Metal Clay

by laurie jane kern on April 21, 2010

I have a HATE – Love relationship with metal clay.

Probably 18 months ago I took a class at Sha-Sha Bead Spa (in San Diego) to learn about silver metal clay. At that time I was just starting to work with chains, silver, and making jewelry and I thought the class would add to my learning.

After this first class I bought some basic tools, a hand torch, a couple of books, some more clay and I went home to play and make silver things. I also spent time experimenting using my gas stove to sinter my pieces in lieu of a kiln or hand held torch.

I had such a wonderful time in the first class that I signed up for a second one which was an introduction to enameling with (silver) metal clay.

I really only made a few items – a few charms and some key fobs. I desired to make other items and all I found myself doing was making a mess of me and wasting the clay; which is not cheap by any means. I thought that I needed more instruction but at the time, I just put it all away and eventually moved on.

Now, in the SDCC class I take with Deb, she said the focus of the 2nd half of the Spring term, would be metal clay – copper and bronze [silver clay was just too expensive these days to start with].

I decided to give metal clay another try.

In each class Deb shows us how to work with the clay; how to shape and form it; how to fire it with a torch or in a kiln; make a mold to texture or copy a shape; how to make hollow forms; I find it interesting and not that complicated to comprehend

Now, after 4 weeks, I am giving up and admitting defeat.  Why?

a) I find it a very frustrating material to work with .

b) I really don’t want to make jewelry or components to be used in jewelry; though at some point I can see myself using metal clay to make components to be applied to my vessels – but not right now.

c) I am still making a mess and when it comes down to it

I “get” raising; sinking; chasing and repousee – I can see these things in my head. I don’t have this connection with metal clay

It is time to move on.

laurie jane kern

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Ellie Silk April 29, 2010 at 5:22 am

I have been a working silversmith for over 40 years, in the late 90’s I was given the opportunity to work with PMC and didn’t like it. Yes, it was new and exciting to try it out but it just didn’t appeal to me. Several years pass by and a very good friend suggested I take a class in PMC and I “hemmed and hawed” and decided to give the new clay a try. It was if magic lived within the clay and 2 weeks later I was a certified artisan. Yes, I was hooked, I loved the ways I could texture my pieces and have the ability to quickly make duplicate copies. I set up a group from my enameling friends and taught them how to use the clay. We had a lot of fun and they used their pieces to enamel on them. I have not forgotten that I am a silversmith and I use my hammer more gently and still have a lot of fun. I look forward to using textured copper and bronze with my hammered pieces. I am a silversmith and a metal clay enthusiast.

Helen Hill April 25, 2010 at 2:45 am

I think it’s all about taking the right road, and for some people, metal clay IS the right road, but considering what you do Laurie, and your obvious talent and feel for the hard stuff (metal), it may have been a brief wrong turning – but you seem to have found the right road (for you) now! 😉

Besides which, metal clay is more expensive to use than actual metal, and it’s more a molding process, and as Jerry points out, you have a love affair with the hammer.

Jerry Fowler April 22, 2010 at 1:39 pm

When one comes to jewelry through the back door so to speak by way of blacksmithing I found it difficult to play with the clay, I wanted to hit it. Like Helen has said there are great works being done by the clay artists but when you feel more at home with a hammer in your hand you are not one to trifle with clay between your finger tips.
LJK, I hope that your love affair with hammer, fire and metal continue for many years to come and they bury you with a hammer in your hand.

Anne Bellissimo April 22, 2010 at 6:59 am

Thanks for sorting it out so nicely. I love metal clay (haven’t tried copper) and will always use it for narrative jewelry where texture and contrast are prime considerations. I am also picking up (trying hard) conventional (read classic) skills because nothing can replace
the metalworking basics which can be used for many types of arts/crafts. Metal clay has its own discipline–more intuitive and less logical than sheet metal until it is fired. Thanks for your blog–it’s one of the few I follow.

Laurie Jane Kern April 22, 2010 at 6:13 am

I had not thought of it that way so ..
Thanks for putting it in those terms

Helen Hill April 22, 2010 at 2:32 am

I personally think you’re way past the metal clay stage of metalworking Laurie. It seems to me to be a medium used in many cases by folks who are afraid of soldering (generally speaking). Obviously, there are some people out there doing wonderful work with metal clay and I’m not trying to put them down in any way. But you obviously have a love of working actual metal and a feeling for how it behaves. I think that for what you want to achieve, actual fabrication methods would be much more satisfactory. Just my personal opinion though.

Laurie Jane Kern April 21, 2010 at 5:32 pm

It ties in with the name of the blog, don’t you think? [Adventures of an Aspiring Silversmith] Some times it just takes a bit longer for some of us to acknowledge what we are and are not.

Jerry Fowler April 21, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Let me see if I got this right, you are a silversmith not a goldsmith. You don’t make doodads to be held in the hand or at least objects no bigger than your fist that are to be for adornment of the human body. You are a maker of larger objects that form and define volume larger than the fist or at least give the allusion of that. I get it you like to hammer!

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