Sunday, June 17, 2012

Ramblings 'bout Ceramics and a recipe for Paper Clay

Okay, I titled this post "RAMBLINGS" for a reason!  If you're not into Ceramic Stuff, then move along (but there WILL be pictures!)

Hmmm...  I don't ramble much about my ceramic artistry pursuits here. Probably because I don't really consider myself that much of an "artist" (although others would beg to differ!).  Actually, it's more "therapy" than anything else and, to be honest, I've been pretty p*ssed-off that - due to my stupid (stress-induced/genetic) skin condition - I haven't been able to Play in the Mud for quite some time!

Doctor's telling me to deal with my stress and, at the same time, telling me I shouldn't play in clay.  WTF?!

Anyway, I figured I'd yammer a bit about ceramics today because - FINALLY - my hands have gotten clear enough that I actually made it out to the studio yesterday.  YAYYY!!!

Seriously, I haven't been out there since last year!! (And Gawd have I missed it!)

So - for starters, I'm not much of a wheel-thrower.  I mean, if you held a gun to my head, I could probably throw a small vase or bowl.  And I actually *do* own a wheel (bought it at last years' Potter's Council Conference since it was On Sale!):

This is the same as my "virgin" potter's wheel!
It's compact, but still surprisingly "beefy"
(meaning it's easily sturdy-enough to handle anything I *might* be willing to throw)

But wheel-throwing is messy business that requires ready-access to running water - something I did NOT have built into the Tiki Shack (I was gonna rig up an exterior sink/faucet thingie - hooked to a hose - but never got around to it).  Realistically, *if* I ever got the urge to throw a pot, I'd probably set-up the wheel out in the backyard gazebo - where it would be easy to hose-off the mess afterward!  And - truth be told - I find wheel-throwing to be boring at best, and frustrating at worst.  It's just not my thing.

So yeah, hand-building and slab-ware is more my speed (and if I had the Time / Attention-Span, I'd go back to sculpting).

I do have my own slab-roller:

This is the kind of slab-roller I have.
The handle attaches on the front-ish side and is used to 
smush the clay between the center rollers.  
The top star-bolt thingies are used to dial-in the thickness...

Picture a ginormous pasta-maker or old-fashioned laundry wringer.  It's a mechanical device with two rollers set-up on a table.  You cut off a slab o' clay appx 1-2" thick, sandwich it between two pieces of canvas (I actually add cheap interfacing to the sandwich b/c I don't care for the canvas texture in my clay), and run it through the rollers several times, rotating the resulting slab and reducing the distance between the rollers so you get a thinner slab, each time.  You end up with a thin (appx 1/4" thick) slab that can be decorated with various textures and either pressed into molds (single-dish TV-dinner trays are a personal favorite), or cut into shapes and constructed into whatever (think Gingerbread houses, or vases, or whatever).  The thing about slab-rolling is that the clay has a tendency to develop a "memory" for whatever it's original form was and, in many cases, it has a tendency to "warp" during the drying/firing process...  And, honestly, some shapes really don't lend themselves well to molding (i.e. deep bowls).

That's where the Potter's Council Conferences come in handy (as well as the Ceramic Arts Daily emails I receive).  I've learned several techniques for minimizing the warpage.  One is keeping the slab a tad thicker than your desired thickness and throwing it down onto the table, at an angle, so it stretches in different directions (usually, when you're rolling the slab, you're limited to two directions).  Also, using a rolling pin kind of helps (again, in multiple directions).  And using a rib tool to compress the clay is also helpful.  So I've tried most of these techniques and had...  Well...  Varied success!

And, honestly, that's okay.  While I'm not totally into the "organic" vibe, I am a "partial-perfectionist" (How's THAT for an oxymoron?!).  I try to make pieces that are pretty "clean" - but they definitely do still look "hand-made" and NOT like they came from IKEA or Wal-Mart!

One technique that I learned at this years' Potter's Council involved "forming" a round bowl over a half-sphere mold.  The demo was done using a half-sphere made of bisque-ware (clay fired once).  In my case, I have a series of "Nesting Bowl" molds made out of casting plaster (and there are ceramic artists who would rant-for-days about how they wouldn't allow plaster in their studios blah-blah-blah because if plaster accidentally gets incorporated into clay, it will explode - true! - but that's not the point of my post.  I have plaster molds, therefore I will use them!).

Anyway, this particular technique uses a round-ish blob of clay, an inch-or-so thick that gets placed on the bottom of a half-sphere mold (of bisque-ware or plaster).  Best to place the half-sphere on a banding wheel (but not mandatory).  Then you take a flat-sided mallet and pound the clay onto the mold, turning and beating it evenly, all around.  As you pound it, the clay thins and stretches around the spherical form and you end up with a nearly-perfectly round bowl!  And since it's been beaten mercilessly, there isn't much "memory" left for warpage!

Now the good/bad thing about bisque-ware AND plaster is that it tends to absorb the moisture of the clay and facilitates drying.  Drying = Shrinkage.

Now, when you've got drying/shrinkage on a concave form, this is good.  The clay separates from the mold quite nicely and will pop right out.  But when it's on a convex form, you run the risk of it shrinking ONTO your mold and NOT being able to release it.  Hmmmm...

So you really need to "time" the removal appropriately.  Too soon, and the clay is too flimsy to hold it's shape.  Too late and, well, it can get stuck and/or crack.  And too soon vs. too late varies widely depending upon the temperature and humidity and phase of the moon, or whatevers!  There are a lot of variables at work, is what I'm saying...

So ANYWAAAAYYYY (I did say this was a "Rambling" post, didn't I?!)...  The first time I made a "beaten bowl" I left it on the form for two days.  It was a bit of a struggle, but I was able to remove it.

I double-wrapped it in plastic so it would dry SUPER slowly, butttt....  Unfortunately, since I had left it on the form for too long, it started to crack.  Booooo!!!

Now, here's the deal with Ceramics.  Typically, when something like this happens, you just need to "let it go!"  Really not much point in trying to "save" the piece because the likelihood is pretty low that you'll be able to salvage it...  And, as long as the clay hasn't been fired, you can certainly recycle it (add water, bring it back to a slurry, partially-dry it and wedge it to a usable state again).  Well, I have never been one to conform to "conventional wisdom" so I attempted to salvage it with porcelain slip...

And, through it all, I was posting photos on Facebook (because, honestly, that's where I "track" all of the ceramic stuff I do. "I made this.  I put thus-and-such underglaze on it.  I bisqued it at cone xx.  I put ya-ya glaze on it and fired to yy."  No doubt, boring as hell to most of my friends, but it's a good (easy) place to "journal" my stuff and it's easy for me to go back and see what I did (in case I want to duplicate it, right?!).

Anyway, the porcelain-slip repair didn't work very well, so I decided to "hide" my shortcomings and carved into the bowl thusly:

"If ya can't fix it, DISGUISE it!"
This is about 2/3 of the way thru my "disguise attempts"

Well, as luck would have it, I DO have some Ceramic Artist "FB Friends" who are rather knowledgeable, and one of them had actually viewed my post about my miscreant Beaten Bowl and she mentioned that she used "Paper Clay" for similar repairs with amazing success.  She even posted a link (Yay!)

Original Paper Clay Recipe here.

Now, she didn't post this link until *after* I'd gone through several iterations of "attempted repairs" on the aforementioned bowl, so I *didn't* use paper clay on this one.  But I DID use it on a couple of other pieces.  The bowl DID survive bisque-firing (but I could see a "hint" of the crack afterwards - which I attempted to "bury" in glaze - to no avail).  While I couldn't get a good photo of the final [cracked] version, it's working quite nicely as a summertime dog-water-bowl in the backyard!

Trust me - in spite of the "impressionistic" glaze-job,
there IS a visible crack in this bowl
(but the dogs don't seem to mind!)

Anyway, there were a couple of other broken pieces in this particular "batch" of ceramics.  Lesson-learned:  Don't load the bisque kiln when your blood alcohol is above .08!

I'll focus on one of my Clay Critters:  My Tazz-the-Spazz Weenie Dog mini-sculpture!  See, Friend-P suggested, awhile back, that I should take my leftover scrap clay and make little Critter Sculptures.  That has actually turned out to be a pretty good idea (since, honestly, I am waaaaaaaay too lazy to recycle my old clay-scraps and - Friend-P usually benefits b/c I give her BAGS full of "used" clay to recycle).

So anyway, I made a small Tazz-The-Spazz Clay-Critter.  But, somehow, during drying I managed to break-off her tail (:::GASP:::).  I had also made a spoon-rest (for the stove) and managed to break THAT in three places.  #$%^!!!

I decided to brew-up a batch of paper-clay based on the link above.  Now the original link called for low-fire earthenware, and J had mentioned that she adds vinegar to the mix...  I'm dealing with high-fire clay (fired at mid-fire temps), so I wasn't really sure how things would come out in the end...

I wished I'd kept "exact measurements" but I'll try to capture "what I did" (so, again, maybe someday I can DUPLICATE it!!!)...

Get yourself some cheap toilet paper and shred it by hand.  Put it in a medium-sized bowl.  Put some water in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil.  Pour the boiling water into the bowl of shredded toilet paper.... (Sorry, no exact measurements!  Next time!!!)

Mmmm!  Fiber!!!

Allow it to cool....  Then squeeze out most of the liquid and transfer the sludge to a smaller bowl.  Add an appx equal amount of whatever kinda clay you are working with...

Fiber *and* minerals!!!
Add appx 1 tsp (a small splash) of vinegar at this point...

Squidge it together on a sheet of drywall board (which should absorb *much* of the moisture)...

Very Squidgy!

Then try to mix it, as best you can, with your hands...  You want the clay and TP fibers to be well-mixed,  This is MESSY business!  You don't want it as thick as clay, but not as runny as slip.  You want it "somewhere in between."  Thick enough to smush into any cracks, but slippery enough that you can "smooth it out."

Did I mention that this is MESSY?!!

Truth be told:  It's pretty messy, squidgy and gross - but it is also tacky enough to make bone-dry pieces stick together, quite nicely!  The key is to wet your dry pieces with vinegar, and score them pretty-well, then use the TP/Vinegar/Clay Sludge like a glue to piece everything together... Then you need to let everything dry again and hit it with a green Scotch Scrubbie to smooth out any rough edges...

Let me tell you:  This stuff works LIKE A CHARM!!!

I didn't have any "BEFORE" pictures of the weenie dog with the broken tail, but here it is immediately after repair:

You can "kinda" see the repair, a little past halfway, toward the right...

Weenie dog - still greenware (this *might* have been pre-repair - honestly can't tell!)

Weenie dog - after bisque and coated with black and brown underglazes...

Weenie dog, on the Tiki Bar after final firing. 
You can't even tell that the tail was ever broken!

So yeah, the Paper Clay Recipe was an absolute Godsend and seems to work wonders on greenware (completely UNFIRED ceramic ware).  It also did a mighty-fine job on the spoon-rest that I made (but I didn't take any usable pictures of that).

This weekend, I decided to make another "beaten bowl" and - this time - I did NOT leave it on the plaster form for two days...  However, atmospheric conditions - this time around - were extremely Hot and Dry.  I didn't leave the clay on for a full 24-hours, but I had a helluva time removing it from the plaster mold.  I have spritzed it with water and double-wrapped it in plastic (so it will dry super-slowly).  Not sure if it will crack or not - but, if it does, I will use the aforementioned Paper-Clay recipe to repair it.

New Bowl 06/16/12

I really would like to make a "series" of bowls, in different colors, for posting pictures of my (numerous) soup recipes!  I'll probably make a coordinating series of plates, as well - at some point.

Hell, I am just-plain-THRILLED to be "Back in the Shack" again - regardless!!!

And...  Just for sh*ts 'n grins, I figured I'd post a picture of some of my more "recent" creations (meaning, they went thru their final firing earlier this year.  I have almost-nothing "new" to share :::sigh:::)

Left and Right - slabware, cut and formed around a plaster mold.
Center, clay wrapped around a styrofoam cone from the craft store
Bowl was a small "beaten bowl" from one of my plaster half-spheres... 

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