As mentioned in my last post, I was about to start tinkering with precious metal clay – copper clay specifically. I have resisted somewhat so far for a few reasons; firstly, I wanted to ensure I’d already got a good grasp of basic metalwork before I went off on that particular tangent, I felt it was important for me to understand metal fairly well in order to get the best from it.
Secondly, I felt the silver clays were too expensive to just tinker with and until recently, copper clay, which I felt would work well alongside my other work, could only be kiln fired – and that wasn’t going to be practical just to try it out.
But when I saw a new copper clay on the market that could be torch fired, it felt like a good time to at least give it a try. I already had a series of designs and ideas in my sketch book, as well as components to supplement other work that I just couldn’t buy or easily make by other methods. So I hoped that it would work as well as the ideas I had in my mind and having never even touched any PMC before, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect and although I’d done a lot of reading, planning and thinking, I did open the packet for the first time with a few little butterflies in my tummy.
I perhaps should have started with a few simple shapes or test pieces, but I had so many ideas filling my head, that I just dived in on working on something from the outset – I think I personally learn best and am most productive when I actually make something proper that I fully expect to finish and to work properly.
It proved to be a very steep learning curve, from how quickly the clay dries, to how brittle and easily damaged it is in clay form and how long it takes to fire and sinter properly and how bloody hard it is to get the firescale off! Funnily enough, some pieces come clean with the first dunk in hot pickle, others resist everything from repeated pickling, tumbling and wire brushing and had to be hand polished clean.
The oxidisation process is a little different too – I’ve oxidised and antiqued very many pieces of copper – but the PMC doesn’t take it evenly, or darkly and the LoS solution goes cloudy and pink making it hard to even find small pieces in it. And some pieces were almost polished clean again after a quick tumble. So that part clearly needs more thought too – having thought that I’d settled on a very reliable method that always gave good results, clearly PMC copper will need a slightly different technique from raw metal.
I absolutely love working with it – it’s nowhere near as messy as I was expecting, having seen many illustrated tutorials where the copper clay artist illustrated had stained brown fingers and all their tools were stained and messy too. I found it much cleaner than I was anticipating and it didn’t even really stick much to anything other than itself – it worked very much like polymer clay, but needs to be worked quickly. I found that for the most part, I didn’t need to add any sort of release to my tools.
I like that I can refine the shapes at the clay stage and get it close to a finished surface with much less effort than with the finished metal. I like that I can either just roll it back up and start over if it doesn’t work, or grind it up and reconstitute it if I don’t like it once dried – so there’s much less wastage than other techniques. It drills and carves easily when dry and I’m really looking forward to putting some of my design ideas into practice. I’m already delighted with how it’s worked and can’t wait to make some more pieces.
These earrings are perhaps my favourite finished piece – I made the undulating textured washers specifically for a design I had already made other polymer clay components for, but when fiddling with them to see how else I could use them, I loved how they looked with these Carnelian faceted rondelles, so I’ll need to make some more for my other project.
The one thing that I’m not entirely happy with is that it doesn’t photograph well. The clay-like texture persists on the surface a little, even after firing and polishing. When seeing even highly polished pieces in photographs, little speckles of texture dominate every surface, especially when seen on-screen so much larger than life-size – as tends to be the case when showing jewellery items in photographs. I was very happy with the finish I got in some of the pieces after a little polishing, some before and some after firing, yet was bitterly disappointed with how they looked in the photographs, so this might need a different approach too. So very much to learn, but it will be a lot of fun to do so.