Saturday, March 22, 2014

Clay Body Blues

Winter is hanging on with vigorous claws. The temperature climbs up and then tumbles back down again; the ground is slowly thawing; the mud is deep; but we’re still freezing at night and getting some snow.

Ah, the glory of Montana!

Still, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Yet.



But the big issue right now is our clay body. We’re working on creating our own clay recipe and the chemistry for clay bodies is as intense as for glazes. Clay bodies use all the same ingredients as I use for glazes, but in different quantities, of course.

Initially we tried some variations of recipes from Richard Zakin’s latest book, but still had some of the white specks in our hand-painted designs, so I’ve been altering those recipes with information from Daniel Rhodes and Robin Hopper to come closer to what we need.

A couple of variations ago I added more Hawthorne Bond fireclay, but even when we fired that clay to cone 6 we were left with the equivalent of a bisque-fired piece, which absorbs way too much water and the glaze crazes dramatically. If water sits in pieces made from clay which is that absorbent when the glaze is crazed, it will slowly leak through, leaving a small puddle on the table.

So I backed up half a step to reduce the fireclay and increase the kaolin, and then I added a little more flux.

The worst part for me is  having to wait a full week after mixing a new batch so the clay can mature. I am actually starting to think some of my earlier versions didn’t work so well in the throwing process because I didn’t wait long enough.

Impatient? Well, that hints at defining the anxiousness I experience while I’m having to sit around watching clay mature. We have deadlines.

We also have been buying small batches of clay at the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena just to get us by while I figure out a recipe they can mix for us a ton at a time. But a trip to Helena to buy clay means a day out of the studio; we’re already behind schedule and need to get some orders delivered very soon.

Before long we’ll be landscaping and by the time we get back into the studio I’ll forget a lot of what I didn’t take the time to write down. Often when I do write down the information I need, I don’t give myself enough detail, so I don’t know what I meant months later. And too often I throw samples away that were not what I had wanted, because our studio is already cluttered so much we don’t have adequate shelf space any more.

Being so human, I tend to ignore most of life’s little daily lessons. Aren’t people supposed to get more patient when they get older? Hmm, my dad turns 80 next month and he hasn’t gotten any more patient, yet. In the nursing home they had to separate him from mom and then they finally put him in his own room, because he is so impatient with other people that he becomes a cantankerous bully. 

I wonder how long it takes to learn patience.