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If you have visited our site before, you will be aware of how much we enjoy working with Silver Art Clay. In a previous article, we have explained what it is and how to work with it. In advance of the release of June’s online course videos, where we introduce you to Silver Art Clay for the first time, we have put together a project guide to making a pair of ear rings using this unique and versatile medium. You don’t need much equipment to work with Silver Art Clay at home, indeed most of the things that you will need are probably lying around in your house already. You don’t need to buy big expensive pieces of equipment and your workshop can be quickly assembled on the kitchen table, without forcing your family to eat in the garden. And whilst we use equipment designed specifically for working with Silver Art Clay, as we go through the project, we’ll make suggestions of alternatives you might find at home to use instead.
If you haven’t worked with Silver Art Clay before, or even if you have but you are embarking on something new, it can be a good idea to invest in some cheap modelling clay and practice with that first.
This project is made using a 7 gram pack of Slow Dry Silver Art Clay. Are you ready? Here we go.
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The first things that you will need are a smooth, clean and dry surface to work upon, a playing card will do; some spacers to determine the depth to which you will role your clay, again, playing cards will do for this and something smooth and round to use to role your clay flat, an old piece of plastic piping for example, as long as it’s clean, some oil, some water and some cling film.
As you work with clay, you will inevitably have scraps. These need to be kept moist so as you go along, squash your scraps together, mist them with a little water and tightly wrap them back in the pack and then wrap the pack with cling film to keep your scraps useable for later.
Rub a little oil on your hands, on your work surface and your roller to avoid the clay sticking and then remove the clay from the pack. It is important to work it between your fingers first to ensure that it is free of trapped air that may ‘pop’ later when firing and spoil your piece.
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Now place your clay on your work surface, and use your spacers at even depths on either side to guide your roller as you role your clay, taking care to make sure that it is rolled out to the size and shape of the surface area that you will need for your chosen cutter. The purpose of using spacers is to ensure that the clay is rolled to an even depth all over and next, by removing some but not all of them, we can further roll the piece but also add texture.
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Remove some of your spacers to an even depth at either side and place your chosen texture over the clay. As you can see, we have used a texturing tile but you can use anything to texture clay, that you might have at home, sandpaper or lace are good for giving texture to a piece. When using a texture tile, it is a good idea to rub a little oil onto it to prevent it sticking to the clay and distorting the piece as you remove it.
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Taking care to ensure that the depth is even, use your roller to roll your chosen texture into the clay.
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Carefully peel away your texturing tile and you will be able to see the texture that has been imprinted onto your clay.
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Now we are going to cut our chosen shape from the clay. You can buy specialist cutters for use with Silver Art Clay but there are also a variety of other objects that you can use for the same purpose. Sugar Craft Cutters and children’s modelling clay cutters are good and we have even used a heart shaped pencil sharpener from a Christmas Cracker, just be aware of size as these do trend to be quite big.
Here we are using a circle cutter. A good tip is to look at the pattern in your clay and cut your shape from your preferred section of pattern. Also, with ear rings, it’s important to remember that if you want them to match; you will need to cut your second shape from the same part of the textured pattern.
Place your cutter over the clay, where you want to take your shape from and press down firmly but gently.
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Remove your cutter from the piece, taking care to ensure that you don’t damage the edges of your shape.
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Remove the scrap clay from your work surface making sure that you wrap it carefully to keep it moist and use a craft knife or any other implement with a sharp edge to lift your piece from your work surface. If you have used oil, then it should lift off easily. If you are having difficulties then work around the piece loosening the edges before trying to lift the whole.
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If you have used a large cutter, it is likely that you will have cut only 1 shape from your rolled clay. So now you need to work your left over clay between your fingers to remove any air and work it back into a ball. Now repeat the process of rolling, texturing and cutting to create your second ear ring.
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If your shape was smaller then you will have been able to cut 2 or maybe more shapes from a single roll. Here we have worked our scraps together after cutting out 2 large circles and have cut 2 smaller shapes to use in the same pair of ear rings using exactly the same process as described above.
For this pair of ear rings we have made 2 large textured circles, 2 smaller untextured circles and 2 smaller textured squares.
It will be necessary to have holes in the pieces that we have made so that they can be linked together to form the ear rings. Later, we will do this with a hand drill but if you don’t have one, now is the time to make your holes using a toothpick gently pushed through the wet clay in the place where you want the hole to be in your finished piece.
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Your pieces are now ready to be dried. There are a variety of ways to do this, air dry them over night, or if you are impatient to carry on like we are, then you can use a hair dryer, or 20 minutes in your oven. It is particularly important to ensure that the clay is fully dry to avoid any popping during the firing stage which will damage your piece.
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It is now very important to take care of your pieces, once dried they become quite sensitive to knocks and drops and although broken pieces can be repaired using a little sliver clay paste, known as slip, applied with a brush, if you treat them with care, your dried pieces will be just fine as you continue to work with them to get the finish you want.
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When the clay is dry, but before it is fired, is a good time to work on your piece to achieve the finished look that you want. In particular, look at the edges, any uneven or pointed edges can be smoothed out using a fine grade of sand paper and smooth surfaces can be gently rubbed over to achieve a more satisfactory finish.
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Once you are satisfied that your piece is how you want it to be, it is time to fire it. We use a blow torch, you can also use a kiln. However, at home a kitchen or crème brulee torch will do the job just as well on pieces that weigh 25 grams or less.
Make sure to place your piece on a fire proof surface such as a soldering board. A fire brick is a cheap and easily obtained alternative. Place this on a heat resistant surface, such as your cooker top so that if your piece should roll off whilst still hot it will not damage the surface. We use vermiculate both to support the piece during firing and to prevent it from rolling away. And finally, before you start tie any long hair or loose clothing out of the way.
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Gently heat your piece using your torch. It will initially catch fire but don’t panic, this is normal, as the bonding agent in the clay burns away. As your piece gets hotter it will become peachy in colour. Depending on the weigh of your piece, you will need to maintain this colour for 1 to 2 minutes taking great care not to melt it! If it becomes too hot, the surface will start to take on a shiny liquid like appearance, move the torch away briefly, allowing your piece to cool back to a peachy colour and then point the torch back again.
Allow your piece to cool. Don’t immerse it in water or pickle, just leave it to cool for a few minutes.
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Once cooled, your piece will be white in appearance. Use a brass brush and some running water to polish the surface to reveal the silver.
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If you didn’t make your holes for connecting your pieces together when your clay was wet, now is the time to do it. You will need a centre punch, hammer, finger clamp and hand drill with a 1 mm drill bit.
Place the centre punch on to your piece, where you want to make the hole and gently tap it with the hammer. This will make a small indent in your piece to guide the drill bit through.
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Place your piece in the finger clamp to hold it steady and put the drill bit into the indentation made by the centre punch and drill your hole.
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If you have attended any of our silversmithing or wirework courses or viewed our online wirework course, you will know how to make jump rings. If you don’t want to make your own, they are easily obtained from craft shops and jewellery making suppliers.
Using pliers, open the rings, to the side, never unroll them as it will damage the shape, and slip the ring through the hole in your piece.
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Using your pliers close the jump ring allowing the piece to hang from it.
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To link 2 pieces together, open a jump ring as before and slip both pieces onto the ring using the hole that you have made. Close the ring and your pieces will hang one below the other linked together by the ring.
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Our ear rings have been made by linking the small textured square piece to the large textured circle using a jump ring and then the large circle is linked to the small untextured circle using 2 jump rings, all put together as described above.
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We made our ear wires from 0.7mm sterling silver wire and you can see a demonstration video of how to do this on our website.