How To Make A Clay Egg
by byrd tetzlaff
To someone who has never yet covered an egg and is thinking about trying, I strongly recommend you sit down and be honest with yourself. Ask the very important question: "Just how compulsive do I really want to be?"
As far as I can tell, there are no real secrets to doing an egg, just hard work. There's nothing complex or mind-boggling, but lots of elbow grease. I have not yet figured out how to cut back on the work. The results you get are in direct proportion to the work you do. *sigh*
So the question of "Just how compulsive do I want to be?" becomes very important.
There are five stages in making an egg:
One point to make before we get into details: I always hold my egg, at every stage of work, in the palm of one hand with the fingers open, creating a nest. The pressure gets evenly distributed that way. I have almost never broken an egg, unless I forget to hold it correctly.
The preparation part is easy. Take a blown-out egg. (I use the smallest hen's eggs I can find, but that's just personal preference -- more about size later.) I put holes in the top and bottom, making one hole rather large, so after it's dry, I can put beads or sand inside the egg.
I should note here that some of my guild-mates use plastic eggs instead of real eggs. I would test-bake a plastic egg to make sure they will stand up to the oven before I did any work on them.
If you do use plastic eggs, make sure you have trimmed off any bumps (like on the hinges or edges, if they open up), then proceed to decoration. Plastic eggs do not need the scrap clay layer.
Paper mache eggs may have yucky stuff inside them that you can't see until it leaks out in the oven and ruins your work. I'd test-bake anything first before putting my hard work into it.
Wooden eggs are usually an invitation to heartache. They have hidden air bubbles and sappy stuff just waiting to surprise you. Down the road, the wood may warp and any clay on it will crack. I cannot recommend wooden eggs for clay at all.
Then I carefully wrap the egg with a layer of scrap clay, getting all the bumps out. Personally, I find I don't do well with sheets of clay, so I use a ribbon of clay on the second or third thickest setting.
After I smooth out the seam where the ribbon meets itself, then I patch the two sides. I end up with the fewest bumps and seams that way, but if you have a way with clay sheets, by all means, use that method to cover your egg.
It's important to make sure the first layer is smooth and egg-shaped. If it's not egg-shaped to begin with, the end result won't be egg-shaped either.
Then, using a needle tool, I poke a hole in the bottom of the egg and bake it. If, after it's baked, there are bumps, I rough sand (with a low grit 250/300) the first layer to smooth it out, but usually I don't bother.
Then there is the fun part - the decoration! This is the part where your creativity comes into play. Fun, fun, fun! You can use cane slices or sheets of clay, Mokume Gane slices, whatever you wish. Go crazy! Enjoy! Have fun.
However, I do have a few tips on this process.
Before you add unbaked clay to your egg, coat the egg (which is now covered with baked scrap clay) very lightly with liquid clay -- not enough to make it slippery, just enough to make it greasy. If you are using a plastic egg, I'd still cover it with liquid clay -- very lightly though. Then put whatever you want over the egg. Cover the whole egg with your decorations.
One point I cannot emphasize enough: remember, air bubbles are our enemies! When putting sheets of clay or clay slices on the egg, make sure the entire surface has contact with the egg. The tiniest air bubble will ruin everything. You cannot be too compulsive about getting rid of air bubbles.
One more point: When I am covering the egg, I personally use cane slices. I slice them rather thick, almost a 1/16 inch. If I were to use a sheet of clay (which I never would, since sheets, air bubbles & I just don't mix well), it would have to be at least a #4 or thicker (probably one step thicker would be better) on the pasta machine (Atlas, Al Dente, and Pasta Queen all have the same thickness on the #4 setting ). If you are using Mokume Gane slices, put the ugly ones on the bottom and add lots of them, so you have some thickness to work with in the finishing stages.
If you decide you want to try Balinese filigree on your egg, you can work as much as you want and bake at any time, then go back and work some more on it (don't forget to add a little liquid clay before doing more work). But if you do use Balinese filigree, that very first layer of scrap clay has to be perfectly egg-shaped!
You cannot do most of the finishing steps, such as sanding, with filigree (I know, that breaks your heart to hear). Just give the egg a coat of Flecto Varathane and send it on its way.
If you mix your techniques (I have used cane slices with filigree and marbled pearlized clay with filigree), I would bake the filigree first, then add the other technique. Use your own judgment regarding any sanding or other finishing work (good luck!).
Textures and powders are fun, but I'd wait until I had a few eggs under my belt before I tried those particular techniques. I might very seriously consider waiting to add texture after I had done the pre-baked finishing techniques but before baking. I'd also think about putting any powder in a final coating of Varathane or Future.
FINISHING - PRE-BAKED
When all the fun decoration part is done, relax. Take a break. I'm not just saying that, I mean it. Take a break. You need to get away from your egg so you can re-approach it fresh. You will miss important stuff if you just keep on working. Take a potty break. Get a soda. Something!
Now, pick up your egg, but don't look at it. Hold the egg in your hand and feel it. Don't look it at! Just feel it. Where are the seams? The bumps? The valleys?
Take your acrylic rod and smooth the seams over the whole egg. You will notice at this point that even the smallest egg seems to have an awful lot of surface area. It's never-ending. Just when you think you have it all, you feel the egg from another angle and, rats!, there are more seams! More bumps and valleys! (This is one reason why I use the smallest eggs I can find.)
I have tried rolling my egg on the table to smooth it, but that doesn't seem to work all by itself. The acrylic rod really seems to be the best bet for smoothing.
Now, look at your egg. Is it egg-shaped? I hold my egg out against a light background and look at it through one eye, carefully turning it to see where it needs shaping. Then I take the thinnest blade I can find and slowly shave off the excess. Never, never, never just lop off the extra clay! Go sloooowwwly. Take your time. Don't hurry. Get into the Zen of Shaving Slowly.
Keep holding up the egg and looking at it, turning and shaving.
When you have done the best you can, relax and find a nice long tape for your VCR. You will need it. Now comes the gooey part.
Take a large dollop of Vaseline (generic brand is just fine) and cover your egg with it (I got this tip from Patti Kimle, by the way). Now, feel your egg again. Feel those bumps? Well, smooth them out with your Vaseline-smeared fingers. Thumbs work best for this. Add more Vaseline if you need it.
Use your sense of touch more than your eyes. Touch the difference -- don't bother trying to spot bumps with your eyes, just find them with your fingers. Rub out the imperfections.
I spend about a half an hour to an hour per egg smoothing this way. (I have a lot of tapes to watch.)
When you think you are done with smoothing, take your needle tool and punch a hole in the bottom of your egg. Don't bother trying to find the first hole you made, just make a new one. This is very important! Don't forget to add the hole! Up to six months later, clay will crack if you forget this step.
Put the egg, Vaseline and all, on a piece of quilt batting and bake. I bake for an hour or more.
When the eggs come hot out of the oven, I usually have a pan of ice water waiting for them and plunge them right in. The hole in the egg makes funny noises as it sucks in water and the eggs will try to float. I keep pushing them back into the water, turning them so all sides get cooled off. Ice water on hot clay makes translucents more translucent, as we all know. It also hardens the egg so any little air bubbles that were trying to sneak in don't get much of a chance to develop.
The eggs do take in water and will pee all over you for several days.
FINISHING - POST-BAKED
OK, you now have what looks like a porcupine egg -- if a porcupine laid eggs. Don't worry, it's supposed to look that way.
From here on, you probably know the drill. You sand. Then you sand some more. Then you sand again.
I have arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome, so I have a few tricks for cutting down on the pain.
I get a Corningware small casserole dish and put a 3M sanding sponge (the fine/very fine grit) in it. I get a large glass of water and I wet the sponge.
Load up the VCR. Hit 'play'.
I take the egg in my hand and, moving the egg in a rotating motion, I sand it on the sponge. I have a paper towel that I use to wipe off the gunk as I go. I also add water as I go.
The first grit is just to remove the Vaseline and get down to the clay, getting rid of all bumps. Sanding for 30-45 minutes usually does the job.
After that, each grit is just to remove scratches put on by the previous grit, so it goes pretty quickly. I start with the sanding sponge, then work my way through 400, 600, 800, and 1000 grits.
If I am going to put a finish on the egg, I stop here and buff. Otherwise, I keep sanding through 1500 & 2000 grits.
I don't bother with a buffer. It takes only a few passes on my jeans to get the eggs shining and happy. I seldom use a final finish either, but I do have a few thoughts about final finishes.
I do use a finish when texture, Balinese filigree, metallic or pearlized clay, Fimo or Fimo Soft are involved. (Sorry, Fimo lovers. It's a great clay but I simply have been unable to sand it to the smoothness I require. No matter how long I sand, it needs a finish.)
I use Flecto Varathane and I brush it on one side, let it dry, then brush it on the other side. Someday, when I can afford enough Varathane, I will try the dipping method.
I don't like to use Future on eggs, because of the chipping factor.
By the way, sanding in a rock tumbler works great for beads, but not for eggs. Eggs are too big and too light. They float on the water and don't get sanded properly. Trust me on this.
That's it to the eggs. Not difficult or complicated, but lots of work.
Like I said, "Just how compulsive do you really want to be?"