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Enameled accents pendant

Freestanding cloisonné cells add color to silver metal clay

Traditional cloisonné artists shape fine-silver wire into cells, fuse them to a metal base on a layer of clear enamel flux, then fill them with enamel. To do this technique on a metal clay base, you can simply use overlay paste to attach the cells. Generally, enamel artists must counterenamel, or enamel the back of, their pieces to prevent the enamel from cracking. You can avoid this step by making just one or two thin layers of enamel and keeping your piece at least 1 mm thick before firing. You can also use this technique with resin.

Read the project instructions below, or click here for the free project PDF.

Materials

  • Silver metal clay
  • Metal clay paste
  • Fine-silver round wire: 0.5 mm (24-gauge), 45.7 cm (18 in.)
  • Art Clay Silver Overlay Paste
  • Transparent jewelry enamels for silver

Additional tools & supplies

  • Embossed craft papers (optional)
  • Baby wipes
  • Ceramic fiber blanket
  • Mesh firing rack
  • Forms for shaping wire: mandrel, tiny cookie cutters, cocktail straw, etc.
  • Small, fine-point scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Water brush (optional)
  • Magnetic tumbler (optional)
  • Mortar and pestle
  • Liver of sulfur (optional)

Toolbox: Metal clay

Instructions

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Roll and texture metal clay. Apply olive oil or natural hand balm to your hands, tools, and work surface. Use a plastic roller to roll silver metal clay to 1.5 mm (6 cards thick) on a nonstick surface. Lay the clay on a texture sheet, and roll over it to texture the back of the pendant.

If you want to texture the top of your piece, place 1 mm thickness guides on each side of the clay, place a low-relief texture sheet on top of the clay and roll over the clay again.

Cut out the backplate. Place the clay on the nonstick surface. Cut out a shape for your pendant freehand or use a template or cutter [1]. Allow your backplate to dry completely, and use a baby wipe to smooth the edges.

Attach a bail to the backplate, and fire it. Make a bail for your backplate as desired, and use metal clay paste to attach the bail to the back. Allow your piece to dry completely, then refine it again, if necessary. Fire the backplate according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Allow the piece to air-cool; do not quench it. When the backplate is cool, polish it using a brass brush and soapy water.

Make the cells. Wrap 0.5 mm (24-gauge) fine-silver round wire around a form, such as a mandrel or a tiny cookie cutter. To make small rings, use cocktail stirrers. To make multiples of the same shape, wrap the wire several times around the form [2]. For more organic shapes, shape the wire freehand.

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Close the cells. Use small, fine-point scissors to cut the wire shapes [3], then carefully reshape each cell with your fingers or pliers so that it closes flush where the wire ends meet.

Anneal the cells. Anneal the cells in a kiln at 800°C (1472°F) for 2 minutes. You can anneal with a torch instead, but be careful; this gauge of wire melts very quickly. Allow the cells to cool.

Position the cells on the backplate. Handle the annealed wires carefully, because they are soft and will easily bend out of shape. Use tweezers to place the cells onto your backplate to determine their position [4]. Using your fingertip, press them gently to ensure that they make even contact with the surface. This is especially important when you’re working on a curved surface.

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Attach the cells to the backplate. Put a small amount of overlay paste into a container, and add just enough distilled water to make a thick, creamy paste. If the paste is too thin, it will not hold well.

Use tweezers to pick up a cell and dip it into the overlay paste [5] so that the bottom edge of the cell is covered in paste. Set the cell in position on your backplate. Repeat to attach all of your shapes.

Once the overlay paste is dry, it will hold the cells in place for firing, but it’s not a permanent hold. Until you fire the piece, you can reposition the cells. Check for any gaps between the cells and the backplate. Use a fine-tip paintbrush to add overlay paste if needed. 

Remove excess paste. Use a water brush or fine-tip paintbrush to clean off any excess overlay paste from around the base and top edge of the cells [6]. Allow the assembly to dry completely.

Fire the pendant. Fire the pendant for 4 minutes at 800°C (1472°F) to fuse the cells to the backplate.

Check for leaks. Allow the pendant to cool, then check that the cells are attached. Run a burnisher lightly over the cells to make sure there are no sharp edges at their seams. Use a clean paintbrush to flood each cell with clean water in order to check for gaps. Fill any gaps with over-lay paste, and refire the pendant.

Polish the pendant. Polishing the piece will give a better shine under the enamels. Place the pendant in a magnetic tumbler for 10–15 minutes or in a rotary tumbler with steel shot and burnishing compound for about 2 hours. Or, hand-polish it, using a brass brush and a burnisher.

If your wires come off the pendant, they weren’t properly attached; repeat the previous steps to attach the cells and fire the pendant.

Remove oils from the pendant. When your pendant is completely dry, place it in the kiln at 800°C (1472°F) for 2 minutes to burn the oils from the metal’s surface. After this, water should be able to sheet over the surface, which is very important when you’re wet packing enamels. Allow the pendant to air-cool. Do not touch the surface to be enameled.

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Apply the first enamel layer. Prepare the enamels. Tilt the enamel container so that there’s some enamel above the waterline and some below.

Using a clean fine-tip paintbrush, take enamel from just above the waterline, and carefully place the enamel into a cell. Continue until you’ve filled the bottom of the cell with a thin, even layer of enamel. Rinse your brush in clean water, and use your brush to remove any enamel grains that are out of place.

Repeat to fill each cell [7]. Rinse your brush well before using a different color of enamel to prevent any contamination.

Using your paintbrush handle, tap the edge of the pendant to distribute the enamel grains evenly. Wick away the excess moisture with a clean paper towel [8]. Removing the water helps to prevent air bubbles.

NOTE: If you’re applying two different colors to two adjacent cells, fire the first color of enamel before applying the second. This makes it easier to remove any wet grains that stray into the wrong cell and prevents inadvertent color mixing.

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Photo 9

Fire the first enamel layer. Allow the enamel to dry completely before firing; any moisture will boil and can leave air bubbles. Position your piece as level as possible on a ceramic fiber blanket on a mesh firing rack [9], and fire the piece in a kiln until the enamel is smooth and glossy. Allow the piece to air-cool; do not quench it, or your enamel will crack.

NOTE: Firing times and temperatures will vary for different types and brands of enamel. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for firing temperatures. To determine firing times, test your enamels.

Add the second layer of enamel. Let the piece cool, and then add a second thin layer of enamel.

Finish the pendant. Give your pendant a final polish with a brass brush and soapy water. Be careful not to brush the enamel; the wires will scratch the surface of the glass. If desired, patinate the pendant with liver of sulfur.

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