Setting Up the Tools and Equipment for Forming

When it is time to figure out where you plan to form your metal clay, probably the top priority is going to be, as I mentioned before, a clean area to work. You want a pretty good-size work surface as well, but honestly that doesn't have to be huge. Try to find a spot that is at least a few feet in diameter so that you are fairly comfortable working. A kitchen counter, bathroom counter, or small table will do. A room with a nice long table would be wonderful, but as I said, not 100 percent necessary. You'll want to use something as your work surface on top of this area as well. This helps keep things clean and also provides a way to keep your clay from sticking too much. In Chapter 2, "Tools and Supplies for Metal Clay," I discussed a number of options for this. Here are a few examples of methods to protect your work surface:

► You can use plastic wrap, freezer paper, or one of my favorites, press and seal type plastic wraps, to cover your counter or table. These are great because you can throw them out when you are done, and they also protect the work surface (especially important if you are working in your kitchen). And, of course, remember to scrape off any silver residue and add it to your slip jar.

► Cutting mats (see Figure 4.2), used by a lot of paper artists, are also a pretty popular work surface. They have a grid on top and they are "self-healing," which means you can cut on them with a craft knife and not damage them.

Figure 4.2

A cutting mat is one option for a work surface. ©Speedy Peacock Photograph

Figure 4.2

A cutting mat is one option for a work surface. ©Speedy Peacock Photograph

► As mentioned in Chapter 2, a plastic paper protector with graph paper inside also works really well. Again, refer to Figure 4.1 and you'll see that is often what I use in my bathroom/studio space.

► Teflon craft sheets (see Figure 4.3), also know by the name Super Parchment, are another good option. They come in a variety of sizes, and as the name suggests, they are non-stick. Just clean them and reuse them later. You can buy different sized sheets of these, as well as long rolls and then cut them to fit your work area if you prefer.

► Glass or Plexiglas is also used by some clay artists because you can then transport it some place afterwards to dry.

Figure 4.3

Teflon is a good non-stick choice for metal clay work. ©Speedy Peacock Photograph

Figure 4.3

Teflon is a good non-stick choice for metal clay work. ©Speedy Peacock Photograph

These are just a few ideas. I think you get the picture: You want something clean and non-stick to place over the spot where you roll and form your clay. Now, you need to figure out what you'll need around your work area. Since the clay dries as you work, it is critical to have everything set up and ready to go before you start cracking open that new package of clay. Think about what you plan to make, and then pull out what you need and set it nearby (see Figure 4.4). At a minimum, though, you'll need some of the following items within reach:

► Shallow dish of distilled water

► Paint brushes

► Various sized straws

► A few sculpting tools

► Playing cards

Figure 4.4

Have items nearby so you don't have to dig them out in the middle of your clay work.

Figure 4.4

Have items nearby so you don't have to dig them out in the middle of your clay work.

After forming the clay, another important part of the process is to allow the clay to dry, and this means you need a spot for this as well. You'll notice the clay will look a little lighter in color when it is "bone-dry," which is what metal clay artists call this level of dried clay. It is also pretty fragile at this point, so handle it with care. As mentioned previously, the clay must be completely dried before it is fired. Otherwise, the extra moisture will cause the clay to be unstable and can result in cracked or even broken pieces. It is definitely worth the time to ensure your clay pieces are dry, or a lot of hard work will be lost and possibly a lot of metal clay will be too. Of course, you can attempt to recycle it by making it into slip or even try to figure out another way to rescue some of the clay, but your results are not guaranteed. It makes a lot more sense to make sure the clay is dry rather than try to fix errors later on.

Again, because I want to keep little paws out of my clay, I have selected a spot that I can close off. I have emptied one of the drawers in the bathroom cabinetry right below where I work (see Figures 4.5 and 4.6). I tend to work on one piece of clay formation after the other, so as I finish one of them, I just open the drawer and set it on a non-stick piece of Teflon, which I already have placed in the drawer. Once my pieces are all safely inside the drawer, I can pack up my supplies and tools, and my studio turns back into a guest bathroom. I don't have to worry about my clay pieces being disturbed. When I'm ready to fire, I just pick up the Teflon, gently slide my pieces onto a paper plate, and bring that over to my firing area.

Figure 4.5

An emptied drawer right below where I work is the perfect place to store my clay pieces and allow them to dry undisturbed.

Figure 4.5

An emptied drawer right below where I work is the perfect place to store my clay pieces and allow them to dry undisturbed.

Figure 4.6

Teflon placed on the bottom of the drawer keeps the clay from sticking.

Figure 4.6

Teflon placed on the bottom of the drawer keeps the clay from sticking.

I live in a very humid climate, so I allow the pieces to dry overnight before I fire them. If you live in a dryer climate, some clay pieces (depending on their size) can dry as quickly as 30 minutes on their own. If you are the type that hates to wait for your clay to dry, then you can try a number of popular methods used by metal clay artists to speed up the drying time such as drying it with a hair dryer, coffee cup warmer, or food dehydrator. One issue with these faster drying methods, however, is that they can sometimes cause thinner pieces of clay to warp a little, but most can be flattened after firing by either using your hands to press them down or if a piece is very thick, you can use a rawhide hammer to tap it flat. Another word of caution, though. If your clay was not thoroughly dried during your speedy drying attempt and it does warp some, if you try to flatten it, this can actually cause it to break.

Storage for all your clay tools and supplies is another concern and very helpful if you are like me and need to be able to pack up your metal clay supplies when you aren't using them. While I'm lucky that my guest bathroom doesn't see a lot of guests other than my cats who enjoy drinking out of the faucet, I still need to have it available for its original purpose now and then. To help with this, I have a small rolling cart, pictured in Figure 4.7, where I store a lot of my metal clay supplies when I don't have them spread all over the counter. By having a few small boxes as well as baskets in the cart, I can put away my stuff pretty quickly as well as pull it out when I'm ready to work.

Figure 4.7

A small cart on wheels provides a way for me to pack up and roll out when necessary.

Figure 4.7

A small cart on wheels provides a way for me to pack up and roll out when necessary.

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