The Making of an ‘Amber’ Mammoth

[Thanks to the #SciArt Twitter week for giving me the kick I needed to take the photos needed for this post, which has been sitting in my drafts folder for… far too long.]

Up until the back end of last year my efforts to make jewellery were mostly limited to my ability to draw; sketching onto skrink-plastic isn’t a phenomenal leap forward, but it is rather satisfying to be able to wear your own doodles (and to see other people wearing them).

However, after my other-half acquired a soldering iron that also acted as a mini-blow-torch and a mini-crucible I decided it would be terribly fun to attempt to make my very own metal jewellery. As such, this is a blogpost about how I failed miserably at that and instead ended up getting to grips with resin.

Almost all of my past pieces of jewellery have been science-related, because that is where I tend to find my inspiration (my first ever foray into making any kind of jewellery started with my skeleton illustrations…). So, inspired by all of the mammoth fun that had been happening I thought that might be the way to go. And this is how it went:

The very first thing I did was make a sketch. I wanted the design to be somewhere between ‘cute’ and ‘cave art’ and I was quite pleased with it in the end.

Sketch

Next, I carved the design out of wax. I didn’t use jewellers wax. I used candle wax. This was a terrible decision. Well, I say decision… but I actually didn’t know jeweller’s wax was a thing until I started searching the internet to figure out why it was so damned difficult to carve candle wax.

This isn't the original wax carving, as that was broken removing it from the mould - so I poured another to illustrate all of the steps.

This isn’t the original wax carving, as that was broken removing it from the mould – so I poured another to illustrate all of the steps.

After this I had to make a mould of the design. I did this using sugru. Why sugru? Mostly because it’s resistant up to 180°C, which would be necessary if I was going to be pouring molten metal into it. But also, before it’s cured sugru is very malleable, which meant that all of the details of my design carved into the wax (e.g. the mammoth’s eye) would be present in the final piece. It didn’t hurt that we also had some in our fridge.

Sugru

Next came the fun part for my inner pyro. I got to use the mini-blowtorch to melt the metal in the mini-crucible. WHEE! However, because I didn’t think things through very well, I’d created an open-mould (instead of say, using the lost-wax casting method or any other sensible casting method with a closed-mould). Therefore upon pouring the metal it hardened too quickly to fill the mould properly, which meant even after many attempts and applications of flux and the like, all I ended up with was an approximately mammoth shaped lump of metal.

Metal

It became apparent that if I wanted to make my own metal jewellery I was going to have to do it properly with a closed-mould and frankly, I did not have the time for learning an entirely new skill (although it’s now on my list of things to do – and from somehow who knows what they’re doing… like a jeweller). Besides, I still had a perfectly good open-mould. So, with that stubbornness in mind I set about searching for other options and quickly came upon resin.

Resin is awesome.

I ended up using a two-part ‘crystal’ epoxy resin. In order to find out how much I’d need I filled the mould with water and poured that into a measure. Since I only needed a tiny amount (20ml) I used syringes for both the resin and the hardener. And since I didn’t want a see-through mammoth, I added a few drops of brown glass paint to the mixture. I made sure it was all well mixed and then poured it into my mould that I’d coated with liquid vaseline.* And then I waited.

After 24 hours I removed the resin mammoth from the mould and was… utterly disappointed. The resin was bendy – it hadn’t cured properly. I figured that I must have made an error with the quantity of either the resin or the hardener, perhaps because I was using such small amounts so if it wasn’t spot on… or perhaps the glass paint added just that little bit too much extra liquid… or maybe I’d not followed the instructions as well as I thought?

So, I put the bendy mammoth aside and figured I would give it another go with a new batch of resin in a few days when I had the time. But then something magic happened. After about three days, the bendy mammoth wasn’t bendy any more! It was completely hardened – it had cured properly after all. It had just taken a bit more time and a subsequent search suggested that this is quite a common outcome with the brand I had used. Slightly delayed success!

I was then able to trim away any excess bits of resin that had lipped over the edges of my mould and I even decided to add a bit of patina to bring out the details a bit more – for this I used some dyes I already had kicking around the house, painting them on and then rubbing the excess off, before sealing it. Finally, I drilled a hole (with some glamorous assistance) for a jump-ring and a chain.

Et voila – my ‘amber’ mammoth.

Resin

I was very happy with the end result, especially as it was my first ever attempt at every step of making jewellery by casting. I rather excitedly shared my achievement with the world. I expect that you could call it a ‘statement piece’, given its size for a pendant – but it’s very comfortable indeed!

I am definitely looking forward to my next entirely disorganised science-inspired-art endeavour.

Oh and since I’ve already got the mould, if there are any individuals out there interested in mammoth-themed jewellery…

*I didn’t use quite enough Vaseline and a teeny bit of the mould came away stuck to the resin, but I was able to rub it off easily and it didn’t affect the usability of the mould. The same thing happened when I made the sugru mould with the wax, because I never thought to coat the wax carving in vaseline first – another lesson learned! It therefore ended up a slightly different texture than anticipated, but I actually think it looks more mammothy than what I’d originally designed.

[Please note: If you end up on my Penny Darlings shop website, it isn’t terribly well-stocked at the moment and that is because I’m doing my PhD… and it may be moving homes in the near(ish) future.]

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