Tag Archives: clay

Open Studio Report, 3/15

Oh, it was a gray and rainy old day today! It’s always a treat to arrive at the studio to spend time with my companions, though, no matter what it’s like outside. It was warm and bright indoors around the big table, although I felt less industrious today than last time. I continued to work on my conical bird house, trimming it a bit to make it perfectly upright. I also cut out a round of clay that I will insert next week after it dries a little. It will become a platform for nesting. Next week, after I place it, I will make horizontal scratches up to the hole I’ll cut and this will be the ‘ladder’ the fledglings will climb when they’re ready to leave the nest. Now, I have to research how big I want the hole to be, then factor in shrinkage rates and cut it. I also want to consider a squirrel-proofing addition. The photo above doesn’t show much yet, as the cone is covered with damp paper and plastic, but it is slowly taking shape. I also made a pattern and cut out the lid, but it will have to dry for a week before I create the low, squat conical shape and stuff it with newspapers to dry. A tile had come out of the kiln and while it has its charms, I am not perfectly satisfied with it. Because the white clay I use turns light gray when fired, I covered the whole thing with bright white underglaze, then Shino. I adore Shino and it was the perfect way to allow the glaze to show its stuff. The tile has a lot of texture, so there’s nice variation. I had some underglaze problems, so will be doing another. Pauline gave me some good ideas about how to prevent them the next time. Then, I checked on some things I have in the damp room. I mentioned I’ve made a mold of an escutcheon tile. Well, it’s drying nicely and soon I’m going to be able to start experimenting with small tiles made from it. You can see the vine and berries clearly through the cornstarch used to prevent the clay from sticking to the tile I molded it from. I want to hang things from the keyhole, as a decorative effect and have one skeleton key so far. Not much, as I don’t want to overdo it. The piece must stand on its own. Next, I checked on my little olive oil lamps, the design of which was inspired by Roman and Parthian lamps. I can’t wait to fire these little guys up to see how they work. I’ll probably make others that will be replicas of actual lamps, but I want to test them first. I already have my wicking at hand. The lamps are leather hard now, so I uncovered them in the damp room and will be able to fire them soon as they’re quite small. I will only glaze the bottom portion…clear glaze over the burgundy and turquoise glaze. These colors should look nice against the dark terra cotta. I made some house numbers with the turquoise and red clay and it’s quite nice together. And, lastly, my sheaf of wheat tile… It has been drying, uncovered, but I want to hurry the process a little because it’s starting to drive me a little nuts. (Patience!) After this tile is fired, I will mold it, too. I have some plans… One thing I’d like to do with one tile is to write around the edge, line-for-line, in cursive style with my new Kemper pen, which I have yet to use. Better start practicing… I won’t be able to do it till I’ve bisqued a tile from the mold I’m to make. So, to hasten things, I set it on a plaster mold and will let the remaining moisture wick from it till I can get to it again. Over the week, till I head back to the studio, I have some ideas I want to start working on at home with the red and white clay I have here. The tile looks a little ratty in this photo, what with mold and paper towelling stuck to it, but the mold is actually a sign that I’m using good clay and it and the paper will burn off just fine. I let it dry very slowly because I didn’t want the small bits to crack and it worked out well; everything’s intact. Phew. All’s well that end’s well.

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Open Studio Report

It felt like I got a lot done at the studio yesterday. I brought home three things:

Navajo Red bowl, bottom left unglazed, inside and rim glazed with Red Chrome. This glaze interacts with the iron in red clay, causing a lovely gray mixed with wine and hints of blue.

Reglaze job worked well on the low box. White clay, Red Chrome glaze. No gray but hints of blue.

Kitchen scrubber holder done. Red clay with Red Chrome…nice gray accents.

I didn’t use my cart yesterday because I didn’t want anything to break on the way home but, next Tuesday, I’ll roll my supplies on down the hill to the studio again. Let’s see…I continued working on my bird house. Forgot to take my camera, so didn’t get pics of it, but it’s coming along well. Next week, I’ll make the top. Because the bottom half was so big, I cut it down. Now it’s not nearly as tall or wide. As David Jason says in the The Darling Buds of May — “Per-fic.”

What else? Oh, yes, I glazed a white clay relief tile for my husband’s Auntie Marj. It was created from mold I made of the ‘Snowfall Tile.‘ Before bisquing, I painted the whole thing with white underglaze and textured it. It’s been bisqued, now, and looks startling white. In the background, leaves of gold, orange and red are falling. Yesterday, I glazed the top surface and sides with Shino…we’ll see how it turns out. I want some fall color action and am hoping the Shino creates a rich gold and dampens the brilliance of the leaves a bit.

Did I do anything else? Oh…I made a mold of the escutcheon tile I’d made, using corn starch to prevent sticking. Also, my Sheaf of Wheat tile has finally dried to the point where I can leave it completely uncovered now till it’s bone dry. Gads it’s taking a long time, but it is well over an inch thick and had very thin parts on top, so I was extra careful.

I had done some Qi Gong exercises before I left home and the clay work itself was very grounding, so I felt doubly good when I got back home! Next Wednesday, I’ll post another Open Studio Report….

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The Student and Teacher’s Thixotropic Clay

Goopy, gloopy. Oozing, dripping. These are attributes of thixotropic clay, the properties of which are caused by deflocculation. The usual ways we work with clay are out of the question. “The clay appears to be firm but becomes increasingly fluid when manipulated,” writes Glenn  Nelson. Thixotropic clay returns to its original state when it’s allowed to set. Graduate student Carol Jeanne Abraham developed a formula for porcelain with these properties. According to Nelson, it is made into a slip, then aged for a long time. Here is Abraham’s formula:

It is almost impossible to find information on thixotropic clay. Nelson’s A Potter’s Handbook devoted quite a bit of space to it, but I have seen nothing about this form since. This is one of  the reasons for my post today. The clay body has such unique properties, it needs to see the light of day once again. In addition, Nelson passed away last April, almost a year ago and, while I will write a tribute to him another time, I am thinking of him as I write. His instructions for making a pot from thixotropic clay begin with directing us to stretch and fold the clay to activate its special properties. “Then gradually work it into a shape that can be draped over a mold,” he says. Leave it until it starts to set, then you can work with it again. The vessel needs to be taken off the mold as soon as possible, but he said “the surface may appear deceptively dry when the form is still quite plastic.” Working with thixotropic clay will take practice. Sagging is one of the problems you’d come up against. Also, Nelson said that, given its 6% shrinkage rate, glazes typically used for porcelain won’t work. He suggests using a glaze for cone 5 or lower. When the vessel is fired at cone 9, though, this glaze will craze slightly, he said. “The effects of fluidity and apparent motion will appeal to many potters, especially those interested in decorative and sculptural forms,” he concludes. When I think of Glen Nelson, I am reminded of university days, when we experimented with forms, textures, glazes, and clays. To me, thixotropic clay reminds me of those days…undefined territory, effort, and the joy that comes from learning and playing. Hats off to you, Glenn Nelson….

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Stuff & Junk: Ceramic tool storage/transport

CARRY-ALL: I had been driving to the Open Studio because my supplies were too heavy to tote, especially if I was carrying clay. I wanted to walk and it always made me feel silly driving, since the art centre is only three or four blocks away. So, I decided to get some kind of a rolling cart with telescoping handle. I did a lot of comparison shopping and found what I wanted. It cost $43.40 Cdn and the shipping was only $10. It’s called a ‘Stow-away Folding Caddy.’ Basically, it’s a folding crate on wheels with a telescoping handle. As the photo shows, it’s quite slim when folded and it will carry 50 lbs. I bought it through Canadian Office Supplies and am very happy with it. I store it in the car, at the base of the hill and, when I go to the studio, I carry my supplies down the stairs to the car, open the crate, plop everything inside, then roll on down the hill. I might have found one in the U.S. that was less expensive, but then I’d have to deal with shipping hassles (see Postage Dilemmas below).

HOBBY STORE BLUES: I had been hauling my ceramic tools  in a plastic food container. It was big and everything fit; however, I noticed that the lid popped off when it was transported to the studio in my new rolling crate. Nothing fell out of the crate and it was dry and cold that day, but usually it’s rainy and I want something that will stay shut. So, today, when I was at Michaels Arts and Crafts looking for candle wicking, I looked around. I found the wicking for my clay olive oil lamps. I also wanted to see if I could buy a styrofoam cone I wanted to use for a form for a clay bird house I’m making. Well, I did find one, but it was $25. No kidding. So, I’m going back to the drawing board and will make a cone of cardboard, stuff it with tightly crumpled newspapers, then cover the whole thing with plastic, then duct tape it.

STORAGE CONTAINER: While at Michaels, I came across some storage containers for scrapbooking supplies that were 40% off. My kind of deal! So, I bought one very similar to this Iris Storage Container. Mine is 8.5″x14″, has adjustable dividers, is made by Everything Mary and was on sale for $8. It’s a single-layer storage case. I had thought about buying a fishing tackle box, but didn’t think I needed anything that big. So, now my new storage case is full of my tools and the lid has clasps and will stay shut. There are other ways to look at storage for clay tools and I really like these cotton roll pouches from Whole Lotta Whimsy. I imagine this style of pouch has been used for clay tool storage for centuries. The site caters to jewelry makers but we could use this pouch just as easily for our clay tools. Moving on, my friend Joan uses a plastic tote for her tools and, while I’m sure you can find this type of thing many places in your locale, I found this one to show you what I’m talking about. It’s called Tote Max and I found it on the Plumbers Surplus site. I like the choice of colors and it sells for $12.29 US. You could probably find something like this at a dollar store for less but you’d have to check to see if it would be durable enough. I like the idea of a tote because if your tools are wet, it will allow for air drying. For a little more heft, I found this Stanley toolbox. It is only $9 US through Amazon.com. You can’t go wrong with a Stanley. I like the lift out tray but the thing I like best is the metal clasp. I have had tool boxes that had plastic clasps that broke off, so I’d go with something like this next time if I were to get one. The thing about tools, any tools, is that they need to be cared for and, if they are, they will be there next time for you to use.

POSTAGE DILEMMAS: It’s always tricky because many of these places ship from the U.S. Beware, because if your your items are shipped UPS, when the UPS delivery guy arrives, they will exact a whopping C.O.D. called a ‘handling fee.’ The fee is a loophole in the border laws that basically allows UPS to hold your item hostage as you stand on your front doorstep. Unless you run to get your credit card and pay up, you won’t get your package. It works the same way with items shipped to the U.S. by UPS. So, Canadians and Americans, beware. Some of the fee is Customs duty, but the main part is the ‘ransom.’ So, read the fine print and try to have your goods shipped by a different method. I feel quite lucky that my heavy crate on wheels was freighted all the way from Ontario for only ten dollars!

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