What Can You Use to Add Texture to Metal Clay?
Although it sounds clichéd, you really are limited only by your imagination. There is a dizzying selection of commercial plastic, polymer or silicone texture mats and sheets, rubber stamps, texture rollers, molds, etc. that you can purchase to impress patterns in fresh clay. There also are many different ways to make your own one-of-a-kind texturing materials and tools. You can use water etching, carving, drilling, filing and metal clay appliqué on dried clay. After firing you can use traditional metal working techniques such as hammering to alter the topography of the metal’s surface.
You also can use ordinary items you might never think of as metal clay (and polymer clay) texture tools.
Your Home Is a Treasure Trove of Texture
You don’t need to run out and buy a bunch of texture mats when you get started. Many fabrics often have more pronounced weaves. Re-embroidered lace appliqués and corded upholstery and fabric trims are excellent for making texture molds. That you can press into fresh metal clay for a “negative” impression or mold to recreate the original texture, and using them can make your designs truly original.
The trick is to really look at the everyday objects around you in terms of their textural potential. Sometimes the items we take for granted turn out to be surprisingly effective texture tools for clay. Start training yourself not to look at the things around you as objects per se. Instead, focus on their surface and topography, i.e., the hills and valleys and contours of the surface. (While working on this article I noticed that the glass top of the table on our deck has a rippled texture on the back. Time to mix up some more two-part silicone molding putty!)
Here are some good places around your house to look and some ideas of what you might find just to get you started.
Sift through your sewing and needlework supplies.
- The top of a sewing thimble has a cool dimpled texture and some also have textured sides that can be rolled across the clay.
- A spare pair of small sewing scissors can be re-purposed to cut out small shapes from flexible metal clay sheet that can be applied to your unfired pieces.
- Small knitting needles can be used to impress ridges or geometric line patterns.
- Plastic canvas can impress a deep grid
Flip through your fabric scraps and trims.
- Textured fabrics like burlap, denim and lace make great Heavy upholstery
Note: Spray porous fabric or trim with a waterproof or water resistant fabric spray before molding or impressing them directly onto the clay.
Mosey through your medicine cabinet, bathroom sink or vanity.
- Toothpaste tubes, medicine bottles, cosmetics and skin care jars and bottles, and empty travel containers often have ridged caps that can be used to create textures. Simply stand the cap on edge and use your fingertips to roll it across the clay or molding material, or drill a hole in the center of the cap and push a needle tool partway through as an axle to help you roll it across the surface.
- Small combs can be used to create rows of evenly spaced impressions, or you can impress parallel rows of the comb’s tooth marks in a sheet of molding material to create a pattern of raised dots when impressed into metal clay.
- Old toothbrushes or mascara brushes (thoroughly cleaned, of course) can be used to stipple the surface of the fresh clay.
Knock around your kitchen drawers and cabinets.
- If you’ve given up on your stainless steel garlic press, re-purpose it as a makeshift clay extruder.
- Press one or more sides of an old-fashioned box grater into molding material or dedicate a grater to metal clay use. Grate or shred dried lumps of clay to add to your unfired designs with thick slip.
- Plastic lace doilies or coasters can be impressed directly into the clay or molded to reproduce the original raised patterns.
- Regular and jumbo drinking straws and single or double cocktail stirrer straws are good for more than just bail supports and hole Impress them lightly in the clay or molding material to make impressed or raised designs. You can create some cool geometric patterns with overlapping impressions.
- A ripple cutter for cutting wavy vegetable garnishes or potato chips can be re-purposed to make single, parallel, perpendicular or gridded wavy line impressions.
Raid your refrigerator and pantry.
- Mold the peel or stem end of citrus fruit.
- If your onions, garlic or citrus fruit are packaged with plastic mesh, save it for texturing your fresh clay.
- Roll fresh or dried herbs and spices into the clay and let them burn away in the kiln, or roll them into a sheet of flexible molding material and rinse and brush them away with a spare toothbrush. Fresh dill weed makes an especially nice texture. I’ve also used peppercorns, cloves, dill seed, caraway seed and coarse salt crystals to make interesting texture sheets. I bet rock salt would be great, too.
- Uncooked pasta comes in many different shapes and sizes! Use a piece of corkscrew shaped fusilli or rotini, twisted gemelli, ridged ziti rigati, penne rigate or a large tube of ridged manicotti as a texture roller, or press some uncooked pasta into a sheet of molding material. Unlike pasta, it’s okay to press uncooked rice, bulgur or other grains into the clay and leave them to burn out in the kiln.
Root through your recyclables.
- STYROFOAM plates or well washed foam meat trays can be trimmed and embossed with pens, pencils, ball stylus tools, to create texture plates.
- Rinsed out beer, soda or juice cans can be cut into strips with tin snips and formed into custom clay cutters.
Scan your silverware and serving pieces.
- Silver flatware, especially vintage or antique flatware, often has ornately patterned handles you can impress into fresh clay.
- Serving bowls, dishes and platters sometimes have interesting raised or engraved patterns you can capture with 2-part silicone molding compound.
Tour your tool box, tool chest and garage.
- Small hardware parts like screws, nuts, bolts, nails and washers and various sizes of flat and Phillips head screwdrivers can be impressed directly into the clay, or you can push them into a sheet of uncured silicone molding compound and cure before removing them to create interesting texture sheets.
- Saw off the heads of long, thick screws to create small, ribbed texture rollers.
- Pieces of window screen or other wire mesh are perfect for creating grid textures.
- Coarse grit sandpaper is another popular I recommend using wet/dry sandpaper for this purpose to avoid loose grit that could embed itself into the clay or molding compound.
- Drywall sanding screen creates a nice grid (Thanks to Celie Fago for this tip!)
- Mold texture sheets from leftover siding, floor tiles, unfinished wood and other materials.
- File the ends of a piece of heavy gauge wire to remove the sharp edges, then use pliers to shape the center section into a spiral, S-curve, zigzag, or any shape or pattern you wish. Bend both ends up at a 90-degree angle as handles and use them to press the shaped wire into the clay or molding material.
- Got any leftover linoleum tile hanging around? Use a sturdy utility knife to cut them into smaller pieces and carve them with linoleum carving tools.
Jump into your jewelry drawer and jewelry making supplies.
- Impress chain bracelets and necklaces with different link styles into a sheet of molding material to make a texture sheet.
- Mold the charms from a charm bracelet, textured ring tops, cuff links, earrings, brooches, pendants, bracelets and broken parts with silicone molding putty.
- Make molds of loose chain, filigree bead caps, filigree and solid metal stampings, charms, loose beads, strands of tiny to medium-size beads, etc.
Ogle your office supplies.
- Impress a sheet of molding material with paper clips, staples laid on their sides, cleaned dried-up ball point pen tips, the coil spring from inside the pen, pen caps, marker caps and more all make great textures.
- Use expired credit cards to impress lines and cut clay.
- Old-fashioned (not self-inking) date and message rubber stamps with adjustable bands of letters and/or numbers can be cleaned thoroughly and impressed into fresh clay.
Look at the World Around You with Fresh Eyes
Nature is the earth’s greatest artist, and natural textures are among the most beautiful. There also are many finely-wrought man-made textured surfaces that cry out to be captured in a two-part silicone molding compound with a short cure time, which is why many metal clay and polymer clay artists carry around small, single-use containers of molding material with them.
Textures from Nature
- Look for leaves with heavy, well defined veining on the Use them while they’re fresh or freeze them flat inside a plastic freezer bag on a flat surface (or inside a freezer container). Remove one from the freezer when you’re ready to use it.
- Make a texture sheet from an interesting section of tree branches or exposed stumps.
- Mold small sea shells.
- Lay relatively flat, small flowers face down on a sheet of metal clay or molding material and roll across them with a clay roller until the backs are level with the surface of the Small wildflowers still attached to their stems are ideal for this purpose. If you roll the flowers directly into a metal clay slab, you can leave them in place and let them burn out in the kiln.
- Old buildings and streets sometimes have wonderful architectural features such as fine wrought-iron grates or carved (Make sure to get permission to mold them before taking out your silicone molding putty!)
- When you’re visiting an inn or a friend’s house that’s furnished with antiques and collectibles, keep an eye out for interesting textures to mold (with permission, of course), such as cut glass or cut crystal plates, glasses, bowls or lamps, small figurines, antique coins and the like.
There are an infinite number of potential textures just waiting for you to think of using (or discover) and doing so can be a wonderful and never-ending adventure. Have fun and enjoy the journey!
MARGARET SCHINDEL is a senior content strategist and an award-winning independent jewelry designer and author. She and her in-depth metal clay articles on HubPages (formerly on Squidoo) and FeltMagnet have been featured in many publications, sites and blogs, including Fusion, Metal Clay Guru and Metal Clay Academy, and have been recommended by top metal clay teachers around the world.