Monday, April 6, 2015

Rendez-vous with PMC Sterling :-)

Yes, I know, I am behind everyone when comes to sterling silver clay :-). I guess it's simply because we don't have PMC distributor in Poland (anyone interested? ;-) ), so I rather stick to Art Clay. But last year when I got Rio Grande gift certificate for Saul Bell Design Award, I decided to spend it mostly on something that is not so easily accesible in my country, so PMC Sterling and Argentium :-). I already played with Argentium a little bit (fun!), but sterling clay was waiting and waiting... Finally I decided to try it.
Sooo, my plan for this post is to write a little bit about how did it go ;-).

Generally - I like the texture of this clay when it's wet - it's super fine,  quite similar to PMC3 - a little bit like a bubble gum :-) (if compared to Art Clay). Long working time, darker colour than fine silver clay - blablabla everyone already knows these things -  a lot of really great tests were published in various places.
What surprised me was how dried clay behaves. This material is undoubtedly designed for carving, and I don't really carve. I file. So at the beginning I was super annoyed by the fact that this clay, even when it's dried, is a little bit "buttery" and it clogs files immediately. So, in a way, I was forced to change my way of working, especially for this clay, but you know what - at the end I don't mind it. I learned a lot.

Another thing that I don't like is high shrinkage rate - I really don't need my pieces to become smaller. I can live with 10% of fine silver clays, but 20% is a little bit too much. And it comes with a price ;-) - bigger distortion. It turns out that it's not a problem in case of more or less flat pieces (all the pendants were ok), but in case of rings it is an issue. I had to reshape all the rings that I made so far, to make them round again after firing. I'll have to try firing plugs, but I don't like using additional stuff in firing process.

Yeah - as for the additional stuff - after a few first firings that left some carbon marks on backs of my pieces I learned (thank you Terry Kovalcik and Ros Wood! :-) ) that it's better to arrange firing in such a way that pieces don't have any direct contact with carbon - so cover them with a stainless steel mesh or something like that. With those first pieces I also tested soldering traditional sterling to fired PMC Sterling, and it works ok.

It seems that yes, this clay has its cons - no doubts about that -but the strength - it makes up for everything, and that's the reason why it's definitely not the last time I am using it. I want to use it more, especially for rings, but first I have to solve the distortion problem.

Here is another example of PMC Sterling work, mixed with sterling sheet and wire (the stone setting, bail behind it etc.) - "Dream Keeper". I cut sterling sheet in a shape which fitted exactly in between the ornaments on the back of the pendant, so it was easy to solder it. Then I soldered prongs on top of it and a bail on the back. It worked nicely.

If you are curious, here you can see a few steps of making my "Drawing down the Moon" pendant (the first photo), inspired by a Full Moon ritual. Someone asked in one of the internet groups, where did I get the mould ;-))))))), so I just thought that it might be interesting to show the process at least partially.

Here you can see some progress of making the face. I work mostly in an additive way. Then I take away some clay in "strategic" places ;-) with a file. I don't use any fancy carving tools etc. People who attended my classes know that I have just two favourite tools - something for cutting and a pointy file - this would be all.

Some more details. I didn't do anything to the face from that point - I was quite happy with the expression. I am still learning how to sculpt human faces and there is still a long way to go, but I feel I am finally starting to think about expressions and not only "how to make a face that looks more or less like a face" ;-).

Details, details. It's like building a tiny model :-). Adding a little bit, filing off a little bit. It's not easy, and it's not fast, but I think it's worth it. I just love this complex, three dimensional look I can get this way.

And some more building and filing - the piece might look quite openwork and delicate, but you might notice that each element is attached to something, really firmly, at least in two places.

Almost ready. I just added a little bit of 18K green gold inside the eyes - I wanted to create this feeling of her being "filled" with the Moon, with this otherwordly shine in her eyes :-).
And it was ready for firing. It turns out that manufacturer's schedule works just fine in my kiln, so I fired all my PMC Sterling pieces in two phases - first open shelf 538 °C for 1 h, and then buried in carbon 815 °C. for 1-2 h (depending on the size of the piece). After getting some marks from carbon in my first firings I make sure that I have some ceramic paper under the piece and stainless steel mesh above it. I don't mind quite long firing time at all - especially if I work on a piece for a few days. But I understand that this might be annoying for people who make a lot of simpler pieces.

Because of the green gold addition, in this particular case I repeated the second phase of firing twice. According to the manufacturer (Michelle :-) ), it requires double firing. You can read more about this material here. And I guess that this would be all for today ;-).


  1. I'm yet to try PMC sterling, but I love what you've done with it :)

    1. Thank you :-). It is, overall, very nice clay I have to say. I still have a few packages, and I am looking forward to using them.

  2. Aclya sapphire ring $50-$150 cheap but equally beautiful And it was ready for firing. It turns out that manufacturer's schedule works just fine in my kiln,

  3. Useful article, thank you for sharing the article!!!

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