- How to use metal clay tools, including slats, roller, templates, textures and butane torch.
- How to properly handle metal clay for ease of use and to economize the material.
- How to incorporate other jewelry making techniques with metal clay.
- How to enjoy metal clay!
This tutorial shows how to make the textured barrel beads as seen in the image of the mixed media necklace. Barrel beads use very little clay, yet have a lot of volume. And since they are not formed over any sort of burn-out material (i.e. wood or cork clay) they can be fired with a torch rather than a kiln.
When I finished making some barrel beads for this project I thought I needed a “beauty shot”; a photo that would inspire others to want to try making these beads. That was my “rabbit hole”! A month later…I strung this necklace. The other beads in the necklace include round bronze and silver beads, silver bead caps, vintage red plastic beads, rubber beads and rubber cord. It’s a real mix, but it is fun and that’s why we make jewellery!
Since I rediscovered polymer clay this year, my mind has been spinning with ideas about how it could be used with metal clay. Add in glass clay to the mix, and my creative juices have been really flowing! Well-known glass artist Paula Radke made the glass cabs out of her glass clay.
I am the first to admit that I’m learning polymer clay and while my finished bracelet is not perfect…there are several ideas to take away and try in your own work:
a) Polymer clay is fun! I love that I can work with both fired and unfired clay.
b) Carving polymer clay is addictive! I took a class with Celie Fago and she showed us how to carve polymer clay and the importance of creating test pieces of polymer clay so that you can test that the clay cured after baking it.
c) Glass clay is divine! Oh the colours! Paula’s cabochons remind me of something I’d find at a European flea-market.
This ring combines several different design elements to create lots of visual interest. The earrings are a fun, simple and striking complement, and you can customize all these pieces just by varying the finish inside the domes.
Project and photos: Jane Font
Editors: Jeannette Froese LeBlanc and Margaret Schindel
Readers of Creative Fire have been asking for more polymer clay techniques to use with the metal clay creations. You asked, we listened! In this installment of Clay Convergence we’ll look at a widely popular millefiori method that’s not only easy to make, but gives great results time after time. People with little or no polymer clay experience are often intimidated by the idea of working with polymer clay. They believe it’s difficult and time consuming to learn how to achieve complex looking effects. This is an often-held misconception that this project will hopefully dispel. While it’s true that some millefiori versions can be highly difficult, it doesn’t have to be the rule.
This method is one I learned from polymer clay artist Esther Anderson earlier in the last decade. This article doesn’t address how to create the metal clay bezels or frames that showcase this design. That’s up to you.
As you can see from the photo of the finished pendants a variety of metals, shapes, sizes and textures were used. You’ll have to bring your creativity to the bezel or frame you wish to create, but this step-by-step technique method will teach you how to create canes with a mod, tiled look.
Most directions for extruders call for using separate devices for both metal and polymer clays. Cross-material contamination is undesirable when using these tools. You’ll learn an easy tip on how to use only one extruder for both clays as well as how to keep the device clean between uses. Also included is an extra tutorial on how to create a coiled bail or fired and finished metal clay bezel settings and frames.
As for determining your color palette, this is your choice. I recommend working with three to four colors when creating your cane. Using more than four colors may create a mottled effect. Also, it’s a good idea to use at least one very light and one very dark value for maximum contrast and canes that pop! Using colors that have similar tones can result in muted results. This isn’t a no-no by any means, but it’s good to know what to expect when getting started. The best part is experimenting with color combinations as you create a myriad of mosaic tile canes for your metal clay projects. Uncured millefiori canes can last for many years when properly stored.
It’s time for something fun! And who better than Christi Friesen to lead this adventure? Here she shares how to combine metal clay and polymer clay in a beautiful mixed-media brooch. We love the lush colours. Imagine making a version for yourself in fall colours. We feel very inspired and we hope you do too!
Je suis très inspirée par l’Art nouveau en ce moment. Je trouve que ce style convient très bien aux
pâtes de métal et en particulier au bronze, métal que j’adore et qui a été beaucoup utilisé durant cette période. J’ai notamment fait plusieurs peignes et piques à cheveux inspirés par ce style. Voici le pas
à pas de la toute dernière pique que j’ai faite, pour laquelle j’ai utilisé un décor un peu différent lors
de la réalisation des photos de ce tutoriel.
My present inspiration comes from the Art Nouveau period/movement. I find that this style is very suited for metal clays, in particular bronze, which I love and which was very frequently used during this period. I have made many combs and hair sticks inspired by Art Nouveau. Here is the step-by-step of my latest hair-pin.
(Translation from French by Angela Crispin)
This is the sixth project in the Artist Project Series. Anna Siivonen from Sweden shows how she uses sterling silver metal clay and sterling silver wire. Anna is known for her small, whimsical sculpted metal clay jewellery and she brings that creativity to this project.
Materials and tools:
EZ960 10-20g Sterling Silver Metal Clay (available from Cool Tools)
20-25 cm 1,5 mm thick sterling silver wire
Kids modelling clay or any other cheap and easy to use clay to sketch in.
Pliers to cut with and pliers to bend wire with
3M radial bristle disc (120 grit)
Common metal clay tools
Activated carbon and firing box
steel shot and a tumbler (if you want to give it that extra shine)
Step 1: Read through this step by step description before starting. You could also practice the steps by making the parts in modelling clay. I do a lot of my sketching in modelling clay or in copper or bronze clays. For this project I made several versions in modeling clay so I knew how big to make the parts so that the finished piece would have the size I wanted. You can scale up or possible down the size of the finished design depending on what you want to use it for. If you make the smallest component, the seeds, just a little bit bigger than I describe in the project the finished pieces will be quite a lot bigger. You can also change the design of this project quite easily by making more or less petals, changing their placement and adding other design elements. Try out different layouts in modelling clay before you start with the silver clay. Do not worry about making it perfect in modelling clay. It is more difficult to work in than metal clay in my opinion. If you are going to make a bracelet with a thin wire like in this project the design element should be kept small. To make this bracelet I used less than 10g of silver clay and a 1,5 mm thick and 22 cm long sterling silver wire.
Step 2: Start by making three “seeds” with silver clay, one slightly bigger and two smaller ones. I made my biggest about 1 cm long and the two other ones about 8 mm. Dry the seeds. My flower is going to have five petals and will need 5 seeds, but I begin with making only three so that I do not have that much to reconstitute if I were to change my mind about the size and numbers of petals while making it. Continue reading…
This is the 5th project in our ongoing series of tutorials sponsored by Cool Tools. All projects use their new silver metal clay EZ960™ Sterling Silver. This project is quite advanced, however, artists of all levels will learn something new! Be inspired by the way Iwona uses a drawing for the plan and layout of her pieces, or by her use of colour as she adds stones and coloured paste to this project! Those who want to learn about hollow forms can follow along and learn about using a burn out media. This beautiful pendant is wearable sculpture! Continue reading…
It’s nice to have a test piece lying around your workspace to experiment with various finishing, polishing, and burnishing tools and methods. Continue reading…
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.