Tutorial: Bird’s Nest Bezel Bracelet by Michelle Loon

Michelle Loon_wwwcre8tivefire_comThe original inspiration for this project came from my need to create a unique setting for a wine cork after taking a design class in San Francisco The layers of syringe create bezel like frames with an organic feel reminiscent of a bird’s nest. Each bezel frame is unique and can be filled with a variety of mixed media (polymer clay, resin, paper, etc.) after firing. In this project polymer clay bullseye canes are sculpted and carved with added embellishments for a carved button feel.

Author: Michelle Loon
Edited by Joy Funnell, Margaret Schindel and Jeannette Froese LeBlanc

Project Materials and Supplies

Materials:
15 – 20g low fire fine silver clay
Low fire silver clay syringe with medium (green) tip
Polymer clay (i.e.. Fimo, Premo) – contrasting dark and light colors- Gold/ red, purple/ white, blue/ ecru, etc.
Faceted CZs or other embellishments (will be cured in polymer clay). For this project I used 2 x 4 mm and 6 x 3 mm faceted stones

Tools, Supplies & Equipment
Basic Metal Clay Set up
(http://cre8tivefire.com/getting-started-in-metal-clay/)
Texture sheet
Circle template
Needle tool (optional)
Craft knife (i.e. X-ACTO®)
Acrylic coil or snake roller
Round, pointed paint brush
Water Brush Pen (optional)
Sanding sponges (i.e. 3M™ Sanding sponges, 600/1200 grits)
Wet/dry sandpaper, assorted grits 400 – 2000
Jump rings

Wire wrapping tools – round nose and chain nose pliers

Basic LOS Patina Set-up (on the same link as above: http://cre8tivefire.com/getting-started-in-metal-clay/)

Tumbler with steel shot

Basic Polymer Clay set up: (On the same link as above.)
And the following items:
Silicon tip clay shapers
Clay or tissue blade
Baby wipes
Ceramic tile or foil pan
Polyester or cotton batting – support while polymer clay cures.
Scribe (optional)
Carving tools such as Dockyard Micro carvers
Acrylic paint

*Tools like clay shapers maybe shared between metal and polymer clays as long as they are cleaned in between each use.

Project Step-By-Step

Step 1

Make the bezel links and clasp. The length of this bracelet can be varied by adding in extra jump rings at the clasp and making the circular frames a larger or smaller size. My finished bracelet was xxxx long. Roll out the silver clay to 4 cards (1mm spacers) thick on a nonstick work surface. Oil a texture sheet and roll the clay to a final textured thickness of 3 cards (.75mm spacers) thick. Cut out a 7/8” (22mm) circle with a needle tool or craft knife and lay it flat on a hotplate or in a dehydrator to dry. Repeat for a total of five back plates. Cut out a sixth circle and remove an 11/32” (9mm) circle from the centre for the clasp back plate [1]. Use a damp paint brush or a water brush pen to gently remove any excess clay from cut edges before drying the pieces thoroughly.

Step 2

Add the syringed walls. Refine and smooth the edges of the back plates and the clasp with a sanding sponge. Add the inner wall on the clasp back plate first [2] before working on the outer wall as it will be easier hold and access with the syringe. Dampen the untextured side of the plate where the syringe line will go. When syringing be sure to keep the tip of the syringe slightlyly raised above the surface of the piece to avoid dragging the syringe line. Individual syringe layers should be defined and easy to count. Check the syringe placement from the top [3] and sides [4] for alignment. Make adjustments by gently nudging the lines into place with the side of a wet paintbrush or a water brush pen while still wet. Dry each layer of syringe before adding the next layer and repeat the process until each wall has 4 layers. Dry thoroughly. Gently sand the tops of all the frames so they are even height by moving them face downward in a figure of eight motion over a piece of 600 grit sandpaper on a flat surface.

Step 3

STEP 3: Make the figure of eight links, U shaped bails, and the toggle bar. All the components start with a snake of clay rolled out about 3/64” (1mm) thick. A set of blue 1mm slats or 4 cards can be used to support the snake roller to form an even snake of clay. After rolling out moisten the snake with water to prevent it from cracking before transferring onto a nonstick sheet for manipulation. For each link use a snake about 2” (50mm) long. Working from the center of the snake, pick up and curl the ends of the snake towards each other until they make a figure of eight. Use a wet paintbrush or water brush pen to help move the clay around. Trim the excess clay just before the tails cross the center to expose a fresh clay surface at each end. Brush water on the area of the join in the centre of the figure of eight and squeeze the loop so the cut end is flat against the center of the snake [5], repeating on the other side. Hold the joins in position for a few seconds and then dry completely. Reinforce the joins of each link with syringe, dry again and then use sanding sponges to smooth each link. Each finished link should be about ¾” (20mm) long and 5 – 6 links are needed. For the bails that will connect the links and frames cut 12 pieces of snake approximately 5/8” (15mm) long and bend them into U shapes. Dry thoroughly and smooth them with sanding sponges. For the toggle bar, taper the ends of a snake about ¾” (20mm) long. Coil the ends and form an elongated S shape as long as the outside diameter of the clasp. Dry and test fit the toggle bar by passing it through the center of the clasp.

Step 4

Test fit the components and embellish the frames with syringe. Lay out all pieces in the order that they will be assembled [6]. Thread the bails through each link to check they fit. Widen the curve of the bails as needed with a round file and file the ends of each bail to fit the curve of the frame. The links need enough space to move freely when the bails are in place. With a pencil, mark the placement for the bails on the frames before decorating the frames with syringe. Patterns of swirls, hearts or dots can be penciled in as a guide for syringing [7]. Decorate each frame with a syringed pattern and dry. Check each frame carefully and remove any sharp ends of syringe with a sanding sponge.

Step 5

Attach the bails and link the frames together. Attach the bail to toggle bar with syringe making sure the bail is at the back of the bar and the toggle bar will still sit flat against the clasp and also fit through the hole. Work from one end of the bracelet to the other and add one bail and link set at a time. The clasp will only have a bail and link on one side and the final bezel will have just a bail attached at the end as the toggle will be joined by jump rings. Attach a bail with a link on to the frame with syringe and dry thoroughly. Thread the next frame’s bail through the link before attaching it to the next frame wall with syringe. As the links are deeper than the frames, use some cards to prop the link up while the syringe is drying [8]. When the syringe has set, transfer the bracelet to a hotplate or dehydrator to dry. A rigid surface like a brass texture sheet is useful for transferring the bracelet. If you use a slat as a support when attaching the bail do not put the slat on a hotplate! Once the bracelet has been assembled, all the links should be able to move freely.

Step 6

Fire the bracelet, patinate and polish. Lay the frames face up on a fiberboard shelf in the kiln as close as possible to each other to avoid any strain from shrinkage during firing [9]. Note: I fired 4 bezel frames and the clasp initially and added an additional bezel section with a second firing to make the bracelet longer. I fired at a full speed ramp to 800˚C (1475˚F) and held for 30 minutes. If a higher firing temperature is used remember it will result in a higher shrinkage rate. Allow the bracelet to cool and brush with a brass brush. Attach the toggle bar to the bracelet with jump rings to ensure enough play for the clasp. If desired, patinate with liver of sulfur and burnish in a tumbler with steel shot in solution of water and burnishing compound or polish up by hand [10].

Step 7

Make a narrow Skinner blend. Combine contrasting colors of polymer clay in approximately a 2:1 proportion of light to dark so the light colored clay isn’t completely overpowered by the darker clay. Individually condition each color with a roller or by passing it through the pasta machine set at the widest setting until soft. Roll out a sheet of each color at the widest setting. With a clay blade, cut into a 3.5” x 2 “ (90mm x 50mm) rectangle of gold, then slice a wedge that extends the along the length rectangle but not quite across the whole width. Lay the gold wedge on top of the red clay and use it as a template for cutting out the red clay [11]. Join the gold sheet and red wedge by pressing the seam together with your fingers and then run the sheet through the pasta machine, feeding the narrow end in first [12]. Start the blend and fold the sheet in half so the same colors touch along each length (red touching red) and feed it through the pasta machine, always starting with the narrow folded end [13]. Repeat the process until a defined gradient appears. To help keep the blend narrow, use one edge of the pasta machine as a guide and use something firm like a tool or wrapped block of polymer keep the other side parallel.

 

Step 8

Make a bullseye cane. In this cane the core will be gold and it will graduate to red on the outside. As the cane is carved the inner color is revealed. In order to preserve the dimension of the cane while carving, minimize the thickness of the red portion and trim the blend so the gold is the dominant color in the gradient [14]. Elongate the gradient by running it through the pasta machine set to 4 sizes narrower than the widest setting [15]. Trim the ends straight with a clay blade and roll the gradient up from gold towards red [16]. Roll the cane against a smooth work surface with your fingers going from the center towards the ends to push out air bubbles out and seal the seam. Cut off the ends of the cane to see how the gradient looks. If the cane has become too thin compress the ends of it towards center and roll to even out the shape. Wrap the cane in a layer of red rolled out at the thinnest setting and seal the seam [17]. Make canes with various color combinations for different effects.

Step 9

Fill the frames with polymer clay. Fill a frame with a cabochon like cushion of polymer clay which can be carved or used as a base for smaller embellishments. Start with a cane segment that sits loosely inside the frame [18], then trim off the corners with a craft knife. Flatten the cane from the center towards the edges so the clay tightly fills the grooves of the syringe frame. For a more domed look, bevel the edges [19] of the clay before tucking them inside the frame with a craft knife. Use tapered sections of cane to make swirls and other embellishments that can be pressed on top. Hide the cut ends that reveal the core color by pinching open ends together [20], butting open ends against other pieces, or rotating them so they don’t face out. Add sparkle using faceted stones by making a dimple in the clay with clay shaper, then pressing a stone in so the girdle is held in place by polymer [21]. Have fun and play with different ways to fill the bezel frames as the possibilities are endless! For the clasp reduce a section of cane with a snake roller to fit into the frame. Cut the ends of the snake at an angle and smooth the seam with a clay shaper. For an inlay look, remove the portion that rises above the bezel frame with a straight clay blade.

Step 10

Cure the polymer clay.

Lay the bracelet on a ceramic tile covered with a layer of polyester batting for support and cure in a preheated oven per manufacture’s instructions. If the oven is not dedicated only to polymer clay, use an aluminum dish and cover tightly with a piece of foil to prevent possible oven contamination. Adequate ventilation and use of a thermometer is suggested for proper oven calibration. Allow the bracelet cool to room temperature. Note: If mixing types of polymer clay follow the curing instructions for the clay with the highest curing temperature. I found partially cured clay will crumble when trying to carve it. Further crumbling can be remedied by re-curing the piece. Cure a few extra test pieces with the bracelet to practice carving on.

Step 11

Carve the cured polymer clay. Practice on the cured test pieces first to get the feel of the carving. Use a pencil to mark the areas to be carved on the polymer clay. The marks can be removed by rubbing a finger over it and reapplied if necessary. Score the pencil lines with scribe if available or a pointed craft knife [22]. Use the tip of a V shaped carver and go over the scribed lines [23]. To get an even depth start from one direction and then rotate the piece to go over the line from the other direction. Using a U shaped gouge will widen and soften the edges of walls left by the V gouge. Work patiently making shallow cuts and removing a little material at a time, once in the “zone” carving can be addictive!

[Tip]: A large V gouge like the Dockyard carver 75V is useful for starting a carved area as the point creates narrow channels while the height of the walls of the V reduces the chance of undercutting material if too much pressure is applied. Shallow cuts can always be deepened by going over the section again and widened by adjusting the angle the gouge is held at.

Step 12

Finishing and patina options.

Sharp cut marks in the polymer clay can be smoothed by wet sanding the area under water starting with 400 or 600 grit sand paper and working up through higher grits.

To define shallow carved areas, use acrylic paint as a patina. Apply the paint with a toothpick for small areas and wipe off excess with a wet paper towel. To prevent removal of too much paint, wipe perpendicular to the direction of the carving. Let paint dry and repeat process until desired effect is achieved.

A glossy finish can also be achieved with buffing or a coat of resin.

Step 13

Variations:

Whether linked together in a bracelet or used individually, syringed bezel frames like picture frames are versatile as they can be designed to fit a specific shape [24] or filled afterwards. If adding a liquid like resin [25] or enamel to the frames, plug all small holes between syringe layers or completely smooth the walls with paste before firing to prevent leaks.

Resources:
Skinner blend references:

Winged Heart Pendant by Lisa Pavelka, MCAM Vol. 2 Issue #4

Narrow Skinner Blend Variation by Mike Buessler

http://www.polymerclaycentral.com/mikeb/SkinnerBlend.html

Inspiring jewelry: Metal clay frames & polymer clay/ mixed media

Liz Hall of Lizards jewelry http://www.lizardsjewelry.com/

About the Author

Michelle is a full time CAD modeler and jewelry designer in Seattle, Washington. Her jewelry journey began in metal clay over 10 years ago and has grown to include Senior level certification with Art Clay World, Graduate Gemologist, and Jewelry Design and Technology certificates from the Gemological Institute of America. Through it all, metal clay has been a constant medium of expression for her. Her website is www.michelleloon.com She can also be found on Facebook at La Loon Designs or on Instagram at michelle_loon

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