I've been having so much fun working with silver metal clay lately.
Silver metal clay, also known as precious metal clay or pmc, is an amazing material. It's silver particles suspended in an organic binder. When it's fired, all the binder burns off and what's left is pure silver. There are several different kinds of silver metal clay. It's also available in other metals like brass, bronze and even gold. Each one shrinks a different amount during firing. The one I use, pmc flex, shrinks 10%.
A raw piece of clay weighs more than it looks like it would and it has a silky smooth texture. Using tiny tools, you can roll it, shape it and texture it. It's very much like working with the clay you would make pottery from. The clay dries fairly quickly. Once it's dry, it can be sanded and carved. Pieces can be moistened and joined using slip. After firing it can be worked using traditional silver working techniques.
I use silver metal clay to make many of my own pendant bails, dangles for pendants and earrings and decorative caps. I attach the caps to the beads with a silver tube that is riveted using a special riveting press. I love being able to design my own jewelry components and add another decorative touch.
I often use Play-Doh to explore design ideas and work out design challenges. Silver metal clay is relatively expensive and doesn't like to be overworked. It's more fun and less stressful if I already have a pretty good idea of what I'm going to make when I pick up the clay.
I recently made a glass cabochon and when I sat down to design a piece of jewelry, it made me think of a turtle shell. I played around with it for a while and came up with a design I thought would work.
After practicing several times and writing down the steps for myself to follow, I felt mostly confident I could make it in silver clay. At that point I'd already put so much time into it, I felt like I had to make it just to see how it would turn out!
I'd never made anything so sculptural before. Even though I remembered to put some holes in his shell for the hot air to escape and prevent him from exploding, I was still really nervous about what might happen in the kiln. Unexpected things happen and it really sucks to work on something only to have it ruined in the kiln. I try to not get attached but this time it was hard.
I was SO relieved when I opened the kiln and he was in one piece. The silver reacted with the white glass and made a new color in places. Luckily it was somewhat symmetrical and works for a turtle shell.
Here's what he looked like after taking a spin in the tumbler with stainless steel shot to shine him up, a liver of sulfer bath to darken his details and a massage with a polishing cloth to make his raised parts shiny again.
One of my favorite things about this turtle is, when you're wearing him and look down, you can see his subtle smile. For some reason this makes me really happy. I'm kinda surprised I even made a turtle, and I'm even more surprised I like him so much!