Metal clay’s ability to use techniques and materials from other disciplines continues to amaze me. I think this cross pollination occurs in metal clay because metal clay artists seem more open to possibility. Maybe it’s because metal clay is new compared to traditional metalsmithing or maybe it’s the personality of the people who work in metal clay.
I’ve seen this happen to others and had it happen to me a number of times. I teach at Metalwerx, a jeweler’s school in Massachusetts. During one of my classes, another instructor, a lapidarist, heard me discussing bronze clay with the class. He caught me during a quiet period and asked if it would be possible to add diamond powder to the clay to create custom grinders for his stone work. I told him I didn’t know, but we could try. Being hesitant about the clay sintering with too much of another material in it, I first tried a mix of 40/60 diamond dust and bronze clay. We formed the clay and set a bronze tube in it, which would allow a heavy shaft to be soldered into the grinder head after firing. The bronze/diamond dust mix sintered fine, however, the amount of diamond dust was not sufficient to grind a stone. I measured out more with proportions of 50/50, then 60/40, and both of these sintered. The 60/40 mix was the best, but still not quite enough diamond dust to grind adequately. At that point, the other teacher took some bronze clay, and added the remaining diamond dust to it. This grinder head sintered and ground stone wonderfully. However, without measurements, its back to the drawing board to figure out proportions so that the mix can be recreated. But we now know we can make custom-shaped, sintered diamond grinders from the diamond dust/bronze clay mix for a reasonable price compared to diamond grinders……….well, at least once I acquire more diamond dust and get back to testing proportions.
Another instance of this happened during a lesson with a student. She is a printmaker, looking to develop a line of jewelry to sell in conjunction with her prints. We’ve been working on ideas for a while, but none fit her vision. During our last class, she brought in a piece of Komatex, a PVC sign product, which she etches designs in and prints from. Both she and I loved it. She because her jewelry is now textured from a plate that is made in exactly the same manner as her prints. Me, because of how quick and easy it was to use this material and how nice a pattern it imprints the clay. I’ve used scratch foam for a while now, but this just blew me away. It can take texture from burnishers, carvers, etching tools, etc. Plus its tough enough to use next to forever, unlike scratch foam which seems, in my experience, to have a life of about a half dozen rollings. Additionally the Komatex can be heated, will then take texture from anything you press into it, and when cooled creates a permanent plate. All of my experiments with it thus far have created wonderful texture plates. I love it and can’t wait to get more to test out in a class.
I know this cross pollination will happen again, and cannot wait to see what my next surprise is. Has it happened to you, what unusual material have you used with metal clay?