M is for Moisture (AtoZ 2016)
What is moist? Merriam-Webster defines it as slightly or barely wet : not completely dry.
Slightly wet. And not completely dry. That really clears it up, doesn’t it!
It’s one of those qualitative words, not quantitative, so there isn’t really one right answer. But, moisture is very important when you are working with metal clay.
You need the clay to be moist so that it’s malleable enough to work with. Too dry and it doesn’t bend, it cracks. Too wet and it sticks to everything or doesn’t hold its shape. And it doesn’t take long for it to start to dry up. I’ve had situations where I pull the clay out of the package, carve off and work one piece quickly, then go to work the second piece and it’s already drying up. I think it’s particularly an issue for me because the pieces that I’m working are usually so small, so it really doesn’t take long for the moisture to start evaporating. I suspect that a larger piece would maintain its moisture a little better. I also tend to make more of my pieces in the colder weather, so our house is drier because of the furnace. Thankfully, it’s not that hard to add a little moisture. I always work with a paintbrush and cup of water nearby so that I can add a thin layer of water without soaking the piece.
Left: Too dry. It cracked when I started rolling it and the small end piece broke off when I tried to curl it around the drinking straw. Right: Too wet. When you work the clay with your hands, you’ll get a thin film of clay on them, but it shouldn’t smear like this. But, less than a minute later it was perfect!
After you’ve shaped your item, moisture becomes even more important. You have to let the clay dry completely before you can fire it. Any moisture at all and the piece will crack or explode. Some people recommend using coffee warmers or other gentle heat sources to dry your piece, but I prefer to let mine air dry for at least a day so that I don’t have to worry about the outside being dry but the inside still having moisture. Because my eyeball bead was thicker than usual, I let it dry a full week just to make sure that it was completely dry. Probably overkill, but no cracks or explosions!
Do you worry about things that you probably shouldn’t worry about? Or are you an eternal optimist?