Monkey Business: A jeweler playing with clay?
My studio is filled with traditional metalsmithing tools which work beautifully on all types of metals but yesterday I decided to have a bit of fun and use my jeweler’s tools to work with a colorful material not traditionally used by jewelers…polymer clay! My studio became something of a Santa’s workshop as I made Christmas tree ornaments that will be gifts for my family (shhhhh…they are supposed to be a surprise!)
Why a monkey? I have loved sock monkeys for decades and made over 100 of them out of traditional Rockford socks when I was in my 20s. Those handcrafted toys made of seamless work socks became a real hit in the 1950s and have comforted many children in hospitals and GIs overseas for decades. Some people believe these smiling monkeys bring good luck. They certainly brought good luck to the city of Rockford, IL, the home of the Nelson Knitting Company who started making those socks back in the 1930s. Those red-heeled brown work socks put Rockford on the map!
My monkeys are made of Premo clay, a product made by Polyform Products. I love the colors that are available and “gray granite” reminded me of the Rockford socks, so that’s where I got the idea. For the red “heel”, I used cadmium red.
Just as I do with my jewelry, I made a pencil sketch of the monkey I wanted to create and made a sample monkey to get the proportions right. Then, I disassembled the sample and weighed each part using my gem scale. Since I was making multiples, I wanted them to be just the same.
The head weighed 3.6 grams, so I cut off chunks of the gray granite and weighed out several balls for the heads. I continued to weigh out all of the pieces and then began the process of forming the shapes.
I used some of my steel punches, generally used with a steel dapping block to form metal into rounded, domed shapes, to get the right fit for the monkeys’ hats and to make small round impressions for the eyes and arm sockets. They worked beautifully!
When it came to shaping the legs, I needed something to press against the clay to round out the shape more consistently than I could do with just my hands. I took a piece of brass sheet, cut it into a small square, and wrapped it around the steel handle of one of the punches, creating a perfectly round channel for the legs!
Once all of the pieces were made, I started to assemble the little guys. I decided to use wire (I have tons of it) to attach the head to the body and the arms and tails as well. If I had used the traditional clay method of attaching, I was afraid that the arms, heads, and tails might break off too easily and I’d like to think these monkeys will be around to hang on Christmas trees for many years to come.
I used a piece of 20-gauge wire to make holes in the pieces for later attachment then popped them all into the oven to bake. 30 minutes later, they were done.
I used a gel glue to set the wire into the cooled clay and once that dried, the monkeys were finished!
Today my tools are back helping me form metal, but it was great fun spending a day creating with a material totally different from my usual. Stepping out of your creative box can not only be a lot of fun, it can also jump start your mind by challenging you to find solutions to new problems. The process was a blast and now I have a little monkey in my studio that will hopefully bring me good luck!
P.S. Sorry, these monkeys are not for sale but jump on over to my collections pages and you may find something just right for that special someone (or for yourself!). Happy Holidays!