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Article: Minimal Metalsmithing

Hello all,

Although I’m a beginner metalsmith and have never used PMC, I have
to agree with Elaine that it is not fair to berate its use without
either trying it or looking at some of the beautiful pieces that
some artists create from the medium. Elaine is obviously extremely
knowledgeable when it comes to PMC and has quoted a density equal to
that of casting fine silver. I have looked at some of the work on the
internet and have been amazed at the beauty of a lot of PMC art and
as she says, it could be mistaken for cast silver. Now obviously
there are some people who are good at casting and those who are poor
at casting, so porosity will vary enormously. The same can be said
for those who use PMC. There is some wonderful art out there from
people who are clearly very talented and there will be some poor
quality stuff made by beginners.

I only began making sterling silver jewellery about 3 or 4 months
ago. I use sterling silver and I fabricate by cutting,
bending, soldering, and finishing etc. You should see some of the
rubbish I was making at first, but you would never look at it and
say “sterling silver is rubbish for making jewellery”!!!

It is my intention to buy some PMC and have a go at it with my two
teenage daughters, one of whom I have already taught to solder and
who is very good at design, so I’m confident that at least she will
come up with something wearable.

Helen
UK

No matter what you think of fabricating items in PMC, there is no
reason it is not as acceptable a medium for making your metal master
for casting as wax.

When an item is being made and up through the leather stage you can
do every wax carving technique you want; then when it is fired you
can use your metal techniques.

If you like it enough, then send it off to the mold maker and caster
and away you go.

Hi Marty,

I admit that my attraction to PMC (I’ve never used Art Clay) comes
in part from having started out as a potter. And my metalsmithing
experience doesn’t come close to yours. But I honestly believe that
the major problem with PMC is that people who use it all too often
want instant results, and that the manufacturer has fallen into the
trap of encouraging this mindset.

Most of the problems I have encountered with durability in PMC
pieces result from one simple mistake: under-firing. I would never
follow Mitsubishi’s recommendations for how to fire the newer
versions of the clay. In fact, I find that one of the things I love
best about PMC–how much it shrinks–is lost in the newer versions,
so I have rarely used them. As a potter, I was used to taking
shrinkage into account, and taking advantage of it when designing, so
I don’t see shrinkage as a problem.

I also think it’s possible to join e.g. a bail to a pendant,
strongly, and without solder, if you approach the technique as a
potter will approach attaching a handle to a mug. There is a learning
curve, but people who are willing to accept this fact when it comes
to e.g. soldering, ignore it when approaching PMC.

And the tumbler is PMC’s best friend. Having tumbled both PMC and
fabricated fine silver–to work harden and burnish them–I am not
surprised to learn that Tim McCreight finds that PMC has the density
of cast fine silver. And, as far as I know, most jewelers don’t forge
cast silver pieces, either, so we could always go back to an argument
that casting isn’t “real metalsmithing” any more than PMC is.
(However, I’m surprised that people have trouble filing it. I
originally learned to use traditional finishing techniques–filing
and various flexshaft attachments–on PMC and never encountered
problems. Of course, if you file it carefully before it’s fired, you
often have no reason to file it again. Just like wax!)

But there are at least two issues in this thread, so far. One is
about durability-is PMC durable enough to be used for jewelry, or
will it fall apart? I have some related questions: will well-made
sheet-to-sheet solder joins occasionally fail? I think the answer is
yes. Will poorly-made solder joins frequently fail? Definitely yes.
Can the surface porosity of PMC be overcome with burnishing? In my
experience, yes. Is “underlying” porosity a problem? Why? Can “great"
jewelry” sometimes be made from less than durable materials? I can
only point to millennia of jewelry made from 24K gold.

The other issue has to do with “senselessness” and "offensiveness."
This, dearest Marty, borders on flaming–just because you don’t have
someone in particular in mind, doesn’t mean they won’t feel attacked
by these words. And the discussion of why it does or doesn’t make
sense to use PMC, given the long history of metalsmithing, or how
offended some who feel part of this tradition feel by the use of PMC,
has a long history on Orchid. If there were a way to have a
productive discussion about this, I would be all for it. But I
haven’t seen much evidence that there is. Recent levels of courtesy
on this forum have not been high, so I doubt any current discussion
will be fruitful.

Just my two cents.

Lisa Orlando
Albion, CA, US

I wonder how many pieces you have created with metal clay to be able
to come to this erroneous conclusion. Let us know your experience,
will you? Instead of making accusations that are completely
uninformed.

Fired and fully sintered metal clay, is fine silver or 22K gold and
may be filed, cut, hammered, dropped, scratched, annealed, forged,
bent, you name it, add infinitum.

Like someone else said on this list, do yourself a big favor, buy
some PMC or Art Clay, make a nice flat sheet out of it, fire it
properly and then play with it. See if it isn’t just like sheet
metal.

I don’t suggest you make a piece of jewelry out of the clay, before
firing, because that is a skill that requires much training, just
like any other metalsmithing activity.

If you dare, that is…

Laura

Well, I guess I need to throw in my 2 cents worth as well. When PMC
and the rest of the precious metal “clays” first came out, I was not
impressed - I saw a lot of quick and dirty attempts at objets d’art.
It was expensive, mostly ugly and totally lacked the fun of mashing
and moving metal. I bought some, but never even opened the package.
Then I read a book by Cece Wire, “Creative Metal Clay Jewelry:
Techniques, Projects, Inspiration”. I changed my mind, she did a
great job of exploring the possibilities of these clays. She also
has a new book, just published, “New Directions in Metal Clay: 25
Creative Jewelry Projects” which is also impressive. These books are
available through the Orchid link from Amazon.com.

I still see a whole lot of awful clay jewelry, but then I see a lot
of awful precious metal jewelry. I do not think clay is ever going to
be a major tool for me, but I must respect its possibilities. Like
Theodore Sturgeon once said, “90% of everything is junk” - but then
there is the other 10%.

Marlin in Denver

Long before deciding to take up metal smithing I’ve always looked at
art objects with plenty of curiosity. Part of my nature is to
understand the path the artist took to create the piece as much as
trying to understand what the artist had to say. Having information
about the materials listed always seemed to be a reasonable way to
present a work of art. More recently with my increased curiosity
about metal art objects (jewelry) I have found some puzzling
departures form the norm of listing materials used in creation of the
work presented for viewing.

First, I don’t have a dog in this fight about whether one should use
PMC/Metal Clay or not. I feel that if someone wants to produce art
they can make it from anything they think will accomplish the job for
the idea they want to express. Secondly, I don’t think the intent of
this forum is to discuss the merits of one material verses another in
the sense of whether one makes the finished art valid and another
does not… that is a long and possibly, a never ending
conversation. I do believe that this forum is for the exchange of
so that each may achieve their goals in working with
materials they choose to produce jewelry to their liking.

Recently I sent a letter to Metalsmith Magazine because of my
concern about labeling of the art objects presented with one of the
articles in the most recent issue. This is a publication I hold in
high regard for their standards. I am very much interested in their
reply because listing of materials enables the viewer to best
understand the work presented. Does it matter to the members of this
forum if materials are not listed with art objects presented? Should
articles created with PMC/Metal Clay be listed, for instance, “Fine
silver from PMC”, “22K Gold from PMC”, and so forth? Is this
reasonable or is there no need at all?

To the Editor: (MetalSmith Magazine)

In the recent issue of your publication (Volume 27 number 3) the
article _Metal Clay: On the Cusp_ by Donald Friedlich presents
the case for use of PMC in a broad overview with examples of some
stunning work in this medium. 

The author states: "Objects made of metal clay raise the same
critical questions that arise when considering any work of art.
What does the object communicate? Does the object speak with and
expressive voice that is unique to its material? Has the object
been done before to the point of being trite or is it new and
distinctive? Could it be better made in another way, with other
materials? Does it exploit the material's ability to showcase the
imprint of the hand in ways metal smithing cannot? When it is
inappropriate to have the hand in evidence, does it demonstrate
proper technical control and refinement of surface and form? Does
it take advantage of metal clay's ceramic qualities and genuinely
exploit the fact that metal clay is, first, formable with the
ease of clay and then is almost magically transformed, like
caterpillar to butterfly, into a silver or gold object" 

The means to critically examine the object seems to be lacking
in the curatorial given about each work featured. 

My point is that listing fine silver, 24K gold and such does not
provide the viewer adequate about the work if there
is no mention that this fine silver or 24K gold is derived from
PMC. Your inclusion of 24K gold foil in the materials list of the
PMC bracelet by Celie Fago does provide concise about
the nature of that one material, however, all of the other
materials are unclear as to whether they are derived form PMC or
not. 

Since the front cover of this issue features an exotic piece by
Claire Holliday identified as fine silver and no mention of PMC,
being that it was totally isolated from the article on PMC, and
being that no where in the article on PMC did it refer to this
piece, can you say that you have given the viewer the best
opportunity for critical review? 

Perhaps the standard for identifying works made with PMC should
be fine silver from PMC, 24K from PMC, and so forth. 

J Collier
Small Scale Metalsmith
http://jlcollier.com

I, too, was not at all enthusiastic about metal clay (which I
approached with an open mind a number of years ago) My early efforts
produced very mixed results, but I figured that it was not my
medium. Anyhow I tried it again and was impressed by how well it
could be textured. Problem was, this time the finished product
cracked and crumbled, and nobody could tell me why. I decided it
wasn’t for me, and I gave up on it. Recently, I admired a friend’s
work, and when she told me it was metal clay, I couldn’t believe it.
At her insistence, and with some of her metal clay, I tried again,
using her kiln. The results were very gratifying.

Either metal clay itself has been vastly improved in the intervening
years, or the temperature in the kiln was exactly right, or I finally
got the hang of it. So I think it might be a good idea for people who
were discouraged by the early metal clay to try it again. They might
be pleasantly surprised.

Dee

There is beautiful jewelry made with PMC and there is crappy work
made in traditional metalsmithing techniques. Beauty and artistic
expression are not defined by the materials that are used in the
creation of the work.

However for many of us PMC is synthetic metalwork.

Modeling PMC is to traditionally metalsmithing what a Chatham emerald
is to a natural gem. Like the synthetic gem and the natural one you
can have a beautiful or ugly resulting piece. Like the synthetic and
natural stone both pieces of work are made of the same material and
both would take laboratory tests to conclusively prove the origin.
The difference is in the rarity. Currently PMC is marketed and
extolled by its devotees for its ease of use and speed in creating
things that look like you made it by traditional techniques. The
unspoken message is that you don’t need to put in all the time or pay
any of the dues required to make it using the traditional techniques
"anyone can do it". So is it surprising that those that have
dedicated their career or their precious time off to learning and
perfecting traditional metalsmithing would react in a negative
fashion to a medium that presents itself as being so easy to work its
"just like play dough" as I recently saw on one website offering
instruction in PMC.

Jim

James Binnion
@James_Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


360-756-6550

One final comment that I missed out on my last note. Over here in
the UK my bullion supplier, Cookson will charge me 26 pounds
sterling, which is about 50 dollars for a packet of PMC silver clay,
that will give me 25 grams, about an ounce of fine silver when fired.
Thats a cost of about 2 dollars a gram or 50 dollars an ounce. I can
buy silver sheet and wire from the same bullion dealer for about 60
cents a gram or 15 dollars an ounce.

Regards James Miller FIPG

I have been reading the comments regarding Nanz Aalunds opinions on
metal clay. May I say that I agree with her comments. I regard
goldsmithing and jewellery as trades that will have many progressive
methods of manufacture over the years. I think that PMC is one of
those progressions that is good for hobbyists, but I know that it
has not been accepted over here in the UK by serious workers in the
trade. I see a lot of jewellery made from PMC, in galleries and
exhibitions, but its always looks like something made from PMC. I
have tried the medium, before anyone tells me that I speak rubbish
and I found it a poor second to decent castings. Although I must
also say that I do not use much casting in my work either. As for the
comment that users of PMC can make anything with the material,
please show me and proove me wrong. My work can be seen on the orchid
gallery

http://www.ganoksin.com/orchid/jmdesign.htm

all made by hand from sheet and wire, show me some comparable work
made with PMC. I am sure that PMC has its place in the jewellery
market, but please do not insult those who have spent a lifetime
learning their skills by saying that this stuff can replace
traditional methods, it may be an addition to those methods and I am
sure that it has its place, but please, all you budding learners to
this trade, learn the basics first and try PMC by all means later,
but do not accept that this method will ever equal the finish and
satisfaction of hand forged items.

Just my opinion folks!
Peace and good health to all
James Miller

While the subject of metal clay is getting such a good airing I
wonder if I can ask a question of the experts on the list. Would it
be possible to use the 24 carat gold metal clay to reproduce fire
gilding (mercurial gilding)? As you know, I do a lot of restoration
work on 17th and 18th century pocket watches in which the brass parts
were almost always gold plated by the mercurial process - a process
which is very much frowned on nowadays. I have tried many times to
get a realistic appearance on new parts by pre-texturing the metal
and carefully masking off parts of the brass before electro gilding (
the mercurial gilding was only ever applied to the visible parts of
the various components and usually ‘runs over’ onto the underside in
a characteristic way ). However, apart from not getting a convincing
coverage pattern, the colout and texture of the gold are always just
a bit wrong - the original gold seems to be a much richer yellow than
I can achieve and, even though I texture the metal to try to simulate
the ‘surface roughness’ and thickness of the original gold plating,
the finish I get is always too even to be realistic. So, is it
possible to apply a very thin layer to a piece of brass sheet and
fuse it on without either the brass melting or the gold pulling away
as it cools?

Best wishes,
Ian
Ian W. Wright
Sheffield UK

PMC is an abomination for many reasons, 

Okay, I’m gonna ask.

What is it about PMC and Art Clay Silver that offends metalsmiths
so? Everyone has been polite until a few days ago, and now language
like this is being used.

It’s really uncivil, it’s beyond the pale, it’s not what Orchid is
about.

So, go ahead, now that everyone is out in the open, do tell.

What is it about metal clay that bothers you (and others) so
much that you become uncivil and impolite?

Does it offend you that people can make metal jewelry without
investing years of training as for metalsmithing?

Is it fear that their work will flood the market?

What is it? I’m baffled. I don’t get it.

It’s a material. A material used by famous metalsmiths. You’re
telling Linda Kaye Moses she’s using an abomination in her work? Tim
McCreight? Chris Darway? Celie Fago? CeCe Wire? All metalsmiths
first.

Elaine
Metalsmith since 1990
and certified PMC Instructor
http://www.CreativeTextureTools.com
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay

Right now am in the process of trying to figure out how to overcome
the negative feeling toward PMC and write an inviting caption for a
class I would propose to teach again next year at Ghost Ranch. 

Just go ahead and do it. Many, many, many people take PMC classes
every year and will appreciate taking a class from you with your
combined PMC and metalsmithing experience.

I was blissfully unaware of the latent hatred of a mere material
until the past few days. You must forge ahead as if you are
blissfully unaware as well.

Offer your class, post it on the PMCGuild.com site to get the word
out.

Elaine
Metalsmith since 1990
and certified PMC Instructor
http://www.CreativeTextureTools.com
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay

But I do agree that pieces made with PMC should be noted as being
PMC, not Fine Silver as is is my understanding the two are not
identical. Am I incorrect? 

Yes, you are incorrect. PMC = fine silver. Art Clay Silver = fine
silver.

Both can be marked .999.

It is possible to under fire PMC, such as when torch firing. That is
why I do not recommend torch firing. When fired in a kiln, at 1650
for 2 hours (or less, but I don’t wish to quibble) PMC+ has the same
density as CAST fine silver.

Any necessary repairs can be done by the original person who made it
if they have access to a kiln or have taken a long enough class.

More and more people who work with metal clay are beginning to want
to expand their skill sets and learn to solder, etc. We should
welcome them into the world of metalsmithing, not beat them with
sticks and call them names.

Elaine
Metalsmith since 1990
and certified PMC Instructor
http://www.CreativeTextureTools.com
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay

I bristle when people look at my etched work and ask if its pmc.
No. Others ask if I use it, "No, I don't need to, I am skilled in
working with real metal." 

Ah. There, you’ve said it. I think this is the heart of the problem,
the rub. This has long been my theory of why metalsmiths get hot
under the collar about PMC.

Linda Kay Moses said of her use of PMC, it’s another tool for my
toolbox, I’m paraphrasing. One can combine the two (metalsmithing and
PMC) to great effect.

I don’t call it real metal, I call it conventional metal. PMC = fine
silver.

And remember, PMC+, when fired at 1650 for 2 hours is equal in
density to cast fine silver.

Do you remember in “A League of ther Own”, the movie, when the Gina
Davis character wants to quit baseball and the coach, the Tom Hanks
Character says why. She says" it’s too hard." (not her real reason.)

He bellows, “It’s the hard that makes it good, if it weren’t hard,
everybody’d do it.”

That used to be my personal motto for metalsmithing.

And I think it’s apt, and not uncommon as a view.

Metalsmithing is hard, and it does take a serious personal
dedication, years of work.

So God forbid anyone, anywhere dare make anything out of metal
without a struggle. Right?

Elaine
Metalsmith since 1990
and certified PMC Instructor
http://www.CreativeTextureTools.com
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay

would react in a negative fashion to a medium that presents itself
as being so easy to work its "just like play dough" as I recently
saw on one website offering instruction in PMC. 

Well, that is an unfortunate comparison, and actually, not that
accurate.

It’s quite different from Play-Doh.

Metal clay can be folded like origami (paper type). It can be joined
to itself with water or slip. It can be allowed to dry and then
carved. It can be fired and then formed over a mandrel. It can be
enameled.

Elaine
Metalsmith since 1990
and certified PMC Instructor
http://www.CreativeTextureTools.com
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay

I see a lot of jewellery made from PMC, in galleries and
exhibitions, but its always looks like something made from PMC.

This is the website of Gordon Uyehara. He works with Art Clay
Silver.

Take a look at his work. I don’t think that it screams “metal clay!”

It’s awesome work, everyone should take a look, it might change your
idea of what can be done with metal clay.

Elaine
Metalsmith since 1990
and certified PMC Instructor
http://www.CreativeTextureTools.com

I repeat, PMC+ when fired at 1650 for 2 hours has the same density
as cast fine silver. 
there is no way to get near cast density from powdered metal
products without lots of pressure either by Hot Isostatic Press
(HIP) or some other form of hot press process. Who ever told you
that  is just plain wrong. Do a little research on powder metallurgy. 

Now I am confused. Elaine keeps telling us that PMC’s properties are
exactly as cast silver and Jim’s says they’re not. Where the truth
lies? According to Jim; PMC has notable inferior qualities since non
of the PMC artists uses HIP…

I am sorry to hear that Nanz lost her job at Art Jewelry over her
comments on Orchid if she did speak the truth!

I also find the pyramid scheme of teaching people to be instructors
of the material somewhat suspect. How can one become proficient in
instructing in one workshop? 

The certification classes are not intended to make you an excellent
instructor, they are to make sure you have certain skills in
creating. Everyone must make the same projects to the same
specifications. Not everyone passes the classes.

Some system had to be created to create some standards of
instruction and required skills. Since this is a new material, only
in the US since 1996, it’s not taught in colleges. Some system had to
be created, and this is what we have for now.

Elaine
Metalsmith since 1990
and certified PMC Instructor
http://www.CreativeTextureTools.com
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay

No matter what you think of fabricating items in PMC, there is no
reason it is not as acceptable a medium for making your metal
master for casting as wax. 

There is precisely the case where PMC should not be used.

There was a thread dealing in porosity in casting. A lot of good
advice was given on how to prevent porosity, but most of it was
concentrated on casting, when the real reason most of the time is the
badly design model.

In order for the casting to come out well, the designer must insure
that metal entering the cavity would have laminar flow. Turbulence
means porosity. To insure laminar flow the model must be constructed
using metal working techniques. Then the natural properties of metal
would insure laminar flow of liquid metal.

If you wondering about all the models made in wax you are correct.
Wax is a tradeoff between ease of making a model but then spending
some time fixing the porosity. There is no advantage in using PMC
because it is not as easy as making wax model but have the same
disadvantages as wax, and definitely more expensive.

Leonid Surpin