Some of you may ask - What is this Silver Clay stuff?? Well - it's almost magical stuff in my opinion - it is recycled silver particles bound together with an organic binder. Basically it looks like clay, acts like clay and can be moulded like clay. Once you have made your shape, you then burn off the binder (using a butane torch, in a kiln, or get this - on your gas hob!) and you are left with a piece of silver which is usually 99.9% pure silver (unlike Sterling Silver which is 92.5%).
It was invented in the early 90's in Japan. There are two main brands - Art Clay Silver (which I have been using) and Precious Metal Clay. It's not cheap though - a 50g piece will set you back around £60. And it can be a little tricky to work with as it dries so quickly (you can also buy slow drying clay though). But on the whole it is the most fantastic stuff in my opinion - and I'm sure I will be making a million things from this! (Check out my flickr gallery for my latest creations!)
So here is my run through of how I made my Mrs Owl Brooch -
- This is the final brooch - photographed on the lapel of my grey woolly jacket.
- I started out with an initial sketch of the owl - my first attempt looked too much like a cat so I wanted to emphasise the eyes a little more.
- Using Sculpey Mold Maker (a professional type plasticine which you can bake in the oven to harden) I started sculpting the main shape.
- Wings and feet are added.
- More detail was added using whatever I had to hand (mostly pens and pen lids!) - the holes for the eyes were made using the glass head of a pin!
- I managed to follow my original sketch quite closely (amazingly!)
- I then baked the Mold Maker - this hardens it to a hard rubbery texture.
- Using Silicone Rubber - in a two part mix specially formulated for making impressions of objects I made a cast of the owl.
- Here you can see the original and the cast - this picks up the detail quite well but is tricky to work with as it hardens in around 15 seconds - so you have to work very fast!
- Using Badger Balm I painted every nook and cranny inside the rubber mould so that the clay would release more easily.
- Here you can see the silver clay pushed into the rubber mould. Again I had to work quickly here as the silver clay starts to dry out after a couple of minutes!
- After about 4 hours on the radiator the clay was dry and I released it onto my wire mesh. Unfortunately I had not made the back of the legs thick enough so then broke off! :0(
- Using another piece of clay I had attached a sterling silver brooch backing - there are much better and neater ways of doing this though!
- With the protective cage over the clay I turned on the hob on full heat (with the extractor fan on!). After about 30 seconds the binder catches light and you see a small flame which quickly burns off. The piece will shrink a little now. I then set the timer to 5 minutes and allowed the piece to heat over the hob as it glowed salmon pink.
- At the end of the five minutes I picked the owl up with tongs and quenched in cold water to cool it down.
- At this point the owl looks white - this isn't clay, it is the silver particles standing up, so what you need to do is use a wire brush to smooth these particles down by brushing firmly in the same direction to reveal a silver finish. You will notice that the brooch backing has discoloured - this is what happens when you heat sterling silver and can be corrected by "pickling", but as I planned to antique it anyway I just left it.
- You can further compress the silver particles (microscopically) to create a shinier finish by using a burnisher - I use an agate burnisher as it is less likely to scratch.
- To pick up the detail I decided to antique the owl using Liver of Sulphur - you only need a couple drops of this in warm water. It's really stinky though - smells like rotten eggs! About 20 seconds in this solution darkened the silver nicely. You can play around with how long you "dunk" your piece to see how dramatic an effect you can create. Then using silver polish and a cloth I polished the darker finish from the raised surfaces to finish the piece off.
- In this shot you can see the original, the rubber mould and the final silver piece. I could have tried moulding the owl directly into the silver clay, but as I am new to this I preferred to make a mould - plus it means that if I can make more exactly the same now! (Although this used 30 grams of silver clay - so wasn't cheap to make!
- I tried attaching the feet again for this shot, but alas they don't want to stay on - so Mrs Owl is legless!
Hope you found this of interest and that it inspires you to try making something yourself!