Working With What You've Got (The Cheat Sheet)

In case you missed something, or just didn't make it to my Mojo presentation, here is a recap of everything, as well as a few other things thrown in.

(and yes, it's a bit after the fact, sorry)

Well, better late than never.

 

 

"Chocolate" Curls

Almost exactly like what those fancy chefs do on TV, (I'm looking at you Jacques Torres) you're just shaving off a small layer of clay to create curls.

Start out with a piece of bone dry clay about 1/8-3/16in thick. (12-15cards or 3.2-4.8mm) You can try thinner or thicker, but I get the most success around this thickness.

Start shaving off thin layers by holding your blade almost parallel to the flat edge of the clay. The first few slices will never come out right. (at least they never do for me)

The thinner you slice the more curl you'll get.

 

 

I will say that this technique does require a bit of practice, mostly so you don't end up stabbing yourself, [She says, as she types with one finger in a bandage] but it doesn't take that long to get the hang of it.

One tip is to carve out a ridge that will stop the blade from going any further than where you want, as seen in the photo below.

This technique can also be done with a scalpel blade, though I prefer using the tissue blade myself. Try it out with both if you like and go with whichever you feel more comfortable with.

Just make sure the blade you're using is thin. I do have one tissue blade (the one on the far right) which is much thicker than even the scalpel blade, that I can never get to cut the clay into curls. (Not that I mind though, that blade is more treacherous than going up against a Masamune sword)

For this piece I've just attached them to a piece of fresh clay by applying a thin layer of water to the top of the fresh clay and then pushing the curls in a bit until they were snug. After they were all in place I took a coil roller/clear glass sheet and pressed down on top to make sure they were all uniform.

(You will also note that I drill holes into the backs of my bezel cups. I have no clue if this actually does help with the cups sticking to the clay better during firing, but I've have pretty good luck by doing this so far, so I stick with it. The only time I don't is if the stone I'm using is going to be clear as it will sometimes show through)

Adding patina to the curls helps to bring out all the detail. (and also the fact that I totally rushed setting these stones to get a photograph)

 

 

Granulation

Granulation is another great use of that piece of clay you forget to wrap up and don't feel like completely grinding down to reconstitute. (which happens more often than I'd like to admit)

You can use a blade to cut off little pieces (if you have to do everything the hard way like me) or you can use a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder to grind the pieces down to the size of the grain that would work for your project.

 

 If you are applying the pieces to fresh clay, depending on how dry the clay is you may need to lightly dab some water on, though if it is very fresh you can get away with just gently pressing the grains into the clay.

If you want to apply the grain to clay that is bone dry use a bit of paste to help with the sticking. Also, if you are working on something very detailed or want to make sure that the pieces stick the first time, do not immediately put your piece on a hot plate or in a dehydrator. Let it sit out in the open air for about 10-15 minutes so the moisture in the paste can be absorbed into the grains and the piece before it starts to dry.

Again, this is another technique that a patina really helps to accentuate. Actually, in my opinion any piece with texture looks much better with patina.

Pro Tip: If you pride yourself on making sure that all the jump rings on your work are fused together before any piece leaves the door, but also can't be bothered to fuse, pickle, patina, and polish just for a quick photo shoot, make sure you cover up the ring seam.

(In my defense, this piece never actually left my studio, so I'm good)

 

 

Découpage

(First off, I have to make sure I put l'accent aigu on the E in "Découpage" or my late aunt who taught French for 30 years will be rolling over in her grave)

Anyway, if I make something like these Snowflake Earrings from PMC Paper Clay I always end up with the scraps. I'm not too keen on turning paper clay scraps into clay or paste as it changes the consistency too much.

 

Even though the majority of what I make requires small pieces, I leave all my scraps alone, no matter the size, until I'm ready to work on a piece. (There's a saying here about keeping croûtons in your pantry instead of breadcrumbs so you can always have both on hand, but I don't remember the exact phasing. Besides, croûtons never last more than a couple days around here anyway)

When I do have the plan for my piece laid out (usually after I've run out of croûtons) I can either cut the scraps to size with a blade or even a scissors. You might even be able to rip the pieces too if you prefer that effect.

No matter if it's fresh clay or even bone dry, I'll then brush a bit of water on the piece just near where I want the scrap to go, instead of applying water to the whole piece because it either will dry up before I can finish adding all the scraps or it'll get too messy. The scraps will have a bit of play once you place them, but only a few second before they start to stick. (I don't like to apply the water to the scraps instead of the solid piece because it gets a bit, er, sticky)

After you're done sticking everything on and are happy with how it looks (or even just feel like it will never look exactly as you wanted it to, but this is as good as it's going to get, we've all been there) go over the entire piece one more time with a light coat of water to make sure everything is stuck.

The photo on the left is actually the front of the ring pictured above, it has a 5mm yellow CZ embedded into the ring and I used paper clay as a bezel.

(This is also the only time I ever got to actually wear this ring. Shortly after my mother decided that it was hers and borrowed it, indefinitely)

 

 

 

Very Dry/Crumbly Clay

 

Crumbly or very dry clay can be used to your advantage in multiple ways.

Usually when someone works in clay and sees a dried up piece of clay, like the one pictured to the left, we think that it's just that: dry, crumbly clay.

This is the part where Doc Brown chimes in and says "Marty, you're not thinking forth dimensionally!"

Once it's fired, the clay becomes solid metal. (thank you captain obvious) So if you carve a simple symbol in it and drill a hole for the bail, it starts to look like that was you plan all along.

Besides, just think how much harder something like this would've been to create using "proper metalsmithing techniques."

Another way slightly dryer clay can work to your advantage:

I can't even begin to count the amount of times I wanted to flatten out a coil for one project or another but had to keep adding water to the clay until the edges didn't get all crumbly. Instead why not just embrace it, stamp or carve a few symbols in it, fire it and curls the edges?

You'll end up with a unique scroll pendant that has a bit of texture to it.

(For the record, the Kanji from top to bottom are Fire, Prosperity, and Earth)

"Roads? Where we're going we don't need roads."

(sorry, I'm still in a Back to the Future mood)

I rolled some clay that was on the dryer side onto a road lines texture plate, making sure I rolled a piece bigger than what I wanted the final size to be. (I would only recommend this technique for textures that don't have too much detail) I then peeled it off the texture and set the piece on a hot plate for a few seconds just until the moisture was gone from the surface. Then the piece was easy to break and left a one of a kind edge.

The ring pictured on the right was also dry clay, I just formed it around a ring mandrel, and voilà, it's a rock ring. (splendid!)

And if you've just got clay that won't do anything for you, don't worry, it's still usable. Some of my pieces use what I call "filler clay". (like the box of my Blasting Box Pendant or really all of my Obelisk Necklace) And honestly, they actually end up looking better than if I'd just made them with fresh clay.

 

 

Cutting Straight Lines/Corners

If your piece requires straight lines, it's best to use clay that is slightly dry throughout, even over fresh clay as shown by the photo to the right.

(Please excuse the crudity of this model, I just.....well, now you know why I work in 3D as opposed to 2D)

As someone who makes a lot of industrial pieces with straight lines, this saves me so much time compared to having to sand my lines straight.

 

 

Test Time

 

(I'm not entirely certain how one would take a test while reading an actual cheat sheet, but why not?)

I've touched on this before, those pieces of clay you forget to wrap up so they dry out. But before you do anything with them, why not really look at them and see if they have designs of their own.

Okay, this one is totally a tooth. (it just needs a red bow tie and some shoes) But after watching the Serengeti mini series I'm sort of starting to get elephant too.
Most people will probably see a bunny here. Me? I just see fingerprints that I feel an urge to sand out. ( I told you I like making pieces with clean lines)
This one has and always will be a shark to me. But so many people have also said it looks like a frog. I even had one friend who told me it looked like a fried chicken. (that would totally make sense if you knew him...)

 

 

Dripping in Silver

Here is a great way to use up all that extra paste clay you have because you sand your pieces so much and you just keep throwing the dust into your paste cup.

Oh, that only happens to me? Okay then, just mix up some scraps into a paste that's the consistency of heavy syrup. (just like what cling peaches come in) It's completely up to you whether it's lumpy or smooth, just make sure it fairly thick, but still flows a bit.

This can get a bit messy, so I always like to quickly sketch out a design to help me stay somewhat in the lines. (Salvador Dalí I am not.)

It's never going to come out exactly the shape you start out with, the clay does flow a bit during the process, but that's what makes it special.

Take a VERY lightly oiled coil roller (or in my case a piece of glass from an old picture frame) and place it on a slight slant. I find that my 8 card thick clay slat works well.

You can then either use a paint brush to dab the clay onto the coil roller/glass, or even put the paste into a syringe (if you didn't go recycle crazy and recycle all your spare empty syringes) and quickly squeeze it out into the shape.

Remember that it is paste and will dry very thin so you have to use a pretty thick layer of paste. You can even try doing more than one coat, but personally I never seem to like how those come out.

These are best left to air dry as speeding up the drying process won't give the paste enough time to flow down.

Once it's dry, make sure you have your Solderite board or whatever you will be firing the piece on close by because these are quite fragile until they are fired. So gently use your fingers or even a tissue blade to remove the drips from the glass/coil roller.

This is also one of the few times I won't even attempt to drill holes for the chain into the piece until after it's fired.

Don't be surprised if you end up liking the back side more than the front, that's actually happened to me a couple times.

The front is on the top and the back is on the bottom.

(ah, my old green photo background. From when I had no clue how to photograph anything. Oh, who am I kidding? I still know nothing)

 

 

Making your own Flexible Clay

There are dozens of different methods online about making your own flexible clay. Most I've seen either involve precise measurements, which never seem to work; or require you to pretty much make a mess. (yeah, I'm not doing that.) This method requires none of those, just your eyeballs, a roller, and whatever tool you use to measure playing card thickness.

 

First take out as much clay as you'll need for your project. Here I'm using PMC 3. (having it look like Pac-Man is not required, but let's be honest, it's more fun and it also ties into the Rorschach aspect)

Roll out the clay 4 cards thick if you don't require that much flex, or 3 cards thick if you would like it to be more flexible. Apply a thin coat of glycerin to the top of the clay. (the clay in the photo only has it on the left side to give you an idea of what it will looks like) Then you can either knead it into the clay with your hand, or you can use the fold, rotate, and roll method to incorporate the glycerin into the clay.

If you need your clay super flexible, like I did for the woven part of this ponytail holder, you can roll the clay down to 3 cards thick and add glycerin twice. (personally I wouldn't go much past trying it 3 times as the glycerin does start to make the clay crumbly)

Another way I like using glycerin clay is for cutting out detailed shapes. After the clay is mixed I roll out a slab however thick I need and let it dry. This takes about the same time as straight metal clay, unlike PMC Flex that takes forever. (seriously, paint dries faster. When it's humid) I then draw the shape lightly with pencil and use a scalpel blade to cut it out. The glycerin makes it cut quite nicely.

You can then either leave the shapes as is, though I always seem to back them. To use a textured back I'll cut my shape out first, then roll the textured clay out, add a bit of water onto the back of the cut shape and press it firmly into the texture before it starts to dry.

And because it's still flexible clay you can even use this technique for rounded things like rings, or my ponytail holders.

 

 

One of a Kind Texture

Much like.......uh, something that's never the same thing twice, the outcome on this technique is never the same, well, you know.

Gather up some metal clay filings to the center of your work surface. Here I'm using a solid, non-stick clay board, but as I found out preparing for Mojo, the best thing to do is tape a Teflon sheet down to your work surface.

Add a few drops of water, then roll the clay out a few times with your roller. Add a few more drops of water and continue rolling and adding water until everything starts to get sticky. (the goal here is to get the clay slightly beyond the moisture level of reconstitution, but not yet at the paste stage)

You can see in the photo on the left that the texture is bigger on the sides than in the middle. This is because the middle was a bit more saturated than the sides. You can keep rolling to better distribute the water, but keep in mind that with every pass of the roller...
...the texture is completely different. You could probably play around with it for a while before it starts to dry up, but I always find myself becoming too attached by my 3rd of 4th pass once it's at the consistency I'm looking for.

Once I've settled on the texture I then use a scraper to take away some of the excess clay from the areas I KNOW I won't be using to make it easier to work with later.

At this point, if you've learned from my years of doing things the hard way, you can take your Teflon sheet off your work surface and set it aside to air dry. (I've never actually tried using a hotplate or dehydrator to speed up the drying time, because as I've said, up until Mojo I was doing this right on my non-stick work surface and then just kind of sitting around 'til it dried)

Once it's dry, you can roll the Teflon sheet away from your texture and it'll come right off.

Or, if for some strange reason you've decided to go the solid surface route like me (why? just why?) you can then use a tissue blade and gently start peeling the piece away from the board starting at the corners and working your way in.

Despite being incredibly thin, they still have a bit a durability to them. Not so much that I would fire them on there own without a few card's thickness for backing, ("filler clay" works great here too) but I haven't lost nearly as many as these to being a klutz as I have lost drippy designs.

To back them, I roll out clay to a thickness I like, (I usually go 4-6 cards thick, but I like my pieces on the heavier side) brush on a light coat of water to the backing clay and then gently press the texture down. This will work with bone dry backing clay as well, you just need a bit more water. (maybe 2 coats instead of 1)

This is the photo I couldn't get to load at Mojo!>>>>

(Wait, you can see it, right?)

 

Depending on which way I position it and how I patina at the end, I can either have a lightning texture or a winter woods design.

I guess you could really position it any way you like to suit your needs, I just stick with these two.

 

 

Quick Tool Tips

 

Yes, I'm going to rant about Toilet Paper again. The poor thing has a bad rap and gets sequestered to only one room in the house, but it really does have a hundred uses. (and hey, if palentologists use it on their dig, real or not, that's gotta count for something right?)

The next time you open a new package, leave a roll at your metal clay workspace. You'll be amazed how handy it really is.

On occasion I've even used a roll in place of a tripod for resting my camera on while photographing some of my work. It's actually more stable.

Thanks to Anna Mazoń I think a lot of us now have scalpel blades in our tool kit. Over the years I've come to discover that 10a blades are my favorite. But by all means go with what you feel most comfortable with.

These are the polymer balls I store with my clay to keep it hydrated. They start out super small, but once you put them in water for a few hours they absorb over 100 times their weight in water. They are available online and in the floral aisle of most craft stores. (they aren't that expensive but always remember to bring a coupon)

 

 

Hopefully my presentation, and/or this cheat sheet, has gotten you to ponder beyond the polyhedron (the phrase "think outside the box" doesn't really listen to itself, does it?) and you will not only be able to use some of these techniques in your new pieces, but you'll also be able to come up with some of your own ideas too.
Now go do, that voodoo, that you do,
SOOOOOOO WE-EELLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!