By Tracy Lai
Around a decade ago, I discovered precious metal clay while looking for a new creative outlet. After taking a workshop creating metal clay jewellery, I became hooked!
Precious metal clay is a specialized clay containing metal particles, such as fine silver. The particles are combined with a binder made of organic plant material and water. Metal clay was invented in Japan in the 1990’s. The clay is manipulated into a shape, dried, and fired using a butane torch or kiln. Firing the clay burns away the plant material and sinters the metal particles, leaving pure metal. You start with a dull, grey lump of clay and after finishing you have a bright, shiny piece of jewellery.
One of the strengths of metal clay is that it picks up textures easily, making it popular for fingerprint jewellery. Metal clay is primarily used in clay form, but is also available in syringe, paste and paper form. Metal clay paper can be folded into origami jewellery or quilled into intricate patterns. There are also clays made of different metals including sterling silver, copper and bronze.
I am fortunate to have studied various metal clay techniques with leading instructors in North America. In 2016 I studied with Jackie Truty, master instructor and founder of Art Clay World USA. Through these studies, I received my Senior Art Clay Instructor certification. This involves making several very specific technical projects and having them evaluated. Teaching is one of my passions and it brings me joy to share my excitement of metal clay. It brings a smile to my face when I see a student react the same way I did when I first experienced metal clay. I currently offer workshops in venues throughout Simcoe County and York Region.
Some of my favourite metal clay techniques include mokume gane (combining different metals to create wood patterns), enamelling, keum boo (a technique of attaching 24K gold to silver) and incorporating unique stones.
The name Metal Keys Designs is based on my love of the piano. I started out creating music themed jewellery but have evolved into much more with vintage and nature patterns influencing my work. My pieces are available through Forty-One, my website and the annual Innisfil Studio Tour. Metal clay has enriched my life and continues to do so. It is an ever-evolving art and I look forward to all it’s future developments.