The top mistakes newbies to metal clay make (and how to avoid making them yourself!)
Updated: Mar 3, 2019
Metal clay is a fantastic medium to use to make jewellery. If you haven't heard of it before you can find out what it is here >
If you have heard of it here are the top mistakes that people new to metal clay make and how to avoid making them yourself!
They open the packet before they know what they’re going to do
Silver clay is best from a just opened packet. Yes, you can add water and rehydrate it but it is easiest to work with fresh. You should plan out what you want to make and have all your tools, textures, cutters etc ready to go before you open up and get started. The beauty of metal clay is that if you don’t like what you’ve made you can squidge it up and start again. If you do that, wrap the clay back up tightly in cling film and put a baby wipe around the cling film to keep it moist while you’re working on your next design.
They look at the metal clays on the market and decide to start with copper clay because it’s cheaper
When I see this on the Facebook groups and forums my heart sinks. I completely understand why people decide to try copper or bronze clay because gram for gram it is much cheaper than silver. BUT! The problem is that the firing of these clays is not yet as easy as firing silver clay. I really think that the manufacturers are working on this and that it will not be the case in the near future (I hope) but right now I see lots of people making in copper then having problems with firing and getting disheartened. My personal opinion is to always start with either Art Clay Silver or PMC. These are very consistent to fire, they can be torch fired with minimal equipment so a kiln is not required. Move up to base metal clays later once you’ve got a kiln.
They throw away dried clay
A benefit of silver clay is that every last bit can be used up. If you make something and you don’t like it you can grind it back up, add water and make it back into clay again. You can see my two minute video here on how to do just that.
When you are filing the edges of your dried clay you can add the silver dust to your paste pot or keep it to make into clay again. You really don’t need to waste anything so keep it all, you’ll be surprised how much is adds up.
They think you can just press gemstones or glass into the clay and fire them in place
I wish this were true! Unfortunately natural stones have natural cuts and fissures in them. When they are heated with a torch or in a kiln the heat expands in these fissures and you risk breaking the stone. The heat can also lead to colour change in some stones.
Happily there are some stones that can be fired and the lovely people at Cool Tools have done extensive testing. You can download a fab free Gemstone Firing Guide from Cool Tools here >
There are also alternate ways to set gemstones after firing.
I recommend my Stone setting in silver clay torch fired techniques online course and Julia Rai’s excellent fancy bezels, prongs and bails in metal clay online course to learn more.
They don’t calculate for shrinkage
In the drying and firing process silver clay can shrink 8-10% (and other clays have different shrinkage rates). For a lot of pieces that’s no problem but for rings that is a bit more tricky to work out as it doesn’t always consistently shrink an even number of ring sizes as that depends on the thickness of the clay.
They don’t know what they’re doing
Now I know I’m a teacher and of course I would say ‘go to a class’ but for silver clay jewellery I think that attending even a taster class for a few hours can really help you accelerate your learning. Silver clay is made of silver and is therefore not a cheap material to experiment with so going along to a class and learning hints, tips and tricks can really save you time and money in the long run.
One of the main issues beginners have is getting the firing right and that comes from experience. You can bypass the need for this experience by finding a good teacher who can help you avoid the mistakes. And if you can make it to a class with me in Edinburgh or London then I'd love to see you!
I personally still love attending masterclasses with other artists; learning how they do things, I always learn a lot more than what is taught in the project.
They give up before they’ve given it a chance
All of the above can mean that people can give up on metal clay too quickly because they get disheartened. It takes us all time to learn any new skill and I promise you that if you are attracted to this material it’s fantastic and it’s worth investing some time and money to get to grips with it.
If you'd like a free metal clay tutorial from me as well as infrequent news about my classes and other musings then please do sign up for my exciting email here >
To read more about working with silver clay take a look at these: