I use commercial metal clay products, which consist of pure powdered metal, water, and an organic binder. Metals used in the clays are green products, produced from recycled or reclaimed photographic and x-ray films, electronics, industrial metals, and repurposed jewelry. The clay is non-toxic, however I wear a mask to prevent dust inhalation when refining and polishing my pieces.
The creative possibilities are extensive and one of the reasons I enjoy working with metal clay. I usually begin with a sketch. Metal clay dries very quickly, so there is little time to consider design once the clay is in my hands. Detailing a design on paper allows me to visualize my ideas, find potential problems, and lay out the project in a logical order.
The first step in working with wet clay is to briefly condition the clay by rolling it flat. Then I quickly apply texture, cut shapes, and sculpt pieces such as leaves or clay bails. All pieces of the project are thoroughly dried on a warming tray, then refining begins by sanding with files and water smoothing with brushes and a miniature sponge. Detailed design and decoration is next and may include carving, stenciling, or applying clay from a syringe. Then smaller pieces such as wire, bails, and bezels are carefully attached to the main piece by painting a paste of clay and water. Then the piece is refined again, smoothed, and dried. If fireable stones are part of a design, they are bezel set and cleaned as the last step before the piece goes into the kiln.
I always fire metal clay in a kiln, however it is possible to fire silver metal clay with a butane torch. During firing, the binder in the clay burns away and pieces become solid metal in a process known as sintering. Copper and bronze pieces are kiln fired at a high temperature, so they are usually buried in carbon granules to minimize or prevent heavy oxidation. After kiln firing, bronze clay pieces consist of copper and a small amount of tin, copper clay pieces are pure copper, and silver clay becomes fine silver (.999).
After I remove metal pieces from the kiln, they are brushed with a brass or steel brush. Depending on the design, I use drilling, annealing, texturing, doming and other traditional metalsmith techniques at this point. Next, I tumble the pieces with stainless steel shot to polish and work-harden. The pieces are shiny after tumbling, however I often apply more polishing techniques to get a mirror or satin finish. Then I wash the piece and apply a patina solution in multiple steps. The pieces are washed again, and high areas of the texture are polished by hand or with a rotary tool to selectively remove patina. Setting stones or pearls becomes the last step.
Working with metal clay is a relatively slow and meticulous process, but worth the effort to make a piece that is durable and attractive. My handcrafted jewelry is something special to treasure and wear for decades. I would love to make something beautiful for you!
See the subheadings under the Design Gallery page for examples of my work.
To inquire about purchasing my jewelry or metal clay instruction, please contact me by using the form below.