The story of the “Light Bringer” – PMC Sterling hollow stag pendant with branches and foliage by Anna Mazoń.
“I came up with the idea for this piece around Winter Solstice – the darkest time of the year, when the day starts getting longer again. There is a lot of folk tales and legends associated with this astronomical event and one of them tells the story of the Oak King and the Holly King. Holly King reigns over the half of the year when the Sun is getting weaker, days are getting shorter, so since the Summer Solstice till the Winter Solstice. On the day of Winter Solstice the Oak King takes over again and reigns till the longest day of the year. For me, in this legend, the Oak King is the bringer of a new light, new sun, and in my mind I somehow always associated him with a young stag. His antlers are overgrown with fresh foliage – the sign of the spring which will come inevitably after the end of winter. For me it’s a symbol of hope, new beginning, little light shining in the darkest night. You can see that light between his antlers. This kind of „green” stag is actually a popular symbol. You will find it depicted both in paintings all over the world and also various kinds of crafts. I wanted to try my hand at it for quite some time now, and I am really happy I finally did.”
Project Materials and Supplies
5 grams of PMC Sterling
A little bit of polymer clay
a pointy, round file
a flat file
a piece of sanding paper
a scalpel blade
a round plug or something similar
a pointy burnisher
any type of a burr (I use the opposite side), it can be also a toothpick, a thick wire etc.
a cloth pin (again – the opposite side matters – the ball), it can be also an embossing tool etc.
a cabochon (in my case 5 mm)
I make a small polymer clay core – thicker on the top, thinner towards the bottom. I will build my stag’s head on it. This way I will save on clay. It’s roughly 12 mm long. It might be surprising, but this whole project uses less than 4 grams of clay.
I roll out a piece of clay, 3 cards thick and cover the core with it.
I cut out around the core, leaving a slim margin, and roughly wrap it around it, leaving the back open. Next, while the clay is still moist, I form two recesses – future eye sockets. I use and opposite end of a cloth pin for this, but it can be anything that ends with a smooth ball.
I add a little bit of fresh clay on top of the muzzle and nose area, to start forming some more defined features. I also add a little bit above the eye sockets to emphasize the eyebrow area. Then I cover the whole thing with a layer of paste.
Now I take out the polymer clay. I won’t need it there anymore. For this step it’s really important that the head is thoroughly dry.
I make two balls and place them in the eye sockets, using a little bit of paste.
I add two short coils of clay – above and below the eye ball to form the basic eye lids. I will refine them later. I smudge them in a little bit with a fingertip.
I add a little bit of clay under the eye to form a cheek. I smudge it in with a finger, just like in case of eyelids. You can use a rubber paintbrush for this as well. It was the first time I ever attempted to make an animal like this, and I already noticed, that actually this sequence can lead to a ton of different outcomes, depending on what you do next. I mean – this head could easily become a dog, or a cow if I decided to do so. It’s just a matter of details.
I check the symmetry of my sculpture from the front and start adding some paste in places that need accentuating even more – eye brows, cheeks, nose, muzzle etc. I also cover with paste places where I can see holes or lines made by tools or uneven “smudging in” of the clay.
In my fingers I form a tiny shape like the one in the photo. I do it quickly, so when I am done, the clay is still moist and pliable.
Using a burnisher I form a recess and a ridge.
Next I wrap it around the opposite end of a drill, to form an ear. I do this twice and let the ears dry.
I form two polymer clay “rests” to help the ears stay in the right position, and attach them to the head using thick paste. I let the whole thing dry thoroughly.
When I can pick it up in my hand I add even more paste, from the back and other angles, to form a smooth, invisible connection. I also add even more paste in some areas to build them up even more – for instance some parts of ears. I also fill up cheeks even more.
I start forming some irregular coils, which will become parts of the antlers. It’s important for them not not to be completely straight. They also should be tapered towards one end.
This is my ready set of coils. Some of them are longer, some are short (I cut them to this length) I didn’t make them perfectly symmetrical – in nature they never are. There is always a general feeling of symmetry in antlers, but there is always some variation too.
I also refined the head a little bit. It’s important to do that before attaching antlers. Otherwise it’s really easy to break them off. I smoothed some areas with sanding papers and files. I also did a tiny bit of carving, for example around the eyes, nose and ears – just enough to get a crispier look. I used a sharp, round file for this.
I form a polymer clay bed again, to keep the antlers in the right position when I’ll be attaching them. I always file the ends of the antlers to make sure there is a good contact between the surfaces to be attached to each other. I use thick paste for this and I always add a few layers. By the way – can you see that this way you could also make an antelope? 🙂
Now all fragments of the antlers are attached. I cover all the connections with enough paste to make them invisible. I also build up some parts of the antlers to give them rougher, more irregular look.
I want to have a stone between the antlers, so I have to prepare a place for it. My stag already is very three dimensional, so I don’t want just a flat place for a stone – I want a little box. This way the stone will be raised and a little bit more visible.
I find a plug, big enough to become a core for the stone (I need to take shrinkage into account, which in case of PMC Sterling is quite high – circa 20%). I roll clay out, 3 cards thick, and cut a strip, long enough to be wrapped around the plug.
I wrap the strip around the plug, “glue” the ends together with paste and let it dry. You can see here, that the height of the walls is roughly similar to the level where the front part of the antlers is.
When the walls are dried I take the plug out, file both ends of the walls smooth, to make sure they are flat. Then I roll out clay 3 cards thick again, and I use the walls as a template to cut out the top of the box. I let it dry and then attach the walls to the top with paste.
When the box is dry I file the excess of the clay off and smooth the seams to make it look seamless.
I come back to my stag and add a little bit of rough texture to the antlers with a sharp file. I have to be careful, not to break anything.
Originally I wanted to attach the box for the stone directly to the front part of the antlers, but then I decided to have it a little bit higher above the antlers, not so close to the head, so I added a few smaller coils and used those to attach the box to the rest of my design. I used thick paste for this and when the whole thing was dry enough to pick it up, I strengthened the connection from the back and the sides.
Now off to making a few small elements. I start forming a jumpring which will become a part of the design. I make a ball, then flatten it on my working surface and make a little whole in it, which will help me later. I let it dry.
Using a round file, I file out the inside of my future jumpring. I also refine the outside surface and the sides using a flat file.
I form some leaves, balls, acorns etc. I make mine always by hand from scratch– I like when each one is different and have its own character, but those of you who are mold lovers – there is a lot of really good molds out there.
I start attaching my small elements. I add the jumpring to the top of the box(thick paste). I start attaching leaves the same way. As you can see in the photo, for each leaf I form a polymer “rest” to keep it in the right position. Each leaf is attached not only to a branch, but also to another leaf. Nothing is just hanging in the air.
Here you can see how the work is progressing. I also decided to add some more small branches (coils) which I attach additionally exactly the same way I attached the main elements of the antlers.
Here all the elements are attached. See how all the ornaments are connected. From the front it seems to be very airy and delicate.
This is a size of my piece before the firing.
Here you can closely see the back of my piece. I made sure that the whole back is evenly covered with thick layer of paste, so technically, while looking very delicate and openwork, this is one piece of clay. Also, the fact that I am using sterling clay here, of course makes it extra strong.
This is my little sculpture prepared for the first phase of firing. The branches are on different levels, and I don’t want them to sag, so I supported some elements with tiny bits of ceramic fiber. Then I fired it open shelf, full ramp up to 538 C for one hour.
Next I placed it in a stainless steel container, on a layer of activated carbon, covered it with another layer of carbon (just like with any other clay which needs to be fired in carbon), put the lid on and continued with the second stage. I ramped it up to 816 C for 2 hours and held it in this temperature for another two hours. I find out that slow ramp prevents warping and other types of distortion and with my elaborate pieces I really don’t mind longer firing.
. And here is my pendant after firing, straight out of the kiln. I also added a bail I designed especially for my pieces including oak leaves. It’s ready for further work. Soldering the stone setting and finishing.
I prepare a bezel for my stone and solder the ends using hard solder.
I file my bezel a little bit down on a piece of sanding paper, to make it really flat on both sides. This will give me a nice contact between the pendant and the lower edge of the bezel. Also the top of my setting will look nice and clean.
I solder the bezel on top of my pendant, using a small piece of medium solder. I try to be extra careful, not to melt all the tiny branches.
I pickle and then oxidize my pendant. I also added a bail which I designed especially for my pieces with woodland motifs.
I set the stone. I chose Baltic amber – I think it fits the story behind this pendant perfectly. It looks like a drop of liquid sunlight :-). I remove excess oxidation, using a piece of scotch brite.