I always have loved jugs and I have a much-loved collection of milk jugs in all shapes and sizes. It was natural that I should want to make miniature jugs in pure silver! The project instructions will make a jug about ½” (13mm) high,which is equivalent to 6” (15cm) tall in the standard dollhouse scale of 1:12. These little jugs also look wonderful hanging on a charm bracelet.
The secret to sculpting small miniatures in metal clay is to make the rough shape of the object in fresh clay, dry it, and then refine the shape with sanding, repairing imperfections with paste as necessary.
Project Materials and Supplies
- Each jug uses approximately 5 grams of clay
For this project I have used Art Clay™ Silver 650 Slow Dry, which provides a longer working time, but you can use any silver metal clay formula except for PMC® Standard (Original), which shrinks 2-3x as much as other silver clays (and therefore will not produce the 1:12 dollhouse scale without making the components significantly larger than these directions specify).
Tools & Supplies
- 4” x 4 “ (10cm x 10 cm) Smooth, glazed ceramic tile or plate glass with taped edges
- Olive oil (or other release agent)
- Saucer of water (for moistening the clay)
- Craft knife
- Cling film/plastic wrap (for wrapping unused clay to keep it moist)
- Tool with a wedge-shaped end, about 3/16” (5mm) thick for forming the top of the jug (I used the end of a paintbrush handle)
- Large, blunt-ended tapestry needle
- Sponge sanding pads – fine and medium grit
- Piece of fine sandpaper (2000 grit)
- Needle tool (optional)
- Soft wire bristle brush (stainless steel or brass)
- Liquid dish soap
- Burnisher and/or set of sponge sand- ing pads in medium to ultra fine grit
- Silver polish
- Soft polishing cloth
- Liver of sulfur and paint brush or cotton swab (optional
- Firing equipment
Use about 4g of clay for the body of each jug. Knead the clay briefly until it is smooth. This helps to redistribute the moisture. For this project, it is best to use clay that is soft and moist but not so wet that it is slippery or extremely sticky.
TIP Silver clay straight out of the package is in an almost perfect state and will start drying as soon as you open it up, so even with Slow Dry clay, work quickly to take advantage of the fresh consistency. If the clay starts to dry around the edges or crack as you work on it, press it into a thin pancake and smear the surface with water. Fold the pancake in half, wet sides together, knead it again, rewrap it in plastic wrap and allow it to rest for a few minutes to allow the moisture to be absorbed into the clay fully. Do not add too much water or the clay will become slimy.
Roll the clay into a ball about 3/8” (10mm) in diameter and form it into a pear shape. Apply a film of olive oil onto the handle end of the paintbrush handle and press it into the centre of the thin end of the pear.
Make a thin rim at the top of the jug by pinching the clay around the paintbrush handle, keeping it as even and as level as you can. Don’t worry if the clay cracks a little; you can add clay paste to cover the cracks. If it cracks a lot, the clay is too dry; you will need to roll the clay into a ball again, re-hydrate it and start again.
Remove the paintbrush handle carefully and set the pear-shaped jug upright on the tile. Oil the pointed end of the tapestry needle lightly and pierce the narrow end of the jug through the centre, pushing it in almost (but not quite) through to the bottom. Pull out the needle.
Pinch a small section of the rim between the thumb and forefinger of one hand. With the clay still pinched between your thumb and forefinger, use the tapestry needle to pull the clay outward into a pouring lip.
Allow the jug to dry completely on the tile. If you wish, you can shorten the drying time by putting the tile into a preheated 120°C (250°F) oven for 20 minutes. When the jug is completely dry, fill any cracks or holes with silver clay paste thinned to the consistency of heavy cream. It is better to overfill the holes or cracks a little. The paste will shrink as it dries, and any excess will be sanded away in the next step. Let the paste dry completely and add additional layers of paste, if necessary.
Sand the jug gently with the ultra-fine sanding pad to smooth the surface and round off the edges of the rim and spout. Hold the jug perfectly vertical on the sandpaper and rotate it to flatten the bottom.
To make the handle, roll a piece of fresh clay into a log about 1/16” (1.5mm) thick and ¾” (20mm) long. Working quickly so the thin piece of clay doesn’t start to dry out, apply a little paste to the rim of the jug, opposite the spout, and press one end of the log onto it with the log pointing upwards.
Curve the log gently downward to shape the handle. Trim the end to the desired length and use paste to attach it to the base near the bottom of the jug. Let the handle air dry or dry it in the oven (see Step 6).
Wet a soft wire bristle brush with water, add a drop of liquid dish soap (as a lubricant), and wire brush the entire surface of the jug to give the silver a satin finish.
Depending on the type of finish you prefer, either burnish the silver by rubbing the surface with a burnisher or sand through progressively finer grits to get a bright silver finish. (Note: Start sanding with sandpaper or a sanding sponge with the lowest grit number first, moving through the higher numbers as you work.) Finally, polish the silver briskly with silver polish on a soft cloth.
You can embellish your jugs in several ways before firing. Here are two ideas to get you started, but I’m sure you’ll come up with many other decorative ideas (e.g., syringe, tiny CZs).
While the clay jug is in the greenware stage (completely dry but not fired), inscribe leaves, flowers or other decorations on the sides of the jug with a needle tool. The engraved lines need to be fairly deep or they will not be visible after burnishing. Go over the line with the needle repeatedly to deepen them rather than pressing the needle too hard, which can create chips in the clay. After firing, you can bring out the engraving by applying a liver of sulfur patina selectively to the recessed, engraved areas with a paint brush or a cotton swab and polishing off the excess.
While the clay jug is in the greenware stage, form a ball of fresh clay about 1/8” (3mm) in diameter. Press it onto the tile to make a disk slightly larger than the bottom of your miniature jug. Apply some slip to the disk and press the jug onto it. Decorate the foot, if you wish, or leave it plain. Allow it to dry and sand it smooth before firing the jug.