polish or patina the figure further, since the purple look seemed to go with the image.

For benefit of those not familiar with H. P. Lovecraft’s work, Cthulhu, indeed, has three eyes on either side of his head.

You might not want a Cthulhu image. However, metal clay is not limited to jewelry. You can make anything that your imagination directs you to make, and that will fit in your kiln.





Baldwin’s Patina: Yet Another Way to Add Interest to Copper

We are probably all familiar with LoS, Black Max, and other patinas that simply darken. These can certainly be used on copper. Last post, I talked about using heat to add interest to copper. However, there are still other ways to deal with copper. Have you ever seen (or seen a picture of) the Statue of Liberty? The statue is made of copper. Sea breeze, with its salt, oxygen in the air, and pollutants in the air have turned it a quite attractive shade of blue-green. We can achieve this color on copper jewelry without leaving our work out for months by the sea! 😉

Baldwin’s Patina is a patina that only works on copper. The packaging says that it also works on bronze, but that has never worked out for me. Therefore, I limit myself to copper. Baldwin’s Patina is different from other patinas in two key manners: (1) you need to heat the copper jewelry before applying and (2) the patina develops over time (although the hotter the piece, the quicker the patina develops). Before applying Baldwin’s Patina, I place copper jewelry on a cup warmer. When it grows hot enough so that touching it is uncomfortable (not at the level of burning, just hot enough to say ‘ouch’), transfer the jewelry to a working surface. I use a paper plate for this purpose; since it is disposable, I don’t have to worry about the patina injuring it. Baldwin’s Patina, as it comes from the bottle, is a blue liquid. I apply it with a cotton swab. Then I replace the jewelry on the cup warmer. In about a half hour, the jewelry is the color of the Statue of Liberty. Like any patina, you can wipe off the patina from parts of the jewelry, giving it an aged appearance. Like any copper piece, a fixative should be applied to prevent the patina from changing further.  I use the same spray that brass instrument players use to preserve their instruments. If you don’t have this, hair spray or clear nail polish will work.

Some examples appear below. As always, a coin is included for scale.

A pair of steampunk earrings:


Another pair of steampunk earrings:


A pair of bigfoot-themed earrings:


A Northwest Pacific inspired pendant:


Finally, I want to show you how I combined Baldwin’s Patina and a heat patina. I made a bigfoot-themed pendant by placing one texture on a copper disk, putting another texture on another copper disk, cutting a bigfoot outline of the upper disk, and joining them. The lower piece was colored by a heat patina, using a directed torch until it turned red. The upper piece was patinaed using a very light hand with Baldwin’s Patina (e.g. a few spots of color, not covered). The effect is a ghostly figure slipping through the woods.



Heat Patina: Another Way to Add Color to Copper


We are probably all familiar with chemical patinas: LoS for silver, copper, or bronze, salt, vinegar, and ammonia for copper, Baldwin’s patina for copper, etc. However, when working with copper (and, to a lesser degree, bronze), there is yet another alternative, the heat patina.

Heat patina’s are achieved by making your piece out of copper clay in all the usual ways (forming, cleaning greenware, firing, brushing, tumbling). With heat patinas, it is best to make certain your work is perfectly clean (that is, no finger oils remaining). This can be achieved by using some form of prenamel (a produce for cleaning metal clay prior to applying enamel) — but, if you don’t have prenamel, lemon juice will work. Just be sure that, once the piece is perfectly clean, you only touch it by the edge (or, better still, just use tongs!).

One the piece is clean, it is placed on a heat-proof surface. Run the flame of a torch lightly over the surface. If you have a jeweler’s torch, great. If you don’t, a kitchen torch will work just as well. It just takes a little longer. As  you run the flame over the surface, you will see colors begin to appear (e.g. bronze, red, blue, purple). You can run the flame in circles, or in waves, or in lines — each will produce a different effect. When you have achieved a degree of color, you can go in one of two routes: (1) pick the piece up with tongs, place it in a heatproof container, and place it in the freezer. This will preserve the color more or less as you see it. (2) Just let the piece sit and cool naturally. This gives unpredictable results, often a brown with hints of the earlier bright color. There is no right or wrong answer here — it’s the effect you want to achieve.

I’m going to talk about making a wolf’s head pendant in the Northwest Pacific style in copper, and then applying a heat patina. Since clients often look at the back of a piece before buying it, I made the back interesting too (details to follow).

First, I cut out a thin (0.5 mm) circle of clay. Then I cut out a thicker (1 mm) circle of the same size. I textured the thicker circle (by hitting it with the bristles of a pet’s hairbrush!) and cut out the shape of the wolf’s head. I then attached the pieces to one another, so that the piece had a cut-out of the head. I added a first-draft eye and nostril.


I added more pieces of copper, building up the look of Northwest Pacific art.


I finished by adding the teeth and doing some refinement on the eye.


As you can see, this piece is fairly rough. There was a great deal of sanding and going over the piece with a damp sponge to smooth out all the rough edges. Once that was done, I added a bail to the back. To keep the back interesting (and hide the bail, which wasn’t that attractive), I molded three owls (using a commercial mold made for polymer clay) and stuck them together.


I added my maker’s mark by attaching a small circle of thin clay, with the mark inscribed into it. The back, like the front, needed lots of sanding and smoothing.

Once the greenware was done, I fired, brushed, and tumbled. I then applied a heat patina, both to the front and back. The piece turned a shade of deep purple which, while attractive, did not fit the Northwest Pacific aesthetic. Therefore, I decided to let the piece cool naturally, so it became a brown with a hint of purple. That color matched the Northwest Pacific design perfectly.

After the piece cooled, I polished it, removing the patina from the high spots and leaving it in the recesses, making the piece look as though it had existed for centuries.

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

With any copper piece, it is best to coat the finished work with some protective substance (e.g. renaissance wax, the spray used to protect brass instruments, etc.). Without this, the copper can develop a green that can be transferred to skin or clothing.

I encourage you to give heat patina a try. It opens up a new world of colors for copper.






Signing your Work

You do sign your work don’t you? If not, I strongly encourage you to do so (in some inobtrusive place). The simplest way to do this is not with a true signature, but with a symbol that you design. For example, noted metal clay artist Pam East signs her work with the Chinese character for ‘east’ (the direction). My symbol is a bindrune (a combination of two or more runes into a single glyph).

The symbol can go on the back of a pendant, inside a ring, or on the back of one earring or cufflink (if someone owns one member of the pair, they probably own the other).

The simplest way to do this is by inscribing your symbol with a tool (not the pick or needle tool, which might bend, but with something made for this purpose). However, there is another way — place your symbol on the back with a small amount of clay. This is particularly easy with silver — use syringe to place your symbol after everything else is done.

Below is a very simple, very basic pendant and earring set, made of silver clay (texture done with a texture sheet, from done with a template, shaped by drying over a plastic Easter egg, stone [quartz, with inclusions] set in a bezel cup). I am posting it to show how I placed my maker’s mark on the back, with syringe.

The image on the left is the part that shows. The image on the right is the back, with a syringe maker’s mark on the back of the pendant and on one earring.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.



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.