Inspired by ancient medallions that have survived centuries, artist Gail Lannum shows how to create a brass component that is sure to shine in your jewelery creations!
Project Materials and Supplies
- Copper clay
- Thick copper clay slip
Tools & Supplies:
- Non-stick rolling surface
- Flat piece of acrylic sheet (e.g., PlexiglasÒ, PerspexÒ)
- Playing cards or spacer slats
- Olive oil or another release agent
- Texture sheets or stamps
- Round pastry cutters (Matfer or another brand) or circle drawing template
- Needle tool
- Domed drying surface (such as the lid of a glass candle jar or a floodlight)
- Brass tubes or straws of various diameters (to cut small circles of clay)
- Straight cutting tool, clay blade or tissue blade
- Particulate mask (recommended)
- Sandpaper and salon boards in a range of grits
- Craft knife
- Clay shaper
- Paintbrush, blunt edge
- Pin vise with small drill bits (in a range of sizes)
- Tweezers or pliers with heat resistant grips
- 3-sided nail buffer
- Bowl of ice water
- Firing equipment and supplies (such as a stainless steel firing pan and activated carbon) recommended for the brand/formula of copper clay you are using
- Propane torch (optional, for heat patina)
Editor’s note: In this project Gail uses a wonderful set of brass nesting tubes. These are available from Celie Fago here. I have a set too, and I can assure you that they are worth every penny! These tubes have been cut, all burrs filed off and they are a pleasure to use.
Preparing the clay and adding texture:
-Roll out a lump of clay to a thickness of 6 cards. (If you plan to texture both sides of the clay, roll to a thickness of 7 cards.)
Tip: I like to flatten the clay with a piece of acrylic sheet first because it makes rolling easier.
–Apply a light layer of release to a texture sheet and place it face down on the clay. Roll out the clay to a thickness of 5 cards. If you want texture on both sides, sandwich the clay between two texture sheets.
Tips: If you are using a tear-away texture sheet, spread a thin film of olive oil directly on the surface of the clay rather than applying the release to the texture sheet, which will help prolong the life of the tear-away texture sheet. Also, to avoid thinning the clay too much, place the card stacks on top of the bottom texture sheet (if you are using one) and make sure both ends of the top texture sheet are on top of the card stacks.
Making the Medallion:
-Remove the clay from the texture sheet(s) and cut out a circle with a lightly oiled pastry cutter or circle drawing template. I use Matfer pastry cutters, but other brands of round cutters are fine, too.
–Using a lightly oiled needle tool, cut a narrow opening in the medallion to resemble a gash.
–You can dry the medallion flat, or if you prefer a slightly domed shape, place it over a curved surface. I used the top of an old glass candle jar. Floodlights also work well for this purpose. Set the medallion aside to dry.
Cutting out the embellishments: While the medallion dries, you will cut the pieces for the faux rivets, repair straps, and hole reinforcements.
–To make the faux rivets, roll out a small lump of clay to a thickness of 3 cards. . Using lightly oiled, very small diameter straws or brass tubes, cut small circles to use as faux “rivet heads.” Set them aside to dry.
Note: I usually cut out circles of various diameters from an entire sheet of clay so I’ll have extra faux rivet heads to use in other pieces. If I’m using copper or bronze clay, I usually let the sheet dry in place and punch out the circles when the clay is dry. This helps to maintain the shape of the circles
–To make the repair straps, roll out a small lump of clay to a thickness of 3 cards. Cut strips from the clay, using a straight-edged cutting tool, a clay blade or a tissue blade. Set the strips aside to dry.
Tip: I usually cut more strips than I will need, in different widths, so that I can choose the width that looks best on the piece. I save the unused strips for making other medallions.
–To make the hole reinforcements, which will surround the hole for hanging the medallion, roll out a small lump of clay to a thickness of 3 cards. Using two different sizes of cutters (straws or brass tubes), cut out the hole reinforcement rings. (Cut out circles with the larger diameter cutter, and then cut “portholes” from the center of each circle with the smaller cutter.) Do not remove the center “portholes” yet, just set the reinforcements aside to dry. Leaving the inner circles in place until the clay is dry helps to avoid damaging the wet clay portholes, and it also creates more faux rivets as a bonus.
Tip: Here again I usually cut out more reinforcements than I will need, and in different sizes, so that I can choose which ones look the best on the medallion.
Note: The width of the reinforcement rings will be approximately half of the difference between the two cutters’ diameters. For example, if you use an 8mm brass tube and a 4mm brass tube, the reinforcement rings will be approximately 2mm wide (8 minus 4 divided by 2).
Adding the “repair” straps: After all the pieces are dry, you are ready to finish and assemble the medallion.
–Clean up the outside edge of the medallion. Depending on the finish you want, you can run a wet finger around the edge to make it blunt, or you can sand the back of the medallion on a flat surface to create a “knife edge.” For an ancient look, sand the outside edge unevenly.
Note: I recommend that you wear a particulate mask whenever you are sanding.
–Use a craft knife, paintbrush and/or clay shaper to clean up the opening. I use the knife first to clean up the ragged edges and then follow up with the paintbrush and clay shaper to round the edges for a worn look.
–Decide which repair straps (and how many) you want to use. Trim them to whatever length you prefer. You can sand the edges of the straps lightly for a rounded look, if you wish.
–Spread thick slip on both ends of one strap. Using tweezers, place the strap over the opening in the medallion. Apply light pressure to both ends of the strap for about 10 seconds. The slip should ooze out a little around the strap.
–Wait another15-20 seconds, and then clean up the edges of the straps lightly where slip has oozed out. I use a clay shaper and short strokes to lift off the excess clay, wiping off the clay shaper after each stroke. Using a blunt cut, slightly damp paintbrush held at a 45-degree angle, dab gently at these same edges to push any remaining slip into the joint. Be sure to use a very light touch to avoid marring the texture of the medallion. Let the joint dry. Repeat Steps 11-13 with the remaining strap(s).
Adding the faux rivets: Once the straps joints have dried, you will embellish the strap ends with the faux rivets. Before you begin, examine the edges of your rivets to make sure they are smooth. If any rivets have slightly ragged edges, roll them lightly between your fingertips to remove the raggedness.
-To attach a rivet, pick it up with tweezers and dip just the back of it into thick slip (you don’t want any slip on the sides). Place the rivet on the end of a repair strap. Apply light pressure for 10 seconds. Clean up the excess slip (the same way you did for the straps in the previous step). Repeat with the remaining rivets. Allow the slip to dry.
–To complete the illusion of riveted straps, you can add faux rivet heads on the back of the piece as well. This step is optional, but it adds to the aesthetic value of the piece.
Creating a reinforced hole for hanging the pendant:
–Choose one of the hole reinforcement rings and place it on the medallion. Center the opening of the ring near the top, wherever you want the hanging hole to be. Mark the center of the “porthole” on the medallion by making a shallow depression with a very small drill bit in a pin vise. Remove the reinforcement ring and drill a hole all the way through at the spot you marked.
Note: This tiny hole will be used only as a centering mark for the placement of the reinforcement rings. You will enlarge the hole later on.
–Using tweezers, pick up the hole reinforcement ring again and dip just the back of it into thick slip. Place it on the medallion, centering it around the small hole you drilled in the previous step. Apply light pressure for about 10 seconds. After you remove the pressure, wait another 15-20 seconds and then clean up the inner and outer edges of the reinforcement ring, using the same steps as for the other attachments. Let the joint dry.
–Find a drill bit that matches the diameter of the reinforcement ring’s “porthole” opening. Put the bit into a pin vise and drill out the center of the hole reinforcement ring, taking care not to damage the edges of the ring. Run a slightly damp paintbrush around the inside edges of the hole to smooth them and to clean out any stray bits of clay that might be hanging from the center.
Prepare piece for firing and fire:
-Prior to firing, sand the faux rivets and the porthole lightly to round them slightly.
-Fire the piece according to the manufacturer’s instructions for the brand/formula of clay you are using. Allow the piece to cool.
-After firing your medallion will need polishing to be a shiny metal. Bring up the high points of the texture by buffing lightly with a three-sided nail buffer, starting with the coarsest grit and moving through the medium and finest grits. You can buff the entire piece or just certain areas, depending on the look you want.
–If you wish, you can add a heat patina by alternately heating the piece with a propane torch and air-cooling it. Prepare a bowl of ice water and set it aside. Hold your piece with tweezers or pliers that have heat resistant grips. Bring the piece into the flame and hold it there briefly. When the metal starts to heat up, pull it out of the flame. You will see the copper change color as it air-cools. Return the piece to the flame, heat it again briefly, and then pull it out to cool. The color will develop a little more each time you repeat the heating and cooling sequence. Repeat until you get color(s) you like, and then immediately quench your piece (and the tips of your pliers or tweezers) in the ice water to stop the colors from developing further.
-If the piece stops changing color, quench in ice water and start again.
-Buff up the high points as desired with a three-sided nail buffer.
Your completed medallion is ready to be made into a piece of jewelry.