Friday, May 28, 2010

Paper clay and Maquette

Maquettes are small preliminary models that sculptors make to give them an idea of what the larger version will be like.

Most, if not all, of my sculptural works start out as drawings or sketches. Sometimes it is difficult to see how a 2D drawing translates into a 3D form, especially if that shape is complex. Making a miniature model helps me visualize what it will look like. It allows me to foresee any problems in the production of the final version and to make necessary changes to my original design.

Paper clay is a great medium for maquettes. It is very strong in the bone dry greenware stage and is easily repaired if a part breaks off. As long as it has not been fired, I can recycle the paper clay so none is wasted.

Here are some of my concept maquettes in my studio.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Black Mountain Paper Clay - Part 3

Part 3 - Mixing the pulp and the clay slurry
The sequence of pictures correspond to the notes on the left side.

1. When I'm satisfied that my paper pulp is sufficiently broken down, it's time to strain the excess water out of the blended pulp. For this I used an ordinary strainer. I let the excess water drain out and collect enough "pulp ball" to fill about 1/3 of a 5 gallon bucket. (first picture)

2. Do not squeeze out all the water from the "pulp ball." (second picture down)

3. This was the extra pulp that was left over from all the paper packaging I used. (third picture down)

4. The Black Mountain clay slurry is in the left bucket, the pulp is in the right one. By volume, clay slurry is 2/3, pulp is 1/3. (fourth picture down)

5. Mix and blend the two together. Makes for a very delicious looking mousse-like consistency! (fifth picture down)

6. I use my concrete patio a lot for drying out the clay-pulp mixture. This will take a few days to get to a kneadable consistency. The next step will be testing this Black Mountain paper clay and see how it performs. (last picture)

Black Mountain Paper Clay - Part 2

Part 2 - Making the Black Mountain clay slurry
The sequence of pictures correspond to the notes on the right side.

1. My left over Black Mountain clay was cut up and left to dry in the sun.
(first picture)

2. It took about 2 days in our hot Southern California weather to dry out. I was in no hurry so I left all those chunks outside. In the mean time, I went ahead and prepared the pulp from left over paper packaging.
(2nd picture down)

3. The big chunks were broken up and put into a 5 gallon painters bucket. (3rd picture down)

4. Water was added till the tops of the clay chunks were covered. Let sit until completely slaked. (last picture)

After the clay has been well soaked, blend till about medium thick oatmeal consistency and get rid of any lumps in the clay slurry. Add water to thin out if necessary.

Black Mountain Paper Clay - Part 1

Black Mountain clay (both the sculpture and potter's variety) from Aardvark is one of my favorite colored traditional clay. I like the deep brown color I get when it's fired to Cone 10 reduction. Most of the time I do not use any glaze on this clay in my sculpture work.

I decided to make a paper clay version of it from my left over Black Mountain clay in my studio. This article will be in 3 parts.

Part 1 - Making the pulp
Part 2 - Making the Black Mountain clay slurry
Part 3 - Mixing the pulp and the clay slurry

Part 1 - Making the pulp
The sequence of pictures correspond to the notes on the left side.

1. To make the paper pulp, I decided to use left over paper packing instead of a roll of toilet paper, just because I have them around the house and I wanted to experiment using this material. (first picture)

2. The paper packing was torn up into small pieces and put into a 5 gallon painters bucket. (2nd picture)

3. It was soaked overnight. You can also let it soak for a couple of days, if you like, to facilitate the blending of the paper into pulp. (3rd picture)

4. I used an old hand held immersion kitchen blender to cut up and blend the paper packaging into pulp. Adding more water helped in the blending. This takes a bit of time. I had to do this in batches since I can only go so deep with the immersion blender.
(4th picture)

5. Make sure the paper packaging is completely broken up. To test, mix about a tablespoon of pulp with water in a measuring cup. Stir well. You should not see bits of packaging at all. When all you see is a milky emulsion, then your pulp is good. (last picture)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Link to Flickr images

Here's the direct link to my Flickr images.

It is a fast and easy way to share images. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Paper clay and Cracking - Part 2

"Oh, no. I have a crack in my piece." How often do we mutter this to ourselves. Our adrenaline pours out and our blood pressure mounts!

Back when I was using a regular clay body, any cracks would spell doom (not to mention, heartache) to my piece. Sometimes I can fix the crack if I catch it in time when the clay is still in the leather hard stage or slightly past it. Forget about it if your piece is bone dry. Sometimes you hope for the best through the bisque fire and then hope even more that the glaze will "seal" the crack. Most of often than not, you find it does not work that way.

One big advantage of paper clay over regular clay is that any cracks that develop in your piece can be fixed, even at the bone dry stage. Let me first clarify the different types of cracks and why cracks happen in the first place when making dry to dry joins.

Why cracks happen when joining?
This problem can always be attributed to insufficient moisture in your pieces to be joined using dry to dry joining techniques. Remember bone dry pieces are very, very thirsty and will soak up water very easily and quickly. Beginners usually do not have enough moisture in their pieces to be joined, or your mushy paper clay (which constitute the main "glue" that holds everything together) is not mushy enough (not enough water) or the paper clay slip is too thick (not enough water).

How do you get moisture to the pieces to be joined?
The simplest way is to soak the area in water that needs to be joined. Keep an eye on the part so that it does not revert back to its leather hard stage, or worse still, become mushy and soft. For a piece that is about 1/4" thick, approx. 30 seconds to a minute. I frequently check the water content of the part by taking it out of the water soak and see how fast the water is re-absorbed into the surrounding paper clay. If the water disappears too fast, then I know the piece still needs more moisture and back it goes into the water soak.

If my piece is too large to fit inside a soaking container, I've used wet paper towels pressed against the area to be joined. The dry paper clay will suck readily moisture from the wet paper towels so keep the paper towels wet with a sprayer or a sponge.

Types of cracks.
There are 2 types of cracks. The first kind is the surface crack. This is mostly seen at the very feathered edges of a join caused by the difference in water content between the pieces to be joined and the mushy paper clay/paper clay slip used as "glue." This kind of crack can also happen AT the join. If your dry to dry joining technique is good, this crack can be repaired without any trouble simply by adding more paper clay slip to the crack to "seal" it.

Otherwise, this is a sign of the second kind of crack which is a structural crack. This is no good. Again, the main culprit is insufficient moisture content in the pieces to be joined. Joins like this can easily be pulled apart and will fail very nicely and cleanly. This is a tell tale sign that means your dry pieces need to be soaked longer in water. The thicker the piece, the longer it will take. A lot of it comes from experience working with paper clay.

A good test of your dry to dry joining technique.
  • Make a dry to dry join.
  • Let it dry completely to bone dry.
  • Pull it apart.
  • If the pieces come apart cleanly at the join, then you know your joining techniques need more practice.
  • If the join holds and your piece breaks away from the join, then you have made a good strong join.
With practice and a good understanding of the physical properties of paper clay, one can begin to understand why one join fails and another survives. Paper clay affords us this training and removes this "fear" element of "Oh, no. I have a crack in my piece." (The above exercise is a good one for beginners to go through. The paper clay can always be recycled)

'Cracks, huh? No problem. I can fix it."

Also see earlier related post on "Paperclay and Cracking."

Paper clay and Speed Drying

Paper clay holds up very well to speed drying.

What is speed drying?
It is using an external heat source to speed up the drying of the paper clay. Below are examples of heat sources available.
  • the sun (it's free)
  • electric heat gun
  • propane torch
  • microwave oven
  • regular gas oven
Why speed drying?
It allows the soft paper clay you are working on to firm up enough for you to continue working.

In Southern California, especially during the hot summer days, the sun provides you with a free energy source. When this is not fast enough, I use my propane torch to "spot" dry areas that I want firmed up.

Why speed drying works in paper clay?
The microscopic tubes in the paper pulp act as channels for the steam and hot air to escape so your piece does not blow up. Sometimes, when I get very aggressive with my propane torch, small surfaces of my paper clay piece flake off with a popping sound when I hold the flame too long in one spot. This is telling me that I've over-stressed that part of the clay and the sound I hear is a "mini steam explosion." Time to ease off on the propane torch. Or move the propane torch more often to reduce "hot spots."

I've even "zapped" small paper clay pieces (especially lugs for vases, etc) in my old microwave. The principle is the same as discussed above. The steam needs to have an outlet and as long as there is one, you can speed dry your paper clay. I started with a low setting (50% power) for about 15 seconds and gradually build up my courage to do a full minute at full power. My pieces come out of the microwave oven hot and steaming so care must be taken when handling them. Once cooled, they are firm enough for me to continue my project.

You can never be this aggressive with traditional clay so please don't try this or you will have a mess to clean up!

Speed drying is yet another "tool" in your "paper clay tool box" to work your clay. You are not bound by traditional ceramic techniques that have been taught and still continue to be taught in all ceramic art schools.

See earlier related post on "forced heating."

Disclaimer: Use caution, wear gloves, and eye protection for your own safety when operating electric and/or gas tools. Use at your own risk.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Paper clay and Your Health


  • Paper clay should not be stored for long periods as liquid slip as it becomes smelly when bacteria grows in it. Mixing some disinfectant (Clorox, PineSol, liquid detergent) to reduce the risk and prolong shelf life. Avoid Clorox if you have sensitivity to bleach.
  • New paper clay slip can be made easily by adding hot/warm water into a bucket of paper clay dry scraps. See earlier post on making paper clay slip.
  • Do not contaminate new batches of paper clay slip with old batches. If you are using the same bucket, wash out the bucket well with hot water and soap.
  • Wash, scrub hands well with soap and water before handling food.
  • Prolonged exposure to any clay dust should be avoided and is deterimental to your health. Always wear a face mask if you are going to be handling a lot of dry paper clay, or when sanding, carving bone dry or bisqued pieces.
  • I would also recommend wearing a face mask when cleaning out a bag of paper clay with mold growing on it to minimize breathing in the mold that has been made air-borne. Wear disposable vinyl gloves if needed. Scrub and clean your work area and your hands thoroughly after cleaning out a bag of old moldy paper clay.
  • Minimize air-borne clay dust by using wet sponges, rags, mops to maintain a clean working environment.
  • Clay dries out your hands so moisturize your hands frequently.
  • Above all, use common sense. First priority is your safety and health.

What's that stuff on my paper clay?

We can't see them but they have been here longer than we, humans, have been around. It's just a fact of life that we are surrounded by them and they have a way of getting into things. I'm talking about microorganisms - bacteria, mold, fungus and the like.

Ordinary/regular clay has its share of "bugs" already in the bag when we buy the clay. I've seen tinges of green mold in my bagged BMix clay if left long enough. Usually the clay will dry out before the organisms have a chance to take hold.

Paper clay with its high organic content provides an ideal breeding ground for the mold. Bagged paper clay, if left sitting for an extended period of time, will happily support a flourishing colony and you'll be surprised how fast the mold can spread once it gets started.

Most of the time I see black and/or dark brown mold on my paper clay. It looks unsightly but the paper clay is still very usable. This is only surface mold and it can be easily removed. I take the block of paper clay out of the bag, mix some disinfectant (I like Pine-Sol because of its scent and is not caustic as bleach) with some water and wipe the mold off. I clean the bag throughly with hot water and soap, and spritz some disinfectant into the bag before I replace the now-cleaned paper clay. The presence of the disinfectant will help retard the re-growth of the mold. It will eventually come back so plan to use your paper clay soon.

There is however one kind of paper clay that I've been using for quite some time that DOES NOT show any mold growth. It's the Southern Ice porcelain paper clay from Australia. I do not know what fiber is used, nor if anything else is added as a fungicide, but it wards off any mold growth and has a tremendously long shelf life.

This picture shows 3 types of paper clay. Far left, is my recently reconstituted IMCO sculpture paper clay from my scraps (see earlier post). Top right, shows the Southern Ice porcelain paper clay. I bought that in 2007 and not a speck of mold in it. Bottom right is IMCO sculpture paper clay (from 2008) removed from its bag. The outside is covered with the mold I talked about, but the inside is still good, as shown by the slice.

Both bagged paper clay is a bit on the dry side because water has slowly evaporated from the bag over the years. No worries; add water into the bag and let the paper clay soak up it up.

Monday, May 10, 2010

An Interview with the Artist

A dear friend of mine and fellow artist, Barbara Speck, spent some time interviewing me (Thursday, December 3, 2009) for one of her projects for her BFA degree. Here's her report in its entirety.

I had the pleasure of interviewing ceramic sculptor/artist Anthony Foo in his

home/studio in Placentia, California. Although he discovered his love of art in his youth,

only recently has he been compelled to focus exclusively on his craft. He freely shared

about his life as a working, exhibiting artist: his inspirations, triumphs, disappointments

and perseverance. His pieces embody not only his passion but his intellect as well.

Mr. Foo believes artists are not necessarily taught but born, though some take

time to realize the meaning and importance of art in their lives. Mr. Foo is a

primarily self-taught artist with a Bachelors degree in Biology/Immunology, an

Associates degree in Graphic Design and a certificate in Business. Though he has

enjoyed creating art as far back as he can remember he only started taking

ceramic classes in the mid-eighties at the Irvine Fine Arts Center. He recalls making

sculptures from mud as a child and appreciates how the path now culminates in his

current vocation.

Mr. Foo works with paper clay as opposed to traditional clay because he loves

its’ strength, versatility and ability to be manipulated. He appreciates that is can be

changed easily even once dry and that it can simulate different materials such as wood,

metal and gravel. He enjoys the tactile sense of the clay and the feeling of caressing it as

he sculpts it. He is most influenced by eastern philosophy and his upbringing in


Mr. Foo has a passion for abstract sculpture. Of this he said, “The most satisfying

part is to take an abstract thought, turn it into a 2 dimensional sketch and then manipulate

it into a 3-D form. I enjoy capturing the thought and seeing the end result” (Foo, PC).

The least favorite facet of being an artist is the business aspect according to Mr. Foo. He

would be happiest to just concentrate of creating and someone else worked on the selling

and marketing aspect. Though he did say “It is the greatest compliment when someone

wants to buy a piece that they connect with emotionally” (Foo, PC).

Though Mr. Foo has followed an artistic path since his youth, it wasn’t until a

few years ago that he made the decision to devote his life to art. Mr. Foo worked as a

graphic designer for several years. While he enjoyed being a graphic designer, he was

able to make the decision to retire from graphic design to concentrate on ceramics full

time in 2007.

Mr. Foo has been in several exhibitions including shows at the Irvine Fine Arts

Center, Grand Central Gallery of California State University Fullerton, City of Brea Art

Gallery and the World Gallery. Additionally, he has won several awards for his art. He

also enjoys teaches paper clay sculpture at the Irvine Fine Arts Center. Mr. Foo sees

himself as a sculptor in the long term likening his artistic self-expression to a pressure

valve that releases stress and allows ideas to go from simply ideas to full realization. He

also believes it is important for fellow artists to realize everyone goes through phases,

sometimes creating nothing and other times with multiple project in the works. One

should not worry about the slow times and use this time to think and contemplate ideas.

He believes the biggest obstacle facing the emerging artist today is how art has gone from

a necessary and vital record of our culture to a luxury. It is now more about acquisition

than communications of ideas. Art has become expendable. We need to realize arts true

importance as it holds our culture together. (Foo, PC)

Mr. Foo’s message to emerging artists is simple, straight forward and eloquent.

“Follow your dream and be brave” (Foo, PC). Following Mr. Foo’s inspiration and

advice I believe an artist can see the importance of art and the need to continue to create

not just for ourselves but for everyone around us.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Paper clay Forever - Part 2

After 2 days in the hot Southern California sun, this is what my reconstituted paper clay looks like.

The center of the thick mass is still very wet, the outer "skin" is a little dryer and kneadable. I flop the paper clay mass onto itself with the aid of the bed sheet and flatten the paper clay to expose fresh wet areas to be dried out.

By the end of the 3 or 4th day, enough water would have been sucked out of this wet paper clay for me to use.

No wastage at all.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Paper clay Forever

Unfired paper clay can be recycled indefinitely.

I had some greenware pieces and buckets of dried scraps that had been sitting in my studio for some time.

Working with paper clay, I do not throw away any bits, including trimmings, broken pieces, etc. The cost of paper clay being more expensive than regular clay makes all paper clay artists misers, I think. You can readily make paper clay slip for "gluing" your pieces together from your scraps, use them for surface texture treatments, or reconstitute the dried paper clay back to a workable condition.

I make small scale models of a concept, to see if it will translate well from a 2-D drawing to a 3-D form. This is a great way to anticipate any problems I may encounter before starting on the real thing. All this clay can be recycled so there is no wastage.

The picture shows the way I recycle my paper clay. After slaking for a day or two in a 5-gallon bucket, I mash the paper clay into a thick oatmeal consistency, pour it out on top of bed sheets and let the concrete in my patio soak up the excess water. This may take some time to get the goopy oat-meal like paper clay to a kneadable condition. I knead the paper clay into manageable blocks and I have fresh paper clay ready for use.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

All You Need Is ...

I made it to the Ink and Clay 36 show this week at the Kellogg Gallery, Cal Poly Pomona. All of the ceramic pieces were great and I really enjoyed being able to see the pieces up close.

This is my piece in the show, titled "Terra Nova."

All you need is a nice pedestal and great lighting to show off your work! Of course, I say this in jest; yet, there is truth in it. It is amazing how a professional presentation sets off your work and elevates it to an entirely different world.

Here are the different clays and materials used in this piece:

• Sculpture paperclay
• Southern Ice Porcelain paperclay
• Black Mountain sculpture clay
• Black Mountain potters clay
• "Grogzilla" high grogged clay
• Sculpture paperclay mixed with rice
• Flashing slip
• Feldspar crystals
• Manganese dioxide
• Red Polymer clay
• Natural red seeds

Many of the "pods" were scavenged from an earlier piece that had been fired to Cone 10 reduction and did not turn out well. I "recycled" them into this piece. No glazes were used.