Metal Clay Magic: Flexible Textures and Easy Stone Settings

Tammy Jones editor Jewelry Making Daily
Tammy Jones is
the editor of Jewelry Making  Daily.

I'll never forget when I first discovered metal clay, about eight years ago at a craft trade show. As the demo artist was working it, firing it and, most miraculously, burnishing it to a brilliant shine, I remember tuning out briefly and wondering why everyone on the floor wasn't buzzing about her honest-to-goodness magic show.

   
Becky Arrants relied on metal clay veneer to
fill the details of her hand-carved mold and
make this badge for members of her
husband's antique-rifle shooting club.

Even now, after so many years of working with metal clay, I still think it's magic, and it just keeps getting better! The creation of bronze, copper, and steel clays, in addition to the early silver and gold clays, have opened up even more design possibilities and attracted new jewelry artists. New varieties of metal clay—including torch-fired, sheet, and syringe—have made it more versatile and more accessible to more kinds of jewelry designers.

Metal Clay Veneer
Just when I thought metal clay couldn't get much better, I was introduced to metal clay veneer by a lady in my local PMC guild, who discovered metal clay veneer when she needed to fill a detailed mold. My mind was immediately abuzz with new ways metal clay veneer would allow me to use my already-favorite medium.

Metal clay veneer is created by mixing the veneer solution with fine pieces (as fine as possible to minimize bubbles) of metal clay (such as PMC3). To me, it seems like a cross between metal clay sheet and metal clay slip or paste. It has the relative ease of use that metal clay sheet has, but it's flexible and has the versatility of metal clay slip or paste—plus it's generally thicker than slip, making certain designs easier to produce.

 
One of the first PMC pieces I made, this ring
was an ideal candidate for metal clay veneer
because it was cast in a detailed antique button.

 

Detailed, Nature-Inspired Designs
Metal clay veneer is ideal for creating fluid, liquid-looking designs that have the appearance of melting, dripping, or splattering. It's also ideal for intricate details and natural designs because it can pick up textures from leaves, bark, stones, etc., just like metal clay slip and paste would—but it's easier to use because it's thicker and you don't have to apply layer upon layer, waiting for it to dry between layers. Plus, when it's dry, it's flexible like a thin rubbery fabric sheet, which allows you to bend, fold, curl, and ruffle it. Imagine a realistic leaf, curled up to resemble the original; a hand-braided rope necklace or bracelet with a dramatic knot for a focal point; a realistic silver rendition of any peculiar, beautiful little tidbit you find on a walk through the forest or on the beach . . . . Metal clay encourages jewelry designers to look at the world in a new way, seeing beauty in the patterns and textures of nature—and metal clay veneer helps you re-create that beauty in your designs.

 

Easy Metal Clay Stone Setting
If you've worked with metal clay in the past, you probably know the gemstone dilemma. Many gemstones cannot be fired in place because their natural internal characteristics or treatments they’ve received make them sensitive to heat. Quite a bit of research has been done on which genuine gemstones can be safely fired in metal clay, but even with that research, it's a gamble.

   
In her Exploring Metal Clay Basics DVD, Susan 
J. Lewis shows how to build a metal clay bezel
and set a gemstone in it that can be fired safely.

Because no two stones are alike, especially due to internal characteristics and treatments, what might have worked several times for one person might not work for you with your particular gemstone, even if it's the same type. If that's the case, once you find out, it's probably too late—your gemstone is ruined after firing and, most likely, your metal clay design is, too. Metal clay veneer can help you avoid that heartbreak. You can use it to create a simple bezel cup in your metal clay design and fire it with a substitute stone in place; after firing, just remove the stunt-double stone and replace it with your gem.

More Metal Clay Veneer Perks
If you aren't hooked already, other appealing characteristics of metal clay veneer include that it:

  • only shrinks about 10 to 12%
  • stays flexible (and slightly stretchy) indefinitely in a sealed plastic bag
  • releases itself from molds without any sprays, balms, or other release agents
  • works like slip to attach a veneer piece to a regular metal clay piece (but always store them separately)
  • is pourable, so it fills in detailed textures well
  • can be applied to ceramics, glass, and other metals
  • creates flexible ropes when squeezed out of a syringe and dried that can be knotted or braided
 

After firing, you have strong, textured pure silver sheets, though they can be quite thin if you choose. Metal clay veneer sheets can be cut with scissors or bent with your fingers and take silversmithing techniques well. What's not to love, right? The possibilities are inspiring. How would you use metal clay veneer in your jewelry designs? If you use it already, how do you like it? I'd love to read your experiences in the comments below.

New to Metal Clay?
I get excited when I hear someone say, "Metal clay? What's that?" I love introducing new jewelry makers to it. A great place to start is Susan J. Lewis's DVD, Exploring Metal Clay Basics. It features 75 minutes worth of smart tips about metal-clay-specific topics such as shrinkage and sizing, plus classroom-worthy techniques such as making a bezel and setting a stone in it, making it an ideal resource for a jewelry maker ready to explore the magic of metal clay . . . and then you can try the veneer!

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.