Thursday, March 12, 2009

Paperclay and Inclusions - Part 2.

© 2009 by Anthony Foo.

The advantages of Paperclay continues.

In Part 1, I talked about the various organic materials that can be incorporated/kneaded into paperclay to create interesting and random textures. Another advantage of the paper fibers in paperclay is its ability to coat and adhere to various materials that ordinary clay will not. The paper fibers will "grab" on to the irregularities of the surface to be coated and hence form a foundation for the clay to stay on.

In my sculptures, I've used paperclay to coat steel mesh (hardware cloth aka chicken wire), cotton twine, thin reeds, flowers,  twigs. etc. The paperclay I've used is the sculpture body paperclay from Aardvark (IMCO in Sacramento is the manufacturer) and the Southern Ice Porcelain Paperclay, imported from Australia by Laguna Clay Company in Los Angeles. Laguna Clay Company has stopped carrying the Southern Ice Porcelain Paperclay, probably because of its cost.

Both types of paperclay will can be used with the above mentioned materials.  The paperclay slip is made to a "heavy cream" consistency for the brushing method.

When I first start out, I usually brush it on with a soft fan brush, liberally loaded with the paperclay slip. This can be messy work so spread out old newspapers for easy of clean up after. It's slow work here as you need to let the first coat dry completely before the next application. It may not look like much but you are already coating your object with the paper pulp fibers.

I prefer brushing to dipping because I can control the coverage of the details. You may prefer the dipping method if the object to be coated is small enough to fit into your bucket of paperclay slip. Shake off the excess slip and let dry. The first few coats will be slow going until you have built up several coats. From here, it goes pretty fast as the fresh paperclay slip will stick on to the bone dry paperclay coat extremely well. This is actually the fun part and I enjoy this time the most. You can literally see the layers build up.

If you are using the dipping method, it's best at this point to thin out your paperclay slip a bit or else you will have to much slip adhering to your object with each dip. The dipping method is faster but if you are not careful, it will cover up/obliterate the details you have on your object. You can also use a combination of brushing and dipping. Whatever works for you to get to the desired thickness of coverage and still show the details.

In this discussion, I'll use my sculpture "Trapped" to show the different stages in the coating technique. The piece is bisqued fired only. The bamboo reeds and cotton twine burns out; the steel mesh is still encapsulated within the paperclay coating.

The sculpture could probably go to Cone 3 or 5 with the steel wire embedded in it, but since I'm using a community kiln, I'd rather not risk damaging the kiln. 

Initial forming stage - Materials used here are chicken wire, bamboo reeds, cotton twine.

After first coat of paperclay slip, brush technique, drying in the sun.

After 2nd day of coating. There must have been approx. 15 coats already here. I lost count!

Final stage. I'm happy with the coverage and thickness of the paperclay slip over the entire structure. The build up of coverage is anywhere from 3/16" to 1/4" thick.


Anonymous said...

where did you learn this technique?

Anthony Foo said...

Hi there,

A few paperclay artists have been using paperclay with steel mesh. Linda Mau is one of them. Search the web and you will find many references.

A lot of what I do with my paperclay comes from experimenting and pushing the limits of what this clay can do for you. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

Hope this helps.

Anthony Foo said...

Graham Hay gave a workshop a couple of years ago up in Santa Clara, CA. I attended this workshop to learn more about paperclay. At that point, I had been using paperclay for about 2 years.

Here's his website:

Graham makes regular trips over to the US to present his paperclay workshops.

bellasnow said...

Hi Anthony, thank you for your interesting post-I realise it was some years ago. I did a paperclay workshop here in the UK with Rebecca Hutchinson last year. She was amazing. I have been trying to dip and coat lace with earthenware paperclay slip but the paperclay bowls disintegrate after bisque firing to 1000 degrees (very slowly) in an electric kiln. I'm not sure why this is happening. I wonder if you had any advice? I only did 2 layers of slip so as not to lose the texture of the lace. I do hope you get this. Many thanks, Bella

Anthony Foo said...

Hello Bella,
Thanks for stopping by my paperclay blog. When you are dipping stuff in liquid paperclay, you have to build up enough layers (coats) to hold its shape when the piece is fired. Two layers of slip is NOT enough to do this, and hence your problem.
Hope this helps.

bellasnow said...

Thank you - I thought as much. What temperature would you recommend for a firing? and do you support pieces in the kiln? I really appreciate this. Bella

Anthony Foo said...

Hi Bella,
For my metal coated pieces, I fire to bisque temp. as temp. higher than that will melt the chicken wire. If you don't have any metal, ie only organic material, then you can go as high as your base clay will allow you to. I've fired my other pieces to various temps. from cone 1, 5 and 10. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

hi; i want to use cheesecloth to form a bandana head covering for a sculptural head. i was planning on dipping the cloth into a slurry and then shaping it into the bandana tie up. I thought i could place it over a base of solid paper clay. Can i make the slurry fairly thick? Or do you think this will burn away/crumble like the lace?


Anthony Foo said...

Hi Susan,
The idea of using the cheesecloth to make a bandana is a workable idea. However, any fabric will do. Some fabric will hold its shape and form better than others. Yes, you may use a thicker slurry to get a heavier coating, but I would coat/dip it in several layers of pclay slip to give it more strength. Hope this helps!

suzanjane said...

Thank you Anthony. I can but try; i thought cheesecloth because it should take up the slurry easily. i will try dipping it, forming it and then coating it several times; maybe even pouring slurry over it trying to maintain the shape.

Anthony Foo said...

Hello Susan,
Good luck to you. Let me know how it turns out for you. Often, when you are doing something out of the box, it's a discovery. Sometimes it works and other times it doesn't, but that's the fun in it. Happy experimenting!

suzanjane said...

Cheesecloth and paperclay slurry result. The overall shape of the bandana made with the cheesecloth remained intact after the firing. But the edges were too fragile as were a few thin areas in the body of the bandana. The cloth will definitely work but consistent thickness of coverage of the cloth by the slurry is the challenge. Maybe waiting until it is almost dry and then adding a final coat[s] will address those fragile edges.

Anthony Foo said...

Hello Susan,
That's the trick about doing a paperclay dip with organics. If the paper clay slip is too thin, the piece will not hold its form and be too fragile. If the pclay coating is too thick, then the details of the piece gets obliterate. It's a fine balance between the two. Also choosing the correct material is another consideration.

JEI said...

Hi Anthony, I am a graduate student in ceramics up in San Francisco. I'm interested in "slip dipping"...up to now I've been using cone 10 casting slip for fabric. I'm really interested in your technique, especially since I would like to go larger. I think the chicken wire could work as an armature for some of my fabric dips. Here's my question: have you ever used casting slip, or do you find that Paperclay slip is best? I'm thinking about building a wire armature for the clothing pieces that I'm dipping (soaking really, I leave them in the bucket for a couple of days). I'm wondering if soaking the fabric in Paperclay slip might be a better idea....thank you!

Anthony Foo said...

Hello JEI,
I'll try to address the questions you have.
1. I use paper clay slip because it sticks well to quite a bit of material cos the organic fibers act like microscopic figers. Regular clay on a metal armature tends to flake off when dry.
2. You can keep on dipping using the paperclay slip to build up the layers, even after the layers are bone dry.
3. I only low fire the chicken wire armature - bisque fire. At Cone 5, the steel melts and will ooze out of cracks in your dipping.
4. When using paperclay, I can always fix any cracks, broken pieces, add attachments, etc to itself. I cannot do that to regular clay.
Hope this helps. Feel free to contact me if you have more questions. Good luck on your project.