Carrie Story’s passion for metal clay is contagious.
As she describes different pieces she’s made, anyone with a background in clay or in jewelry will likely want to experiment with the medium.
Story, 48, sets stones using thinly rolled “snakes” of metal clay that result in the stone appearing to float on a piece of metal. For her bronze dogwood pin, she flattened clay for the petals then carved delicate textures and shaped them into a graceful bloom. She’s made bronze earrings that together form one image by painting a patina on the surface for a “Landscapes” exhibit.
Metal clay is fired in a kiln and comes out with a matte finish, and Story enjoys polishing to highlight the edges of petals or other key parts of a design.
The firing results in different colors for some metals.
“You can’t predict it,” she said. “It’s kind of a fun thing.”
Connecting with clay
Story took lots of art classes in high school, including ceramics classes.
“When I touched that clay the first time, I was like ‘Ah,’” Story said, but added that she became focused on a regular career and never became an artist.
“I basically had a very stressful health insurance job in Los Angeles,” Story said. “I came home from work and beaded jewelry to relax.”
In 2008, she signed up for what she thought was a metalsmithing class because she wanted to make a higher-end product.
“It was metal clay,” she said. “The instructor sat down and showed us the clay and showed us how to use it. I made three fine silver pendants in a matter of a few hours. I was so excited, from that moment on it was absolutely the perfect thing for me.”
Story is a certified metal clay instructor, who teaches throughout the United States, and a contributing artist for Metal Clay Today. Her work has been included in the gallery section of Metal Clay Artist Magazine.
“I love jewelry, and I love metal, but it’s the clay aspect of it that put me over the top,” she said. “I love having my hands in the clay. The more I can work with the clay part, the more I like it. When I first started making metal pieces, they were very flat and simple, basically a flat piece of metal with texture on top. It had to have something to go with it.
“Having done some beaded necklaces, that really did help me start designing a little bit more. The more I got into the clay, the more beads I bought. That’s when it got really interesting.”
Each year, Story spends three weeks at “The Tucson Gem Show,” the biggest jewelry event in the country, with gemstone and tool and mineral vendors from all over the world. She has a booth with metal clay supplies and teaches classes.
“When I’m done with the show, I will buy all the supplies I need to carry through next year,” she said. “I will hoard beads.”
Sustaining her creativity
She and her husband Todd, who works for Boeing, and son Cameron moved to Trinity four years ago, where she has her own studio, and she began teaching a couple classes at Sawtooth School for Visual Art.
“They gave me the opportunity to start teaching, and by doing that, that allowed me to grow — and grow pretty fast,” she said. “It’s an interesting experience to learn how to teach as a non-teacher.”
The move gave Story a chance to decide if she was going to change careers. She knew that making a living with art would be difficult.
“I was just trying to find my way a little bit,” she said. “I thought I would be selling jewelry to make money.”
A year later, she began selling supplies and two years later began making and selling metal clay. The assurance of income from supplies provides her the freedom to experiment and be creative in her art.
The prices of metal clay vary depending on the metal. For example, 10g of silver is about the size of a half dollar, and that costs $25; the other metals are less expensive.
“As time went on, and I learned more and more about the clay and pros and cons of the different brands,” she said. “I found myself getting picky — I liked this feature here, another feature there. The clay is not difficult to make. It’s only a few components. I thought, ‘I’m just going to make my own clay.’”
Her son, who is in culinary and hospitality school, helps her manufacture the clay. She built up the inventory through January, and began selling it in March. She began with five colors of metal: copper, red bronze, bronze, light bronze and white bronze. She recently filled an order for one of the biggest metal clay distributors in the United States.
Sharing the process
Story enjoys building the community of metal clay artists and appreciates other metal clay artists at Sawtooth, including Rebecca Natanson and Sara Sloan Stine, the metals and glass program coordinator at Sawtooth.
In 2016, Story organized the world-wide Metal Clay Artists Symposium at Sawtooth. Metal clay artists from Russia, England and Canada were among the more than 100 people who attended classes and seminars.
Story’s entry into the gallery exhibit won first place. She created a vest made of 445 pieces of textured copper connected by 1,400 handmade jump rings, which involved multiple firings. She jingles when she wears it.
The next metal clay conference will be in August 2018 at Sawtooth.
“I actually get inspiration from other people’s art,” Story said. “I look at it and am so much in awe, I could just stand there and stare at it forever. I’m almost competitive, in a sense. I want to make something that good.”