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Friday, October 2, 2009

Introduction to Working With Precious Metal Clay (PMC or Art Clay)

Perhaps you feel intimidated by the complexity of the more usual way of creating jewelry from metal and are looking for an alternative. It is difficult to saw, shape and bend metal into an exact shape, so how much simpler to use a type of metal modelling clay to create the jewelry that you have designed for yourself.

Precious metal clay is a compound of water, an organic binder and tiny particles of silver or gold, depending on the clay you purchase. The basic idea is that you form it into a shape, perhaps a ring or pendant, decorate it by texturing the surface or cut out designs and then leave it to dry out in the air. Then it can be heated until it almost reaches the metals melting point, this causes the metal particles to fuse and the binder to be burned away leaving you with a fully metallic object. This can then be polished, soldered, drilled or enamelled as any other silver item. Items made with precious metal clay will shrink on firing, so make your first pieces things that size is not critical, so that you can become accustomed to the degree of shrinkage. To make a simple necklace and matching earrings will only take a small amount of clay and you will still be able to wear them if they are not your designed size at the finish.

The clay dries out very quickly so only work on one piece at a time, using a glass surface or perhaps the shiny back of a playing card to work on. Always keep clay well wrapped if not in use. If you want an even thickness of clay you will need to roll it out on a lightly oiled surface. Use a plastic rod as a roller and two or
more playing cards as formers each side of the clay. Once rolled out cut to your design shape, using a craft knife or the edge of a playing card. The earrings should be a smaller version of the pendant so that they will all match. Now you can add a surface design by either pushing textured surfaces against your shape or cutting into it. You can mould the clay into bumps or stick other shaped pieces on with slip (very runny clay). Then leave your pieces to dry in the air. Check front and back for drying and once dry make sure to file off any rough pieces or burrs.

Firing can be done in a kiln if you have one available otherwise you will need a soldering torch to heat your items to the correct firing temperature, just below the melting point of the metal and held for the time as indicated on the product packaging. Once the piece has cooled it will need rubbing with a wire brush to create the shiny metallic surface, that can then be finished as you require. Perhaps drilling so that a jump ring can be added for attaching to a chain, or even covering in coloured, powdered glass as in enamelling. Beginner kits, books and classes are all available for this very creative medium.

Learn more about this author, Barbara Guess.