What Can You Use to Add Texture to Metal Clay? Continue reading…
Depending on the type of metal clay you are using, from original fine silver to base metal clays, there are a number of options for firing. This may include anything from a kiln to a simple hand-held torch.
One of the processes of creating jewelry with silver metal clay that got me addicted was the ability to use a something as simple as a butane torch for firing. In as little time as two minutes, I could have a beautiful pair of earrings or a pendant ready to wear.
When teaching a beginner class, I only demonstrate torch firing as a way to help the students understand how easy it is to set up your metal clay studio with minimal cost.
There are a lot of U-tube videos on metal clay, but one of my favorite ones on torch firing is by Jeannette Froese LeBlanc https://youtu.be/OwwZ3RnkEHw.
Here are some additional tips to remember when torch firing your metal clay.
1. Always make sure you are in a well ventilated area and that your piece is not too large or complex. (These need to be fired in a kiln for a longer period of time.)
2. Allow your work to air dry overnight or place it on a coffee warmer or dehydrator until thoroughly dry. One of my favorite ways to test if the piece is dry is to place it onto a small mirror and wait 5-10 seconds, if there is condensation on the mirror when you remove the piece, it’s not quite dry yet.
3. Once the piece is thoroughly dry, place it on a soldering block or fire brick. My torch station consists of a ceramic tile under the brick/block, which is then set on either a fireproof surface or something that can be singed (like a piece of plywood).
If you are working on the kitchen counter and the piece rolls off the block you don’t want to scar the counter-top. I always have a fire extinguisher in easy reach.
4. Light the torch and hold it so the flame is nearly vertical with the tip of the cone, about 3/4″ away from the work. Within a minute, the piece will be enveloped in a soft flame as the binder burns away. Your first instinct is to pull the flame away from the piece. Don’t do that! The flame will soon go out by itself. Within another minute the piece will start to glow red. Continue heating until this becomes a bright and luminous color. At this point, glance at a clock.
5. Hold this color as uniformly as possible for at least 2-3 minutes (glancing away periodically to relieve your eyes). When the time is up, turn off the torch and allow the piece to cool at least until the red color is gone, at which point it can be quenched or left to air cool.
As I began to create more complex metal clay pieces and increased my production, I realized that my best option for firing was with a kiln. Utilizing a kiln allows me to fire larger pieces (in excess of 1”), as well as groups of smaller items, like earrings. This frees up my time up to get back to creating.
As with torch firing, I always ensure my pieces are completely dry. All types of metal clay can be fired in a kiln. As long as the kiln can ramp up to the required temperature (as high as 1650 degrees F (900 degrees C) for silver metal clay and can hold that temperature for anywhere from 10 minutes to 4 hours, it can be used for firing metal clay. Programmable kilns allow you to set the time and temperature for firing, which removes any guess work. It’s important to check the clay manufacturer’s time/temperature requirements to determine how high and how long clay must be fired.
The main issue with using a kiln, is that you want to make sure the temperature readings and hold times are accurate. If metal clay pieces are under-fired (fired at lower temperatures or for a shorter period of time than required), then they will not be fully sintered and will be subject to breakage. Alternatively, pieces fired too hot will melt. Kiln temperatures can drift slightly over the life of the kiln. So if you find that you are having firing issues, it is a good idea to test the actual temperatures in your kiln using a handheld pyrometer and compare that to the read out on the kiln’s display. This may result in the need to adjust the temperature (higher or lower temperature by as much as 25 degrees) or period of time (longer or shorter hold time).
I always place my work on a kiln shelf that has been elevated with kiln stilts. This allows the heat from the kiln to travel up, down, all around the pieces. I never place my pieces directly on the kiln floor.
Because metal clay may sometimes slump, flatten or warp as gravity acts on the metal during firing, it important to support the piece to help it retain its shape. If you are firing a complex piece (curved or shaped) that needs support, there are several ways to preserve the shape of your piece. The most common varieties of support are a fiber blanket or vermiculite. Vermiculite, which is a naturally occurring material, is my choice of support for my metal clay. It is easy to find – I buy mine at a local garden center and it works well. I just place it in a crucible and place my metal clay pieces on the vermiculite and fire. You can also place vermiculite directly on the kiln shelf. Fiber blanket can be used to support whole pieces. It can also be placed in negative spaces for support of hollow forms.
My final note on firing metal clay is on Safety:
You should always fire in a well-ventilated area or outside. If you’re torch firing, wear cotton; synthetic materials can melt and stick to the skin if burned. Tie back your hair, wear closed-toed shoes, and don’t wear loose-fitting clothes.
If you’re kiln-firing, follow the kiln manufacturer’s specifications on creating a safe firing station. My kiln is in my garage and placed on a concrete block kept well away from the wall of my garage. I always have a fire extinguisher close by when I’m firing either by torch or kiln.
About the author: Katherine lives in Southwest Louisiana and is a PMC Connection Instructor. She is a member of Louisiana Craft Guild and her class offerings range from introductory classes to Certification. Katherine teaches in her home studio, as well as at the New Orleans School of Art and Craft in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Katherine is one of four founding members of the L’ esprit du Metal, Louisiana Chapter of the PMC Guild where she serves as Treasurer and Secretary. Her jewelry can be found in several galleries both in Lafayette & New Orleans, LA including Sans Souci Gallery, Lafayette Art Association Gallery, Hermann-Grima-Gallier Historic Houses Gallery in New Orleans, LA.
Whether you need to create a simple loop to hang an earring or you need to string together a complex network of components, embedding wire in PMC is an essential design technique. When working with PMC, always use fine silver wire and make sure the wire is clean by running it through some clean folded 320 grit sandpaper. To insert eyelets, small loops, or prongs, slightly flatten the part of the wire you plan to insert in the clay and rough up the surface with a file to give more tooth for better grip. Insert the wire carefully into the wet clay, pull it back out dip it into the paste, and then reinsert. Remember, if you are inserting a loop, be sure to embed the bottom 1/3 of the loop.
If you are laying wire through a piece (for example, making a clasp) make your piece in two layers. When the pieces are dry, sand a groove into both halves and then generously cover both with paste. Lay the flattened wire into the groove and sandwich the pieces together. This will eliminate the bump from the wire.
With a little practice, the addition of wire to metal clay designs can expand your creative horizons tremendously!
Having a lifelong love of art, Ruth has a diverse background that includes air-brush painting, Australian cake decorating, stone sculpture, lapidary arts, and fine wire wrap settings. Ruth is self-taught and enjoys learning from renowned teachers by attending classes taught in a wide variety of jewelry art disciplines.
Her introduction to PMC was a dream come true – to be able to work in silver with a true freedom in design. But the best reward is being able to share and enable others to create their own works of silver art through her role as a PMC Connection Senior Instructor.
Wet, dry, push, pull. Whatever method you choose, with time and a little practice you can create beautifully carved metal clay.
Carving in wet clay can give you curved edges and a sculptural feel. (See opening photo.) The clay is wet and the tools used are generally soft and rounded. Wet clay added to wet clay can be shaped by pushing the clay into place. Large amounts of wet metal clay can be cut off and small amounts brushed off with a wet brush. Often artists working “wet on wet” will simply brush each side of clay to be joined with a swish of water from a paint brush. Just about any tool can be used with wet metal clay and most people like to use traditional clay carving tools. In general carving wet clay involves a pulling technique, where the tool is being pulled toward you to remove clay. Another way to think about it is that the clay you are removing is moving toward you. Fortunately, clay carving tools are readily available and inexpensive.
The method that I prefer is carving dry clay, which creates crisp, clean lines even on textured surfaces. (See Cat Tail Brooch photo.)I use micro wood carving tools to do this. When using a wood carving tool, you will be using a pushing motion to remove clay. The clay you are removing will be coming off the tool in front of your tool. Keep in mind, you can achieve a slightly different result depending on whether you carve into leather hard or fully dry clay. Fully dry clay will create more resistance which can give you more control, especially when you are first starting.
I generally use a pencil to draw my carving lines if I am doing a detailed carving or I want very crisp, specific cuts in my clay. If I want a more organic look, I will only mark starts and stops for my lines. I will then do a very shallow carve to create a guide for the tool when I am carving deeper. This allows me to move the first cut along a line, easily seeing my marks in front of the tool. After the shallow groove is in, I let carving tool to track in the groove while making the deeper cuts.
The trick to nice clean carvings is to remove a little clay at a time. You can always remove more clay, but it is often difficult to cleanly add clay back where you have removed too much. Also, make sure your piece has good support under it where you are carving. If you are carving a domed piece, leave the piece on the form while carving.
As always, safety is key when you are carving. Clay carving tools can be sharp and pointy and can easily injure if you are not paying attention. If you are using wood carving tools, note that these are extremely sharp and placement of your hands so the tool is always moving away from your fingers is important.
Once you have control of your carving technique, you can carve shallow, intricate designs. You can also take a completely different approach and create negative spaces by carving all the way through a layer of clay to make an open space. The sky’s the limit. Enjoy!
Dona’s love of jewelry began as a child, sitting on the floor for hours with her mom’s jewelry box. She began designing her own jewelry in high school and spent time studying the work of a jewelry designer and family friend. During her career in high tech, Dona traveled the world fascinated by the cultures and their use of color and texture.
After leaving the high-tech world, Dona returned to her love of jewelry design. Her work is influenced by the places she has lived and traveled, bringing the textures of nature into her designs. Her love of stones is featured in her one-of-a-kind pieces which showcase the stones she has collected.
Dona currently teaches classes in jewelry design and techniques. Her students continue to be an inspiration to her, fascinating her with the unique perspective each student has conceptually and artistically.
Dona is an award winning artist. Her work is featured in stores and galleries throughout the Northwest and in print.
The syringe is my go-to form of metal clay for many techniques and applications. Not only is it great for setting cubic zirconia (smaller than 3mm) but also for creating texture and pattern.
There are so many creative possibilities with metal clay. One opportunity is to roll coils, or as many of us lovingly call “snakes”. Coils may be used for bails, decorative accents, or as a primary part of a piece.
Right off the bat, let me tell you, that rolled coils, are stronger than syringe coils. There is more metal content by volume in lump clay then there is in syringe clay. This extra strength comes with a trade-off, though. Coils take a while to dry when compared with a rolled-out, flat, piece of clay due to the extra volume. Give coils a good hour to dry in air. If after ten minutes of air-drying, your coil seems stable enough to put in a dehydrator or on top of a warmer, then go ahead and do that. Take care that you don’t move your coil too soon. Otherwise, you risk flattening one side or picking up texture from the tray.
OKAY! Let’s go!
Since the finest creations are made with the freshest of clay, keeping your clay fresh is critical for a good result. Moisture keeps binder in the clay at its peak performance, allowing you to best texture and join clay in your beautiful creations.
Everyone develops his or her particular way to store clay for the short- or long-term. Here are some tools and processes to know about while you develop yours. Many of these tools can be purchased or homemade.
While Working — Parked Clay
Never, never leave your clay out exposed to air while you are working on a creation. Continue reading…
PMC3 is a fine silver clay (.999 silver). True, fine silver PMC3 is more expensive than base metal clays. But the ease of working with and firing fine silver clay makes it a much better choice for beginners. From start to finish, PMC3 is the least complicated of all of the metal clays, which means that students can focus on the basics of construction, firing, and finishing without having to worry about complications created by the clay itself. Once you have those basic skills under your belt, there is an entire universe of textures and colors available to the metal clay artist.
With all metal clays, getting the basic texture and forming in place before the clay starts drying is key. Make sure your clay is sealed in an air-tight container when not being worked, and don’t hold the clay in your hands when you are not shaping it as your skin will pull moisture out of the clay.
Most important is to stay relaxed, have fun and experiment.
Still wondering about the other varieties of PMC clay? Here is a quick summary:
PMC3 – great for beginners; can be fired with a torch; low firing temperature allows for inclusion of findings, glass, and fire-able stones.
PMC3 paste – good for joining pieces; can be used for adding texture and painted designs; can be used with PMC3, PMC+, PMC Flex, and PMC Sterling.
PMC3 syringe – good for making repairs and filling grooves; can be used for drawing, building up forms and setting stones; can be used with PMC3, PMC+, PMC Flex, and PMC Sterling.
PMC Flex – designed to stay flexible when dry; good for bending, twisting and braiding; low firing schedule and can be fired with a torch.
PMC+ Sheet – flexible and does not stick to itself; great for origami, folding and weaving; can be laminated and used with paper punches.
PMC Sterling – great for added strength and shine, must be kiln-fired in carbon
PMC Gold – great for accents; low firing temperature; can be fired alongside silver PMC and can be torch fired.
Dona Miller: “Art, especially jewelry, is very personal. Through the constant inspiration of nature, animals and my dogs, I interpret the spirit around me into jewelry, using my love of stones and shaping metal. My designs and metal work incorporate the use of cut and natural stones to reflect the peace, love and joy of nature.”
Jewelry in article by Dona Miller.
“Metal Clay 101” is an ongoing series brought to you by PMC Connection and their instructors.