Friday, February 25, 2011

New Year, New Clay

After exclusively making clay from raw ingredients in college, I switched to store-bought clay about five years ago.  I miss the intimate process, squishing goopy mud through my fingers.  Clay in a bag is easy: Step one, open bag; Step two, cut off desired clay amount.  I don't need to know anything about it to use it.

For the past several months, however, I've been devastated by awful pitting in my glazes, the severity of the pitting oscillating between minor annoyance to such horrifying results that I tell my husband I never want to touch clay again.  After conferring with my clay group, the consensus was that I've simply had a bad batch of clay.  What?!?   How could my frustration and wasted time - months! - be due to "bad" clay?  In my limited experience, one only ruins clay through incompetence, and once you've ruined a batch of clay, there's a lot of motivation to be prudent and accurate in the future!  I don't know how professional clay-mixers test to ensure quality.  Every new clay purchase carries the disclaimer "Test each batch of new clay before using", but I assumed - wrongly, it seems - that this was a general warning for the one time in a million that something goes amiss.  Sigh.

I stopped by Mile High Ceramics two weeks ago, armed with renewed enthusiasm and two dear friends, and picked out a new clay, a darker body suitable both for hand building large pieces and for throwing.  Some clays that can support a lot of weight for larger projects have too much grog or sand that, on a quickly spinning wheel, rubs my hands raw.

Why a darker clay body? I know I don't like the naked color of most light clay bodies after they're fired. In college, I fired exclusively in reduction (propane or wood) and considered an electric kiln only as a handy tool to bisque my work. Once the glaze is applied, a reduction atmosphere draws oxygen from the clay and glazes, adding complexity and variance to an otherwise uniform surface.

There are ceramic artists whose work I adore, and who use an electric kiln exclusively. I, however, have never been satisfied with the results from my kiln, and perhaps it is because I stubbornly expect my work to look like it came out of a gas kiln!  Who knows how much I'll ultimately enjoy this new, darker clay body, but it's a step toward embracing the results from my electric kiln.

Here are some of the test results from my first round of glazing.  I met with the folks at Coyote Creek Gallery in Fairplay last week, and they want to show my work in their gallery (hooray!) including more colorful pieces than my usual earth tones.  I see only neutrals and blues here (the middle test piece was supposed to be more green), but there is good potential.  The middle glaze could go nicely with the nearly-black brown on the left.  Also, I'm curious to see how the second tumbler from the right (actually more of a burgundy-brown) works with the glaze next to it (also below). 
I like this glaze a lot.

Now that I've spent most of the day peering at my glazes, I have to decide what kind throw, and then I'll retire to my studio until dinner!