Mokume Gane – Japanese Metal Art Adopted By Polymer Clay

Polymer clay beads with Mokume gane technique

Although nothing can capture the surreal beauty of real Japanese Mokume Gane, the technique when used with polymer clay, can produce some amazing results. There are several ways to do this technique, and new ones are developed all the time, by creative polymer clay artists. But, now you probably wonder...

What on earth is Mokume Gane?:
The original technique was developed by Japanese metal smiths in the 17th century, and was mainly used for the adornment of samurai swords. Sheets of different metal alloys are stacked and joined by soldering or fusion bonding. It is then compressed and fired in a kiln. The compressed and fused stack is called a billet. The billet is again heated, and compressed until the desired size is achieved.

The billet is then twisted, heated compressed and carved until the wanted pattern is achieved. It is then compressed again to create a smooth surface, where the pattern is showing. The process is repeated until the wanted pattern is created.

To get a higher contrast between the laminate layers, many items are colored by the application of a patina. This can accentuate or even totally change the color of the metal.

To manipulate metals into these amazing patterns requires lots of skills and practice. It is very popular in the jewelry business today, and still used for swords and knifes as well.
I have a brother who collects weapons and make knifes. He has some truly amazing samurai swords and knife blades. Some of the blades are even in different colors, like red, yellow and blue, but those are not as durable, and cannot be used like other mokume gane blades, or damask blades, as they are called in Norway.

Today some metal smiths, actually use polymer clay to make blue prints of what they intend to make with metal later, since polymer clay is so easy to manipulate, which brings us to...

polymer clay beads- mokume gane Mokume gane and polymer clay:
This fascinating layering technique is easily adoptive with polymer clay, and using it is quite easy with this versatile and wonderful medium. Easily said you stack several sheets of clay, then do things to the stack, like using texture plates, or impressions with other tools, either randomly or deliberately to achieve a certain pattern. Then you shave of thin slices with a tissue blade. The way this is done are several, and can be varied by the number of sheets, colors and how the stack is manipulated.

I think that the largest challenge when using this technique is getting the right contrast between the colors used in the stack. If they are to close in hue and value, you will not achieve the contrasting patterns, but something that is diffuse and not particularly interesting. Sometimes you don't see this until you begin shaving off layers to reveal the pattern, which can be quite frustrating if you have prepared lots of clay.

A way to avoid this is to make color samples where you can put the colors next to each other to see how they match. You can use sheets of different, contrasting colors, use translucent clay and paint, ink or powder it, you can apply metal leaf or foil to some of the sheet and so on.

Mokume gane - polymer clay necklace

When you condition the sheets and manipulate the stack, the clay may sometimes get very soft. So when you start to shave it, the shavings stick to the cutter blade or ruin the pattern. When that is the case, put the stack in the fridge or the freezer for half an hour until it is firm enough to cut clean shavings easy.

When it comes to the pattern, there are numerous ways to make striking patterns. You can stamp the stack with texture plates or rubber stamps, you can use cookie cutters, tools, straws, pen caps, ripple blades and whatever you have in the house or make impressions and manipulate the stack with your fingers. When you press something into the stack, you push the upper layers down into the lower ones. When you shave off slices, the pattern will emerge from these distorted sheets.

What you use, the shavings or the shaved stack, is totally up to you. You do not have to choose on over the other, since you can use both in the same project.

Mokume gane really is a great technique. The best with it is its diversity. It is hard to copy the pattern, since each shaving produces a new version. You can achieve that if you use the sheet and not the shavings, but only with certain of the techniques. Therefore whatever you make with Mokume gane, will be your own creation from A-Z.

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