Link to Silver Metal Clay Diploma Holders

Link to Higher Diploma Page

News from MCSJ

News...

July 2017

MCSJ banner


Two bowls

Bowls by Rachael Osborne
Photo Paul Mounsey

Big News!
We've got BIG news!
Really huge.
Possibly the biggest ever...
Read the story behind creating the largest vessel ever made in silver metal clay.
The results are spectacular and we are very proud to share this news with you.

Rachael Osborne

With a background in fine art and ceramics, Rachael started her jewellery education with
us at MCSJ back in 2005 and then went on to study for her Silversmithing and Jewellery degree at Plymouth University.
Rachael takes her inspiration from the sea and spending time near the sea is central to her wellbeing.
She wanted to find a way to capture and express the swirling energy of the wave in metal,
which led her to develop a unique technique in molten pewter.
She began producing evocative bowls on an epic scale.
The pewter was poured in liquid form and turned on a potters wheel, with breath-taking effect.

Rachel in protective gear

In 2016 Rachael won the prestigious Goldsmiths Precious Metal Bullion award to enable her to recreate her pewter bowls in sterling silver. As Rachael and her tutors at college pondered over the construction of such a bowl, they considered several traditional silversmithing options. Casting, Etching, Raising and so on. However, each technique presented specific obstacles, which we'll cover later in the story.

With the deadline for the bullion award fast approaching, Rachael wondered whether Silver Metal Clay might be the answer so she contacted Lisa Cain, Founding Director at MCSJ. After a lengthy conversation, Rachael hired Lisa as a consultant on the project and says, "I knew Lisa would be the most knowledgeable person I could go to with this task. Not only does she have a background in traditional silversmithing and jewellery fabrication techniques but she's also been working with silver metal clay longer then anyone else in the UK. So, she held the best of both worlds to help me figure out if Silver Clay was the right material to create this bowl. I also remembered that Lisa had invented Sterling Silver Clay when the manufacturers had said it couldn't be done, so I knew she'd have the right approach for an unconventional project like mine."

Lisa Cain remembers taking Rachael's first call and being excited by the thrill of the challenge. "When Rachael explained to me what she wanted and the technique she had used to construct the pewter bowls I was amazed by what I heard. To my knowledge, this was something no one else had ever done before and the results were spectacular. I was struck by her ingenuity and inventiveness. To me, Rachael Osborne is an Artist in the truest sense of the word. Her desire to capture the essence of the swirling sea drove her to invent a whole new pewter technique. That's impressive!

front

Photo of Rachael's pewter bowl taken at New Designers Show 2016

The size and complexity of the pewter bowls created unique problems which couldn't easily be solved by using traditional techniques on sterling silver. First there was the sheer scale- some of Rachael's pewter bowls were a whopping 460mm across x 180mm deep, sitting on an 80mm wide bottom.

That's a VERY big bowl.

In fact, the bowl they worked on together quickly came to be affectionately known as 'The Big Bastard Bowl' or BBB for short!

Another problem was the variety of thicknesses throughout the vessel. At its thickest, the texture was over 1.5 mm thick but it was also very thin in places. So thin, that there were occasional holes right through it!

Silver Bowl

Photos showing the outside of pewter bowls with holes (left) and the inside texture (right)

And then there was the texture~ a swirling, splashing, fluid, multi-layered, uneven texture. Lisa says, "I wanted to be as certain as possible that Silver Metal Clay would be Rachael's best choice. The weight of our options was heavy on my shoulders as there would be more than £2,000 worth of materials involved. IN ONE BOWL! Time was running short so I cleared my schedule and set about asking all the experts I knew for advice on how best to approach this mission. We made a dash trip to London with the Pewter bowls. The surest way to get meaningful advice was to show people what we needed to make. I'd tried explaining the task on the phone when setting up our appointments but nothing can replace the tactile experience of handling the object while contemplating the problem. All the experts agreed: if we wanted to recreate these pewter bowls in sterling silver, we had a BIG problem."

Three bowls

Possible Options

Rachael had already been researching the task for several months and together with Lisa, they methodically eliminated all the traditional construction methods they could think of including (but not limited to) the following techniques Raising~ If Rachael was able to raise a bowl large enough from flat sheet, then the randomised, layered texture would be difficult to replicate using traditional methods such as chasing or repousse. Electro-forming would probably not give the weight and fluidity in texture that Rachael wanted to convey and they both had worries about how to repair it if anything happened to the bowl. Casting~ The large scale of the bowl meant that regular casting techniques would leave Rachael with seams, which would be hard to conceal. (The casting flasks simply weren't big enough to produce the item whole) The pair phoned casting companies who are familiar with producing large-scale statues but since they usually work in other metals, like bronze, contamination to the silver would be a real danger. And the cost for a one-off set-up in silver was just too expensive. Etching didn't feel right to Rachael because she wanted to "create a bowl, not dissolve one away!" CAD~ The undercuts and texture ridges would have been tricky for the laser to follow in detail. And, once again, the scale was a problem.

There came a moment when Lisa and Rachael had exhausted all other traditional construction options and agreed that Silver Metal Clay was going to be the way forward. Calculating the amount of Clay they needed was tricky because maths is a bit of a mystery to both women. So they ordered what Rachael refers to as "A lot, lot, LOT of clay! Basically I spent the entire bullion award on silver clay" Ultimately they ordered in excess of a kilo of silver clay. And they had no idea if the venture would succeed.

The perfect mixture for BBB

mixed bags of PMC and clay

After careful consideration, Lisa recommended that they use a mixture of Flex™, Fine Silver (PMC/Art Clay) and Sterling Silver Clay. Her reasoning was this, "I'd tested PMC Flex™ before it was released to the public so I was familiar with its unique properties. Using a percentage of PMC Flex™ in our mixture would ensure the bowl would have a little 'give'. It'd be less brittle and therefore less likely to break during construction. The Sterling Silver Clay would give the fired bowl strength. Mixing equal amounts of fine silver clay with sterling silver clay to create '960' was pioneered by my friend Celie Fago in 2014. (Read Celie's announcement here)
This rapidly became my favourite clay to work with. Mixing our own '960' would enable us to fire the bowl in a one-step process, without the need for a carbon firing. Remember, there was no commercial One-Fire Sterling silver clay available to buy in 2016. So, in essence, we used a 'Flex/960' mixture to create this beast of a bowl"

Capturing the texture

Figuring out how to use the metal clay to best effect took quite a bit of experimentation, a couple of all-night sessions and a process of elimination. There were potentially several ways to capture the texture of the pewter bowls but there were also dangers inherent in some methods

Pewter has a very low melting point, and if any got into the silver metal clay, the pewter could eat away at the silver when it was fired at high temperature in the kiln. So capturing the texture by pressing the silver clay directly onto the pewter bowl was not an option.

texture bowl

Experiments in capturing texture

The 'failures' held the answer

One of the best things about silver metal clay is that there is never any waste. Until you fire it, you can always change your mind and turn your dried pieces back into useable silver clay again. Next, Rachael made slip out of the dried experiments so they could re-use all of the 'failed' attempts ('Slip' is water mixed with silver metal clay).

She then began to pour the slip into the stainless steel former bowl whilst it was spinning on the potter's wheel. Rachael was onto something here! Swirling texture with varying thickness....

inside texture

Rachael says, "I knew all along I wanted a fluid, free-flowing texture and I could see it appearing there and then. Unfortunately it was running back down the insides of the steel former bowl so I was losing some of the effect. Lisa fetched her hairdryer and we set about blowing the slip dry while it was spinning on the wheel."

Rachel drying

"The Result? It was exactly what I wanted! That moment was quite a relief. Even if the rest of the process was still a vast unknown, at least we knew we'd captured the texture."

Once Rachael had settled on the slip-construction method, Lisa figured out a way to make the slip more efficiently. She dried all the silver clay in her food de-hydrator and then turned the dry clay into fine powder in her coffee bean grinder. This super-fine silver metal clay powder could then be easily turned into slip of the right consistency by adding water.

in the kitchen

Making slip and very big mess in Lisa's kitchen!

As the silver metal clay bowl grew in size, they began to wonder what might happen if they couldn't separate it from the steel former bowl. They had greased the bowl liberally with Badger Balm but what if it wouldn't come out? Could it simply be left where it was in the steel former bowl and fired?

Lisa reasoned "I'm used to firing silver metal clay in a small steel bowl but the pieces are usually resting on a layer of vermiculite. I had no idea if the clay would sinter properly if it was in direct contact with the stainless steel inside the kiln. So, I thought we'd better find out! We rummaged around in my kitchen and found a tiny steel condiment dish so Rachael could make a teeny tiny version of the Big Bastard Bowl. If the weeny one survived the firing in contact with the steel, in theory, we'd be able to leave the BBB in situ and fire it. Given the choice, I'd much prefer to leave the big one in place rather than risk damaging it when trying to extricate such a large and fragile item in one piece."

Big Bowl

At this point Rachael had to return to her family and so she left Lisa to test fire Teeny Bowl. They didn't spend a lot of time making it but the results told them what they needed to know. The kiln-fired silver metal clay slip mixture sintered perfectly when left in direct contact with the steel bowl.

small bowls

Straight from the kiln, Teeny Bowl had sintered but was quite mis-shaped.

small bowls

Lisa was able to gently reshape Teeny Bowl using spoon stakes and a rubber mallet. The bowl was brushed and burnished to a gentle shine. It had strength even though it was super thin!

Rachael continued to perfect BBB at home over many, many days. As the bowl neared completion, she decided to take her chances and separate the unfired bowl from the steel former bowl. Rachael gradually and carefully eased the metal clay bowl away using a long flexible crepe knife. She explains why; "After spending so long getting the inside right, I really needed to see how the outside looked. I didn't want to just fire it without seeing the other side first. I tried around the top edge and it seemed flexible enough to want to detach without breaking."

The outside texture of the metal clay bowl hadn't been visible during construction but after a lot of gentle coaxing, the unfired BBB emerged from the steel intact.

It stood whole and proud, of its own accord for the first time.

Grey bowl

The outside texture looked exactly as Rachael wanted it to!

Lisa says she nearly had a heart attack when Rachael sent her this photo of the unfired bowl sitting on the coffee table. "I didnt know Rachael was going to remove it and my jaw dropped open when I saw this. I was delighted she had created the desired effect inside and out. However, seeing it sit there looking so vulnerable, I was terrified something would happen to it before we could fire it. Bear in mind that Rachael has 2 children, a cat and a busy household. My immediate response was - Don't blink, don't breathe and don't move anywhere near it! Get that thing back inside the steel bowl right now and I'll meet you at the college to fire it."

Firing the Big Bastard Bowl

Following the successful sintering of Teeny Bowl, they decided to fire the BBB sitting in the steel former bowl for support. They took advice from several people on a firing schedule.

Rachael remembers, "Even the biggest kiln at college was only just wide enough to take the steel former bowl. The rim of the bowl was only a few centimetres away from the heating elements at the sides of the kiln. The technicians in the ceramics department were brilliant. They helped us with programming the firing schedule, then Lisa and I set up the test cones for a trial run of the firing. We needed to make sure there weren't any hot-spots in the kiln and that the edges of the bowl wouldn't melt."

inside the kiln

Several hours later, the test cones showed that it should be safe to go ahead with firing BBB.

As you can probably imagine, the actual firing was a very nerve-wracking event.

Lisa says, "This was one of those memorable, career-defining moments. Sadly I wasn't able to stay to see the kiln opened for the BBB firing as I was called away to a family emergency. I imagine we would have been like expectant parents walking the halls outside the delivery room and I do wish I could have been there for the big moment."

Praying to the kiln gods

Lisa and Rachael praying to the Kiln Gods.

Post Firing adjustments

There was a bit of a mixed reaction when Rachael opened the kiln.

Slumped Bowl

"I was relieved to see the bowl had fired without any melting but it had slumped and distorted quite drastically in the process. I must admit I felt a bit disappointed and daunted about how to put it right. But time was running short so I got on and tackled it with a mallet and various formers to set about reshaping it. I could now approach it as a metalworker but I had to work carefully as the bowl was very fragile in places.

Slumped Bowl

While I was hammering, a large segment near the top broke off which was really discouraging. At this point I was thinking the whole thing was a Big Bastard Mistake! Setbacks like this have such a devastating impact when you are tight up against a deadline."

There was no time for anything but sheer determination. Rachael finished carefully reshaping the bowl while considering what to do about the breakage. She decided against patching the piece back on with silver clay and then re-firing to make an invisible join.

Instead she opted for a KITSUNGI approach.

This Japanese technique is used in ceramics to make a repair visible,
to add to the beauty and to help highlight the history of the piece.

making staples

Rachael fabricated staples made from steel and gave them a rusty patina so they stood out in contrast.

stapled bowl repair

The silver was hand-finished using polishing papers, steel wire brushes and then burnished in selected areas.

BBB was then rushed to our favourite photographer, Paul Mounsey.

Rachael even made the deadline with a few hours to spare!

Finished Big Bowl

So, there you have it.

The story of the largest vessel ever made in silver metal clay.

If we'd had more time, we'd probably have an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records!
We're pretty sure this is a world record and, so far, no one has been able to refute that claim.

Visit Rachael's website here

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Study with the best

www.mcsj.co.uk

Phone +44 (0)7833 105744

Special thanks

We had so much valuable and generous help and advice along the way.
People were rooting for us from the sidelines throughout this project and we are very grateful for their help

  • Celie Fago
  • Noortje Meijerink
  • Barbara Becker Simon
  • Terry Kovalcik
  • Tim McCreight
  • Shaun Leane
  • Ben Rowe
  • Tim Lukes
  • Richard Fox
  • Danuta Solowiej
  • BJS
  • Peter Musson
  • Dave Merry at Goldsmiths hall
  • Ben Ryan
  • Paul Mounsey Photography
  • ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    News...

    February 2017

    New dates added.
    2017 Silver Clay and Beginners Silverwork classes
    are now booked up until Easter so we have
    added some extra dates.

    Check here for dates and prices of our latest classes.

    front

    Pictures from in and around our new studio in Devon

    front

    front

    It's a great space with fantastic natural light and glorious views

    front

    front

    News...

    September 2015

    Moving into a new studio in Exeter.
    Some pictures on this website may feature our old studio.

    News...

    September 2014

    MCSJ and our Support Centres are the first in the UK to test a new type of PMC called Flex. We'll be telling you all about it over the coming weeks so make sure you use the box below to sign up for our email newsletter. Meanwhile here's a video about Flex.

    News...

    29th April 2014

    Exciting Changes at MCSJ We have moved to a New studio in a lovely setting north of Exeter in Devon and will be launching a new website later in the year! Pictures on this website may feature our old studio.

    15th March 2013

    Filming for Grade 4 of the prestigious Home Study Silver Metal Clay Diploma begins. This will be released Mid May and will enable you to study all four Grades in the comfort of your own home to gain the entire Diploma.

    5th February 2013

    Lisa Cain is selected for the Woodland Chic Design Team by Patrik Kusek, Award winning artist, author and teacher. Patrik Kusek hand picked a design team to work with his new Dynasty Stamp Woodland Chic texture mat.
    Take a look at the team and the designs they came up with here http://patriksstudio.com/designteam/

    27th September 2012

    We've added 'what's in the box' videos to the Home Study Grade 1 and Home Study Grade 2 information pages. Grade 3 is coming soon.

    21st September 2012

    Our booking cancellation terms and conditions have changed. From now on, we are no longer offering refunds or transfers on booked classes. You can read our full terms and conditions here.

    1st September 2012

    Grade 3 of the Silver Metal Clay Diploma Home Study launches today and is available to pre-order. Visit the Home Study Grade 3 information page for details or pre-order from our Home Study buying options page. We will be shipping the Grade 3 Home Study pack in mid-September.

    8th July 2012

    We are very proud to announce that MCSJ are the official UK Partner of Rio Grande for the Rio Rewards PMC® Certification course. This course is only currently available through MCSJ in the UK and Europe. The curriculum complements the MCSJ Silver Metal Clay Diploma and offers students the opportunity to learn from world-class, respected instructors from the USA. The first class runs in May 2013 and you can book for it now directly with Rio Grande.

    As a Rio Rewards PMC Certification holder, you receive discounted prices on PMC products, selected gems, tools and supplies bought directly from Rio Grande or PMC products bought from MCSJ. Best of all, there are no minimums or purchasing requirements—just purchase the PMC products you need! Successful completion of this certification also counts towards the Higher Metal Clay Diploma at MCSJ

    7th July 2012

    Why not learn from the wonderful Wanaree Tanner?

    She'll be here in November to teach two Masterclasses and we have now added a third class so you can learn how to use this versatile machine to make freeform bezels. Few people know more about this process than Wanaree.

    Trouble-shooting the software programme with your own laptop, learning the practical applications for direct use in metal clay and making a bezel pendant all in just two days! This class will save you hours of problem solving to quickly get you up and running with this versatile new tool. 

     

     

     

     

     

     

    August 2016

    In 2016 we launched our new Masterclasp class Here are just a few of the great Keyhole clasps made on our Masterclasp courses run in 2016

    Check here for dates and prices of our Metal Clay Masterclasp

    front

    front

    front

    front

    front

    front

    front

    front

    30th March 2012

    Today we launch Grade 2 of the MCSJ Silver Metal Clay Diploma. Over 50 students around the world are on the Grade 1 Home Study programme and we have six signed up for Grade 2 already. The MCSJ Silver Metal Clay Diploma is the most thorough and comprehensive metal clay qualification in the world. Completely brand neutral, you'll learn to work with both brands of silver metal clay and all varieties. Whether you come to Cornwall to study or buy the Home Study programme, you'll get the same world-class training which includes silver working too. If you're serious about working with metal clay, this is the only qualification you need.

    6th December 2011

    1st December 2011

    We've introduced a deadline for Diploma students who need to resubmit their pieces. The time limit for resubmissions will now be 18 months from the date you attended the class for the Grade that's held over. The reason we’ve introduced this deadline is to ensure that you act on what you’ve learned while the experience is still fresh in your mind. The tutor will tell you exactly what you need to do to pass for any pieces that don’t meet the criteria. Our experience has shown that the longer you wait to act on this, the more chance there is that you will struggle to meet the criteria. If you don’t pass the Grade within 18 months, you will have to come back and do the class again, paying the full price.

    We've also introduced a charge for resubmissions. The first resubmission is free but if any pieces still don't meet the criteria, any subsequent resubmissions must be accompanied by a cheque for £10 to cover processing and postage. We send your items back to you by Royal Mail Special Delivery which currently costs around £5 and we spend a lot of time carefully assessing your work, typing up the feedback, packaging and posting, etc. The £10 is therefore a contribution to these costs.

    18th September 2011

    All our Diploma Support Centres have voluntarily signed up to our Teaching Code of Practice. It provides students with a degree of reassurance that the metal clay training they have purchased from one of our licensed Support Centres will meet the standards described by the Code. We also have an Assurance Process linked to the Code of Practice. For the first time anywhere in the World, you can be assured that you are getting the best standard of metal clay training from well trained teachers.

     

     

    MCSJ in the News

    Click here to read a feature in the Western Morning News about making your own wedding rings at MCSJ.

    The jewellery school is moving to a new studio north of Exeter, Devon, UK. All jewellery making classes run in a well equipped workshop.

    Sign up for our Email Newsletter