Working in Silver Metal Clay
Updated: Mar 5
Making jewellery out of clay sounds easy. Surely you just roll some clay out, scratch in some details, bake it and BOOM! Right?
It actually could be that simple, and that's kind of the beauty of metal clay. But often there's much more work involved.
Today I'm going to show you exactly how I roll ;)
You'd remember from last time that metal clay is metal atoms mixed with an organic binder. There are loads of clays on the market now, including bronze, copper and even gold. Each handles a little differently and needs different firing conditions so it's fun to experiment. My go-to is Precious Metal Clay (PMC) Flex. Its 99.9% pure silver so its uber white, and flexible when dry - meaning less breakage. Phew...
First pressure point - metal clay dries out VERY quickly in the air, and even in the heat of your hands. It quickly turns from silky clay into a crumbling mess that you can't do a lot with. So you can't reeeeeally wing it, you need a clear plan before you start.
That said, if you find that your first efforts ends up a dried up ball of badness, all is not lost! You can reconstitute metal clay by adding miniscule amounts of water. But it's best to just keep it fresh and work swiftly, and the best way to work swiftly is...
...to be prepared! *smug parental smile* I sound so much like my Step Dad but its true! Before I start, I get my whole work area ready to go. This means a nice flat smooth surface for rolling the clay out, because any texture here will imprint on the clay. I use an acrylic block, or a piece of super thick card. Over the top of this goes a sheet of baking paper, or wax-proof paper, so the clay doesn't stick.
Then prep your tools. i use an acryllic roller; thickness guides; shape cutters; texture tools; an X-acto knife; oil, water and a paintbrush as a minimum. Anything that contacts the clay, including your fingers, needs to be oiled up because - pressure point two - it can be quite sticky, particularly if you need to add water at any point.
Decide how thick you want the piece to be, and choose some thickness guides (I use wooden pop sticks or thick strips of card stock) and lay them out side by side.
With everything primed, open that pack (with your slippery oily fingers!) and pull off a wad of clay about two or three pea's worth...
Place it between the guides and then you roll it flat. Turn the clay over and roll both sides to iron out lumps and seams.
Once it's flat, you could apply texture in virtually any way, but some of the most popular tools are texture mats and/or silicone molds. We'll look at texturing in detail in a later post because there's a lot to look at there!
Next, working quickly, you'd cut your clay into the shape you want. You might use a knife, or a pre-made shape cutter. Then you carefully pick up and move your piece off the paper and onto something that won't wrinkle and warp - like more stiff card or a bit of plastic.
Small clay pieces dry in an hour or two, and you can speed this up by putting it in the oven at 50 degrees celcius, or out in the sun away from little hands paws and wind). When its dry you can refine the shape and add details. But you have to be extremely gentle! Metal clay in this state is called greenware, and it snaps very easily if you get too enthusiastic with drilling, sanding etc. Handle like egg shells...
The idea is to do as much correction in the clay state because its super easy to sand it to tidy up the edges or prepare for a mirror finish, and to carve and drill holes etc. Once it's metal these things take a lot more work/specific tools to achieve.
You can also layer pieces and join pieces of metal clay, easily at the clay stage. By using some water on a paintbrush combined with clay dust, you can make a slip that binds wet bits firmly together. Dry pieces can also be joined by sandwiching them together with this dust and water 'slip' - just like ceramic clays.
Keep any bits of metal clay that you sand or cut off because they can be used again - as joining slip, or reconstituted back to clay. Baking paper acts as a great catch-all for this purpose, just lift it up and tip the dust or discarded bits into a jar with a lid.
Once dry and refined, the pieces will be ready for firing and for polishing, or joining together or maybe all those things. We'll look at firing and ways to assemble your fired pieces in another post.
Check LUMINOUS out on Instagram for more tips and eyecandy -> HERE
I'd love to know more about you, and I'd love it if you'd introduce yourself below and let me know would you ever try making something in metal clay? Have you already mastered the art? :)