Artist Project Series: Gordon K. Uyehara

unnamed“The Artist Project Series” will feature 12 artists over the next year or so.  Each artist will let us look over their shoulder while they make a piece of art using EZ 960™ sterling silver metal clay.  As the master artists show their methods for making a piece, I hope that you are inspired and learn a new way of looking at metal clay. With thanks to the artists participating and to our corporate sponsor, Cool Tools.

Our first artist is Gordon Uyehara from Honolulu Hawaii. Recently he was interviewed by UK artist Julia Rai. Read her interview here.

In Gordon’s project, he shows how to make a Pangolin ring. It is an awesome piece of jewellery modeled after a very interesting animal. His project is quite timely too as countries have started to come together to sign a trade ban on Pangolins. (NY Times article.) Learn more about this animal. (Telegraph UK article.)

unnamed3Pangolin Metal Clay Ring by Gordon Uyehara

The pangolin has the unfortunate distinction of being the most trafficked animal in the world. Often referred to as scaly anteaters, these unusual mammals are hunted for their meat and tough scales that cover their bodies. Practitioners of folk medicine claim they are the cure for many human ailments. Pangolin scales are made of keratin, the same fibrous protein found in hair, horns, and nails. When threatened, a pangolin rolls itself into a ball so only its impenetrable scales are accessible. They can also emit a strong odor like a skunk. Pangolins are equipped with long, sticky tongues, and claws, in order to feed on ants and termites. All eight species of pangolin are on the endangered list due to poaching and loss of habitat. Two species of pangolin are considered critically endangered.

In this challenging sculpting project, I put the workability of the new EZ960 clay through its paces and feature the prehensile tail of a tree pangolin as a ring. The body is hollow form, while the tail is solid. This project idea could translate well to any animal with a similar clinging tail. My piece came out a little too bulky to be practical but the concept is valid. For a less intense experience, one may decide to choose a subject with less scales. The scale pattern would, however, look right at home on a dragon. EZ960 performed very well and made this project achievable without much ordeal.

Materials and tools:
EZ960 50g Sterling Silver Metal Clay
Polymer clay or any clay that hardens
Scribe or lettering tool
“v” micro carving tool or similar
crossing needle file
Ring mandrel and stand
Snake roller
Sandpaper and sanding paper
Clay shapers
Kiln paper
3M radial bristles (blue, 400-grit)
Common metal clay tools


1) Sketch your design. The more complicated a project, the more important it is to do a sketch. It can help you decide how best to construct the project as well as help with proportions. A rough sketch is better than nothing and will improve the outcome of your project. Draw it out as many times as necessary until it looks correct. This also increases your understanding of the subject and you will improve your drawing skills the more you do it.gkupangolinringsketch

2) Make a model. Use modeling clay. This is like a rough three-dimensional sketch and will help determine the size of your piece. It doesn’t have to be nice or have much detail.gkuprocess2

3) Make a drying form. I used old polymer clay and based the size on my model. Whatever clay you use, make sure to test that the metal clay can release from it after drying. This will be for the hollow body of our animal. Remember, for sizing purposes, the metal clay will be laid over this drying form, and later the form will shrink during firing. Inspect the form from all angles and adjust as necessary. Bake or harden as per manufacturer’s instructions.gkuprocess3

4) Mark drying form. Bisect the drying form with a marker, so two halves can be created from it and then later joined to create the body.gkuprocess4

5) Make the body. Roll out clay to four cards thick on a non-stick sheet. Using the drying form as a guide, cut out a shape larger than one-half of the drying form. Lay clay over the form, gently press the clay to the form and trim to the bisection line. Press lightly until the clay stays on the drying form, while making sure not too thin the metal clay. Dry clay completely. A hair blow dryer or dehydrator is useful in expediting this process. Gently remove dried metal clay from the form and set aside. Repeat for the other half of the body.gkuprocess5a gkuprocess5b

6) Adjust the edges. Use a craft knife to whittle away any protrusions that prevent the sides from meeting nicely. It doesn’t have to be perfect.gkuprocess5c gkuprocess6

7) Join body halves together. Dampen the edges with water and use a thick paste made from the metal clay lump. Dry.gkuprocess7

8) Fill and smooth the seam. Roll a thin snake and moisten it. Position it over the seam and use a clay shaper to blend it into the seam. Smooth it further with a paintbrush. A lightly oiled fingertip sometimes helps with smoothing a wet surface. Similarly, fill any holes with moist clay. Dry as necessary.gkuprocess8

9) Correct body form. If necessary, add clay to adjust the shape to match your target form. Also remember, that the body form will be attached to the ring section later. Dry and smooth the entire surface with 400 and 600-grit sandpaper or the more flexible sanding papers. Do not thin the body form wall by over sanding.gkuprocess9agkuprocess9b

10) Make the legs out of metal clay. They can be hand shaped or created from cardstock stencils, like I did. I rolled the clay out to 8 cards thick. Dry and smooth the edges with sandpaper.gkuprocess10agkuprocess10b

11) Determine where the legs should be attached to the body and mark with a pencil if desired. Attach the feet with moist lump clay, dampened liberally with water and positioned between the pieces to be joined. Press the pieces together. Blend the extruded moist clay into the join with a rubber tip shaper and then a paintbrush. Dry. Fill the seam further with moist clay snakes. Smooth with sandpaper after drying so the limbs transition into the body form nicely.gkuprocess11a gkuprocess11b

12) Size the ring. Using a ring sizer, get a measurement of your finger. Add two and a half sizes (US) and position a strip of non-stick work surface on the ring mandrel for that size. Shrinkage may vary according to the shape of the ring. Tape the work surface strip to itself snuggly so it can be slipped off the mandrel later.gkuprocess12

13) Create a tapered snake. This is for the tail/ring section. Use an acrylic snake roller. It should be about 4-inches long. Remember the larger end will be attached to the body, so look at the form to get an idea of the size. When there is sufficient length to your snake, gently press down on it, rocking from side to side, to flatten it a little (a pangolin’s tail is more flat toward the end). Brush some water onto the tail form.gkuprocess13

14) Wrap the tail form around the mandrel. Position it over the non-stick work surface that you positioned earlier. Since the larger end will be attached to the body, it can be bent up a little. The rest of the tail should be wrapped nicely around the mandrel with the snake sides touching. Dry.gkuprocess14

15) After drying, slip the tail section off the mandrel and gently remove the non-stick surface from the clay. Fill in the inside seam of the tail with a moist snake of clay. Blend with a clay shaper and paint brush. Dry and smooth with sandpaper.gkuprocess15

16) Mark the design with a pencil, starting with the head and then moving back. Do it in sections since handling the piece as you carve tends to rub off the pencil marks.gkuprocess16

17) Carve along the pencil marks using a scribe and/or crossing needle file. On the larger design areas, use a mini v-gouge. Always make sure the area you are carving is supported with your fingers so it doesn’t flex. Define detail with the edge or folded edge of a piece of 400-grit sandpaper. Smooth with 600-grit sanding paper. Finish all the detail on the body up to where the tail will be joined.gkuprocess17a gkuprocess17c gkuprocess17bgkuprocess17d

18) Join the tail. Position the body next to the tail on the mandrel. To hold the body in place, I used some polymer clay on the mandrel. Later, the piece will have to be slipped off the mandrel so make sure the polymer clay lump isn’t stuck to well. Shape the tail end to match the body if necessary. I used a craft knife to remove some clay. Sand and give the tail its general shape before attaching. To join, dampen both sides. Liberally dampen a smashed lump ball of clay with water. Place it on the tail end and then gently push the body onto the tail. Blend any extruded clay back into the join area with a clay shaper and a paintbrush. Dry and fill as needed and then smooth with sandpaper.gkuprocess18a

19) Carve the tail. Continue with the carved design from the body into the tail/ring. Always support the area you are carving with your fingers and exercise patience so you don’t stress the joins.gkuprocess18b

20) Fire as per manufacturer’s recommendation. I fired a test piece first since I hadn’t fired this clay before. Satisfied with how the test piece came out, I prepared my pangolin for firing. Normally, for a piece of this size and weight, I would have supported it with just fiber blanket. However, since there were reports of fiber blanket sticking, I placed kiln paper pieces between the art and the fiber blanket. I placed the whole thing in a bowl of vermiculite to keep it together.gkuprocess20

21) Adjust the ring. If the ring became misshapen during firing, place it on a metal ring mandrel and gently tap it out with a leather mallet.

22) Finish the ring. Brush, patina, and polish as desired. I brass brushed and used 3M radial bristles (blue, 400-grit) for the harder to reach areas. Then I used a patina gel to darken it and a sunshine polishing cloth to bring contrast to the details.gkuprocess22a gkuprocess22b

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gkubiopicAbout the artist: Gordon K. Uyehara continues to be a metal clay artist. In Hawaii, he seeks the wondrous in the mundane because he thinks it is there. He shares his findings on social media with the quite unfounded belief it is raising the collective consciousness. Some ideas venture out of his head and eventually manifest themselves as silver, bronze, or copper art. He strongly dislikes doing the dishes.

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