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Appliquéd bisque-bead pendant

Discover how to use four types of metal clay — paper, paste, syringe, and lump — to create a detailed but lightweight piece.

SUPPLIES

  • Donut-shaped bisque bead: 40 mm (1 9/16-in.) outside diameter, 10 mm (3/8-in.) inside diameter
  • Fine-silver metal clay:
    • Low-fire paste: less than 10 g
    • Low-fire lump: 10 g
    • Low-fire syringe: less than 5 g
    • Metal clay paper: less than 10 g
  • Lavender oil paste (optional)
  • Baby wipes
  • Sanding tray
  • Stainless steel clay extruder, 5.5 mm (3/16-in.) round disk, 3 mm (1/8-in.) hollow-core adapter disk
  • Acrylic snake roller (optional)
  • Rigid nail file: 180 grit 
  • Paper punches: floral patterns
  • Tweezers
  • Fiber blanket
  • Butane torch (optional)
  • Baking soda

Toolboxes

INSTRUCTIONS

Using a donut-shaped bisque bead as the base of this pendant allows you to create a substantial pendant without the cost and weight associated with solid silver. Bisque beads come in a variety of sizes and shapes, and they allow you to work large while keeping your costs down. You’ll apply base layers of metal clay paste on the bisque bead, extrude a tube for the bail, and embellish the surface of the pendant with metal clay paper and syringe elements. 
 
The crisp floral appliqué designs on the pendant are made using a paper-punch designed for scrapbooking. I used floral-shape punches for my design, but you can use any shapes you want; these punches are available in many shapes, giving you the opportunity to create a variety of patterns.

 

Prepare the bisque bead. Sand the surface of a donut-shaped bisque bead with a small piece of 600-grit wet/dry sandpaper to remove any irregularities. Once the bisque bead is smooth, clean it with a baby wipe, or wash it under running water to remove any dust left from sanding. Let the bead dry completely. Use this sandpaper only for sanding the bisque bead, and throw it away when you are finished to prevent the bisque dust from mixing with the metal clay.

NOTE: Each bisque bead is different; if the surface of the bead is pitted or scratched, sand it with 200- or 400-grit sandpaper, and move through progressively finer grits until you reach 600-grit. 

Prepare your work surface and tools. Lightly coat your hands, flexible Teflon sheet, tissue blade, the inside of a clean stainless steel extruder barrel, the head of the extruder’s plunger, and the 5.5 mm (3/16-in) round extruder disk and 3 mm (1/8-in.) hollow-core extruder disk with olive oil or natural hand balm.

Appliqued bisque bead pendant 1
Photo 1
Paint low-fire silver paste on the bisque bead. Use a flat paintbrush to coat the bisque bead with a thin coat of low-fire silver metal clay paste. Let the metal clay paste dry completely (see the “Metal Clay Dryness” chart). Repeat to apply a total of eight thin coats [PHOTO 1]. 

NOTE: It is easy to lose track of the number of coats you apply since you can’t see how thick the silver coating is. I keep a piece of paper and a fine-tip permanent marker on my bench so I can draw a dot for every coat I apply.

Smooth the pendant. Place a sanding tray on your work surface, and use ultrafine and microfine sanding pads to remove any brush strokes from the surface of the metal clay. Refine the surface further with baby wipes. Don’t remove too much metal clay, or the bisque bead will show through. If that happens, apply more silver paste, let it dry completely, and refine the surface until it’s smooth.
Appliqued bisque bead pendant 2
Photo 2
Extrude a tube of lump metal clay. Rotate the extruder’s T-handle counter clockwise so the plunger recedes. Use your hands, or an acrylic snake roller, to form a thick cylinder of fresh low-fire lump clay that fits easily inside the extruder's barrel. Put the clay inside the barrel [PHOTO 2]. Turn the T-handle clockwise so the clay is pushed to the front of the extruder.
Appliqued bisque bead pendant 3
Photo 3
Set the round extruder disk on top of the hollow-core extruder disk. Place the two disks in the extruder with the tip of the hollow-core disk facing out. Center the hollow-core disk in the round disk [PHOTO 3], and screw on the end-cap to secure the disks in place.  

NOTE: You can make a different size tube, but consider the tube’s final proportions; the hollow-core disk must be wide enough so a rubber cord can run through the finished tube, and the tube’s walls should not be thinner than 1.25 mm (3/64 in.).
Appliqued bisque bead pendant 4
Photo 4
Rotate the T-handle clockwise, and slowly extrude the tube [PHOTO 4]. Allow the clay to move freely as you extrude the tube. Let the tube rest on your work surface.

Cut the tube. Trim the tube to 40 mm (1 9/16 in.) long with a tissue blade. The tube must be a little longer than the desired final size to allow for shaping, sanding, and finishing. Be careful not to close the tube's hole or alter its shape while cutting it. 

Moisten the tube. Dip a paintbrush in water, and lightly moisten all sides of the tube. Let the moisture absorb into the tube for 1–2 minutes.

NOTE: In the meantime, recover any metal clay left in the extruder before it dries, and clean the extruder’s barrel and plunger.
Appliqued bisque bead pendant 5
Photo 5

Shape and smooth the tube. Gently shape the tube around a cylindrical object (I used the metal clay paste container) [PHOTO 5]. Allow the tube to dry completely. 

Use a 180-grit rigid nail file to sand the ends of the tube and reduce it to approximately 35 mm (1 3/8 in.) long.

Appliqued bisque bead pendant 6
Photo 6
Refine the surface of the tube with a soft, flexible nail file or sanding pad. Use progressively finer-grit sanding pads to smooth the surface of the tube [PHOTO 6]. Use paste to fill any gaps or pits in the surface of the tube. Allow the paste to dry completely, and then refine the surface with sanding pads.
Appliqued bisque bead pendant 7
Photo 7

Attach the tube to the bead. Moisten the bead and the tube where they will connect. Apply paste to the join with a paintbrush or clay shaper, and attach the tube to the bead. Apply pressure for a few seconds, and let the clay dry completely.

Using a clay shaper, fill any gaps with moist clay. Shape the join between the tube and donut [PHOTO 7]. Let it dry completely.

Appliqued bisque bead pendant 8
Photo 8

Refine the join. Smooth the join with needle files and sanding pads [PHOTO 8]. Don’t remove too much metal clay.

Once the tube is attached to the bead, decide which side you want to be the back of the pendant.

Appliqued bisque bead pendant 9
Photo 9
Decorate the back of the pendant. Use a damp paintbrush to moisten the back of the pendant. Use low-fire syringe metal clay with a medium tip to decorate the back of the pendant as you desire [PHOTO 9]. Let the clay dry completely, and then turn the bead over.

NOTE: I added a spiral near the tube and three dots stacked in a vertical row opposite the spiral.
Tip!
Metal clay and aluminum: What’s the problem?

When you’re shopping for an extruder, you have a choice between stainless steel and aluminum. I always use a stainless steel extruder when working with silver metal clay; contact with aluminum tools can damage the structure of the silver metal clay, causing it to become brittle, flake, warp, and discolor after firing. If you work with polymer clay as well as metal clay, it’s best to have a separate extruder designated for each medium to avoid contamination.
Appliqued bisque bead pendant 10
Photo 10
Punch out the floral designs. Use paper punches to punch out several shapes from regular paper. Arrange them in different positions and combinations on your pendant until you are happy with your design [PHOTO 10]. Placing one simple shape on top of another simple shape gives them more depth and complexity.
Appliqued bisque bead pendant 11
Photo 11

When you’ve decided which shapes you’re going to use, turn the punch upside down, and punch the desired shapes out of metal clay paper [PHOTO 11]. (I use Art Clay Silver Paper and have not had the same results with PMC Paper.)

NOTE: Turning the punch upside down makes it easier to see where to position the punch so it’s less likely you will make a mistake and waste material. Also, you can use both hands to push down on the punch, giving you more control while using less strength.

Appliqued bisque bead pendant 12
Photo 12
Attach the floral designs. Use a soft-bristle paintbrush to lightly moisten the front of the pendant [PHOTO 12]. 

TIP: It is very important to control the moisture level when working with metal clay paper. Too much water will cause the metal clay paper to deform, crack, or break; too little will not allow the components to bond properly.
 
Carefully lift the metal clay paper shapes with a pair of tweezers, and place the shapes on the lightly moistened surface of the pendant. You may need to add a small amount of paste to obtain a secure bond. 

NOTE: You cannot reposition the metal clay paper after it has touched the moistened surface, so place your shapes carefully. 

Use the side of the tweezers to apply firm pressure on the metal clay paper shapes for a few seconds. Don’t touch the paper shapes with your fingers; you may leave fingerprints on the metal clay paper. 
Appliqued bisque bead pendant 13
Photo 13

NOTE: The side of the tweezers needs to be smooth, otherwise it will texture the metal clay paper.

Repeat to apply all the remaining  metal clay paper shapes [PHOTO 13].

NOTE: Before you attach the metal clay paper shapes to the pendant, you can fire them in the kiln. Then, you can attach them to the pendant with paste. This makes the decorations stronger, and moisture is not an issue while you’re attaching them. 

Conversely, unfired metal clay paper shapes need to be handled very delicately, but I find it easier to attach the paper shapes before they are fired, because they conform to the contour of the bead, and usually only water and pressure are needed to make a secure bond. Choose the method that best suits your preferences and way of working.

Apply the syringe embellishments. Moisten the surface of the pendant where you will place the syringe embellishments. Use syringe metal clay with a small tip to add vines, dots, and flower centers to the pendant. Let the clay dry completely. 

Lightly sand the dry syringe decorations with a microfine sanding pad to make the lines more uniform and defined.

Make sure all the embellishments are securely bonded to the pendant. If necessary, use paste to reattach them, and allow the pendant to dry completely.

Appliqued bisque bead pendant 14
Photo 14

Refine the pendant. Refine the pendant with a microfine sanding pad. It is much easier to smooth the surface before firing than after the silver is fully sintered. 

Fire the pendant. Make sure the piece is completely dry, and place it on a fiber blanket to support its shape. Place the fiber blanket on a kiln shelf [PHOTO 14], and set the shelf into a kiln. 
Fire the pendant in a kiln at full ramp to 1650°F (900°C) and hold for 10 minutes. Firing too long makes the clay shrink a little more around the bisque bead, and is more likely to crack.

Check for gaps. If there are any gaps in the silver paste covering the bisque bead after firing, do not touch the crack. Apply lavender oil paste to the crack, let the paste dry, sand the surface of the pendant, and refire it. 

NOTE: Firing repairs in a kiln is the most reliable method, but it is possible to successfully refire the piece with a torch. It is crucial to heat the entire piece very slowly and evenly. Follow the clay manufacturer’s instructions for torch firing. Cover the pendant with a fiber blanket after torch firing to avoid thermal shock, and allow it to cool completely; don’t quench the pendant in water. Do not use a torch for the first firing; tiny blisters might appear in the metal clay paper. 

When the pendant is completely cool, scrub it with a brass brush under running water with a drop of dishwashing liquid.

Apply a patina. Use a paintbrush to apply  liver of sulfur to the decorations on the pendant. Submerge the pendant in cold water. Repeat as necessary to achieve your desired color. Place the pendant in a solution of water and baking soda, and then rinse it thoroughly in water.

Use sanding pads to remove most of the patina to highlight the details of the embellishments.

Finish the pendant. Use a flex shaft and 3M radial polishing disks to polish the pendant. Use progressively finer grit polishing disks to obtain more shine. Be careful not to damage the embellishments or remove too much silver from the bead. Use a low speed while working on the decorated areas, and don’t remove all of the patina. Polish the pendant with the disks, moving in the same direction, to give the surface an even finish.

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