Friday, March 28, 2008

Trying Metal Clay for the first time

I noticed a lot of people who are interested in trying out metal clay but because they are not able to take classes they are teaching themselves, and they go into a panic the first time they are going to try a project. There are several great books to read in advanced if you have not done so already. When you get to your first project relax and remember when you are starting out to KISS (Keep it simple sweetie).

Let me suggest what Cece Wire calls Kamikaze Earrings. She uses these as her first project in her Intro to PMC class. I still love mine - they look very "finished", are easy to make, require very few special tools, teaches you a lot of the basics and most importantly gets you past the scary first time stage. No slip is required. I recommend these for any one stepping out for the first time in PMC - especially if you are trying to learn this on your own. A variation of these earring are on page 16 of Rio Grande's 2007 PMC catalog .

You need:

  • Metal Clay (PMC+, PMC3, or one of the low firing Art Clays)
  • A non-stick work surface (there are lots of options but plastic page protectors are easy to find and work well)
  • A small container with olive oil (teaspoon or less) Badger Balm is also great to use.
  • A small dish with water
  • Texture (can be a texture plate, rubber stamp, piece of slate, plastic sheeting for needle point or what ever)
  • A needle tool (looks like an awl)
  • A shape template (like your kids use for geometry class)

-or- the last two items can be replaced with a shape cutter (smallest cutter for fondant, shape cutters sold for polymer clay [new - not used on polymer clay], etc. )

  • Playing cards
  • A plastic roller (the acrylic rollers for polymer clay work - again not used on polymer) or PBC pipe of the same size
  • Cocktail straw
  • Fine grit emery board (the pink at 350 is good)
  • French earring hooks
  • (optional - hot plate, mug warmer, or dehydrator with a Teflon sheet on it)

Firing tools:

  • Metal Clay programmed Kiln or Creme Brulee Torch
Finishing tools:
  • Small Brass brush
  • Burnisher (optional)
Assemble everything you need first.

Using a "dot" of olive oil (just dip the tips of your fingers in) rub it into your hands, then another dot to rub down your roller and your texture.

Take out 8 playing cards and make two piles of 4 and place them on your work surface a few inches apart (4 cards thick).

Take out your clay and leave the packaging it comes in handy. Place the clay between the two stacks of cards and use your roller to roll the clay out evenly. Unlike pie dough you can't just turn your roller to roll things out each way. Instead, turn your work surface and reposition your cards on either side of the clay. Continue rolling until your clay is even - don't spend more then a minute or two on this.

Press your oiled texture into the clay. And if the texture is not even - heck press again where you missed - it will make it look interesting.

Cut two identical shapes - if you are using the shape template place your template on the clay and holding your needle tool straight up and down (90 degrees from the clay) trace around the template shape. Then repeat for second earring. If you are using a shape cutter, cut them out like you would shaped cookies.

Now just like cut out cookies, pull away the excess clay and tear the excess clay into smaller pieces and layer them together (don't ball the clay up as it will give your clay air holes for your later projects). Place this clay back in the plastic wrap placing a dab of water on the clay before folding the wrap all up. Use your fingers to knead the clay in the plastic a little to get the moisture in. Put this back in the resealable pouch and close it up tightly.

Now breathe . . .

Take the cocktail straw and holding it one straw diameter from the edge, press into the earring shapes to create the holes for the earring wires for later. The clay will usually stick inside the straw which you can flick out with your nail - save this as the beginnings of your clay for making slip :-)

If you are going to allow these to air dry then WALK AWAY NOW!! Otherwise, pick up your work surface with the earring on it and flip it over with one hand and hold your other hand out to catch the earrings. Gravity should do most of your work for you. Leave them upside down in your hand and walk over to your warming plate. Close to the surface - flip you hand over and drop the earrings on the plate (think of flipping burgers or flapjacks). Okay - now walk away!

Allow the earrings to dry completely (called greenware in pottery), If you are unsure if its dry place the hardened piece on a mirror and pick it up - if a water vapor formed its still not dry. DO NOT try to fire a piece that is not dry - it will get destroyed when you fire it.

Once the pieces are dry, use the emery board to smooth the edges of the earrings - similar to filing your nails. Do this over your work surface and save the powdered clay (more clay to make slip from!!!). Greenware is some what fragile and will break if too much pressure is applied or if you drop it. However, it is strong enough to stand up to a lot of filing and even gentle drilling if needed. Hint: if you place the earrings back to back and sand them at the same time you will even out the shape and size. Also, if you hold the emery board at a slight angle against each individual earring you can create a slightly beveled edge.

Now fire:
In a kiln place the earrings texture side up on the kiln shelf. The newer metal clays can be fired at 1650 F for as little as 10 minutes hold (whole cycle takes longer) or as long as 2 hours like the original MCs. The low fire clays can be fired at even lower temperatures if you have added fireable gem stones or glass, are using a wood clay base, or mixing with gold clay but for this project the 1650 F at 10 minutes will do just fine. If you have to program your kiln yourself - that's Full power to 1650 F then Hold 10 minutes.

For torch firing I highly recommend you view the video on the PMC Guild site under "Getting Started". There are also downloadable written descriptions. The video is a must see You do not need to be a member to see this video.

Allow the earrings to completely cool - either by air or by picking them up with brass tongs and dropping into water. Remember these are at least 1290 F hot (temp when torch firing) so USE CAUTION!!

The earrings will appear white - that is not a residue but rather the silver with an uneven surface. You can get a nice matte silver finish by using dish soap and water on your brass brush and brushing the heck out of the earrings - front and back! You can then take the burnisher and rub it over the earring edges to give it a more finished look. Now attach them to the earring wires and enjoy!!!!



Maggie S. said...

Gale, thanks so much for providing this excellent, easy-to-follow tutorial. I wish it had been available back when I was starting out with metal clay!

Margaret Schindel
Metal Clay lens on Squidoo

wtfnowmom said...

And thanks for also keeping this post around for folks like me to find a few years later. I just got my first PMC kit and supplies for Christmas, but I've simply been too chicken to open the packages. I've ordered oodles of templates, texture sheets, etc... but none of these have given me the bravery or actual inspiration to follow through. I know what I'll be adding to the kiln rotation next week! Thanks so much!

Gale said...

Glad its here to help . . . open the smallest package, break off a piece and then jump in with both feet (don't forget to place a drop of water on the unused portion and wrap it back up tightly so you can play again later).
Have fun!