Kelly Russell

Kelly Russell

Kelly Russell

Using Stencils with PMC

n a relatively short time, artists around

the world have pushed past the immediate

uses of Precious Metal Clay

to explore methods that reach beyond

not only the techniques, but the effects associated

with traditional metalworking. The

techniques described here take advantage

of the semi-liquid state of thick slip to develop

patterns through the use of stencils. As fascinating

as the technique is in its elemental

form, it is in the variations and potential uses

of the resulting metal forms that the mind is

truly carried away.

Stencils with PMC

When I was younger, my family lived for a

few years in Morocco. We would go on family

outings to see the Roman ruins in Volubius,

near Tangiers, and into the marketplaces

of Fez and Rabat. I was always amazed at

the textures and patterns on the buildings,

the arches, and in the gardens. The mosaics

at Volubius are something to see, and the

Botanical Gardens there are unbelievable.

I have always had a passion for antiqued

and weather-worn architecture, and I think it

traces back to that time of my life. I now try to

replicate these surfaces and textures on my


I remember experimenting at my workbench

one day in an effort to layer PMC in

such a way that it looked carved, like the

stonework I had seen in Morocco and Spain.

And more than just carved, I wanted a look

that appeared rough and rich in the same

way as the ancient walls that had been

abraded by wind and sand for centuries.

From the start, PMC appealed to me because

of the wealth of textures it invites. I am more

interested in achieving a sense of the passage

of time than in a highly refined finish. In

my quest to find a way to create that look on

a miniature scale, I came up with the techniques

described here.

Flame of Knowledge

Fine silver, sterling, pearl

5 4 U S I N G S T E N C I L S W I T H P M C 1 1⁄4 " diameter

8 5 U S I N G S T E N C I L S W I T H P M C

Many commercial stencils are made to add decorative

trim to walls, which makes them too large for jewelry

scale work. Also, the designs may not fit with your


When planning stencils, it

is important to plan ahead.

If you are not careful,

interior elements like the

center of this letter “O”

will disappear. Oops!


The building block of this process is a stencil—a

sheet of resilient material with a design

cut out in the form of separate holes. Stencils

come in two types of materials, and from two

very different sources.

The best stencils are made of thin brass.

They have the advantage of being somewhat

rigid, and being tough enough to stand up to

hundreds of uses. The alternative is plastic,

and while these can last a long time, they are

just not as strong. Also, metal stencils can accommodate

smaller openings, including thin

lines, so they open more design options.

The other big difference is between commercial

stencils and those you make yourself.

Commercial stencils can be lovely—laser-cut

brass or plastic sheets that are precise and

mechanically perfect. At the same time, because

they are manufactured, you will be using

stencils that are available to other artists

too. Efforts to be unique start with a built-in

challenge when you’re using the same tools

as others. Also, I find that commercial stencils

don’t always provide the motifs I want. For

those reasons, and also just for the pleasure

of the craft, it is great to be able to make your


The first step is to create a design or

locate a pattern you can use. There are books

with copyright-free patterns from almost

every era, from Anasazi to Art Deco. People

with computer skills might like to manipulate

photos, or develop patterns from geometric

sources. Whether you are using a computer,

a photocopier, or your own two hands, a stencil

has specific requirements. Think of the letter

“O” and what will happen when you cut it

out to make a stencil. That’s right—unless you

take special steps, the center of the “O” will

fall out and you’ll be left with a large dot. A

look at some letters rendered for stencils show

not only the challenge, but some possible


A stencil must avoid patterns that create

large flaps of stencil material that can

lift up, and designs that call for sharp points,

because they are also likely to lift up. It is not

that these patterns cannot be made as stencils,

but it is important to anticipate problems

and design around them. Draw connectors

where they are needed, rather than tell yourself

to build them in as you cut out the stencil.

Trust me on this; you’ll have other things on

your mind while you’re cutting.

Plastic stencils can be cut in almost any

plastic sheet, but 5 mil Mylar is probably the

best choice. Acetate is a similar plastic sheet,

but it is prone to tearing, and you’ll want

this stencil to be around for a while. Thinner

Mylar is easier to cut, but the relief created is

rather timid. I have also tried a much thicker

plastic sold expressly for this purpose, but it is

quite thick for work on a jewelry scale.

Set the plastic sheet over the drawing

and trace it with a fine permanent marker.

Some Mylar is made for this purpose, but for

other sheets, you might need to lightly sand

the sheet to create a tooth that will hold the

ink. I draw inside the line so that if I make

a mistake I can fix the edge and still retain

correct proportions. Besides just being necessary,

I find that this step is helpful because it

makes me think through just how the stencil

will work. When the drawing is transferred to

the sheet, set it onto a piece of mat board or

a self-healing cutting board and cut out the

openings. I use both a straight and a swiveling

X-Acto blade. The swivel takes some

practice to control, but it is great for tight

curves and small circles. Mylar is cheap, so

don’t be shy about using a sheet to practice

before you start on your design.

Avoid long, skinny pieces of stencil, like the area shown

by the arrow. This will lift up in use, ruining the design.

The figure on the right shows a variation that does not

have any flimsy points.

Garden Lock

Fine silver, 24k gold, sterling, enamel, opals

1" by 11⁄2 "

Plan bridges into the design to hold center pieces in

place. This is illustrated in familiar stencil lettering.

a b c d e f


Trace the pattern onto the plastic with a permanent

marker. If using metal, transfer or print onto adhesive

(label) paper and apply it to a sheet of 24 gauge brass.

Cut through paper and metal together, then peel the

paper off.

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