Shaping the Future of Jewelry

The ''Champlevé Heart'' pendant is created by applying multiple layers of transparent enamel directly to a post-fired, burnished fine silver metal clay base. Grinding, sanding, polishing, and flash-firing finishing techniques are used. Photo Credit: Abby Johnston

by Stephanie Finnegan

Courtesy of Handmade Business

Meet five artists who testify why the world of metal clay has exploded and evolved over the past decade.

Metal clay is a cutting-edge medium that is still in its artistic infancy. Having been ''birthed'' in the early 1990s in Japan, it has found a receptive and eager audience worldwide.At first glance, the term ''metal clay'' seems to be an oxymoron: two words paired together that when studied alone, have opposite meanings. ''Metal'' suggests strength, cold lines, and hard angles. ''Clay'' conjures up images of pliability, with hands confidently shaping and shifting a soft medium into works of art. When brought together, metal clay understandably turns expectations upside down.

Metal clay consists of very small particles of metal--silver, gold, bronze, or copper--to name a few--mixed with an organic binder and water. It can be utilized like traditional clay, shaped by hand, or through using a mold. Metal clay can be fired in a kiln, with a gas torch, or on a gas stove. After the binder burns away, the pure sintered metal is left behind. It is a wondrous transformation, and it is no wonder that the versatility of the medium has a host of vocal and vociferous champions.

Handmade Business had the opportunity to chat with five talented metal clay artists:

Monique Perry

Monique Perry Monique Perry has been working with metal clay for eight years, and she credits this medium for giving her a push toward becoming a better and more versatile artist. ''I'm constantly thinking of how I'm going to create that next piece that incorporates a variety or combination of techniques,'' Perry says. ''I may choose to set a stone, add enamel, hand-sculpt, or carve details in a given piece. While there are similarities in working with metal clay and with regular clay, the precious aspect of metal clay makes it more desirable for me in creating jewelry.''

Perry is an enamellist and a traditional metal smith. When she applies transparent enamel directly to deeply textured, or fired metal clay, she appreciates the sense of movement that is ultimately created. ''I find that the surface textures and sculpted elements I can readily add when designing and creating a setting complements Cloisonné focals or gemstones, and it adds a unique quality to my work,'' she points out.

A keen observer of the arts scene--locally and internationally--Perry is impressed by the inroads that metal clay has made in American studios over the past decades: ''It's wonderful to see the positive energy surrounding this medium. It's remarkable how much it has changed and expanded.''

In her personal connection with the medium, Perry has honed a skill set that combines and incorporates multiple techniques in her jewelry, which reflects her own philosophy as well as her customers, too. She considers color to be one of the hallmarks of her work, but she also gravitates to themes that have a wide, recognizable audience: birds, doves, dragonflies, hearts, and nature. ''These elements are always present in my body of work.''

''Dragonfly'' features a fine, silver metal clay setting. It was created by Perry for the Cloisonné focal. The materials used are transparent and opaque enamels on copper, fine silver foil, and 24 kt. gold foil. Photo Credit: Abby Johnston

Anna Mazon

Anna Mazon Anna Mazon likens her time spent in the metal clay world to an adventure and a quest. Like any good pioneer who is setting out on a journey of exploration and discovery, Mazon has uncovered truths about herself and her connection to her more ''spiritual'' side.

''My work is quite sculptural and full of fine details. It has a slightly dark fantasy vibe to it, combined with refined organic feelings,'' she muses. ''My pieces are like personal talismans that can help you find magic, beauty, and real connection to nature in everyday life. I make my jewelry for people who are not afraid to daydream and who are looking for things that appear as if they are straight out of these dreams.''

The Polish artist is influenced by the natural world that surrounds her, as well as intellectual and spiritual philosophies that beckon her interests: ''Ancient cultures, European folklore, fantasy literature, and contemporary Earth-based religions have inspired me. The particular themes that I work with change quite often. Sometimes I am inspired by particular mythologies--for example, Slavic. What I always try to convey is a respect for nature and awe for its beauty.''

Much of Mazon's work does capture two of her preferred themes--an atmosphere of magic and otherworldliness. She utilizes her imagination and talent to help improve her slice of it.

''Right now, with a group of over 400 jewelry makers from my home country, we create collaborative jewelry to be auctioned off to help provide medical equipment for children and the elderly. It's a really amazing initiative that not only enables us to help, but it creates long-lasting friendships and encourages the sharing of know-how,'' she affirms.

Another part of the outreach initiative, which she is especially enamored with is ''Children for Children.'' The artist appreciates the way in which education is matched with fun. According to Mazon, ''Under their parents' supervision, children create pieces of jewelry using various techniques--beading, polymer clay, metal clay, etc. The pieces are later auctioned off for charity. This way, children learn that their creative work can actually make a difference and help others.'' For Mazon, that is a career-affirming accomplishment.
Mushroom Dreams

Each sculptural detail of the ''Mushroom Dreams'' necklace was formed by the artist's hand, without using any molds. It was oxidized and polished to enhance texture and details. Mazon considers it wearable sculpture.


''Vesna'' is the Slavic goddess of the spring, with a waning crescent moon. Part of the Slavic Tales Collection, the pendant is entirely handmade of silver, features a bit of 18 kt. gold, and has an opal full of blue and green sparkles.

Lis-el Crowley

Lis-el Crowley Lis-el Crowley was destined to become an artist, advocate, and instructor in the field of metal clay. A potter and a metal smith, she was instantly enchanted by the possibilities this new medium offered her. ''As an intuitive artist who likes to 'go with the flow,' it's malleability gave me the freedom to stretch myself in new and exciting ways,'' Crowley shares. ''As a teacher who loves to ignite creativity in others, I introduced many people to the medium and have been so gratified to see them develop their own unique styles and artistic voices.''

Crowley acknowledges that there are many types and brands of metal clay available, but she remains an avid proponent of silver clay. These days, her preference for silver clay meshes beautifully with her fascination for Art Nouveau design. Comfortable with working within a series or an overarching theme, Crowley has fashioned pieces that speak directly to her. She hopes that her satisfaction sparks a mutual reaction in her collectors: ''I create works of wearable art with a natural and organic flow. It's interesting that for a medium that has only been around for a short time, metal clay has made such a profound impact in the world of wearable art and in sculpture, too.''

Bridging the role of passionate artist and goodwill ambassador for the art form, Crowley has founded a local guild in Connecticut which works tirelessly to educate the general public and to expose them to the versatility of the medium. ''We have already produced several shows to further this end,'' she notes.

''Many artists are exploring the farthest reach of what is capable with this fantastic medium.''
- Lis-el Crowley

Art Nouveau Jewelry

A current series that Crowley is exploring centers around Art Nouveau jewelry.

Art Nouveau Jewelry

''Unwrapped'' captures Crowley's artistic motif: ''I create works of wearable art with a natural and organic flow.''

Crowley is also instrumental in promoting the promises and possibilities of metal clay on an international and educational basis. She has produced two highly successful Metal Clay Mojo Conferences: ''The last one, in Aug. 2015, was filled to capacity with metal clay artists from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Poland, and the Netherlands.'' The response was so positive that Crowley will produce these gatherings bi-annually. She is already busy strategizing for the 2017 Mojo.

''Many artists are exploring the farthest reach of what is capable with this fantastic medium,'' Crowley observes. ''New ideas, techniques, and styles are revealed on a constant basis. I believe the next steps for metal clay are greater acceptance within the world of fine art. There is a whole new world of tools and techniques that continues to expand.''

Cindy Silas

Cindy Silas Cindy Silas is a self-described ''experimenter and technique junkie.'' These attributes are essential as she strives to develop expertise and achieve the desired outcome of her metal clay machinations. ''I'm continuing to develop an original perspective for my artwork, and I love translating my designs and illustrations drawn from nature and textiles into metal clay art jewelry,'' she asserts.

Beginning in 2005, Silas fell under the sway of metal clay. Last year, celebrating her tenth anniversary of creating in this form, Silas purchased a 3-D printer and learned CAD (computer-aided design).

She is ecstatic about the options she has now ushered in for herself: ''I've been able to 3-D print several prototypes, make a mold, and fill it with metal clay. Additionally, with a little experimentation, I have developed my own copper clay formula. The benefits are that it's much cheaper than purchasing commercial brands; any quantity is always available, and I haven't had any sintering issues. Plus, I already have the ingredients to make several alloys when desired.''

Having an unfettered imagination, combined with the compulsion to try out new ideas and follow untraveled paths, Silas is always juggling new designs and envisioning jewelry enhancements. ''Another allure of metal clay is that I am able to add color with vitreous enamel. I hope to do more of this as I improve on that process,'' Silas states. ''I believe that art jewelry speaks for itself. I would describe my work as one-of-a-kind fanciful work inspired by nature and/or textiles.''

Enameled Snowflakes

The ''Enameled Snowflakes'' were created from Silas's own copper metal clay formula, with added vitreous enamel. She made these pieces for a Workhouse Arts Center show called ''Let It Snow.'' Silas created a texture plate from an illustration, then 3D-printed it. The artist created several copper pendants and then enameled them.

Carved Flower

Silas's ''Carved Flower'' is made of sterling metal clay with patina and freshwater pearl. The artist made a prototype with polymer clay and then made a mold to fill it with metal clay.

Silas is one of almost 100 artists who has juried into the Workhouse Art Center in Lorton, Virginia. A myriad of media are represented at the center and are sold to the visiting public. Silas has had a studio there for a little over a year, but she credits it with ''helping to define what I am now producing to sell.''

Viewing her achievements in metal clay and the success of her peers, Silas is optimistic about the future: ''As it grows in popularity, artists will continue to discover its versatility. Yes, they will invent new techniques and end uses,'' she agrees. ''Metal clay is still such a young medium, but its draw is undeniable. Once metal clay is sintered, it is metal that has permanence and value.''

Meghan Gage

Meghan Gage It is never too early to gravitate to the realm of artistic freedom and expression. Meghan Gage's breakthrough is a sterling case-in-point. The daughter of metal clay mentor and guru Holly Gage, Meghan was first introduced to metal clay at age 11. She began to use it professionally at age 17 when she created Precious Paw Prints Jewelry.

''My philosophy is to create an extremely personalized experience that utilizes paw prints, images, castings, photographs, ashes, and hair to create a piece that fully embodies my clients' beloved companions,'' Gage details.

The young entrepreneur is an outspoken animal devotee, and she creates a line of jewelry and accessories that allows folks to keep their animals' spirits alive and well. These items can be worn close to the human's hearts or cradled near their hands. ''Many of my customers want to carry a piece of their companion, whether the animal is still walking on the earth or has passed over the rainbow bridge. My business is meant to strengthen and portray the importance of the bond between animal lovers and their companions,'' Gage explains.

Following in her mother's footsteps, but making the path she follows all her own, Gage has definite opinions about the state of the industry. She has watched the choices of clay and the number of companies' boom over the past 10 years: ''As a medium, metal clay just continues to grow. When I first began, it seemed that only PMC (precious metal clay) silver existed. Now there is gold, bronze, copper, steel, flex, and so much more. There have been so many new companies creating metal clay lines, and also such an increase in efficiency for ease of use and firing. These changes have made the creative process seamless. Truly, nowadays, one can create anything that the mind envisions. This industry is certainly not stagnant.''

Dog Print Cuff Links

Dogs are man's best friends and these cufflinks celebrate the male collector who shares that sentiment.

The Precious Paw Print

The Precious Paw Print collection can honor the memories of deceased animal companions, as well as commemorate four-legged friends while still alive.