Many times we set out with an idea of how we expect a project to turn out. In this article Janet Harriman takes you through her plans and what she expected and how she repaired and recovered her piece. Thank you to Cool Tools for sponsoring this project.
I had a young apprentice who insisted that I try silver metal clay. As a metalsmith with a fine arts background, I was a snob. But just for fun I did try the clay, worked with it for years and then I ended up demonstrating at the National PMC conference at Purdue University. Metal clay is a tactile pleasure. It is magic.
CoolTools asked me to test out FS999 fine silver clay. I was honored to be asked and I love a challenge. I decided to construct a vessel pendant with FS999 fine silver clay. What follows next is a step by step how-to explanation of this project.
MATERIALS AND TOOLS:
FS999 fine silver clay 50g
Cooltools.us mega mold compound
Gemstone (the green tsavorite garnet that I used cannot be fired in the clay)
30 gauge copper sheet metal 2″x 2″ or
Plastic file notebook cover sheet 2″x 2″
Metal clay tools
Dragonfly wood hand roller tool
Fine silver wire 20g
Jewelry file cut #2
400 grit sandpaper
Liver of sulfur
LUXI red polishing compound
Pointed agate burnisher
Mesh metal tea-ball (for texturing the wings)
Step 1: TEST FIRING
I ran a test with a small vessel piece first as it contains a wood clay core. Because of that, the firing needed to be exact. I had made some wood clay forms for the cores and dried them for 3 days. A wood clay form was used to build a small vessel pendant with FS999 fine silver clay. I made a cone-shaped vessel with applied flowers as a test piece to fire. I got some firing advice from Gordon K. Uyehara as he had just finished testing FS999 for CoolTools. I fired my test vessel at a slow ramp at 1500 degrees to 1650 degrees hold for two hours. I used vermiculite to support the vessel during firing. The firing was perfect.
Step 2: SEARCH FOR INSPIRATION
I decided to make a larger dragonfly design vessel pendant for my project. I did a computer search on Wikimedia.org looking for antique dragonfly drawings. I found some unusual drawings that I could work from.
Roll out a sheet of metal clay two cards thick and press it into the dragonfly molds. Dry the rough pressed form. I like to have a rough shape at the start so that I can carve, shape and texture the design. I found FS999 to be a bit brittle. It is best to wait until the dragonfly is attached to the vessel side before refining the wings and small details.
Step 5: CONSTRUCT VESSEL FORM
Cover the dry wood clay vessel shape with metal clay. Roll out a piece of metal clay two-cards thick to cover the wood clay. A background design can be rolled or pressed into the clay covering. Cover one side, dry it on a mug warmer, then cover the flip side and dry it. I rolled out a long two-cards thick snake and textured it lightly and added it to all the edges. I mainly used water to bond all my clay joints. I filled in spaces with slip later on as needed.
Step 6: APPLY DRAGONFLY
The vessel form should be dry. Decide on the best placement of the dragonfly on the pendant and then apply a small area of distilled water. Add a tiny bit of water to the back of the dragonfly and bond it to the vessel. Hold down the dragonfly gently, for a minute. Dry the vessel with the dragonfly on the cup warmer. If you plan to carve more detail into the dragonfly, the connected piece should be bone dry. FS999 works the best for carving in the dry stage.
Step 7: REVERSE SIDE DECORATIONS
I rolled out a sheet of clay two-cards thick. Then using a wooden dragonfly roller, I rolled the clay again. I cut out small dragonflies from the pattern and applied them with a bit of water to the back side of my vessel pendant. I pressed down the small cutout applied pieces for a minute to bond them. I rolled out a two-card thick piece to cover the sides. I drilled out a small hole on top of the vessel to insert a twisted fine silver wire with slip on each side of the top to add jump rings after firing. The vessel needed to dry completely before firing. I placed it in my dehydrator.
Step 8: KILN FIRE THE VESSEL
The dry vessel pendant was placed in a fire ceramic dish of vermiculite. I used the same firing schedule as my test firing, a slow ramp at 1500 degrees to 1650 hold for 2 hours. The firing was not successful. The piece caved in on the flat sides and broke apart.
Step 9: BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
It is important to know how to salvage a piece or start again. This was after all a test. Metalsmithing skills can come in handy. I sawed off the bottom section of the pendant so I could try to fix the warps. I placed a flat chasing tool in my vice. This method seemed like the best way to reach the warps. The sides of the vessel were thin, so I carefully inserted the vessel from the bottom and used a plastic mallet to slowly flatten the warps. Then I used a small hammer with a smooth flat face and no sharp edges to further work out the slumped sections. Once I managed to fix the warps, I rolled out a clay snake then rolled it again two-cards thick. This clay piece was to seal and repair the edges of the vessel. I added a thin line of syringe clay on the top edge of either side of the vessel as syringe clay is a bit elastic like calk. I hoped it would keep my repair intact during another firing.
Step 10: FINISHING AND PATINA
When the dragonfly vessel cooled, I pickled it in white vinegar and salt to remove any alumina hydrate residue. Next I did some minor filing with a #2 file and sanding with 400 grit paper to even out rough spots. (The pendant was finished for the most part before firing). Then I wired brushed it with a brass brush, Dawn soap, and water. Next I spot buffed the vessel with LUXI red polishing compound to brighten some areas of the silver. For my patina, I mixed up a Q-tip full of liver of sulfur gel with hot tap water. I placed another small container with baking soda and water next to my patina area. It is best to do patinas outside because of the fumes. I dipped the dragonfly vessel into the liver of sulfur mix and pulled it out to oxidize. I kept dipping the piece until a dark blue color emerged. Then I placed the piece in the baking soda and water container and took it in and out a few times waiting for an iridescent blue color. Next I dried the pendant and rubbed the high areas with Flitz paste polish on the end of a Q-tip. As a final touch I burnished the high spots like the wings with an agate burnisher.
Since my initial dragonfly firing did not work, I decided to contact another metal clay expert, Thomas Flores, at Rio Grande. He suggested that I fill the repaired vessel with alumina hydrate to keep the sides intact. He also said that I should do the slow ramp at 1500 degrees (as I was adding new unfired clay) then fire to 1650 degrees and hold for 1 hour. I placed the vessel in the ceramic dish standing upright and packed vermiculite around all the edges. The repaired vessel fired fine.
FS999 fine silver clay is a good product. While my dragonfly vessel may have been an ambitious project to use as a test piece, I discovered how to work with this clay. The vessel construction and firing would have been easier with EZ960 sterling silver clay. It was all a learning experience. For a good design I had to struggle with it, make changes, and even make tiny adjustments. The large dragonfly worked fine as a pendant. I might like to enamel FS999 in the future now that I am up to speed.
About the Artist:
Janet has been making jewelry and winning awards for over 40 years. She has been working with PMC and BRONZclay for almost 14 years and developing state-of-the-art techniques for using these new materials. She was invited to the National PMC Conference in 2008 and 2010 at Purdue University to demonstrate her methods. An article she wrote about one of her processes was published in the national magazine “Glass on Metal.” Her artwork was included in three “PMC Guild Annual Exceptional Work in Metal Clay” books and “Contemporary Metal Clay Rings” by Hattie Sanderson. Janet sells her work in fine galleries, upscale shops, and craft shows. She teaches jewelry workshops and on metal clays, metalworking, and enameling. She continues to experiment…
Many thanks to Rick Doble the photographer, writer, and kind husband.