Polymer Clay and Metalsmithing: Make Bright, Fun Tab-Set Pendants

Here’s a fun project by our guest blogger and jewelry maker, Laurel Nathanson. I love the brightly colored pop-art, comic-book feel of these pieces, as well as the combo of metal and polymer clay. I really enjoy seeing how jewelry designers continue to find next-level ways to use “crafty” polymer clay in art jewelry!

Just in time for summer break, this is a great jewelry-making project for kids to enjoy with a parent or guardian. The kiddos can make the polymer clay pebbles (older kids might even design their own back plate), and a grown-up can do the annealing, sawing, and filing. Here’s how to make them.

Make Tab-Set Polymer Clay Pebble Pendants

By Laurel Nathanson

We all know that working in polymer clay is a potentially very technical art form. True polymer clay masters spend a significant amount of time conditioning their clay, blending colors, and painstakingly building up their canes. I love the colors and possibilities of polymer clay, but I for one require immediate gratification. My cool textured pebbles will give you the freedom to work quickly and spontaneously with fun, original results.

polymer clay pebbles by Laurel Nathanson

Unlike most polymer artists, I work with Sculpey 3. The colors are bright, and it is the softest of the clays so you don’t have to spend a lot of time conditioning it. Did I mention it comes in neon pink?

Materials:

polymer clay
leather, metal, or rubber stamps
20- or 22-gauge copper sheet
metal files
sand paper or wet/dry sanding pad
steel wool
patina and pigments of choice
paint brush or other applicators
jeweler’s saw and blades
jump rings and other findings
marker
rubber mallet
torch of choice for annealing metal
pickle pot
quench water bowl
plastic-tipped needle-nose pliers
hole punch for metal

leather stamps to polymer clay pebble pendants by Laurel Nathanson

Making the Polymer Clay Pebbles

My secret texturing tools for these pebbles are leather working stamps. They come in a variety of different images and designs that allow you to create mini narratives in the clay. You can find tons of leather stamps on eBay. I also use metal stamps.

Editor’s note: Whether you use leather, metal, or rubber stamps, be sure to use the proper release agents to prevent sticking.

 

polymer clay pebble pendants by Laurel Nathanson

The best way for me to make the pebble shapes is to not look when forming it. I really like irregular pebble shapes, but you can make any shape you want. Once I have a shape I like, I gently press my stamp into the clay.

polymer clay pebble pendants by Laurel Nathanson: stamp in polymer clay

If you find the stamp sticky when removing it, you can try using a bit of cooking oil on the stamp face before imprinting.

After imprinting, bake your clay according to the package directions and allow to cool.

polymer clay pebble pendants by Laurel Nathanson: add ink in stamped impressions

Adding Pigments to the Clay

Once your polymer pebbles have cooled, you can add pigments to bring out the impressions and textures. I have fallen in love with Vintaj Patina. They come in a variety of colors and are very permanent. I paint the pigment all over the stamped impression, let it dry completely, and then use a very fine wet/dry sanding pad to rub the pigment off of the surface of the pebble, allowing the color to remain in the impressions. If you don’t have a sanding pad, you can use 400-grit wet/dry sandpaper.

Making the Tab-Set Back Plate

Once the pebble is completed, it’s time to make the setting for it. I use 20- to 22-gauge copper sheet. Trace the pebble onto the copper, and then draw the tabbed shape around the tracing. The length of the tabs is contingent upon the thickness of your pebble. Don’t make the tabs too short or they won’t be long enough to hold the pebble in place. You can always cut them down if they are too long.

polymer clay pebble pendants by Laurel Nathanson: make the back plates

You can get creative with the setting’s shape and explore lots of different tab possibilities. Don’t forget to create holes for jump rings or any other way you come up with to make the piece wearable. For example, you can leave an additional “tab” at the top and roll it into a tube-shaped bail that a cord or chain can slide through.

When your setting design is complete, use a jeweler’s saw to cut out your shape. Clean up the metal edges with a variety of files, steel wool, etc.; then it’s time to anneal and pickle.

polymer clay pebble pendants by Laurel Nathanson: anneal the metal

After pickling, I use liver of sulfur to add patina. Once the piece is very dark, I use pumice or steel wool to rub back the patina to make the piece look antiqued.

polymer clay pebble pendants by Laurel Nathanson: fold over tabs

Setting the Pebble

Use a pair of plastic-tipped needle-nose pliers to bend your tabs over your pebble. I also hammer gently with a plastic mallet to get the tabs nice and snug against the pebble.

Add your jump rings and chain or cord, and you now have an extra cool narrative necklace. What stories will you tell?

Laurel

About the designer: Laurel Nathanson is an artist, metalsmith, and high school shop teacher. Her jewelry line, Sugarcoat, combines her roots as a jeweler with her passion for pattern and surface design. She lives in a purple house in Oakland, California, with her beloved Bichons, Bonnie and Bailey. Learn more about Laurel and see her work on her website, jewelry shop, and Facebook page. Laurel is also the creative mind behind these popular tutorials:

Make Square Rings Out of Copper Pipe

Make Hoop Earrings and Trapeze Earrings with Colorful Beads

Learn to Make Acrylic (Plexiglas) Jewelry

Make Riveted Bead Stack Rings to Show Off Your Favorite Gemstone or Glass Beads

 


Learn more about using polymer clay for jewelry making with Christi Friesen’s polymer clay workshops. Also check out some of Laurel’s other colorful project tutorials.

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