Metal clays: Expanding, Not Shrinking!
When PMC3, the earliest product line of metal clays, announced its exit from the metal clay market last year, a ripple went through the metal clay world. Was metal clay in danger? Would any suppliers step in to fill the void?
It’s a testament to the growing popularity of metal clay as an artistic medium that within the year, not just one but two new metal clays have been introduced, and more are sure to follow.
Phoenix Torch Fireable Clay
The first new silver clay to launch was Phoenix®, a torch-fireable silver metal clay introduced In the spring of 2023 by Cool Tools, a U.S. metal clay supplier and producer of several metal clay lines. Rhonda Rein, owner, and Karen Trexler, resident artist at Cool Tools, sat down with AMCAW to talk about the new clay.
Q: What inspired you to create a new metal clay?
“With FS999™ Fine Silver and EZ960® Sterling Silver both requiring a kiln at 1650°F or higher,” said Rhonda, “we have always been eager to develop a clay which is not only torch fireable clay, but also a low firing clay that can be combined with glass. Many beginners are understandably not always ready to jump in and invest in a kiln, and one of the most common questions we get is whether or not metal clay can be torch fired.”
“The announcement that Mitsubishi would be exiting the metal clay market really ignited the desire for us to get to work and start testing,” Rhonda adds. “Mitsubishi had a few torch-fireable clays to choose from, and we needed to fill that gap. Not only is Phoenix torch fireable, but its torch-fired strength is similar to its kiln-fired strength. Karen has been wearing several torch-fired rings she made with Phoenix for 6 months now (as of this writing), just to test its strength through daily wear and tear. The rings are all continuing to hold up well. Even though fine silver typically isn’t recommended for rings, the density and strength of Phoenix really appears to override this.”
Q: What are your favorite features of Phoenix clay?
“One of my favorite features of Phoenix is the strength that it has in the greenware state,” says Karen. “When dry, especially if it’s dried with heat, Phoenix is incredibly strong, which makes it easy to refine without having to fear breaking or distorting your work. I really enjoy sanding and like to heavily refine my pieces before I fire them so they have a high shine when they’re finished and are easy to polish. I love that I don’t have to worry about breaking my Phoenix pieces while I’m refining them. Phoenix also will burnish in the greenware state really well without denting or breaking, and I find that the stiffness that Phoenix has helps me get a really nice finish on my pieces. Then, when they’re fired they have a brilliant shine.”
“Another one of my favorite features of Phoenix might be obvious because it’s in the name,” adds Karen, “but as a long time kiln user, I was surprised to find I love that Phoenix is a torch-fireable clay! Quickly torch firing a piece or using one of the shorter firing schedules really helps me keep my studio practice moving by keeping creative momentum going and not having to pause to wait on a longer firing schedule. The instant gratification of being able to finish up refining a piece, and then being able to torch fire it and have a finished piece in your hand in less than ten minutes is so satisfying! I feel like it naturally leads me to dive right into the next project on my list.”
Q. What is Phoenix perfect for?
Karen has a favorite here. “Phoenix Torch Fireable Clay is an excellent clay to use for any project that will entail soldering, as it does not soak solder at all. I was practicing as a metalsmith and had been soldering for years before I discovered metal clay, and I still sometimes struggled to successfully solder on metal clay when battling the way it tends to “soak” solder. Phoenix doesn’t soak the solder at all, making the process so much easier as the solder stays where it should on the surface of the two metals to be joined.”
“The torch firing aspect of Phoenix makes it a beginner friendly clay, but more than that I think the stiffness that it has even when it’s in lump form makes it a forgiving clay and great for beginners. It’s hard to smudge textures or edges which makes less work needed in the refining portion of working with this clay and I think that aspect of it makes it very beginner friendly.”
Q. Phoenix is made of recycled metal; was that important in developing your new clay?
“Both of our other silver metal clays are made of recycled metal,” says Rhonda. “Naturally, we went with the same source for silver in creating Phoenix. Recycled metal is absolutely important to us, in the same way that we reuse anything we can in everyday operations, such as paper, packaging, boxes, etc.”
Five Star Project X metal clay launched in June, 2023, with not just one clay, but an entire line from lump to syringe to paste, with an innovative James Bond-style introduction campaign. AMCAW sat down with Carrie Story, owner of Clay Revolution which produces the Project X and Five Star lines of metal clays.
Q: It’s so exciting to have a complete new line of silver metal clays! What inspired you?
“Like many others, my inspiration often stems from a desire for new and innovative products,” said Carrie. “Being an artist, I constantly seek out exceptional tools and materials to enhance my creative process. When I heard the announcement that PMC would no longer be available, it immediately struck me that there was a void to be filled. Recognizing this gap, we embarked on a mission to create a comprehensive range of silver clays that would cater specifically to the metal clay community. Our goal from the very beginning was to develop a diverse line of silver clays that could effectively meet the requirements and aspirations of artists working with this versatile medium.”
Q: When you set out to develop a new line of silver clay, what characteristics did you want it to deliver?
“EVERYTHING!” laughs Carrie. “Naturally, we faced certain limitations in our endeavors, unable to fulfill every desired aspect. Nonetheless, we proactively engaged with our loyal customers to inquire about their preferences for silver clays. The remarkable diversity among users became evident as we delved into the feedback. It was truly captivating to witness the wide array of preferences—some expressed a fondness for extended working time, while others sought out a lighter, more pliable texture. There were those who preferred a drier consistency, while some leaned towards a denser, weightier metal feel. The list of unique requirements seemed endless, encompassing factors such as flexibility, ease of firing, and much more. After careful consideration, we arrived at a selection of options within our product line that cater to these varying needs. Rest assured, we remain committed to ongoing development, with plans to introduce even more choices in the future.”
Q: What are your favorite features of Project X clay?
“Our standard clays (.999, .960 and .925) offer a super long working time, slight flexibility, easy firing and an unbelievable high polish,” replied Carrie. “The Flex clays (.999 and .960) are amazing for creating sheet clay. I haven’t had enough time to play with .960 sheet but that’s next on my list!”
“I find the extended working time to be an incredibly valuable characteristic. It’s a feature that I personally deeply appreciate and enjoy. The ability to set the clay aside for a moment without the constant concern of it drying out if left uncovered is truly remarkable. It grants artists the freedom to focus on their creative process without the added pressure of rushing through their work to prevent premature drying. This extended working time provides a sense of tranquility, allowing for more deliberate and thoughtful manipulation of the clay. Whether it’s taking a brief pause to gather inspiration, consult references, or simply step away momentarily, this feature instills a sense of confidence and convenience, enhancing the overall artistic experience.”
Q: Which version of Project X clay would you recommend to someone wanting to try this new silver metal clay line for the first time?
“When it comes to recommending a version of Project X clay for someone venturing into this new silver metal clay line, I would highly suggest considering the .999 standard clay,” says Carrie. “This particular variant offers a multitude of benefits that make it an ideal choice for beginners.
“First and foremost, the ease of working with the .999 standard clay is truly exceptional. Its smooth and pliable texture allows artists to effortlessly mold and shape it according to their creative vision. Whether you’re a seasoned metal clay artist or just starting out, this clay provides a comfortable and enjoyable working experience.
“Additionally, the long working time of the .999 standard clay is a notable advantage. It grants artists the freedom to explore various techniques, experiment with intricate designs, and refine their creations at their own pace. There’s no need to rush, as this clay maintains its malleability for an extended period, ensuring that artists can work with precision and without the fear of the clay drying out prematurely.
“In terms of firing options, the .999 standard clay offers flexibility. It can be fired using a torch or a kiln, providing artists with the choice that suits their preferences and available resources. This versatility allows for greater convenience and accessibility in the firing process, making it easier for beginners to embark on their metal clay journey. Overall, the .999 standard clay from Project X is a fantastic choice for first-time users. Its ease of use, long working time, multiple firing options, and stunning finishing results make it a reliable and rewarding clay to work with.”
Q: Tell us about your innovative packaging design. What inspired it?
“Our innovative packaging design was inspired by two main factors: customer feedback and market evaluation,” Carrie said. “First and foremost, we carefully listened to our customers. Throughout my career, I’ve encountered the issue of clay sticking to the inner packaging, which became somewhat of a norm. Addressing this concern was a top priority for us. We developed a special inner bag that effectively prevents clay loss by minimizing sticking to the bag or getting trapped in corners. This simple yet effective solution ensures that artists can fully utilize the clay without any unnecessary waste or frustration.
“Secondly, we thoroughly evaluated the market and recognized the shifting dynamics within the metal clay industry. Rather than creating another traditional metal clay, we wanted to introduce something new and exciting. Our intention was to target a fresh audience, extending beyond just hobbyists and appealing to metalsmiths as well. With this packaging design, we aimed to evoke both a sense of seriousness and edginess, reflecting the product’s versatility and our own dynamic personalities. It serves as a visual representation of our belief that metal clay should be embraced by a wide range of artisans, from the passionate hobbyist to the dedicated professional.”
Q: What’s next for Project X? Will it be available from distributors in the UK, Europe and Australia in the future?
“In the coming months you will begin seeing Project X across the globe. We have distributors in Australia, Sweden, Canada and several in the United States. We are finalizing details with distributors in Europe and Asia now. But that’s not all,” Carrie adds. “We are planning to release several other products in the coming year(s)! We would like to release some additional clay options as well as complimentary clay additives.”
No Shrinkage in the Metal Clay World
With these fantastic new clays, the metal clay artist no longer needs to worry about a narrowing field of options. Innovators continue to increase the options available to us, and improve the performance of metal clays. We salute these innovators, and encourage you to try these terrific new clays for yourself.
Find these wonderful new clays here: