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Metal-clay castle house charms

Take an assembly-line approach to building a series of these one-of-a-kind pieces

To borrow from the rock and jazz music worlds, I love to “riff” on an idea or design. Sometimes, my ideas for a series are thought out ahead of time, but often, a new piece will be so exciting, I’ll start making another… and another… with variations almost before completing the first one! Not only do I get to explore design concepts and perfect the construction techniques required, but I also end up with a ready supply of miniature elements for “Necklace-a-day” pendants, charm bracelets, and earrings that are related in theme. Whether you decide to create a village of castles and huts of your own, or riff on another design, this article will help you to begin to work in series.

SUPPLIES

  • Fine-silver metal clay:
    • Lump clay: 25–50 g
    • 1 syringe
  • Gold metal clay: 1–2 g
  • Assorted doming forms
  • Plastic sanding needles and sanding papers
  • Liver of sulfur
  • Distilled water
  • Nail polish
  • Small sponge
  • Small bowl
INSTRUCTIONS

The key to streamlining the construction process is that each charm has essentially the same four elements: walls, roof, floor, and bail. Work your way through the steps to create multiple walls at a time, then multiple roofs, etc. The secret to keeping the charms distinct and original is to mix up dimensions, textures, and forms. Vary the height or diameter of the walls, the slope of the roofs, the number and placement of doors and windows, etc. By the time you finish your series, you’ll have a firm grasp on the technical process of texturing, cutting, molding, forming, and assembling — all the benefits of a repetitive sequence, without a series of identical pieces.

Metalclay castle house charms 1
Step 1
Metalclay castle house charms 2
Step 2

Prepare your work area. Because metal clay dries out, gather your tools and pre-pare your work area before unwrapping your clay. Assemble a variety of tools and armatures for drying your clay upon, including straws and other circular forms in various sizes [STEP 1]. Shape cutters serve double duty — as well as their intended purpose, you can also wrap strips of clay around them to create the charms’ walls. 

Gather texturing materials for the walls that will convey an aged look. I use my own carvings, old buttons, and textures I reproduced from plants and shells using a two-part silicone mold. Also gather textures that will be whimsical roofing possibilities [STEP 2].

Metalclay castle house charms 3
Step 3

Roll out the clay for the walls. Apply olive oil or another non-petroleum-based lubricant to your texture sheets, an acrylic roller, and your rolling surface. Then un-wrap your clay. 
Roll out clay on each of your selected textures to make 7–10 different walls [STEP 3]. The walls should be no more than about 1 in. (25.5 mm) wide for small charms. 

NOTE: The thickness of the rolled-out clay is up to you and your design. I’ve found for such small charms (the largest is 1 1⁄4 in./32 mm tall), it is possible to roll the clay as thin as #2-3 (2-3 playing cards thick) on a standard thickness guide. In some cases, you’ll want thicker clay; see the sidebar on “Simple Wet Etching” on the PDF of this project for an example. 

Wrap your remaining metal clay in plastic wrap to keep it from drying out, and set it aside. 

Metalclay castle house charms 4
Step 4
Metalclay castle house charms 5
Step 5

Create the wall elements. Cut the rolled-out clay into rectangular strips with a variety of heights [STEP 4]. (The short side of the rectangle determines the height of the charms.) Add the scrap clay to the clay you have set aside.

Wrap each strip around a straw or other round, square, or pyramid form. 

NOTE: For tall turrets and silos, a standard straw works well. For short barns and yurts, use fat straws [STEP 5]. For a tepee, use a cone shape; for a square building, use a block.

Metalclay castle house charms 6
Step 6
Metalclay castle house charms 7
Step 7

Press one end of the strip to the straw or other armature. Wrap the strip around the armature, and overlap the beginning of the strip. Use a wet fine-tip paintbrush to dampen both ends of the clay where they overlap [STEP 6], and trim the edges to make a smooth connection. Press to establish a bond, but not so firmly that you distort the texture.

Cut doors and windows. While the clay is still wet, use a craft knife to cut doors and windows [STEP 7]. Set the wall elements aside to dry completely (See “Metal Clay Dryness”).

Metalclay castle house charms 8
Step 8
Metalclay castle house charms 9
Step 9

Texture the roofs. Unwrap your reserved clay, and roll it out on a variety of textures that will complement your wall elements. The roofs will hold the bails, so should be at least #3, for strength. 

For a simple roof, use a round cutter to cut out a disk that is larger than the diameter of the wall element you’ll match it to [STEP 8]. Set each roof on a rounded form to give it a domed shape [STEP 9]. As you cut your roofs, remember to wrap your unused clay to keep it moist.

For complete project instructions, click here to download & print this PDF

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