© 2014

Playing with fire (without getting burned)

Woohoo! I made a bead! Well, a pendant. But I still made it!

Over the last few months, I’ve been kicking around several ideas for my bead resolution. One was to try something that symbolized hawks. We have quite a few that nest/hunt in our neighbourhood, and I’ve always been a little in awe of them. They soar so gracefully, and are stunning when you can see them perched in a tree or swooping down to the ground to catch their prey. And yet, tiny little birds chase them through the air and the hawks flee from them. It’s the oddest thing. I was originally thinking of doing something that showed hawks silhouetted in the air (minus the chasing birds), but my drawing skills didn’t do justice to the vision in my head. Then I had the idea of doing a skull, since it wouldn’t be as obvious if I didn’t quite hit the mark ;D

So, I began playing. My drawing looked a bit like an alien, but my attempt with clay was closer, even if it still resembled a turkey vulture more than a hawk. The modelling clay that I’ve been using isn’t great for projects of this scale. It cracks or crumbles when I bend it, and trying to etch something into it leaves a very rough design. After watching several PMC tutorials online, I was pretty sure that the metal clay would be more malleable, but I was still cautious about putting my design to the test with the metal clay.

I finally set a deadline for myself: the end of October. So last Wednesday I decided I was going to go for it. No distractions, no more excuses. I was going to get ‘er done!

The initial shaping step went well, which was a relief! After it dried, I started to sand the edges to prepare it for the torch. And that’s when I realized the initial shaping hadn’t been the hardest part. I had been afraid of handling the metal clay too much, so it was only after it dried that I realized that the eyes were too small to pass a chain through. And one was higher than the other. I had to sand the eye holes to enlarge them and to try to get the eyes to line up properly. After working on them for a while, I was able to get the eyes to reasonably line up and to pass a chain through them. But, the bead still didn’t sit quite the way that I wanted it to. I considered trying to enlarge the eyes even more, but ultimately decided that I’d probably just end up ruining the piece if I fiddled with it too much. Instead, I drilled a small hole into the top and turned it into a pendant. I didn’t sand the surface of the clay too much, opting to embrace the slightly rougher finish.

The last step was to burn off the clay using a butane torch, leaving just the metal behind. That was today’s task.

It smoked more than I expected. And the flames were momentarily worrisome (but actually expected). My biggest worry was that it didn’t seem to take nearly as long to heat up as the sample in the tutorial. I guess time flies when you are worried about burning down your house/ruining your bead!

After it cooled, I cautiously tapped it and the sound of metal (not clay) sent me into a bit of a happy dance. When I rubbed it with the steel wool and the metal colour started to show itself, I really couldn’t contain my joy! What I don’t have (yet) is the liver of sulfur. I really think the features will show up better after it’s oxidized. And it’s a bit too shiny anyway!

My final design might not look exactly like a hawk, but I still love it!

This bead making resolution has certainly been an interesting journey. My initial ideas were all more spherical, but I had to abandon those after realizing they would probably be too thick to fire with a torch. I also realized early on that I would have to compromise and go with fine silver, not sterling silver. Sterling requires a two-step firing process that can only be done in the more precise confines of a kiln, and I didn’t feel that I could commit to a kiln when I’ve just started (also, my husband might have had me committed if I bought a kiln after just starting).

Because I was using fine silver, I worried that the final bead wouldn’t be strong enough to wear on a bracelet. My backup plan was to wear whatever I made on a necklace, so I wasn’t too torn up when I changed this design to be a pendant. The finished piece seems very sturdy, so I’m sure it would be fine on a bracelet. But, I’m glad that I drilled the hole in the top since during the firing it shrunk just enough that I can’t pass a chain through the eyes anymore.

I originally bought 10g of silver clay, thinking that I could make two beads out of it, but I probably used 8.5-9g of the package on this bead. Which means I need to buy more metal clay because I have another idea that I really want to do! And it’s a bead this time ;)

One resolution down, two to go!

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  • 4 Comments

    1. Enaktra
      October 30, 2014 | #

      Oh it’s beautiful! It turned out wonderful. Is it too big to wear as a dangle? Congrats on your beautiful pendant. :)

      • Tracy
        October 30, 2014 | #

        Thank you! :)

        It’s about 1 1/8″ long so it is big, but I probably could wear it as a dangle. I just don’t like dangles :D Since the eyes are about halfway down, with my original plan of running the chain through the eyes I figured the larger size wouldn’t bug me since it would be evenly distributed on the top and bottom of the chain. If I had a chain with a smaller diameter it would work. It’s really close to still fitting on the chain, just a smidgen too small.

    2. November 4, 2014 | #

      Cool as @*!%

      Congrats, so impressed with this, I had no idea about metal clay until you started talking about it in your resolutions.

      Fascinating stuff, look forward to see what happens next. I’m hoping my shoulder might be good enough to have another go at lampworking sometime next year!

      Mars xx

      • Tracy
        November 4, 2014 | #

        Thank you :D I can’t really describe how thrilled I was when it was all done! And how excited I am to try again! I have at least one or two other ideas bouncing around in my head, so they’ll definitely be more to share at some point.

        I really hope you get a chance to get back to your lampworking. I remember you showing the beads that you made last time. I still think that would be amazing to try one day! :)

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