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Silver Palette Necklace Tutorial – Part 3

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Now I’m going to use another method of working with silver entirely.  No artist’s palette can be complete with paintbrushes, and to make these I’m going to use metal clay.  Metal clay is a relatively new material in the world of metalworking and first came out under the brand name of PMC (Precious Metal Clay) in 1990 from Japan.  It consists of metal particles held within a binder.  When the piece is heated the binder burns off and leaves behind solid fine silver.  You can now also buy ACS or Art Clay Silver.

You can manipulate metal clay just as you would normal clay, creating fine intricate forms in 3D if you wish.  It’s a cliché, but the limit is really only your imagination.



To use PMC, I recommend buying a starter kit from Cookson Gold or elsewhere as I did originally.  For this tutorial all you will need is some PMC, a teflon mat to prevent the PMC sticking, an agate burnishing tool, some fine sandpaper and a rubber ‘shaping’ tool.


PMC paintbrushes


Take a small piece of PMC or other metal clay from the pack.  Only take what you need to prevent the rest from drying out.  Roll the PMC into a thin sausage shape under your fingers and make a mark near the end to denote the brush.  It’s quite delicate work.

When you are happy leave your paintbrushes to dry, and if necessary, sand them with fine sandpaper.  I find that I am more likely to ruin my metal clay objects trying to do this than at any other stage, so be very careful!



Metal clay is a light grey colour before firing (below right).  The brushes are resting on a mesh screen, ready to go in the kiln.



The metal clay I’m using fires at 700°C (1290F) for 10 minutes, but I advise you to check the instructions that come with your metal clay pack.  After firing, the metal clay looks a dull silver colour (above right) due to the uneven surface.  Metal Clay also shrinks slightly after firing due to the binder burning away.



The top layer of PMC needs ‘pushed’ together to create a shiny surface.  I use an agate burnisher (below left) for this job.



The photo above right shows what the piece looks like so far.  Still a lot of polishing to do!



I have one quite weak hand due to arthritis, and my saviour comes in the form of a little Dremel multi tool that my brother bought me quite a few years ago.  It makes sanding much quicker and a lot less painful!

The paintbrushes I made had some indents in them, so I used the Dremel with a sandpaper head to take those marks out (below left).  A good way of doing this is to clamp your Dremel to a bench which allows you more control over the piece.  Make sure you use the Dremel so that the motion of the spin will carry your piece away from you if you lose your grip and not hit you in the face.  Tie your hair back and wear goggles as necessary.



After this I clamped each of my little paintbrushes in turn so I could work on them using sandpaper (above right).  You can see in the picture that I used a little bit of orange foam (I got mine from Hobbycraft) to protect the piece from the jaws of the clamp.

I used strips of sandpaper and polished them from side to side, the same as drying your back with a towel when you get out the bath!  Be relatively gentle because you can easily end up bending your paintbrushes.



Finally for this section, you need to solder your paintbrushes to the palette.  It’s a little fiddly so take your time.  After deciding the position of my silver paintbrushes, I used a real paintbrush to add two lines of borax flux to the surface of the palette.  The tricky part, as usual, is getting your reverse action tweezers to hold the two silver brushes in position.  I used two pairs here.  To make it easier on yourself, do this part on your firing tray (or whatever you use to fire on), because moving the whole contraption is quite difficult without one of the pieces moving.



Silver artists' palette necklace

Silver artists’ palette necklace


Before firing, I added some tiny pieces of hard solder next to each brush.  You only need tiny pieces, because if you add too much solder now you will only spend more time getting it back off again later!

Now all you need to do is use your torch to gently heat the whole piece, then gradually concentrate the tip of the blue flame onto the solder.  When you see it run you can remove the heat.

In the next part of this silverwork odyssey, I’ll be sanding (again) and adding enamel (yay!).



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