by Cindi McGee – Behind These Eyes™
I recently taught at the 2017 Artiscape event in Dublin, OH. I also took the time to participate in a workshop and learn something new myself! I had long been fascinated with precious metal clays. Since I love working with polymer clay, it seemed like the perfect workshop for me to explore taking my clay work to the next level!
Some key things I learned:
- Precious Metal Clays can be expensive.
- There are several brands of Precious Metal Clays.
- They come in assorted metals and assorted size packages.
- It takes a lot of practice to achieve truly artistic results.
- It’s not a “hobby” you can just dive right into – while I discovered that my regular polymer clay tools worked just fine with the clay – firing it is a whole other story – you need a kiln or a torch to fire the pieces, and several “special items” that are part of the process.
Precious metal clays (often referred to as PMC), have a “drier” feel right out of the package than regular polymer clay. Once you remove it from the packaging, start working with it right away to create your desired shapes/beads. A touch of water can help re-moisten or smooth surfaces if necessary. It is also a bit more fragile when working with it than polymer clay.
I wanted to create a rustic “charm”, as the workshop sample creative by the instructor, Cheryl Straight, had a freeform/rustic style charm and I liked the look of it. The one in this bracelet was made from silver PMC.
We were given the option of bronze or copper PMC – and I was fortunate enough to share with the women sitting next to me so we each got a chance to work with both! I found no real difference in working with one versus the other.
I rolled bronze clay with a clay roller to about the thickness of two quarters stacked – the instructor said it was best to not go much thinner than that to ensure a sturdier finished bead.
I used metal alphabeet stamps to stamp a word into my rolled clay (you can also use rubber stamps, or mold your clay in molds, or add hand “carved” accents), then hand “tore” the edges to the desired size and random shape. It had a bit of a crackled, almost leathery surface as it was drying while I worked with it – but I liked the effect so I chose not to smooth it out with water. I also created an irregular flat round bead, and tried extruding the metal clay and it worked fine! Lastly, I rolled some irregular round beads. I made holes in each with a clay tool.
Then things got really “interesting”. We learned how to torch fire our metal clay charms & beads. We used fire bricks and screens beneath our clay when firing. You start firing until you see the “clay” burn off and the metal beneath is glowing and continue firing for the proper amount of time. How long you torch fire them varies depending upon the type of clay and the individual torch. Immediately after firing, you drop it into a mixture called “pickle” which is made up of hydrogen peroxide, salt, and white vinegar. There are several “recipes” for creating pickle online. Once the charm has set in the pickle for a few minutes, you remove it and place it in water. Then you remove it and begin to scrub away the “blackening” with steel wool. The more you scrub, the more the metal will shine through. It’s a workout, for sure.
We each had the opportunity to fire one of our charms/beads during the workshop. I brought the rest of my pieces home to try my luck at firing them.
For another glimpse at how my interest in metal clay began you can view my book review of Irina Miech’s Metal Clay Collection for Beaders here. As you can see just from the cover – her metal clay pieces are stunning.
This was quite an adventure for sure. I feel like I’ve had just a tiny glimpse into the world of possiblities of working with Precious Metal Clays – and I know that I’ll be trying it again in the future.