Material Investigations and Lines of enquiry
My activities in the workshop began by learning how to recycle clay into a usable clay body Initially this process took two weeks, but with practice and refining the process it can now be done in a day. Being able to do this quickly has expanded the amount of tests that are possible.
I learned from a book called “South American Folk Pottery” how to form ceramics in a traditional Colombian method. Using recycled clay I started out by practising this method, and it was and interesting experience as it’s not a method I have ever used before. The Colombian approach is a hybrid of coil building and thrown ceramics. I started off my tests by using Almington clay for its plasticity, and this worked but, because of the intense handling required in the clays green ware state to remove the top layer of agate, some of the pieces developed holes that couldn’t be filled as the pieces were already too dry.
Learning from this I switched to crank clay, which was much more readily available and was much better suited for this process of hand-building. The only downside is that it doesn’t create the clear agate layers that Almington clay can produce. From my experiments in the workshop have learned a great deal about the processes of recycling clay and mixing in oxides, and through these experiments I have collated a small library of results for future reference.
Getting to grips with the traditional Colombian technique by practising with oxide clay to form different combinations has been extremely beneficial, and has allowed me to experiment with the different clay combinations and forming processes simultaneously. Having a large number of test pieces had allowed me to experiment with surface texture by scratching or burnishing the surface to see which better reveals the agate layers.
The key developments so far have been experimenting with the traditional process and material so I can now influence it the way I want, and I am now at the point that I can start to formulate my own processes and start evolving them into what I want.
Keeping good records of what oxides have been used, and in what quantity, has been an essential part of this project, as all the variable parameters need to be fully documented if I want to obtain reproducible results. I believe my record keeping has been through enough but only time will tell.
What has interested me so much in this project is the breaking down of the clay and reforming it with new components and observing what effects these have. I want to extend this beyond oxides in the future and experiment with freely obtainable natural materials. Considering environmental impact and cost of purchased oxides I want to find more sustainable materials to use.
In future, if I’m studying a traditional process, it would be really beneficial to see it in action. In this instance I have had to make do with learning instructions from a book but being able to see it done in person would be much more useful.
The route forward for this project is developing away from the Colombian method and diverging into either mass production or keeping it as a hand-made process. If it’s to be kept hand-made, the pieces have to read visually as handmade. If it’s to be mass produced it must reflect the original process. It is an interesting crossroads and I currently intend to experiment with both.
So far none of the test pieces have been fired to stoneware, but that should be happening in this coming week. Once that’s happened I can start experimenting with the leather additions. Any tests done this week need to be in the kiln on Friday to be ready for assessment, but it’s an achievable deadline.