Thursday, February 17, 2011

Confused About Metal Clay?



This gorgeous necklace was made by Barbara S Fernald, whose work with metal clay and jewelry I very much admire. She lives on Ilseford, Maine, on small island with a winter population of only about 70 people. Much of her work is inspired by the island, it's beaches and the sea around her. She made all of the large silver beads in this necklace from fine silver metal clay using her own hand made molds and texture plates.

You can see more of her work at her website or her Etsy site. From her website you can follow her blog where Barbara generously shares her work and glimpses of island life. I find her blog a treat and always look forward to hearing about what she's up to.



So what is metal clay, anyway? I often see metal clay referred to as PMC. PMC (Prescious Metal Clay) was developed in the early 1990s by Dr Morikawa of the Mitsubish Matericals Corporation. Technically, PMC is a brand name. There are many brands of metal clays on the market now and many types of materials available, including fine silver, gold, bronze, copper, steel, just to name a few.

What all of these metal clays have in common is that they are composed of very fine microscopic particles of metal suspended in a non-toxic organic binder. This results in a plastic substance that can be molded, carved, shaped, pushed and prodded into many forms and in ways that would be difficult to achieve with traditional metal smithing techniques.

Once formed and dried, all metal clays are 'fired' usually in a kiln but some types can be torch fired. Firing is a little bit of a misnomer too. What happens is that the organic binder burns out and the particles of metal sinter (melt together) to form a final piece that is 100% metal.


This only scratches the very surface of metal clay. It can be a very technical medium, sometimes frustrating, but I always find it exciting to work with. The number of metal clays being developed is growing at a very rapid pace. It can sometimes be hard to keep up with!

There are many, many resources out there if you'd like to know a bit more about working with metal clay. Here's a few that I turn to frequently when I have questions. 







I'd love to hear about what you think of metal clay! If you've got any resources that you really like, let me know. I'll add them to the list.

Many thanks to Barbara for sharing her photos with us.

11 comments:

Alice said...

I love the idea of metal clay and would like to try it sometime. But right now I have so many things that I want to learn, so it will be a while before I get around to using clay to make my own beads.

These are lovely pieces you've shown here!

MaCarroll Beads said...

Thanks for the great information. I've been wanting to try this for a very long time. I've gone as far as getting an order in my cart online, but then felt that I couldn't afford it right then.... since I'm still working on affording my 20 years old daughter while in college.... I hope to be able to take a class on this over the summer. I know there are many similarties to working with porcelain and other earth clays, but I think I would like a little training first :O)

D'Arsie Manzella said...

I love your bronze charms!! I remember finding out about PMC and couldn't believe it was really true. I took a class as soon as I could and fell in love. Now with so many metals to choose from, I would love to experiment with it again. I just found an old dried up piece of silver PMC in my old supplies. It's about 2oz. Any suggestions on what to do with it? Great post!

barbarasfernald.com said...

Thanks LeAnn for a great shout out and a well done post on metal clay. Your work inspires me to try bronze and copper clay again.
xo Barb

SummersStudio said...

D'Arsie, I haven't done this but with, PMC you can grind up the dried up bit and rehydrate with water. I think Barbara actually has a blog post about doing this. It will be more porous when fired than the fresh clay when fired but should still work.

mairedodd said...

metal clay is on my list of 'to trys'... you inspire me with what you are doing each and every time... you can tell how much time and effort you have invested to create the pieces you are making leann - they are beautiful... i believe patty quietly works with it in silver...

Barbara Lewis said...

What a great write-up, LeAnn. Your bronze clay pieces are beast! It's the perfect medium for us clay people ... and others ... of course, we always include others!!! I went to Barbara's website. I love the way she shares her knowledge ... and her husband's Valentine message in red food coloring! LOL

VanBeads said...

That's great information and resources, LeAnn! Thanks for sharing it! I tried a few classes in PMC when it was a relatively new medium, and even though I enjoyed it, I wasn't particularly good at it. I decided to leave it to the people that were good at it - like you! Beautiful pieces in your Etsy shop!

Patty said...

I love Barbara's pieces, LeAnn. I started working with PMC (fine silver) to make my own, one of a kind clasps. I took a class from Kate McKinnon, who teaches construction and full firing (kiln) techniques that produce strong pieces. I highly recommend Kate's Structural Metal Clay book, which can be found on Amazon.com.

Kelli said...

Great post LeAnn!! I've worked with silver PMC and loved it! I need to do more. I'm dying to work in bronze and copper, but that will have to wait until I get my kiln. Hope some of your GORGEOUS dragonflies are for sale!!! I have a show coming up for the National Master Gardeners, and am leaning heavily towards nature, trees, flowers, bugs, birds......

CharmN Jewelry said...

Thanks for introducing me to metal clay...they look awesome and though they have the color properties of metal they have the soft look of clay which is a very good combination.Initial Charms

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