My Metal Clay Gurus: The Value of Joining a Jewelry-Making Guild

 
Linda Folks made this flawless and beautiful dimensional metal clay pendant.
Tammy Jones editor Jewelry Making Daily  
Tammy Jones is the
editor of Jewelry Making Daily.

Monday night I learned to enamel copper clay and tube beads, was invited to a gallery event showing a friend's work, saw dozens of pieces of art jewelry made with metal clay, and got to hang out with some of the most creative ladies in my area . . . all at my local PMC guild meeting.

If you aren't involved in a local jewelry-making guild, either for enamel, beading, lapidaries, metalsmithing, or metal clay like mine, I highly recommend it! It's like girls' night out (at my favorite bead shop) with jewelry-making lessons from fellow members, discussion of what folks are working on and what's working vs what's not, swapping recently discovered metal clay tips and tricks, sharing about social media and selling jewelry online, and lots of friendly and helpful camaraderie. And don't get me started on the talent!

 

Sandra Koeshall's seedpod pendant was cast in metal clay and hangs from a sparkling triple-strand yellow and fuchsia beaded chain necklace.

Okay, okay, I'll tell you about the talent. I mentioned the gallery event, right? It's a juried gallery showing that lasts all year. How wonderful would that be? We also have members who have juried into the prestigious Foothills Craft Guild, many who are metal clay certified and instructors, at least one who is a PMC Guild Certified Artisan and Ambassador, and several who have degrees in arts and jewelry design . . . and on the other hand, we have engineers, mathematicians, and former White House staff!

  Sissy Caldwell says the trick to using beads in metal clay jewelry designs (like her pendant here) is to plan the piece in advance. "I have to think about how I'm going to do the beaded part and how it will attach to the silver before I begin."

Our guild is a wonderfully diverse group bursting with creativity and experience, and I can't tell you how valuable it is to me as a jewelry maker to be part it. Just during this week's meeting, I was able to check off enameling on my list of jewelry techniques to learn this year. (Thank you, Ruth!) Sure, I'll still have to actually MAKE things to know that I've really learned it, but I've had a very detailed and thorough introduction now—for free—and I know just who to go to when I need more help, right here in my own town.

 

Beverly Wagner made this striking two-part necklace that pairs smooth polished metal clay against a piece that is textured and embellished.

When I fire a piece of metal clay and it comes out pitted, I know who to ask what went wrong. (It was probably the gasses escaping from inside the clay, because I might not have worked it enough before firing.) When I'm ready to build a metal clay piece using some combination of bronze, silver, and copper clay, I can contact one of the ladies in my PMC guild for tips on how to fire those three types of metal clay together.

We learn and swap valuable jewelry-making and metal clay tips at each meeting. Just being in the room hearing other guild members talk about what they are working on and what experiments they are trying is helpful and informative, like when to use kiln paper vs when it isn't necessary, what makes their bronze clay fire crumbly and how to achieve the fire scale on copper clay that we've all decided we like instead of avoiding it.

Here are some more of the metal clay jewelry-making tips I've learned from my little group:

 
Gail DeLuca's Love Me Knot slide pendant began as a snake roll of metal clay enhanced with glycerine to minimze cracking and achieve that perfect mirror finish. Great tip!

After I had gotten rusty from not using metal clay for awhile, it was Gail, owner of my favorite bead shop and host of our guild chapter, who reminded me that before forming a piece in my palms, my hands needed some balm to keep the clay from sticking to my skin and drying out—and she gave me the little jar to save all the bits that dried up so I could turn them into metal clay slip and avoid wasting all that metal clay.

Gail also developed a checklist of things to be done before opening a package of clay that she has her students follow in class. She says this tip "ensures that when they open a package of clay, they are working with intention and not letting the clay dry out while they are making preparations and decisions."

 
Kathy Bradley's work, like this pretty stamped and pierced bronze clay pendant, is the reason I can't wait to work with bronze metal clay.

I recently learned that letting bronze metal clay dry slowly and on its own, without a humidifier or mug warmer, etc., for a couple of days (or even four or five days), will make it fire and sinter more consistently. Thank you, Kathy, our resident bronze clay queen!

We were all introduced to metal clay veneer by Becky, a lady in my guild who first discovered it while making metal-clay badges for a hobby group her husband is involved in. It's ideal for casting from found pieces and also for making strong but hollow metal-clay jewelry designs. It stays flexible even when it's dry (until you fire it), so you can pour it into molds and then you can peel it out! It's very versatile.

When making pieces that are intended to be joined together, Beverly recommends rolling out and cutting all of the pieces at once so they'll be the same thickness and dry at the same pace. Then you can go back and work on each piece individually.

 
Ann Lacava's pendant is made from reconstituted metal clay dust cast in maple-tree bark . . . plus magic!

Speaking of little bits of dried-up metal clay . . . Don't forget that it's still silver, after all, and the expense of it aside, it still deserves to be made into something beautiful! This is another lesson I learned from the ladies in my metal clay guild. Ann LaCava, who shares my opinion that metal clay is simply magical, gave me a great idea: She stores her metal clay scraps in a dedicated coffee grinder. "The other day I peeked into the grinder and found LOTS of clay dust.  I was so excited—what should/could/would I make?  On the way into the house from the studio, I found a wonderful piece of bark off my huge maple tree. I rescued it, made a Sculpey mold from it, and remembered my unexpected stash of clay dust. This photo is of my clay dust, reconstituted into workable clay, pressed into the bark mold, with some CZs pressed into it. My Baltic amber beads said they wanted to be a part of this magic, so there they are. Life is simple and beautiful and metal clay helps keep it that way!"

She is such an inspiration! In fact, I'm constantly inspired by all of their talent, awed by their experiences, and impressed with their generosity for sharing and teaching each other, and I wish for all of you to have the same great opportunity.

 

Visit the "local chapters" section of PMCguild.com if you'd like to join (or start) a metal clay guild chapter in your area. You can also get top-notch metal clay instruction and tips in Susan Lewis's Metalwork DVDs, Exploring Metal Clay Basics and Exploring Metal Clay Hollow Forms. And if you need your metal-clay fix right away, you can download the Metal Clay Basics or Metal Clay Hollow Forms DVDs instantly!

Are you part of a metal clay or other jewelry-making guild or club? I'd love to hear about your group in the comments below!

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