Monday, June 29, 2015

The Many Uses of Paper Clay

Recently, I have had students in my classes remark that they have either never heard of paper clay or had but didn't know how to use it. This is one reason to take the PMC Certification I class, as it introduces the many clay types to the student.

PMC Sheet clay is unique in itself as there is no other metal clay like it and can be used for many purposes. It is known as sheet clay and as paper clay. It comes in two shapes, rectangle as shown above and square. Both have the same amount of clay and are the same price. Choose the shape according to your intended use. Paper clay is very flexible, like paper, and doesn't dry out. Once opened, keep it stored in the plastic sheet it comes in, just so it doesn't become damaged or dirty. Cut it using scissors, a straight edge razor, or craft knife. It can also be cut using decorative paper hole punches.

It is listed on PMC Connection's website under PMC+ clay and is fired at the PMC + time and temperature. Paper clay can be folded and fired just as it is or attached to other clays including PMC3, PMC Flex, PMC Sterling, and the mixture of PMC 960. Fire the mixed clays at the higher temperature and time for PMC+, per the manufacture's recommended firing instructions.

When attaching the clay to itself or other clay use only a small amount of water. If using too much water, it melts into nothing. Clay paste is too thick to use.

Paper clay is great for weaving clay pieces together. The designs can be varied by simply making the woven pieces different widths. The clay can be fired as is or attached to lump clay. Here are two samples of weaving paper clay.

Here is an example of using it for a hinge. The clay is thin so its best to double its thickness.

Here's an examples of using it as a decorative application and as prongs.

Other uses for paper clay are: creating a bezel setting (if doubled) and repairing a broken un-fired metal clay piece. Sometimes when repairing a broken lump clay piece it won't stay together. Use paper clay as a BAND-AID®. Attach the broken pieces together using PMC3 Paste, dry completely. Then on the back of the piece attach a small strip of PMC Sheet across the crack. Allow it to dry and then hide the paper clay by applying a thin layer of lump clay over the paper clay. The paper clay keeps the two pieces together as it is a solid piece.

I hope these examples spark your creativity and you all will try the PMC Sheet clay in the future. It's a must have in your inventory of clays. This is my last post for the Corner Stone Blog. I hope you all have learned and enjoyed my posts!

Keep on having fun claying around.

Janet Alexander
Technical Adviser

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Why Certification?

So far this summer I've had the privilege to teach 3 certification classes, and am looking forward to two more before the end of the year. Certification was an idea conceived by Mitsubishi Materials (the manufacturers of PMC) in the 90's to make sure that this new material was understood and used properly. PMC Connection created it's own Certification Program with projects tailored to American artisans. Over the years the program has grown and changed as new products have been introduced and the possibilities with metal clay designs have become more sophisticated. The time has come, again, to start thinking about re-designing the program to take advantage of new developments.

With all of the education available online, at large bead shows, at unique retreats, and at local venues, some of you may wonder if metal clay certification is still relevant. Originally, certification came with a substantial discount and membership in the PMC Guild. With the loss of the Guild (and the fabulous publications it put out), and the skyrocketing price of silver (and the shrinking discount), what are the benefits of learning new techniques in this format rather than the thousands of other opportunities?

In my experience, beginning skills are only taught locally with some techniques being shared via YouTube by a variety of makers. Sometimes local classes aren't available in a given community, and new users are forced to self teach, basically reinventing the metal clay wheel. Certification offers an opportunity to learn a variety of basic techniques in two to three days from an expert who is committed to your growth.

PMC Connection has designed three levels that guide the student as their confidence, design aesthetic, and technical proficiency progresses. Certification doesn't qualify one to teach, doesn't make one a great artist - only time, practice, and dedication can do that. What you get (in addition to a small discount) is an intense, one on one, standardized learning experience. Projects are evaluated, and advice offered when appropriate. I know that in my classes, I try to encourage students to put their own twist on each project - to push past their comfort zone to create work that looks professional, is well constructed and finished, and that demonstrates a level of forethought and consideration in design. Although the project designs have been pre-established, students are allowed to add details to make each piece their own. I've never seen two projects that looked alike. In a class, you're able to look at the teachers fingers as they work, noticing little tricks that they might not be consciously aware of. Every instructor has their own way of doing things, and the intimate setting of a certification class is the perfect environment to absorb all sorts of valuable techniques.

Although certification instructors may not be able to travel to your location, most are willing to schedule one on one classes at your convenience. To find a teacher near you, visit the PMCC website and click on the Education links.

What are your thoughts on the certification program? Why do you think it is or isn't valuable in this day and age?  We'd love to hear your feedback!

Posted by Lora Hart 
Artistic Advisor

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

How to Transfer a Design to Metal Clay

I love to carve into metal clay, especially the PMC Flex Clay. I was recently asked how I transfer a design onto the clay. Below are the steps I use when creating a carved piece.

1.  If I have a photograph of a subject, I reduce it down to lines using Photoshop or by tracing the lines using tracing paper.

2.  I adjust the drawing to the finished size for my desired piece. 
3.  Then I enlarge it, compensating for the metal clay's shrinkage. 
4.  If I am using PMC3, I add glycerine to the clay making it flexible. I prefer to use PMC Flex clay instead. 
5.  I roll the clay out to the desired thickness.
6.  I tape my drawing to the table and then insert the clay under the drawing.

7.  I trace the image onto the clay.

8.  I then choose the outside shape template and cut the clay's shape.
9.  I dry the clay to leather hard and then proceed to carve away or add clay as needed.

Until next time have fun claying around.

Janet Alexander
Technical Adviser

Thursday, June 11, 2015


When I want to make a specific design, I start by drawing a few rough sketches. If the design includes a stone or other added element, I'll draw the sketch around an outline of the stone. Sometimes, I'll also make decorative components in advance, so I can include them as I finalize the design. Then I start to play. I set out an array of little bits and pieces (which I refer to as my design 'palette'), and begin to rearrange the parts to see if I can create a more pleasing layout. I turn the parts this way and that way to check the balance, add things and subtract things, all in an effort to bring my piece to life.

I make a lot of little elements that I keep in a container in my tool kit. I have pre-set stones, micro molds, granulation balls, bails, hinge rods/knuckles, and other decorative details. When I find the perfect combination, I photocopy an enlargement (to account for shrinkage) and can make the metal clay base plate with confidence. I love the ability to change my mind and the design on the fly!

Which version do you like? (The one on the far right looks like a water pitcher doesn't it?)
Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Sintering Considerations

When firing your clay in the kiln, there are a few things to think about: support, placement, heat, and time.

I like to place my sterling (for the first firing) and fine silver pieces in a fiber bowl with vermiculite to support them. If I have an item with a wide side then that side is placed perpendicular into the vermiculite. This avoids sagging because gravity has less effect.  Place the bowl raised off of the kiln floor so that the heat can move around the whole bowl. This keeps the bottom of the bowl from being cooler. If you don’t use a bowl then raise the kiln shelf off the kiln’s floor and support the items, if needed, using fiber blanket or thick fiber paper.

Always notate the locations of the kiln’s heating elements. Most front loading kilns do not have elements in the door, so the front of the kiln will be slightly cooler than the back.  Top loading kilns tend to heat more evenly. If an item has a stone or sterling silver embeddable, place them towards the cooler area of the kiln. If there are sterling silver embedded objects, don’t heat higher than 1200 degrees, but heat longer to assure they attach.

I have discussed the importance of testing your kiln temperature at different degrees in the past. I cannot stress how important this is.  Some members of the local Metal Clay Guild in Dallas recently tested their kilns and found kilns up to 10 degrees higher than the kiln’s readout.

Sintering time is a constant variable depending on the circumstances, for example if there are time constraints due to a classroom situation, or no time constraints. It is always best to sinter the metal clay for the longer period of time allowing the molecules to soften and attach to each other. If attaching pre-fired items together then heat the piece as high as allowable for the metal, and for the longest time.

I hope this helps those of you who have had problems with rings not fitting the finger properly.

Until next time have fun claying around.

Janet Alexander
Technical Adviser