Convergent Series

learning, using & teaching metal clay, and other aspects of life

Trying Art Clay Copper (Post #3 of ?)

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/03/09

In my third installment of this tale of Art Clay Copper, I begin with a snapshot of the second tray of pieces almost ready to fire. (I’ll turn the fish so both are design-down, but I thought I’d show you the front of one for now.) As with the first shelf, it contains a mix of pieces I made over two days of working with the product. Before I talk about firing them both, I want to write a few notes about what this clay is like to work with.

In my first post from this series, I noted that my favorite for handling is Hadar’s Copper Clay (which comes in powder form). It has the most incredible silky-smooth texture when you work with it. The Art Clay Copper, straight from the pack, is a metal clay that feels much more like real clay (the kind potters use and gardeners hope to avoid). Once you’ve added lots of extra water to it (much more than with the silver clays), kneaded all that in, and let it rest a bit so the water can fully work its way into the binder, it gets to be much smoother. I never got either of the packs I tried to the super-soft feel that comes quickly with Hadar’s powder. (That’s just a comparison, not meant as criticism.)

But it was another of this clay’s handling characteristics that really surprised me. One of the techniques I use quite frequently with other metal clays (silver, bronze, and other brands of copper) involves making several components of a piece, letting them dry, then re-moistening the surface where they’ll connect to each other, waiting a bit for the water to soak in and, perhaps, adding more water if some areas dry out again faster than others, then putting the two pieces together with a motion that is often referred to as squidging.

Some people make attachments another way. They will thin down a bit of clay into a thick paste form, spread that all over one piece, then moisten the second one and push it into the paste. I’m not as crazy about that one, mostly because it leaves you with some paste oozing out around the joint that you then have to clean up. In most cases, the best way to do that is to let the paste dry and it will chip off more easily than will any parts of the original clay components. But it’s still messier, and the chipping is still riskier, than what you get through the squidge-process; and I’ve seen no prior evidence that the paste-seam is any stronger than one that has been squidged.

Though I’ve no clue why this is the case, I found Art Clay Copper very difficult to squidge! Most of the people I know (or know of) who’ve preceded me in trying this product are paste-users, not squidgers, and they have reported that it takes a lot of paste to attach pieces. (Like the comments about additional water needed while kneading the clay initially, however, further details were not readily available.) I guess that could have been a clue that squidging would be a challenge, but that hadn’t dawned on me until I tried it.

Squidging involves moving the two pieces you want to attach, gently and slightly but repeatedly, against each other. At first, they slip past each other very easily. You are creating a tiny bit of paste with the water and the motion; you don’t want to move the pieces very much, however, because you don’t want to alter the texture around the edges of either piece. After a few seconds, they stop slipping as readily. You feel them grab onto each other. At that point, you make sure they are aligned correctly, stop moving them, and apply a bit of gentle pressure for a few moments more. And they’re attached!

Well, that’s how it works with other clays. With the Art Clay Copper, I never got that moment of feeling them grab. I’d get the moment just before that one, as the slipping slowed, but not the definite grab. It took a good bit of pressure to get the pieces to feel like they were holding onto each other securely. I had the same reaction every time I tried this. (In the photo, above, that means with: the “matched pair” of big disks at the top, the ball on the piece at the upper right, and on the underside of the domed piece in the middle to the right. I also did that with the partial-layer on the two leaf-shapes, and the disk on the back of the ginkgo that are on yesterday’s photo.)

With other clays, all it takes is a bit of smoothing with a moist fingertip (or, in tighter spaces, with a moist rubber-tipped tool) to clean up the seam. With this product, it took a lot more effort at that point, and even required additional sanding (which I’ll do, when necessary, but really prefer to avoid as much as possible) to get a neat-looking seam. Even with all that, I set up both shelves ready to fire with only moderate confidence that everything will hold together well. Time will tell, I guess.

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