The Color of Clay

Clay can be dirt in the wrong hands, but clay can be art in the right hands.

Lupita Nyong’o

I work in clay when the mood arises.  In its simplest form, clay is mineral earth, devoid of organic matter. 

For millennia humans have dug their own to make vessels and pieces of art. The clay most artists use in modern times comes from factories.  Different formulations of minerals will mature at different temperatures and will have different properties that are specific to wheel or sculptural pieces. The hotter the temperature the clay fires to, the stronger the finished product.   I generally work in a midfire range clay that matures at approximately 2200 degrees F. 

Within that temperature range there is a variety of colors to choose from that range from white, tan, rust, and brown.  The color of the clay is from pigments or minerals that have been added.  For example, iron oxide gives terra cotta its deep rust color and burnt umber makes clay a toasty brown.

 I like to experiment with different colors of clay.  Since I work with sculptural rather than functional pieces (such as mug and bowls), I use glaze more as an embellishment, preferring to showcase the color of the clay body I’m working with.

When you purchase clay, the fired product will be a different color than the wet clay in the bag. Often white clay will appear gray in its wet form.  Dark clays will lighten or darken depending.

The firing process used to be literally done with a wood fire and in some places still is. I use an electric kiln to fire my pieces.  When the kiln gets up to temperature the individual particles of clay will vitrify, or fuse, creating a permanent, waterproof object.

The clay will perform the same, no matter how it’s colored- it’s how it’s molded that creates differences in strength.  It’s only by fire that clay unites as one.

Clay has so much to teach humanity.

Visit my other blog about sustainable living at onesweetearth.art.blog

The Art of Earth, Wind, Fire & Water

IMG_0819 (1)While I was at Ghost Ranch two weeks ago (see my post “Escaping to an Artful Landscape”)  I took a 5-day long pit firing workshop.  Long before we had electric and gas kilns to fire clay, indigenous people including Native Americans, extracted their clay from local deposits and fired their ceramic ware in pits they dug into the earth. Wood, droppings and other combustible materials were placed around the pots and then

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Image courtesy mikusa.com

covered with shards, moist clay or more wood.  The pit was then lit on fire and tended for hours.  This is the oldest known method of firing pottery.

Though pit fired ware is generally not as sturdy as those fired at higher temperatures in modern kilns, they can be quite beautiful- especially if the surface is burnished beforehand.  Depending on where the pot is in the pit can affect how the surface responds to flame, smoke, and oxygen. The addition of other salts around the pots can also create colorful patterns. Ceramic artists today are modifying the basic techniques and achieving

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image courtesy Eduardo Lazo

stunning results. I’ve been attracted to this method since it is so primitive & close to natural processes. Beautiful useful and decorative items can be created using only the four elements (there is water in the clay).

Due to time constraints and high fire danger at the time, we had to modify our firing methods.  Instead of digging pits we had to fire in galvanized tubs and had to fire for shorter amounts of time.  Our pieces did not achieve the range of IMG_0882colors that can be possible.  Still, I understood the process, had fun,  and plan to try this behind my home clay studio.

Below are are some of the pieces I made during the workshop.

 

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The 3 sheep were inspired by the black sheep running loose on the ranch.  I identify with black sheep!

 

 

The Power of Play, the Power of Clay

IMG_0003My last show is done for the year and perhaps indefinitely.  I am relieved to return to my ceramics studio without the stress of deadlines.  It’s playtime!

There is so much value in play.  I’m talking about for children as well as adults.  Taking time to play in an art form gives that other part of our brain a rest that worries and analyzes so our spirits can be released.  Unfortunately, our culture undervalues play in favor of productivity. As our schools have stripped theeducation-1814187_1920 arts from their curriculums in favor of core subjects, the population is becoming culturally illiterate, more plugged in, and more isolated.

hand-845269_1920Clay is one medium that immediately can turn adults into kids again and turn kids into kids again.  It’s tactile, versatile, and gives immediate satisfaction. If you need more play in your life, consider taking a ceramics class.  Enjoy the satisfaction of playing in mud again.  I wish everyone had access to clay. The world would be a better place.

Hands in Clay

When my hands touch clay

I lose myself

Deep in the soft, smooth sensation of mud

Sliding between my fingers

 

When my hands touch clay

I am a child at play

With infinite possibilities

 

When my hands touch clay

I become the earth

 

When my hands touch clay

I am Navaho, Pueblo, African, Asian, Aborigine

And of the ancient ones

Sharing the spirit of creation

Hidden in the clay

Waiting to be born

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