Getting Started with Silver Clay
by Lis-el Crowley.
Silver Clay, Art Clay Silver, Precious Metal Clay, PMC – whatever name you call it, this magical product is revolutionizing the world of jewelry making.
Basically, microscopic particles of pure silver (or gold) are embedded into an organic binder.
This creates a putty-like clay which can be molded, stamped, impressed, cut, extruded, sculpted, rolled, brushed, etc., into whatever shape or form you desire.
After drying, the clay is then fired, either with a torch or a kiln. During firing, the organic binder burns away, all the metal molecules bond (sinter), and the finished piece of pure silver or gold is left.
There is a 9-15% shrinkage factor depending on which clay you use. Stones and glass can be set into the clay and fired in place as well.
There are two types of silver clay – Art Clay Silver, which is the brand I use, and Precious Metal Clay (PMC). Both of them are manufactured in Japan and both are excellent products.
Art Clay Silver
I work exclusively with Art Clay Silver 650/1200 lowfire slowdry clay.
I like it the best because, in my opinion, the slower drying time allows for more creative freedom, and the low firing temperature is best for combining the clay with glass or stones. It also has the lowest shrinkage rate. It only shrinks 8-9% during firing. I find the finished product to be a bit smoother and brighter than pmc.
Also, Art Clay Silver is a “Green” product. All the silver is recycled and the binder is organic. Another plus is that the price of Art Clay Silver does not go up when the silver market price goes up.
Creating with Metal Clay
The creative freedom of metal clay is so exciting. I have taught absolute beginners, who have never made anything before, and they have been so thrilled with what they have been able to create.
Artists and artisans have taken metal clay to fantastic places and the range of styles is unlimited.
It’s relatively easy to get started working with metal clay. You just need a few basic tools and your imagination.
While I recommend kiln firing, it can also be fired with a torch or on a gas stove. Some people use camp stoves to fire it. Many people purchase an inexpensive butane torch when they first start out and that is certainly a good beginning.
If you love metal clay, however, and decide to make lots of pieces, a kiln is an excellent investment. As a distributor of Paragon Kilns, I offer excellent prices on kilns which are perfect for both metal clay and fused glass.
The other tools and supplies are, in many cases, things you might already have hanging about the house.
You need a good work surface. I like to use a flexible cutting board. You can get them at discount stores for just a couple of dollars.
You also need a rolling pin (either pvc pipe or acrylic), exacto knife, tissue blade, olive oil, playing cards and textures. There are also special products just for metal clay that are better to use, but for just getting started and trying it out, the above list is sufficient.
You also need metal clay. I sell Art Clay Silver clay, syringes, paste and more at approximately 20-25% below the retail price. You can also find it at many sites online.
Working with Metal Clay
The important thing to remember about metal clay is that it dries quickly. It’s important to work quickly once you open your clay, and always keep the clay you aren’t using wrapped tightly in plastic. It’s good to have a water spritzer to periodically spritz the clay as you go.
Also remember to lubricate. That’s what the olive oil is for. Rub some on your hands, your work surface, your rolling pin and any textures you are going to use. You use the playing cards as thickness guides.
If you go to the Art Clay World website, you will find several tutorials on getting started that have more details on tools, techniques, etc. They also have firing guides and lots of other great information.
I have a tutorial on Squidoo that is specifically about setting fused dichroic glass into metal clay. From that tutorial there are links to other great pages about metal clay.
Selling Your Metal Clay Jewelry
If you’re serious about a jewelry business, I think you’ll find that the addition of metal clay pieces will set your work apart from what other jewelry artists are offering.
Many of my students who have jewelry businesses and were primarily beading have found that their metal clay pieces sell faster and better, and draw a lot of attention at shows and other venues.
Feel free to contact me for assistance in purchasing kilns, metal clay, tools and supplies. If you are in Connecticut, come by the Gallery sometime and I can personally show you lots of examples of finished metal clay pieces.
Author Lis-el Crowley owns and operates Art & Soul Gallery / Studio in Windsor, CT where she showcases her work as well as the work of over 35 local artisans. She creates one-of-a-kind art jewelry using Art Clay Silver, fused glass, sterling silver, beads, stones and chains. She also sells her work through other galleries and shops throughout Connecticut, at shows and in her Heart of the Fire Etsy shop.
Lis-el is also a wholesale distributor of Art Clay Silver, Euro Tools, Paragon Kilns, and other jewelry making tools and supplies, as well as glass for fusing. She teaches a variety of classes and workshops, and enjoys helping others find their way to creative expression and personal success.