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.