Artist Project Series: Cindy Miller

We are proud to present the 2nd project in a series brought to you by Cool Tools using their new metal clay, EZ960™ Sterling Silver Metal Clay.  Cindy Miller created a beautiful project that both new and experienced metal clay artists will enjoy.

Images of owls have been recorded in art and literature throughout history from the Greek and Romans to numerous Native American tribes. The owl represents wisdom and is associated with inner sight.  The owl is associated with the night it has played on the imagination of people throughout time. Here’s a link to learn more about Owl mythology. This is Cindy’s interpretation of an owl totem amulet necklace.

To learn more about our featured artist, please see Cindy’s artist profile by Julia Rai. Cindy was very candid and talked about her journey to becoming a full time jewellery designer.

List of Tools and Materials for the project:
50 grams EZ960™ Sterling Silver Metal Clay
Coolslip Spray
Sculpey III polymer clay
Tissue Blade
Small Rubber Tipped Shaper Tool
3M Sanding Pads (fine and extra fine)
Wet-Dry sand paper (400 and 600 grit)
3/8 and 3/16 inch circle Kemper Kutters
Small angled sable paint brush
Liver of Sulfur
Optional: Silver Oil paste, 2-bezel cups and 2- 4mm gemstones
Electric programmable kiln

Creating the polymer clay form:

  1. Use conditioned clay to create a ball of clay about 1.5 inches in diameter.
  2. Shape the ball into a slightly flattened rounded heart shape
  3. Place both index fingers on the top of the shape and press to create two eye orbits. There should be a ridge of clay between the eye orbits.
  4. Refine to make the form symmetrical.
  5. Bake using the manufacturer’s instructions.

Wrapping the form:

  1. Roll out the EZ960 sterling clay to 3 cards thick. Use the entire 50 gram pack in order to get an area large enough to cover the form.  You will recover the unused clay for use later in the project.
  1. Lightly oil the owl form with olive oil or silicon spray. Gently drape the rolled out clay over the form making sure not to stretch the clay. Gently pat the clay down to adhere to the form. You may need to pinch pleats in the clay around the bottom to get it to form correctly.
  1. Using a tissue blade to trim the clay around the bottom of the form. You will want about 1/4 inch showing on the bottom of the form. This is important in releasing the clay later.
  1. Roll out a small bit of clay to attach as the beak. The shape should be a tapered tube.  Using a little slip attach the beak between the eye orbits making sure the edges are securely attached.
  1. Create two small holes for the nostrils at the top of the beak.
  1. Return the remaining clay to an air tight container.

Sculpting the pendant:

You will want to begin sculpting the owl pendant while the clay is still wet.  Mist the clay to keep it hydrated while you are working on the form.  Start sculpting around the eyes and work your way to the edge so you do not smudge your sculpt.

  1. Indicate where the eyes will be located by creating a small indention in both of the eye orbits.
  1. Using a rubber tipped shaper, create outward strokes starting in the middle of the eye moving towards the edge of the concave eye orbits. You should work fast and keep your clay hydrated by spritzing water on the surface as needed.   You are creating the “idea” of feathers not individual feathers so don’t worry if they are not perfect. The effect will come together in the end.
  1. Once you have the eye orbits complete you can continue to create strokes on the rest of the owl. Set a side to dry.

Assemble the pieces:

  1. When the owl is dry use a fine sponge sanding pad to gently sand the entire pendant. This will soften the sculpting marks.  If you find that you want more “feathers” just spritz your pendant with water and wait until the clay has re-soften to the point where you can move the clay with your tools. Allow to re-dry before moving forward.
  1. Gently remove the owl from the polymer form. If the inside is still damp then allow the inside to dry before moving forward.
  1. Sand the back flat by placing the owl on a sheet of 400 grit sandpaper. Use figure 8 motions to sand the pendant
  1. Roll out the remaining clay to 2 cards thick. Lay the owl head on top of the clay and cut out a shape for the back leaving enough room for shrinkage as the clay dries (about 1/8 inch).  Cut out a circle in the middle of the back.  Make sure your circle is small enough to leave room for attaching bails.  Allow to dry.
  1. Assemble the front and the back using ample amounts of slip. Allow to dry.  Cut off the excess clay from the back and then use a sanding pad to remove the remaining clay all the way to the seam.  Fill any gaps with slip and then dry and sand again until you have a seamless joint.
  1. Cut out two circles .25 wide and 3 cards thick. Cut out the centers leaving to rings for use to define the owl’s eyes. Once dry attach the rings to the center of the eye orbits with slip.
  1. Cut three more rings to attach as bails to the back side of the pendant. Cut the bottom of the rings off just below the inside circle. This will give you a flat spot to use when attaching the rings to the back of the pendant. Rings should be 3 cards thick. The third ring attachment located at the bottom of the pendant is optional.  I like to have the option of adding charms to the bottom.  Allow the rings to rings to dry then attach with slip.


  1. Use a needle file to refine the beak. Gently file a groove on either side of the beak at the base and then sand.
  2. Sand the entire pendant with an extra fine sanding pad and brush the dust from the surface.

Firing and Finishing:

  1. Support the pendant using vermiculite so that the bails on the back of the pendant do not collapse.
  2. Fire using manufacturers instructions.
  3. After firing, clean the silver with brass brushes, 600 grit sand paper or tumbling if you have a tumbler. I use a magnetic tumbler for about 30 minutes and then tumble with steel shot in a rotary tumbler.
  4. At this point you have the option of re-firing the owl pendant to add bezel cups to the eyes for gemstones. Make sure you rough up the bottom of the bezel cups using a metal file. Use silver clay oil paste to attach the bezel cups.  Allow to dry completely then fire again for 45 min. at 1600 (full ramp). After firing you will need to re-polish the pendant in preparation for applying a patina.
  5. Use liver of sulfur to bring up the details in the sculpted areas. I allowed the liver of sulfur to go completely black before polishing but you can stop the process at any stage depending on the coloring you would like to achieve.
  6. Polish the beak and the edges of the eye orbit to a high shine. This will help to define the heart-shape face that is specific to the barn owl. Buff the pendant sides and inside the eye sockets with a heavier grit sand paper (400 grit) to create a contrasting satin finish.  This will give the pendant more dimension and highlight the major features of the owl’s face.

Final Touches:

I’ve opted to add silver charms to the bottom of this pendant as part of the finished design but this pendant works equally well simply hung from a silver chain.


About the Artist:

Cindy Miller is a full-time studio artist living in Huntsville, Alabama. She is one of 200 artist that work at the Lowe Mill complex; the country’s largest privately owned artist community. She has a background in art and anthropology so many of her designs have a cultural component or theme.

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