My first lesson involved bashing the air out of the lump of clay to ensure that there are no air bubbles in it. Air bubbles may result in the clay exploding in the kiln during firing, so this is something you have to do every time before starting to create anything. You can throw the clay, squidge it and/or bash it to bits with a wooden spatula or rolling pin, whichever is most theraputic!
Making Tiles You will need:
*Two strips of wood about 1 cm thick
*A knife or pastry cutters to cut out the tile
*A tea towel or plastic sheet.
*Imaginative textural objects or modelling tools
- Place the lump of bashed clay on the tea towel, between the two strips of wood and roll it out just as you would pastry. The idea of the strips of wood is to ensure that the clay isn't rolled out too thin and that it it remains an even depth. Clay shrinks when drying and when it's fired. The shrinkage varies according to the clay you use.
- Cut the shape of your tile out using the knife or a pastry cutter. You can also cut out a shape from a piece of paper, lay it on the clay and then cut round that.
- Start making whatever textural marks you fancy to create your tile design. Alternatively you can use slips and/or underglazes to paint your design on.
- Once happy, leave to dry out before bisque firing. Clay is called 'greenware' before firing and the clay needs to dry completely before firing. As you gain experience you learn that at different stages of drying you can do different things with it. Once it is 'leather hard', (as the term suggests) the some tools will behave differently on the clay. When dry, you can carve into it.
You can also make hanging decorations (e.g. for a mobile or Christmas decorations) this way but you need to add a hole in your shape before firing. To do this use a pen or nail and ensure the hole goes all the way through.
Pinch Pot Heads You will need:
*Tea Towel or plastic sheet
- Roll out your clay on the tea towel as you did for the tiles.
- Make a ball on a stem out of newspaper. This needs to be tightly packed.
- Wrap your clay round the ball, bashing it to ensure there are no air pockets and shape the head and neck.
- Stand the head on a block of wood so that it stands firmly.
- Make two indentations for the eye sockets. Eyes are about half way down the head, the nose half way between the eyes and chin, and the mouth is about half way between the nose and the chin. To add the nose, lips, eyebrows, ears, hair (or hat) you need to roughen the clay where you want the feature to go then wet it with some water. This is to ensure the features stick and don't fall off at any stage. I've lost many a feature by not doing this properly!
- Continue modelling the clay until happy and let the head dry out thoroughly before bisque firing
IMPORTANT: All three dimensional pieces need to be hollow and need to have a hole at the bottom. The clay should not be more than 3cms thick on a large piece but can be worked quite thin. If you find you've added too much clay, wait until the clay is like leather and carefully hollow out from the hole. The heat in the kiln needs to circulate and warm up the clay evenly as it fires otherwise your work may explode or crack during firing if it is too thick. Aside from anything else it makes you clay go further.
By moulding the newspaper into different shapes you can make any object your imagination runs to, but always remember to leave hole at the bottom. The newspaper burns away quickly during firing. Here's an example of fired and finished pinch pots in the shape of figs.
STAGE 2: Kiln Firings
Bisque firing quite simply sets and stabilizes your clay ready for successive (usually hotter) firings for final glazes. You can do single firings but you really need to understand so much more than I'm covering here for it to really work. Novices should always get someone else to fire your pieces who can advise you on what to do, temperatures etc.
After Bisque firing you can apply add a whole new range of glazes on top of the slip and/or underglaze including a clear glaze. Clear glazes can help colours become brighter or more earthy depending on the temperature of the second firing. When using these glazes though you MUST ensure there is no glaze on the bottom of your work as it will turn to glass during firing and stick to the kiln - a waste of your tile and your kiln. A highly expensive mistake! Again novices should get someone else to take charge of the firing.
Not got a kiln?
Most places that run courses will be happy to allow you to use their kiln for a fee. In addition some pottery suppliers offer firings for a fee (usually between £10-£20 per firing). You have exclusive use of the kiln that way and so can pack it with lots of little items or one major item. Both solutions should be able to guide, inform and advise you on how to fire your work.
Health and Safety
Mixing glazes, sanding and shaving pieces of work produce dust that is harmful. Always wear a mask. Do not use a kiln until you have been fully trained and fully understand the safety checks and procedures involved.
'The Potter's Bible' edited by Marylin Scott, 'The Practical Potter a step-by-step handbook' by Josie Warshaw, 'The Craft and Art of Clay' by Susan and Jan Peterson and '500 Ceramic Sculptures' published by Lark Books