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:
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.
I picked it up by the middle and slowly spun it, letting the snake spiral.
I then formed a vine bail from this, and let it dry over a soda straw.
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):
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.
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.