Hanging Out with Kate McKinnon, Part 2: Sculptural Metal Clay Genius


It's no secret that Kate McKinnon's books Sculptural Metal Clay Jewelry and Jewelry Architect are two of my favorite craft and jewelry-making books of all time. We've written about her work on Jewelry Making Daily before, sharing metal clay tips and other little pieces of advice from her books, and Karla even interviewed Kate to glean even more of her metal clay brilliance for you. But other than a brief meeting with Kate in Tucson last February, I haven't gotten to just chat with her and ask her the other questions, the fun questions, so I was so happy when she agreed to do an interview with me and you. Here's part two of our Q&A.

6.       I had never heard of fabricating and using traditional metalsmithing techniques on fired metal clay pieces before I discovered your work. How did you discover that technique?

It was just common sense. I remain confused that basic work hardening and the idea of full firing for a deep annealing soak haven't become mainstream ideas and taught in the certification curriculums. How can Tim McCreight let that slip by? He's a metalsmith. Everybody knows that fine silver is not ready for duty after it's been heated to annealing temperature. It has to be work hardened. Full firing and a bit of hammering are how to get there. Tumblers are great for surface polish, but they are like a barrel full of mosquitoes with mosquito hammers. They don't affect internal structure; a tumbler can't harden your ring. I think that the big sellers of metal clay don't want people to fear the process, so they de-emphasize the need for a hammer and a block or anvil, so that people will feel that they can do it without tools. The torch firing is the worst, because no work hardening in the world can make a torch-fired (or under-fired) piece suitable for structural work like ring shanks, clasps, or chain.

Returning Ring from Sculptural
Metal Clay
by Kate McKinnon

7.       Other than creating unique and gorgeous jewelry art, do you have any secret talents?

Oh, yes. I am a Ninja when surprised and am almost unbeatable at board games.

8.       If you couldn't be an author and jewelry designer, what would you be?

If I couldn't write, I couldn't live. But as far as work goes, I think I would choose monk or gardener.


9.   Do you have a beloved piece of jewelry that you wear every day?

My Scott's Dream ring, one of my Meditation Bowl rings, an Amy Johnson Skull Ring, and sometimes my mother's Zuni flower silver and turquoise necklace.

10.   How do you feel about the other metal clays–bronze, gold, copper, steel? Do you use any of them?

No, I don't–I don't quite understand how powder metallurgy could make an alloy. Instead, I'm learning to work with those metals at the bench.

11.   I love your advice that metal clay building techniques are similar to ceramics building techniques; I think that's a very good clue to new metal clay users what sort of work they are getting into. Do you have any other words of wisdom for new metal clay users?

For fine silver, certainly: full firing! 1650°F for two hours, no matter what the packet or the program says. It's the way to get the best metal.

12.   And now my favorite question to ask a new friend or acquaintance: If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be, and why?

A magnolia. It can survive almost anywhere and has spectacular blooms. 

If you missed part one, you can read the rest of my Q&A with Kate McKinnon here. Plus, save 20% on Sculptural Metal Clay Jewelry through Friday, August 12!

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