Metal Clay 101- Paste: “The Thick And The Thin Of It” By Lora Hart

CompletedRepairIt happens to everyone. – both novices and masters. You’re working on a special piece of metal clay, and snap! Something breaks. Or you’re putting together a bead and can’t match the pattern at the seam. Or you simply want to join this element to that one. The most common response to any of these (and a million other) scenarios is to reach for that little pot of slip.

This brand calls it slip, but another refers to it as paste. What’s the diff? The names ‘Slip’ and ‘Paste’ are really interchangeable. In my mind, the real difference is dependent on the water content. Slip can be as thin as nail polish or yogurt while paste is thicker and more like spackle or nut butter. But whatever you call it, it’s one of the most valuable tools in your metal clay arsenal. Unfortunately not all metal clay manufacturers sell ready made slip. Luckily making your own is simple.

How To Make Slip:
1. Put a pea size lump of fresh clay on a piece of glass, plastic, or in a small dish.
2. Dip a spatula in water and blend that small amount into the clay thoroughly.
Repeat once or twice as desired. I call this ‘Sticky Slip’.
3. To make thinner slip, use a spritzer to add water instead of the spatula. Add just one or two sprays of water at a time and blend well to make sure you don’t thin the mixture too much.
4. Let the thinner slip ‘rest’ for a while to allow the binder time to absorb the water and become creamy. I let silver slip rest overnight.
5. Of course you can also add water to ground scraps or sanding remnants until you get the consistency you prefer.

How to Use It:
1. I primarily use sticky slip to join one element to another. I find that the thicker the slip/paste the better the join – especially in the wet stage before firing. Thin slip is, well, slippery and may not hold in the time it takes to dry. You can also use sticky slip to caulk a join in a box, or ‘print’ a design through a stencil.
2. Thin slip can be used to fill a very small divot or pin prick in dry clay, trailed off the tip of your brush to build up a ‘painted’ texture, and of course can also be used to join elements.

The main thing to remember when choosing what material to use for repairs is the water content. Water evaporates. So the more water, the more shrinking while drying, the shallower the repair will become. Which means you might have to repeat the repair over and over. It also means that there’s not much actual clay/metal in that repair, which means it’s weak and may fail after firing.

Fragment Brooch #4 - Use of slip as a texture - Slip PrintingYou also want to think about the position of a repair or join. To add an element on top of another piece of clay as in an appliqué , the slip can be thinner. But when trying to repair a break or make a butt joint, things get a little trickier and thicker slip might be more effective. In either case be sure to firmly hold the join for at least 4-5 seconds to make sure the pieces are really touching well, and not just ‘hydroplaning’ on each other. Experience will be your best teacher. Just pay attention to the clay, and it will show you what it needs to be the best it can be.

(Image at right: Fragment Brooch 4- Use of slip as a texture.)

MCAM 5.1_Page_13_Image_0001Lora Hart focuses on presenting narratives based on family history, world history and natural history. The objects and textures she uses bring forth a time and memory that are unique to each person’s own experience. Every piece is created with the intention of invoking a sense of the familiar, inviting the viewer to recall an experience, reflect on a bygone era, or re-imagine a distant landscape.

Lora was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, and moved to historic Richmond, Virginia in 2012. Lora is the Artistic Advisor and one of twenty Senior Instructors for PMC Connection. A metal clay artist inspired by historic imagery, Lora’s work has been featured in books, magazines, and calendars and her jewels are sold in galleries and online. As a designer, educator, and creativity coach, her passion for the art and business of jewelry making has taken her across the United States to help other makers explore their own passions, develop their craft and expand their skills.

One Response to “Metal Clay 101- Paste: “The Thick And The Thin Of It” By Lora Hart”

  1. Kathleen Clausen

    Good information. You didn’t mention using paste or slip with lavender oil added to it. Do you have any words of wisdom about its use? I read that it’s helpful when joining already fired pieces together, but does it have any effect when used with “greenware” pieces?

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