Artist Project Series: Anna Siivonen

This is the sixth project in the Artist Project Series.  Anna Siivonen from Sweden shows how she uses sterling silver metal clay and sterling silver wire. Anna is known for her small, whimsical sculpted metal clay jewellery and she brings that creativity to this project.

Materials and tools:
EZ960 10-20g Sterling Silver Metal Clay (available from Cool Tools)
20-25 cm 1,5 mm thick sterling silver wire
Kids modelling clay or any other cheap and easy to use clay to sketch in.
Baby wipes
Pliers to cut with and pliers to bend wire with
3M radial bristle disc (120 grit)
Steel block
Rubber mallet
Common metal clay tools
Activated carbon and firing box
steel shot and a tumbler (if you want to give it that extra shine)

Step 1: Read through this step by step description before starting. You could also practice the steps by making the parts in modelling clay. I do a lot of my sketching in modelling clay or in copper or bronze clays. For this project I made several versions in modeling clay so I knew how big to make the parts so that the finished piece would have the size I wanted. You can scale up or possible down the size of the finished design depending on what you want to use it for. If you make the smallest component, the seeds, just a little bit bigger than I describe in the project the finished pieces will be quite a lot bigger. You can also change the design of this project quite easily by making more or less petals, changing their placement and adding other design elements. Try out different layouts in modelling clay before you start with the silver clay. Do not worry about making it perfect in modelling clay. It is more difficult to work in than metal clay in my opinion. If you are going to make a bracelet with a thin wire like in this project the design element should be kept small. To make this bracelet I used less than 10g of silver clay and a 1,5 mm thick and 22 cm long sterling silver wire.

Step 2: Start by making three “seeds” with silver clay, one slightly bigger and two smaller ones. I made my biggest about 1 cm long and the two other ones about 8 mm. Dry the seeds. My flower is going to have five petals and will need 5 seeds, but I begin with making only three so that I do not have that much to reconstitute if I were to change my mind about the size and numbers of petals while making it.

Step 3: Start by making the largest flower petal using the largest of the seeds you made. Take a small lump of fresh clay about 2-3 times as much clay as the seed and make a pancake with it by pressing it flat between your fingers. I prefer this, to rolling out clay with a roller, for this project because it gives a more organic feel to the petals.

Step 4: Put the dry seed on the fresh clay pancake and press it down a bit.

Step 5: Bend up and shape the petals by pinching each end. When you are happy with the shape, dry it. When it is dry smooth out imperfections with a damp paintbrush and a baby wipe if needed.

Step 6: Take one of the smaller seeds and repeat step 3,4 and 5 but do not let the petal dry. Instead you use the paintbrush to wet the side of the larger dry petal and attach the soft smaller one carefully not to distort it´s shape. The soft malleable clay petal will adjust to the shape of the dry one so that you do not have any gaps like you would if you were trying to add together two dry petals. When you are pleased with the shape, dry it. I did not use silver paste to attach pieces, wetting them and gently pressing them together was enough. Going over the dry piece with a damp paintbrush in between steps to smooth imperfections will also make sure that the parts are securely attached.

Step 7: Repeat the steps of making a petal, and add it to the other side of the bigger dry petal. Dry your growing flower that now have three petals. If you want your flower to have 5 petals, make two more seeds and dry them.

Step 8: Repeat the step of making a soft clay petal and attach it to the base two more times. Dry it in between adding petals and smooth out imperfections with damp paintbrush. You can also do small adjustments to the petals if needed by carving with your scalpel.

Step 9: I finished my flower design by making two small balls of clay that I dried. Then I made a slightly larger ball that I attached wet to the flower. I dampened it with a wet paintbrush and pushed the two dry balls slightly into it from each side. Then I dried the design and carved a leaf pattern into the larger ball. EZ960 is very soft and nice to carve in.

Step 10: Now you have two finishing options if you want to use this kind of bracelet. Either you embed a sterling silver wire inside the flower like I do. But then you need to fire it submerged inside activated carbon. If you do not have carbon and you want to fire your silver clay open shelf you will need to solder on the sterling silver wire to your design after it is fired. Sterling silver wire will oxidize and go weak if fired without carbon in the temperature required for this clay.

To embed the wire, first make a small bend in the end of the wire. Silver clay and silver wire will probable sinter together but just to be sure of a secure attachment I make a small hook in the wire. Turn the flower over and carve away a bit of clay in the center so that the hook fits nicely. Wet the area with a paintbrush and push a ball of clay in place sandwiching the wire in between your flower and the fresh clay. Now very gently put the piece to dry without moving the silver wire. If the wire move inside the clay it will give it a bit of wiggle space that might remain after firing. If I notice that a wire wiggles when a piece is dry I carve away clay to expose the wire and fill up with fresh clay again. When the piece is fully dried you can clean up the backside by carving away excess clay and inscribing your signature.

Step 11: If you have embedded wire you need to fire in activated carbon. The sterling silver wire has a lover melting point than EZ960. Sterling silver melts at about 896 C and it might start to deform before that. Kilns can have “hot spots” and the temperature might not show accurately. To be on the safe side I recommend firing belove 840C when you have added elements of sterling silver. And do a test firing with a thin strip of the clay (if it´s the first time you fire this clay) and a piece of sterling silver wire to see that the clay sinter and the wire does not melt or distort, fire it with activated carbon the same temps and times you will fire your piece. The firing schedule that I used to fire EZ960 is lower and shorter than recommended (when firing on an open kiln shelf) by the maker of the clay. I was able to bend my test piece in half before they broke so the clay was sintered enough for this pod design. I fired mine in the same firing as a batch of bronze clay. My firing schedule for firing bronze clay: put your pieces on a layer of activated carbon. First firing is to burn away the binder in the clay. Fire full speed to about 370C hold for about 10 minutes. Let cool until you can handle the firing box. Cover the pieces with activated carbon and put the lid on the box. Fire full speed up to about 820C for about two hours. Firing times and temperatures may vary depending on your kiln.

Step 13: Give the design the finish you want. I oxidize the flower part using liver of sulphur gel and polished lightly with a 3M radial bristle disc (120 grit). Then sand down the end of the wire so it does not have any sharp points and shape the wire to fit your wrist. Work harden the silver wire by tapping it with a rubber mallet (don´t use a metal one which will flatten the wire) on a steel block until it feels springy and maintains the shape. Lastly to give it that extra shine I tumbled it with steel shot. It´s finished. This open bracelet design with a thin wrist band gives it a nice delicate look and it will stay in place and keep it´s shape as long as you are a bit careful when you twist it in place on your wrist and take care that it doesn´t get caught when you changes tops and jackets.

Reconstituting clay: I do a lot of carving in dry clay. I used to have growing mountains of clay shavings that I did not want to take the time to reconstitute. Now I do this. After I have finished carving I make a large pancake of my fresh clay and lay it on top of plastic wrap, I sprinkle my dry clay shavings in the middle of the fresh clay pancake and drip over a little water. Then I collect the sides of the pancake, pinch it together and wrap it in the plastic wrap and let the clay ball rest a day or so. The clay is usually good to go after kneading it a bit. It works best when you have a lot of fresh clay and the dry pieces are in thin shavings.

Anna Siivonen  A passionate maker from Sweden/Finland. Values equality, environment and kindness, tries to be inventive and funny. Believes she could sculpt anything if she is just given enough time and resources. Fantasizes about making big bronze sculptures but loves making wearable miniature sculptures. Wrote the first book about metal clay that was published in Sweden and Finland. Dreams of writing one in English and already have a working title “Production work in metal clay”.

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