Sunday, May 16, 2010

Let's Talk Metal Clay

Hi, it’s Heather (Bell Denison) a.k.a. Fine Silver Girl here. I will be guest bloggin’ on Sundays. I am one of the metal clay Instructors at BeadFX. I fell in love with metal clay several years ago when I took my first metal clay class at BeadFX with Jennifer Tough.

Since then have spent many hours playing with all types of metal clays and I have become a Senior Certifying Art Clay Instructor. This all means that I have a lot of metal clay experience and tons of information to teach and share. Guess what? I will be sharing that information on this Sunday edition of the Beadful Life. I have a long list of topics to share but feel free to suggest some and I will try to oblige.

Today – Let’s talk Metal Clay:

What is Metal Clay?

Metal clay is made up of fine particles of metal mixed with a binder and water to form a mailable substance. You can roll, texture, build and sculpt with metal clay. Once you have your clay in the shape you want it you dry it and fire it at high temperatures. The firing process causes the binder to burn off and the metal to sinter resulting in solid metal. Sintering is a process that heats the powdered metal to some point below the melting point and causes the metal particles to bond and become solid. Yes the result is Solid METAL.


One of my first pieces made from Art Clay Silver from years ago

There is silver, gold, bronze, copper, steel and even platinum metal clay (platinum is only available in Japan as far as I know). Metal clay was invented in the early '90 Japan. Silver metal clay was the first form of metal clay. There are two main companies that produce silver metal clay Mitsubishi - PMC and Aida Chemicals - Art Clay. Gold clay came about in the early 2000's. Copper, bronze and steel have come about in the past two years from a variety of new metal clay sources. All these clays have different personalities and particularities in handling and firing. The most commonly used and best understood metal clay is silver metal clay so for the rest of this posting I will be referring to silver metal clay

What is it the makes metal clay loved by many?

  1. Metal clay can be textured easily!
  2. Time to create something with metal clay is surprisingly short
  3. You can fire silver metal clay with a handy torch (even most crème brulee torches work!)
  4. Most of the tools you need to work with metal clay you probably already have (for example roller, deck of cards, paint brush, cutting board, cookies cutters......)
  5. Once you know the basic principles of working with metal clay the options for creation are endless.

There are some tricks with metal clay and I find the two main things people struggle with are:
  1. Fear of fire and melting your metal clay (I will cover this one too)
  2. Some types of metal clays will dry quickly especially silver (I will cover this on a later post)

This was a simple introduction to metal clay. I will be posting information for all levels of metal clay enthusiasts from the beginner “I’m afraid to open my pack of clay” to the more advanced “What next ”.

Enjoy your metal clay!!!!!



Canadian Rockies Art - Nathalie Girard said...

Hi Heather,

I'm looking forward to reading your weekly column...

The only thing that bothers me a bit is that it's not often mentioned that it is BETTER to fire metal clay in a kiln for the maximum time possible depending on the components used in creating the piece, for more durability.

Firing metal clay with a creme brulee torch is only good for small pieces, and the sintering is not as good as with using a kiln.

My issue with this type of information is that yes, it may persuade people that want to start making metal clay pieces jump on the bandwagon (with just a small investment, since a kiln is expensive to purchase), but on the other hand, it does not help to convey to potential buyers that this is a very sound material/sturdy that will last a lifetime if treated with care.

Also, saying that it's quick to do a piece - it can be quick if you just roll the clay on a textured surface, but the work does not end there - you have to smooth down and really work on the greenware (unfired clay) for awhile to make sure that the end piece will be of the highest quality of finish possible (no cracks, no sharp edges, etc).

As a fairly new metal clay use myself, but someone who has lots of experience in metalsmithing and making jewelry, I find it a bit upsetting to see an instructor with your kind of background to sort of 'belittle' the amount of work and time that needs to go into making any sturdy piece of metal clay jewelry.

Yes, we can start with quick basic pieces, but for the rest of us who aim to do more elaborate pieces and sell them, instructors such as yourself need to inform the public at large (which includes potential buyers) that it takes time to make beautiful pieces, it takes practice, it takes tools, expensive tools such as a kiln, etc. to create pieces with metal clay.

With the posts about people underpricing their jewelry that was written on this blog here just a week or so ago, your fast and easy description does not help the perception of potential buyers. If it's fast and easy to make, then it can't be expensive.

But metal clay, per ounce of end-metal, is a very expensive product to work with (compared to using sterling silver sheets or wire to create a design).

I hope that you will clarify and demonstrate the 'value' of the work that we artisans put into our creations in your subsequent posts.


The BeadFX Buyer said...

Welcome, Heather. Your first post looks great!

Fine Silver Girl said...


I am very sorry that you were upset by my post.

I think you really misunderstood me. It is too bad.

If you knew me I am very committed to teaching proper technique and skills to work with metal clay.

This post was meant to be a light introduction hitting on the highlights of metal clay.

Yes not all pieces can be torch fired and kiln firing for long temperatures is preferable. I believe that for myself and will touch on this at a later post in detail.
BUT, the joy of metal clay for many people is that is a less intimidating and more accessible way to get into working with metals.
It is possible to torch fire many pieces and when I teach I explain the downside and the issues with torch firng.

This post is not a class.

And this specific POST was to give a brief introduction!!!!!

No belittling intended of any arts.

Again it was a brief intro, a taste of what metal clay is.

If you read the post it said many times that I plan on covering topics and details at a later date!