Monthly Archives: July 2014

Silver clay versus silver smithing. Can you really compare the two?

During the last 14 years of using Art Clay Silver, I’ve often felt the need to defend metal clay to traditional jewelry makers. The word “clay” conjures up all kinds of negative connotations, including “soft,” “brittle,” “easy,” “faux,” etc. Anyone who uses silver clay knows the resulting silver, though 99.9% pure, doesn’t act exactly the same as cast silver. Contrary to what some metal smiths argue, however, that doesn’t mean that the silver resulting from metal clay is in any way “inferior.” No more than a piece that uses solder to put all the bits and pieces together is “inferior” to a cast piece that didn’t use solder at all.

I have 14 year old silver rings I’ve made that have survived every bit as well as those created with traditional methods. But how do we convince potential silver clay users that creating with silver clay isn’t “copping out” or a “shortcut,” and that working in silver clay is every bit as valid as working traditionally? And moreover, what’s wrong with non-traditional?

The way I approach the explanation is this:  In more traditional methods of metal smithing, you need to purchase hammers, saws, solder, a rolling mill (if you want to texture the metal yourself) and a variety of other tools. These tools are expensive, and require a certain amount of arm and hand strength. You need to learn about flux, solders and their environmental hazards. Once you have your tools, etc., then you need to purchase your silver, usually in sterling form (though more metal smiths, such as Michael David Sturlin, have learned the benefits of working in fine silver), which means needing acid pickle. In summary, the tools are expensive and the learning curve is high.  And the work is time consuming and may be physically demanding, especially for those of us in the 50+ category.

In comparison, working in the non-toxic medium of silver clay uses basic tools that are relatively inexpensive and the learning curve is low. To produce professionally finished pieces, requires practice and basic education. Little arm strength is needed in most circumstances, and the hand/eye coordination required is no more than that used in traditional smithing methods. Textures can be added easily and quickly. Silver clay allows for individuality and creativity in every way working traditionally does.

So what is the main difference in the two methods? Traditionally, your initial financial commitment is in tools and the time it takes to produce a piece. With silver clay, your financial commitment is in product. If I buy a square of silver and make a ring traditionally, I may have leftover metal which I then have to collect and return as scrap. With silver clay, I can use absolutely EVERY BIT of the clay I purchase—I can recycle it for paste or clay, use and reuse every gram without any waste. And if I decide, in 2 or 3 or 10 years, that I want to move on and put silver clay on the shelf, I’m only financially out my $100 in tools, not the hundreds of dollars in hammers and saws and solder and other traditional tools. So, put your money in tools, or put your money in product. For me, the answer is simple.

To my mind, silver clay is every bit a valid method of creating metal jewelry as sheet and solder. But, for some, it may be the only way. And that’s where my 14 year old passion comes in. If you are a woman (or man for that matter) with physical  and time limitations, and want to be creative, you aren’t restricted any longer to any particular medium. So many people have expressed to me, over the years, that metal clay has liberated them, allowed them to create jewelry and other objects that they can gift as heirlooms, or sell with the knowledge that their items will be around for generations. Silver clay, to me, gives a freedom of expression unlike any other medium. It is perceived as precious metal, has distinct value, can be increased in value by adding gemstones and or gold. It offers the possibility of income in ways that other media cannot. And, for many, it provides opportunity, whereas previously, traditional metal smithing was no possibility at all.

This is what makes silver clay meaningful to me. It is a window of possibilities into a world of expression and beauty unlike anything else. My mission is to try to reach as many people as possible and show them what silver clay is, what it can provide them and how they can express themselves in a material that has few limits outside of their own imagination and creativity.

My question to you is, how do you view silver clay? How has it affected your creativity?

You noticed I didn’t mention base metal clays. That’s for the next blog.




Blogging for the first time

I’ve been told a number of times that I should blog. I must say I feel intimidated and fearful. What should I say, and why should anything I say be thought of as important enough to put out there in the ether and be read? Then again, I’ve never been one to hold back. Anyone who knows me knows I’ve been putting my foot in my mouth for many years. If I believe it, if I’m passionate about it, I say it. So, isn’t a blog really just letting others know what I’m thinking but instead of coming out of my mouth, it’s coming out of my fingers? Thinking about it that way, it’s not as intimidating…I guess. So, my first blog. It’s really about my mission, my passion. Which is women. Sorry guys, you used to rule the roost in the world of jewelry making, but watch out! We’re coming up round the clubhouse turn fast on the outside. And, although there are definitely more women traditional metal smiths out there, I believe, and hope, that the rise of metal clay has also had something to do with the large number of women who have entered the jewelry making arena in the last 15 years. Metal clay is the great equalizer. You don’t have to have great muscle strength to use it. You don’t have to have the mega bucks to buy hammers, saws, clamps, rolling mills, draw plates that you may or may not use in 10 more years. And you don’t need to apprentice yourself to a master bench jeweler for the next 20 years to get REALLY good and be accepted into the ol’ boys’ club as a “goldsmith” (even though I’m using silver, I’m told that goldsmith is the term if you are using precious metals in jewelry, and silversmith, is the term you use for non wearable, functional items such as teapots and carving knives). That isn’t to say that you don’t have to “pay your dues” in metal clay. It’s taken a bit of time to cancel out the memory of some of the work that came out of the metal clay arena the first 10 years or so. One of the detriments of having an easy learning curve. And, I believe, one of the reasons that some traditional metal smiths were so turned off by the possibilities of metal clay. But, I’m proud to say, that we’ve come a long way and there is some stunning, creative, and highly professional work being done in metal clay these days. And there are many of us still seeking our creative spark, experimenting, stepping tentatively out into the world of jewelry. I’ve even begun to embrace copper metal clay, even though my first love will always be silver (and gold) and my goal will always be to convince metal clay smiths that silver is not THAT expensive, in the scheme of things. I’ll be talking about that in my next blog, I think. So, to all those women out there who believe they have something to express in a tangible way, to make a statement or create something lasting, but don’t have the muscles to swing a hammer or don’t want the flux fumes of a soldering torch to permeate their basement studio, silver clay is here! It’s waiting for you to grab it and mold it and ro