Here’s the result of three days of intensive work, plus a trip to Mesa Verde. I just finished these bronze metal clay pieces, 39 in all, the entire contents of a 200 gram pack of clay. The impressions run the gamut from New Mexico’s Chihuahuan desert out to the Sonoran desert of Arizona and the Mojave in California, and there is a suite of pieces I created onsite from the sandstone and trees of Mesa Verde in Colorado. (Utah and Nevada are missing….hmmm…time for a road trip?) And of course there are some fossils added to the mix as well.
Bronze clay is so beautiful and strong but boy, is it a bear to work with. The unfired clay is much softer and more breakable than silver clay. When it’s fired in the kiln it must be buried in a pan filled with activated carbon (think charcoal), which means a very messy cleanup involving scrubbing with a stainless steel brush after it comes out of the pan.
I hand-finish each component so it has just the patina and level of polish that suits it best, something that wouldn’t be possible if I just tossed all the pieces in a tumbler. But it takes a lot of work, and today I spent 6 hours of constant sanding and scrubbing to finish this batch…ibuprofen time!
I began this morning with cleaning the freshly fired pieces, then the rubber gloves came off and the alligator skin tape went on my fingers and thumbs before I began sanding. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s necessary to wear protection. The gator skin tape was black and shredded by the time I pulled it off today, but in the past it was blackened and painfully split and shredded fingers instead.
After the cleaning I went into the studio and spent several hours sanding. Each piece was gone over with two different grits of sanding sponges, with some also getting a preliminary reduction with coarse sandpaper. It takes a lot of elbow grease to refine the hard bronze surfaces. Then it was back to the kitchen sink where each piece was dipped in hot liver of sulfur, which smells as good as it sounds, and then it received a final going-over with steel wool and and an abrasive pad. Once everything looked good I gave the pieces a thorough washing in warm, soapy water and they were done.
The pieces look a little harsh and silvery in this light, but it’s been a cloudy day. The patina will deepen and mellow over time to the warm golden hue we associate with bronze. Look for these beauties to start appearing in the shop soon!