Thursday, April 30, 2009

Paperclay slip as SuperGlue

The right ear on this cute little guy broke off after the bisque fire.

The figure was made out of SOBT from Aardvark Clay Company, Santa Ana, Calif. It is one of the basic clay bodies we use at the Irvine Fine Arts Center.

It was reattached using paperclay slip made with paperclay from Laguna Clay Company. The clay is Bmix and sand and paper.

The proud owner of this doggy decided not to use any glaze and opted to fire it (Cone 10 reduction) after the repair, without a re-bisque firing. Approx. size: 6"L x 5"H x 2"D.

Permission granted for the use of this picture of her new pet by Beverly T.  Thanks, Beverly!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

From Concept to Completion

Before I start on a project, I frequently do sketches of the ideas I have to see how it looks on paper. Translating from a 2D environment to a 3D piece is sometimes challenging. Other times, it quite straight forward.

This sketch of a "cup triptych" was something I had in mind. Notes accompany my drawings, such as what clay to use, approximate sizes, glazes, and other considerations.
The photo below shows the completed set.
Clay used: Black Mountain potters clay,
Southern Ice porcelain paperclay + rice.
Glaze is Carbon Trap Shino. Fired to Cone 10 reduction. Approx. size for the set: 10.5"W x 5.5"H x 3"D

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Paperclay and Skin Care for Your Hands

As ceramic artists, we know working with clay dries out the skin of our hands. Working with paperclay I have to contend with another additive I add to my paperclay and to the water in my spray bottle.

There is organic material (ie paper pulp) in the paperclay, and mold tends to form quite readily even in unopened bags of paperclay. I have used regular laundry bleach, Pine Sol, Mr. Green, etc as disinfectants to retard the growth of the organisms. I'm partial to Pine Sol as I find it's less harsh on my hands and I like the scent of the pine.

Normally one capful of the disinfectant in your bucket of paperclay slip will do it. It will retard the growth of the mold for a while, but eventually, the mold will come back. The thing to do is mix as much paperclay slip as you need at one time. However, I find this is difficult to judge as I also like to have extra on stand by. I also add a few drops (maybe 1/2 capful) into my spray bottle.

I get my paperclay commercially so it really depends on how long that batch has been sitting in the warehouse before it becomes mine. Sometimes I get really fresh paperclay - nice and clean, other times, there is already black mold starting inside the bag. It is surface mold, the inside is still good. The property of the paperclay is not affected by the mold, other than the "icky/yucky" factor.

From both the drying effects of the clay and the disinfectants I use; not to mention the frequency of thorough hand washing with antibacterial soap and water, my hands take a beating. Frequent application of a hand lotion of your choice will help hydrate your hands and make them feel better, even in between breaks from working with your clay. Some people wear gloves. That is also an option. I have to admit I've never seen anyone throwing on the wheel with gloves on! Working with sanded/hi grogged clay will "eat up" those flimsy things in no time. Moreover the "fun" factor of working with clay is the ability of feel this wonderful, yet very simple, almost primordial material.

Ahh .... the price we pay for our passion.

DISCLAIMER: Keep food and drinks away from your work area. Always throughly wash/scrub your hands and other areas of your body covered with clay after your work and before handling/preparing food. This is just plain common sense.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Are You Spoiled by Paperclay?

My answer is a resounding "YES!!"

Just last week in the ceramics studio at the Irvine Fine Arts Center where I do a lot of my work, I found several slabs of a brown clay thrown into the trash bin. As most ceramic artists can attest to, we all hate to see such good clay go to waste so I salvaged the clay, determined to make something out of it.

The occasion presented itself as the IFAC will be holding a fun succulent planter show in about a month's time. I remoistened the already rolled clay slabs to make them softer than leather hard so I can put them over a form. I used a wok as my master mold.

Everything proceeded as planned. The clay was drying nicely. For the feet, I made 3 stout tapered cones and set them aside to firm up. They were later attached to the wok shaped body with paperclay slip after throughly scoring and slipping the areas to be joined.

If I had used paperclay, I would have let my wok-shaped form  and the feet dry completely and then do a dry to dry join. BUT... with a traditional clay body, I CAN'T.

I noticed where the feet joined the bottom of the form, my wok shaped dome was indenting a bit so I decided to fix it by inverting the shape back onto the wok and thought it was a simple matter of pushing the feet against the master mold. Lo and behold when I did that, a very big crack opened up from the edge to almost one of the feet. "Oh, crap." I yelled silently.

I had forgotten how weak regular clay is OR rather, I had gotten used to the superior strength of paperclay in its dry stage. Well, now what? Chuck it? Try to salvage it? I decided to try the latter and filled the crack with mushy paperclay and slip.

I am totally spoiled by the paperclay I've been using. First of all, I would not need to join the pieces during its moist leather hard stage but rather wait for all the parts to be completely bone dry. Second, even if I cracked the main bowl, it's not a problem joining the piece back with paperclay. Another experience to drive home the point, perhaps it's better not to be "cheap (maybe, frugal, is a better description)" and let regular scrap clay remain in the trash bin!

A good lesson to be learned from this experience is that I should be able to fix the crack with paperclay - theoretically. I'll attempt the mend and put the piece through its paces to a Cone 10 fire and see what happens. If it holds up and everything is good, then, it's another point for paperclay!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Applying Fresh Paperclay onto Bisqued Surfaces.

I decided I wanted this pagoda design on the current sculpture set I'm working on, but the pieces have already been bisqued. The base clay is Bmix and sand, and I've applied a white slip over it in the green stage.

Tracing of pagoda design onto bisqued piece with graphite paper.

Originally, I was thinking of doing a wax resist or a stencil treatment with the design. I opted for the dimensional effect I was able to achieve with my "Take Out Tea" sculpture.

The paperclay slip I use is the Southern Ice Porcelain paperclay. The slip is consistency of heavy cream and blended well to remove lumps. I use a squeeze bottle with a small nozzle - the ones you use to do slip trailing. The design is first transfered on to the bisqued piece and the slip trailing is done free hand. Successive coats are built up to achieve the desired raised effect. Since slip is mostly water, it takes several coats to accomplish this.

What I found is that if my slip is too thick, the edges then to curl and peel from the bisqued surface. Wetting it down with a fine mist from a spray bottle helps. What works better is thinning out the paperclay slip till it's about skim milk consistency and then brushing over the design with a small brush. This thin slip still contains the paper fibers in suspension and this helps to "hold" your relief design in place. Both bisqued piece and the fresh dry slip being very "thirsty" sucks the moisture out of this this watery slip extremely fast. So far, my design has not exhibited curling or peeling at the edges.

After several applications of fresh slip. You can still see the tracing of the pagoda under the slip.

The next stage is to test this application by re-firing the piece at bisque temp and see if this holds.

After the bisque firing,  my added on design held and bonded with the base layer, showing no signs of cracking or lifting off. This is very encouraging! 

After the bisque firing, the graphite tracing burns off. The freshly applied paperclay slip is bonded onto the piece.