Art Clay looks and feels much like ordinary sculpting or porcelain clay. What makes Art Clay so fantastic is that it consists of extremely fine particles of pure metal (silver or gold), almost like dust, mixed up with a non-toxic organic binder. The binder burns out during firing, leaving you with a pure metal piece.
Art Clay comes in several different forms:
I know it is a long list, but I've tried to describe them all here so you understand the difference. And you certainly don't need all of the products to create beautiful things.
- Art Clay Silver - 650
This clay needs the lowest firing temperature (650°C), and shrinks less that the other Art Clay forms. At this low temperature it can be fired with sterling silver (which would get firescale and can get brittle at higher temperatures). It can also be fired with dichroic glass and some natural stones. The 650 version of clay also is slightly brighter than the other clays. It shrinks around 8-9%. The manufacturer recommneds you fire at 650°C for a minimum of 30 minutes, or 780°C for a minimum of 5 minutes. Only use the higher temperature if the piece doesn't include sterling silver or glass. For extra strength most metal clay artists fire their pieces for longer, and at the highest possible temperature. Read more about this on the firing page.
- Art Clay Silver - 650 Slow Dry
This clay combines the lower firing temperature (650°C), with a slower drying time. This moister clay dries up to four times slower than the other clay types. This allows you to work with it for longer, without it cracking. The clay must be completely dried before firing, which will take a little longer than drying the other types. This clay works very well for making fingerprint jewellery. Leave your piece to dry in room temperature for 24 hours prior to firing. At this low temperature it can be fired with sterling silver (which would get firescale and can get brittle at higher temperatures), dichroic glass and some natural stones. Leave your piece to dry in room temperature for 24 hours prior to firing. For extra strength most metal clay artists fire their pieces for longer, and at the highest possible temperature. Read more about this on the firing page.
- Art Clay Silver - 650 Paste
This thick cream-like paste version of the 650 clay is made for repairs, like filling in cracks and 'glueing' broken pieces back together. You also use it to stick unfired pieces together, so you can build up large dimensional shapes by making, drying, and finishing each piece individually - when they're all finished, you use the paste to stick them all together, which creates one solid piece after firing. It is a bit like a ceramic slip. The paste can also be used to cover leaves, paper, cereals, and similar to make a fine silver replica.
If the paste is very thick, use a little water to thin it - only add a drop at a time, and stir slowly.
- Art Clay Silver - 650 Syringe
This softer version of the clay comes in a syringe to make fine lines, dots and other decorations. Its thicker than paste, and it also has a slightly different binder, which ensures it will hold its shape when extruded.
There are different sized tips (nozzles) to choose from, range from very thin so you can do very delicate drawings, medium sized which makes perfect little donuts which you can set stones in, up to thick which is perfect for building up thick lines - ideal if you want to make a piece from only syringe.
It can be applied to a core shape which burns off during firing, creating a filigree or lace-like hollow form. It is great for surrounding and setting stones in the clay, andit is ideal for repairs as you can be very precise with where you add the syringe line, using a fine tip. Shrinkage 8-9%.
- Art Clay Silver - Overlay Paste
This is the 650 clay in a waterbased paste form, which has been designed to use on glazed porcelain, ceramic and glass. After firing (temperature ranging from 650°C to 800°C), it will bond to the surface and won't come off.
- Art Clay Silver - Oil Paste
This oil based paste attaches to metal, so is used for repairing and fixing already fired pieces together, or for adding sterling or fine silver components to your silver clay pieces. It gives you a stronger bond than if you used the normal Paste. It comes with a thinning liquid, to use if the paste dries up.
- Art Clay Silver - Paper
The paper has a different consistency to the clays, dry and slightly rubbery. It is thin and flexible, and can be plaitted, origami folded, punched, cut, or layered to create thicker sheets. Use a craft paper punch and cut out shapes which can be used to decorate your clay pieces. It should be allowed to dry in room temperature to avoid cracking. The paper on its own does not need to dry before firing, it can go straight in the kiln. Don't add any water to the paper. If you get any cracks, repair these after firing with the Oil Paste (adding water or normal paste will make the paper difficult to work with). To apply paper shapes to a base piece, apply a small amount of thinned Art Clay Paste to the base piece and apply the shape. Shrinks about 9-10%.
- Art Clay Gold 22 carat
This is the gold version of the clay, which can be worked just like the silver clay. Fires for 1 hour at 990°C. Shrinks 15%.
- Art Clay Gold Paste and Accent Gold for Silver
This fantastic product is a economical and easy alternative to using the gold clay. It is simply pure gold in a liquid form, which you paint onto your fired piece, let dry, fire again, and burnish - and you have 22 or 24 carat gold accents! Super easy, and beautiful!
I have also made a chart which gives you a clear overview of the differences. It gives firing times and temperature, and a short description on difference in handling for the different forms of clays, you can download this from the Downloads section.
HANDLING - As all the clay forms contains water they will dry out if handled too much, for too long, under a hot lamp, in a warm climate, in a draft or placed on the wrong surface (use acrylic, glass, teflon, coated playing cards - something which won't act as a blotting paper or stick to the clay). See the Tools page for more information. If you feel you need longer to work with the clay, try Art Clay Silver Slow Dry, which will stay pliable for a lot longer than the other clay forms.
You can minimise the drying by making sure you are prepared, your tools are laid out, and you have an idea in mind before you unwrap the clay. Cut off a small piece only and put the rest of the clay back in the wrap. Keep a little piece of damp fabric or cling film which you can cover your clay with if you need to leave it for a short while.
Spread a little Badger Balm, Slik, olive oil over your hands before you start - just a thin coat. This will stop the silver clay form sticking to your fingers and will also coat the clay which seals it a little from drying out. Don't use too much though, or your clay will be sliding all over the place. The best way to work with the clay is on a teflon coated baking paper. I often cover the clay with a clean sheet before using the roller.
Keep a little dish of water next to you, every now and then dip the tip of your finger (or use a small soft brush) and gently brush over the surface of your clay as you are working with it. This smooths out the surface, and helps to keep it pliable and moist. If you notice small cracks, it is definitely time to add a little moisture.
You can re-moisten dry metal clay with a drop or two of water, knead it in, wrap up carefully in clingfilm and put back in the resealable pouch. When you take it out a day later it should be as new. (I have noticed that some brands of clingfilm are better than others, so it might be better to use a few layers of film)
-- Still dry? Well, add a little more water, knead and repeat the process.
-- If it is too wet, or a bit slimy, you have added too much water - dab the surface dry with fabric or kichen paper (make sure it is good quality kitchen paper which won't leave your clay full of paper pieces), roll it up in your hand, knead it a bit, and then put it back on the shelf for another day.
The clay is best used within a year of purchase, but it won't go off and doesn't really have a use-by date. Even hard clay can be re-moistened with a bit of work. Poke a lot of holes in it with a sharp tool and spray with water, the holes help the water to go into the clay. Wrap up carefully, keep adding water, poking holes and massaging it every now and then and soon it will be back to normal!
When you store your clay, add a little sheet of wet fabric or tissue in the pouch to keep the moisture sealed in.
Oh - one thing. Don't use aluminum tools or kitchen foil with the clay. The aluminium contaminates the clay.
DRYING - The finished piece needs to be dried out before firing to avoid any damage. Air dry for a few hours/overnight depending on size and thickness, or use a hotplate (food warming plate), hair dryer, or heat gun to speed it up. Be careful when using kiln, hair dryer or heat gun, if it gets too hot the binder might start burning off, and this can distort the shape. And, with a thick piece, the forced drying can dry the surface which will lock the moisture inside the clay. Drying the piece slowly in a warm environement is definitely the best option if you have the time. Remember to also turn the piece to check that the back has dried.
When it is leather hard,use files and abrasive sponges to adjust the shape and smooth the piece. Make sure that all little burrs or nicks are removed, remember they'll turn into metal when fired - not very comfortable. It is worth spending some time on finishing your piece prior to firing, as this will make an enourmous difference to the finished look.
FIRING - There is a detailed description on this on the Firing page.
For firing you can use a kiln, gas hob, or a small handheld butane torch. The different types of clay have different requirements. A flat thin piece can easily be torch fired, while larger piece or shapes based on a core material should ideally be fired in a kiln.
Read more about the different firing options on the Firing page.
NOTE - Sterling silver (925) contains copper (7.5%) which makes it a harder metal than fine silver. Fine silver, or metal clay, has to be designed carefully if used for things which takes a lot of stress, like a clasp. If you make the piece sturdy it will work, but you might notice that there is a slight give in the material compared to sterling silver.