Flora and fauna

Grow your metal clay repertoire with an array of basic techniques that put sterling silver metal clay through its paces.

 

Flora and fauna 1
Photo 1

When I was asked to teach a class at our local arboretum, I was challenged to create a tree-themed project that would provide an in-depth introduction to metal clay. This project is simple enough for the adventurous beginner, but complex enough that anyone can learn from the experience of textur-ing, molding, sculpting, joining, and drilling metal clay.

Preparation

NOTE: When using different types of clays, thoroughly clean all of your tools to prevent any residue from contaminating the next clay used. Any tools that cannot be cleaned, especially paintbrushes and sanding tools, should be dedicated to a specific type of metal clay.

Make the paste. Place a pea-sized ball of sterling silver metal clay and approximately 1/8-tsp. (0.7 mL) of distilled water in a small airtight container. Use a palette knife to mix the clay and water into a smooth con-sistency, about the thickness of tooth-paste [1]. Seal the container and allow the paste to sit for at least an hour or, if possible, overnight. If the paste seems too thick, add more water.

 
Flora and fauna 2
Photo 2

Choose your twigs. Your design starts with your leaf; choose a twig that’s in pro-portion to the leaf you plan to use. It’s the size that’s important, not the fit; once you’ve molded the twig, you can adjust it to fit the leaf. Choose a twig with a forked end, good texture, and an interesting shape. Select a smaller twig for the ear-rings, or plan to use part of the forked twig mold. Trim the twigs to size.
Mix equal parts of two-part silicone mold-making putty [2] until it is a uniform color.

NOTE: Follow your putty manufacturer’s instructions. Work quickly: For most two-part putties, you’ll have only about a minute to mix and mold the putty. 

 

Flora and fauna 3
Photo 3

Make the twig mold. Make a pancake of the putty that’s thicker than and large enough to fit both twigs. Place the pan-cake on a flexible Teflon sheet or other nonporous surface, and press the twigs into the putty [3]. Allow the putty to cure for the manufacturer’s recommended cure time. Use your fingernail to test the putty to be sure it’s fully cured (your nail shouldn’t leave a dent), then remove the twigs and remove any bark from the mold.

Leaf components

Lubricate your tools. Apply a small amount of olive oil to your hands and an acrylic roller. Do not add too much oil; you should feel the oil, not see it pooling on your hands or tools. 

NOTE: Unlike texture sheets, leaves should lift off of metal clay without being oiled. Test your leaf against the raw clay; if it does stick, oil the clay very lightly where the leaf will be used after you’ve rolled out the clay.

Flora and fauna 4
Photo 4

Make the main leaf. Use the acrylic roller to roll out the remaining sterling silver metal clay on the flexible Teflon sheet to three playing cards thick and at least 1 3⁄4 in. (44 mm) long. Leave the cards in place, and lay the leaf texture-side down onto the clay; make sure it doesn’t overlap onto the cards. If the leaf has a thick center vein, place it so you don’t push the vein through the clay. Roll once over the clay firmly to impress the texture [4].

NOTE: Rolling over the leaf more than once may create a double image.

Flora and fauna 5
Photo 5

Remove the leaf from the clay. Use a flexible tissue blade to trim the clay leaf to your desired size (mine is 11⁄2 in./38 mm long). The flexible blade is useful for making a graceful curve for your leaf shape [5]. If you have chosen a leaf that closely matches the size of your twig, use the twig as a guide. Allow the leaf to dry  completely (See the “Metal Clay Dryness” chart).

Make the bail. Repeat the process to roll and texture the clay for the bail. 

NOTE: I’ve used the same skeleton leaf that I used for the main leaf to texture the bail and earrings, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a spare leaf, just in case.

Cut a narrow leaf shape that’s long enough to accommodate the thickness of a lollipop stick (my bail leaf shape is 1 1/8 in./29 mm long).

Flora and fauna 6
Photo 6

NOTE: Wrap up the unused clay in plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out while you form the bail. As you work, return any trimmed-away or unused wet clay to the plastic to keep it malleable.

Fold the leaf shape over the lollipop stick. Use a fine-tipped paintbrush to brush a little water between the ends of the leaf shape, and gently press the ends together for a few seconds to join them [6]. Set the bail aside to dry completely.

For complete project instructions, click here to download & print this PDF

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