Sunday, July 6, 2008

Silver Bells and Cockle Shells

Clay Revolutions

Silver metal clay goes through several state changes before it reaches the final look. This photo is the work I created in the one-day workshop class, in this photo it is partially dried and preparing for firing.

The moisture has gone out of the clay for the most part, it's no longer flexible but at this stage is very fragile. It's sitting on a clear sheet, ready to go into a plastic shoe box with a lid for transporting back to my studio to be put into the kiln.

Some people refer to this stage of the clay before firing as greenware. It's a ceramic term used for clay that is dry but not fired. Before it goes into the kiln for firing it's best for it to be completely dry, or bone dry, to avoid warping during the firing process.

When working with the clay during shaping, texturing and cutting, it's really important to minimize the handling of the silver metal clay to keep it moist and workable. It dries fairly quickly, so having all the materials and tools ready and working quickly is really important. No pressure - but work fast!

The same kiln I use for firing glass is useful for firing silver metal clay, it is programmable and makes the firing very hands-off and easy.

Here are some photos of the same pieces after coming out of the kiln firing. They haven't been patinaed or tumbled yet. Yes, they are fired and solid silver pieces.

They don't really look like silver yet, do they?

When the fired silver metal clay comes out of the kiln, at first it looks oddly bright white in color, not the metallic silver color that is common on silver. That's because the silver surface has oxidized, and is reflecting back all the colors in the light, and that makes it look completely white.

These photos show the metal clay pieces after firing and quenching, and totally brilliant white in color. It's startling to see the metal without its usual reflectivity and color.

The little box shape was built in slabs and assembled, it has a lid with a hole in it but is open on the bottom for possible chain dangles or ornaments coming out of the box.
There are several ways to give the silver its usual color. It can be gently brushed with a brass or steel wire brush, to give it a satin finish. It can be burnished with a metal burnishing tool, to highlight the upper parts with a shiny sleek surface. Or it can be tumbled with steel shot, to give it a shiny silver appearance. And patina (usually liver of sulphur) is applied, to age and color the surface.

What a difference the patina and tumbling makes in the way these pieces look.

The circle shapes can be used with chain. These were fired and can be combined later with unfired links to make a series of joined links and re-fired to join them. The long flat piece with the holes will be wrapped around a ring mandrel to make a ring shank, possibly with a lampwork bead in it, or another unit made from silver metal clay suspended in the holes.

Also made a silver headpin with an ornament on it, a toggle bar to use with chain, and some charms and dangles to use in combination with the other pieces.

It was inspiring to make the units and components without a final plan, just to have the links, charms and dangles to put together later. All of the pieces need to be work hardened so they will be sturdy to use in giving structure to the finished jewelry, and be able to hold up during wearing.

The amount of detail in the silver is amazing and beautiful, after applying the patina and tumbling overnight, this is the look of the silver. The patina in the crevices emphasizes the designs in the silver, and tumbling polishes off the silver oxides and burnishes the surface of the silver. When these pieces went into the tumbler they were very, very dark from the patina, and after tumbling overnight this is the shiny silver surface.

They can have more patina applied now, or the high points can be burnished with a tool to make them super shiny so they show up really well against the dark patina.

Because the silver metal clay shrinks some while it is drying, and shrinks more during the firing process, the detail also gets smaller and more refined, and looks tiny and yet still intricate. It's really beautiful.

The little box had a heavy texture in the silver metal, and when first fired that was almost invisible without the patina in the recessed areas. With the patina and after tumbling, the little box is a shiny brilliant silver color, but with all the detail intact and very visible.

The texture on the lid of the box is tiny leaves, when seen from above it looks like a roof covered with leaves after a rain, all in miniature.

Couldn't wait ... I wanted to wear the box right away, so I put a quick wire twist put on it to slip it onto a faceted ball chain to wear as a necklace. I've been wearing it the last couple of days on this temporary hanger combined with one of my fused glass heart charms. It jingles on the chain, making a tiny ringing sound like a miniature bell. Very fun! My own tiny ringing bell around my neck!

I also want to use some links, especially the smaller ones in front, together with fine silver fused wire links. The small links in the chain won't have to be fused because they will already be silver links! Also think some of the small links would be great as dangles on earrings, very lightweight but shiny silver.

The class was creative and inspiring and I love the results. I have some more silver metal clay to use to make some more units and components in the studio, especially toggles and clasps for use in jewelry designs.

Want to make some more tiny boxes like this one, and charms for bracelets! Hope you enjoyed the posts about the class and the silver metal clay. What do you think about the results?

Write me a comment on how you think you would use the round circle components, I'll give away two of them based on a random drawing from the comments on this blog entry! Can't wait to hear what you might do with these silver links!

The winner will be announced next Saturday ...


Lorelei said...

I think they turned out fabulous! It looks like a lot of work though. Not something I have patience for. I give you loads of credit! Everything is really beautiful! Love how you paired the metal clay pendant with the other little handmade charm.
I love using circle links as toggles. That's probably what I would do with it. Or possibly use it as a focal and hang a pendant from it.

j.p. said...

I was wondering if there was any shrinkage, and there you answered my question before I asked! I don't understand the tumbling. I know jewelry makers do this so it will be hardened, but it seems like it would be a wreck afterward. Maybe because I work in clay! Your pieces are beautiful, such detail. The first thing I thought about when I saw the circles was a bracelet. Maybe one as a focal piece, with various chains mixed as the bracelet, or linking several circles to make the bracelet.

kate mckinnon said...

J.P. , the tumbling is done with the finished, fired metal, so it doesn't mind any more than your keyring would. It just polishes it up.

Lynn, what a nice review of our class. I really enjoyed it. Just a note on your ring shank- it's best to bend it around the ring mandrel before any tumbling takes place, because you want the strip to be dead soft when you go to bend it. You may want to anneal it with a flame and bend it, and then redo the patina and tumbling.


Steffie said...

Love what you are doing with the knowledge from the class! I am so jealous, I just couldn't do it this time.

I am big into circles right now, I seem to be buying them whenever possible. I would make earrings. Or use it in a pendant design...depending on the size.

LLYYNN said...

Kate, thanks for the extra information about the ring shank, I will definitely anneal again before bending around the ring mandrel. I will have to borrow or buy a ring mandrel first, though ... I need one anyway. Can you ever have enough tools? I say "NEVER" and keep getting more.

Thanks for dropping by the blog, Kate. It was a super class, we all got so much done in one day!

LLYYNN said...

Hi, Steffie, I'm sorry you couldn't do the class this time. Wish everyone could have been there!