From Sketch to Metal

Third of a Four Part Series: Designing for Metal Clay

In my previous two posts I talked about how to calculate metal clay shrinkage, and how to calculate the enlargement rate of a design to accommodate this shrinkage.

So why do you need to know this stuff? Many metal clay artists have said they have trouble getting their design sketches off the paper and into a 3D reality.

I do a lot of sketching, so I thought I would share my own process for creating templates and building a metal clay piece based on sketching.

Sketching a design is such a great way to work out the particulars of a piece—scale, proportion, texture, and how the piece will be built. (Although I would add that it’s not necessary to get caught up in the construction of the piece just yet…first you should let yourself freely imagine. You can figure out the construction later. Don’t limit your creativity by worrying about “how”).

A sampling of sketches

And some of the finished pieces

Do your drawings at actual size. If you want to make a piece for a certain stone, for example, you can trace the stone and sketch around it. If you have a chain you would like to work with, lay the chain on your sketch and visualize the connection. Working actual size is very important for getting scale and proportion worked out.

So to start with, you will need a sketch that you are satisfied with.  Now you can begin to think about how you will construct the piece. Before you even open a package of clay, mentally picture all the steps you will use to make the piece. Pre-planning is very helpful for success. Not to say disasters don’t still happen, they do! But having the piece well thought out eliminates some of the problems.

Now, lay a piece of tracing paper over your sketch. Trace out the different parts of your piece separately. For example, if you have a large shape for a base and several smaller parts that will overlay or attach, trace each part.

Using the enlargement rate to accommodate the shrinkage of the clay you are working with, take your tracings to a copy machine and make an enlarged copy onto card stock. Or you can scan the image with a scanner (remember to enlarge to the correct size) and print with your printer.

Cover the card stock on the back with clear packing tape, and use a craft knife to cut out the shapes. A neat, clean cut will make for a nicer edge and less sanding on your metal clay piece*. Now you have your templates, properly sized to work with. Roll your clay and use your templates for cutting it out. Build your piece in the method that you thought out ahead of time.

The sketch, tracings and cut-out templates

The finished piece

*Tip: when cutting along a line, keep your eyes looking at the line ahead of where your tool is cutting. Your hand will follow your eyes. You will get a better cut than if you look at the tool.

Next time I will describe how I use my computer to plan a piece.


About Evelyn

I'm a metal clay artist who is learning something new every day. My goal in my work is to make things that are well crafted and distinctively from my own hands, like the work of a good tailor. My jewelry can be found at

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