Well hi there, all you new visitors. I’m going to assume that most of you have arrived at this destination because of Sage Bray touting my formerly obsessive electroforming polymer clay adventures.
And before going any further, I must tout right back to Sage, because The Polymer Arts (and its accompanying blog) is a really terrific magazine, on par with Cynthia Tinapple’s revered — angels sing quietly in the background here — “Polymer Clay Daily.”
So yes, for the first time since about 1994, I haven’t been working with polymer clay. I’ve actually had to force myself not to do this. Along with that, the readership for my blog pretty much has been reduced to my mother, my sister, and anyone who Googles “funny photos” or “electroforming on polymer clay.” This is all because I have neglected my blog while working on The Great American Novel.
But you could really care about that, right? You’re here for the free info. Well okay, your timing is very, very good indeed.
Some of you might know that not so long ago, I wrote and photographed a lot of how-to polymer clay magazine articles. (And yes, my website with the list of all of my articles is grossly of date, too.) Well, I still have a couple of stories that I never got around to getting published and — wait for it — what I have is on electroforming.
And I’ve been mulling over what to do with them for a while.
So troops, a Merry Early Christmas! Here comes a free project and tutorial. I’ve been inspired to share (how much, I can’t say), having lurched back to my blog again. There’s no PDF you have to pay for on Etsy! It’s free!
You can make two different kinds of earrings…..
ELECTROFORMED POLYMER CLAY EARRINGS
Story and Photos by Cassy Muronaka
6 oz. or so scrap clay
About 10 hot fix heat-set rhinestones, in varying sizes and colors
Pasta machine dedicated to polymer clay
Pencil with erase
1/16″ wide, double-pointed metal knitting needle
Tissue slicer or clay blade
Deli or parchment paper
Toaster oven and baking tray dedicated to clay
Oven thermometer (omit this tool at your peril)
Small amount of baby powder
Cosmetic brush or thick paintbrush
4″ X 4″ (or so) acrylic sheet, 1/8″ to 1/4″ wide
Optional: 3/4″ round punch cutter
Tapered clay shaper
4″ 20 or 22 gauge copper wire
Chain nose pliter
Round nose pliters
Sherri Haab’s E3 E-Form kit
Optional: masking tape
Optional: Liver of sulfur
2-3 jewelry foam polishing pads
Gloss acrylic sealer
2-4 copper fish hook earring findings
1.) Preheat your oven to 275 degrees (or whatever temperature you think your scrap clay cures), Check your oven’s temperature by placing the oven thermometer inside for about 15 minutes, to check and monitor the oven’s temperature.
2.) The next eight steps will tell you how to construct your texture patterns.
Warm up and soften your polymer clay and then use your acrylic roller on your work surface to make a sheet of clay about 4” X 3” and ¼” to slightly less than ¼” thick. If you want to use your pasta machine for this step, successively run two sheets of clay through the machine at your thickest and second thickest settings. After that, place one clay sheet on top of the other, forming a new, thicker sheet of clay. Be careful not to encase any air bubbles between the two. Use your roller to even the surface and make sure the two sheets stick together.
3.) Trim the new sheet of clay with your blade and then place it on a small piece of deli or parchment paper.
4.) Texturing the clay is simple. You are just going to press the knitting needle’s length into the clay in a variety of directions.
Dust the knitting needle with a little baby powder, using your cosmetic brush. Put the knitting needle down on the sheet of the clay in a direction of your choice. Press it down gently, just so it stays in place. Place a piece of deli paper on top of the needle and clay. Now top it with the acrylic sheet, pressing the acrylic down with both hands. This will embed the knitting needle evenly into the clay .
5.) Lift the acrylic sheet and the deli paper off of the clay sheet. Now pick another direction for texturing. Repeat the process of pressing the needle down and lifting it off of the clay.
Do this until you have a pattern that pleases you. Trim it up with your blade, remove it from your work surface. Cure it in the oven for 45 minutes. Cool.
6.) The texture sheet that you have made will create a raised pattern when you use it on raw clay. To have the option of a recessed texture sheet of the same pattern, repeat Steps 2 and 3, and then coat the baked clay sheet with baby powder.
Now place the new sheet of unbaked clay upon the baked sheet of clay. Top this with deli paper. Begin pressing the raw into the cured clay with the fingers of one hand, holding the clay and paper in place with the other hand. The deli paper will keep your fingers from sticking to the baked clay; you don’t want the raw clay moving around while you are making your indentations.
You can occasionally peek to see if your sheet is being evenly impressed this way, too, by keeping one hand on the side of the two sheets of clay while you lift with your other hand.
When the raw clay is sufficiently textured, trim it and lay it on your baking tray. Bake this also for 45 minutes and then cool the sheet You now have two texture sheets, one with an indented pattern, the other with a raised one.
7.) It’s time to make your earring foundation bases. If you’re good at eyeballing, pull off and form two ¾” balls of scrap clay. More precisely, you can use a ¾” punch cutter on a sheet of scrap clay that is about 1/8” in thickness. The latter can be formed either by rolling it out with your acrylic roller or by running it through the pasta machine on its thickest setting.
Punch out five circles for each earring foundation, and roll each of the five circles together to form a ball.
8.) Roll the bottom of a ball slowly between the bottom part of the palms of each hand until you have formed a teardrop that is about 1/2” wide and about 1 1/4” long. Place this on your work surface and flatten it to an even thickness of slightly less than ¼” wide and length of about 1 ½” long.
Repeat this process for the other five circles. Note: If you want to do two sets of earrings, using both texture sheets, make two more earring foundations.
9.) Now, examine your texture sheet(s) and figure out where want to place and texture your earring base. Place the shape on the texture sheet. On top of that, add deli paper. Press down to make an even indentation. Note: If you are unsure about whether you can texture the bead and keep the depth uniform, you can use your acrylic sheet on top of the deli paper.
Repeat the process for other earring.
10.) You now want to insert a copper eye pin at the top of each earring. Use your jewelry cutter and chain nose pliers, make a two eye pins from your 20- or 22-gauge wire that are wrapped about three times, so that the finished product is about half an inch long. The wraps do not have to be precise. And you can leave about 1/8” on the bottom, which you can fold up on itself. The idea is to have something for the clay to grab and stick in its crevices.
11.) Make a hole with the needle tool at the top of each unbaked earring that is wide enough to accommodate the wrapped bottom part of each copper eye pin.
12.) Use your chain nose pliers to insert each eye pin in each the earrings. Try to seal the hole gently by pinching it in gently, just to anchor the pins in place. Don’t distort your earring pattern. We’re going to fill the hole in later.
13.) Pick several rhinestones to decorate the earrings in a design of your choice. About five for each earring works well. When you place a rhinestone, press it down evenly so it connects and is just barely embedded in the surface of the clay. Use the eraser end of a pencil to help you do this.
14.) Place the earrings on a tray and bake them in a preheated over for 20 minutes. Cool them.
15.) Use the tip of your needle tool to drop just a bit of the liquid clay in each eye pin hole. Add a smidge of scrap clay on top of that, filling the open holes and permanently sealing those copper eye pins in place. You can smooth the clay using your fingers and a craft knife, tapered clay shaper or needle tool.
16.) Bake the earrings again for another 20 minutes. Cool them.
17.) The E3 E-form kit contains everything you need to electroform: a micro-controller for electroforming, plastic beaker, copper coil, copper wire, conductive graphite paint, brushes, sealer, chopsticks, brightener, gloves, funnel, filter and electroforming solution, brightener, and instruction sheet for use.
The first thing you need to do is coat your cured polymer clay pieces with conductive paint, using your small thin-tipped paintbrush. You don’t need to paint your eye pin, because it is already copper, nor do you paint your rhinestones.
18.) You will have to electroform each earring separately because they are not small items and you are copper-coating a significant area.
Cut a piece of copper wire that is about four inches long. Thread one end through one of the eye pins. Bend about ¼” of the end so that it folds back and touches the longer part of the wire. Set this aside for the moment.
19.) Place the copper coil inside the plastic beaker, with the vertical wire bend at the top of the beaker. Attach the alligator clip with the red wire to that vertical part of the coil, just above the beaker edge, or an inch above.
20.) Center the chopsticks, which you have not split apart, on top of the beaker. Slide the wire with the clay earring through the chopsticks until they hold the wire in place. Attach the alligator clip with the black wire to the to it. You want to leave about an inch of space from the bottom of the earring to the bottom of the beaker. If you need to tape the alligator clip in place, use some masking tape.
21.) Pour the blue electroform solution in the beaker, until there is enough to cover the earrings by a half-inch or so.
22.) Plug in E3 E-Form. I usually start out with the power on medium. The green light should be on constantly, and the red light slowly blinking on and off.
The earring will take about 2-3 hours to properly coat with copper, depending on how thick you want the coating. Leave it alone to electroform for at half an hour. You can lift it out to check how it’s coating after that.
Your finished piece should look a light, bright and shiny copper. If the color is not shiny, add a few drops of Brightener and continue electroforming for a while longer.
When you think it’s finished, rinse it off with some distilled water and dry it off with a paper towel.
23.) It’s a good idea to filter your solution between projects, especially if a piece has electroformed for quite a while. Place your filter inside your funnel and then pour the blue conductive solution back in its bottle through it.
24.) Repeat the electroforming process for the second earring.
25.) Liver of sulfur adds a patina that tones down the wild color of the fresh copper color in an electroformed project. I like to be able to control the darkening and color process, so I use cold water and a very small chunk of LOS, about the size of a quarter of a green pea.
Attach a piece of copper wire to your earring and dip it in and out of the LOS solution until you like the color of the patina. Stop the process by dunking the earring in a cup of distilled water. Repeat the process for the other earring.
26.) Highlight certain areas of your pieces by removing patina with a jewelry foam polishing pad.
27.) The color of the patina will change and darken over time unless you add a protective coating, like a spray-on clear acrylic gloss sealer.
28.) Attach your earring findings to your earrings.