I feel like a traitor. My love for metal clay is no secret, and when I first started learning traditional metalsmithing, I participated in more than one debate about which was “better” or, more specifically, found myself defending metal clay to more traditional metalsmiths as a “worthy” medium .
And then, from out of nowhere, just last week I said to a friend, “The real beauty of metal clay is in texture. Other than texture, there’s not much you can do with metal clay that you can’t do faster, cheaper, and easier with traditional metal sheet.” Gasp! As soon as I said it, I had a vision of a little metal clay guy looking sad and forlorn. “You too?” he seemed to say. “What about all the other stuff? The FUN stuff?”
Yes, I’d forgotten the fun stuff, the other wonderful qualities of metal clay, like its variety of form (it also comes in paper, veneer, paste, and syringe), its ease of use, its ability to be joined without soldering, and its ability to be carved, among others–plus the one that drew me to it in the first place, its magic.
The Magic of Metal Clay
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying metal sheet isn’t fun, but there’s just something about the combination of playing with metal clay in your hands (like playing with clay or PlayDoh as a child)–and it later resulting in metal jewelry–that is amazing. Rolling and coiling and carving and stamping it, all fun–and don’t forget that metal clay has the playing-with-fire factor, just like metalwork. Sure, metal fabrication has hammering, and hammering’s my favorite, but you can texture and hammer on fired metal clay pieces, too, because they’re real metal after proper firing.
Just about anything that metal sheet can do, metal clay can do, too, and I love to see artists who recognize that and work the combination to their advantage. It’s truly the best of both worlds, allowing for the maximum variety in techniques and skills related to metal.
How to Reclaim and Reconstitute Metal Clay
One thing that metal clay does that metal sheet doesn’t do is dry up, and I found a whole dried-up package on my bench recently. Fortunately we can reconstitute metal clay, and not just as slip–you can turn dried metal clay back into workable metal clay in just a few simple steps. Here’s how.
Whether you’re new to metal clay entirely, a metalsmith wondering about this strange metal form, or an old pro at metal clay looking for a great all-in-one resource, Sue Heaser’s book Metal Clay for Jewelry Makers: A Complete Technique Guide is for you. From the basics of working with and maintaining metal clay and complete firing instructions (torch, kiln and gas stove, for all kinds of clay), to an overview of additional techniques to use with metal clay (resin, enamel, riveting, soldering, polymer clay, glass, and more) and mixing different clays–and so much more–Metal Clay for Jewelry Makers is a thorough guide that belongs in the studio of every metal clay jewelry artist. The handy step-by-step technique to reconstitute metal clay above came from this book, too.
So tell me, what can metal do that metal clay can’t do? What can metal clay do that metal can’t do? And which do you prefer? I’d love to hear in the comments below!