The first time I ever heard about metal clay I was still in school at RISD, and I was really intrigued by it. Metal clay is basically very finely ground up particles of a metal (silver, bronze, copper, gold, steel, etc.) mixed up with an organic binding material and water to create a clay-like consistency. The pieces get fired in a kiln, and all that remains is the pure metal.
Although I majored in Jewelry and Metalsmithing, I took some elective classes in the Ceramics department. I was never very good at making pottery, but I did enjoy playing with the clay and creating small pendant-like objects and tiny sculptures that could be the focal point for a piece of jewelry. I tried my hand at using metal clay once during that period, but having no direction or guidance on using it, along with a lot of work for my classes, I gave up on metal clay for awhile.
It wasn’t until around ten years later, when I found out that a sterling silver clay was now available (sterling being my metal of choice), that I decided to try experimenting with metal clay again. I had the time then to play around with techniques that were new to me, exploring a way to work in metal that was completely unlike the methods we learned in school. This opened up some new possibilities for me, and one day when I was weeding in my herb garden inspiration struck for what is now my favorite jewelry line in my work. I noticed the sturdiness and the deep texture of the veins in sage leaves, and realized how beautifully I could capture these details using metal clay, in a way that I couldn’t achieve in sheet metal.
I picked some leaves of different shapes and sizes, and made molds of them using polymer clay, excited to try out my new ideas. At first I created very simple pendants and earrings consisting of a single leaf hanging, but as I’ve learned more about working with the clay my sage leaf pieces have gotten more sculptural. I began playing around with layering the leaves, and adding stones, settings, and links. Once a metal clay piece is fired it can then be worked with using traditional metalsmithing techniques- soldering, forming, polishing, etc.
I love working with metal clay, it’s a perfect combination of two of my favorite mediums. It will never replace using traditional metalsmithing techniques for me (there’s nothing quite like the feel of sawing or filing through silver, or the excitement when the solder flows just the right way), but the metal clay is a wonderful addition to my work.