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 Garlic

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Susanville Garlic

“Stop and smell the garlic.  That’s all you have to do” William Shattner”

Lately, while others have been inside baking Christmas cookies these chilly Oregon Days, I have been outside planting garlic for the next year.  Some of my friends know me as the “Garlic Queen,” for having developed an obsession for tasty, huge, and beautiful garlic. It’s become an art form for me.  Yes, self-expression in growing garlic!

Being a garlic lover, I became very frustrated with the quality of garlic available in the grocery store.  It turns out IMG-3085that most of the garlic in the USA comes from China! Surprising since garlic is a fairly easy crop to grow that most of it is imported. Thus some years back I began my education in garlic and garlic cultivation.

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Photo by Erin Patterson

Originally from the middle east, 700 species of garlic are now grown around the world.

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Musica garlic

There are two main types, hardneck & softneck . The hardneck garlic has a hard woody stem and puts out a flowering scape (that is used for also used for culinary purposes).  They have fewer cloves than softnecks but are all fairly uniformly large in size. I find they have a longer shelf life than softneck which contradicts other sources. Softneck or “artichoke” style garlic have lots more cloves that get smaller towards the middle.  These are the garlics that can be braided. Each variety of garlic all has their unique flavors and storage life.

I grow Susanville (softneck)  for their “wow” factor. They often can get quite large and have a pretty purple tinge to them.  They make great gifts. For the hardnecks I grow “Musica” for the huge cloves, stronger taste. They also keep a month or so longer.

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The Jacob & Churro sheep of Bide A Wee Farm (photo courtesy Bide A Wee Farm)

I have to give credit to the folks who raise Jacob and Churro sheep up the road at Bide A Wee Farm which I affectionately call “Poo Corner.” The composted manure from these furry darlings makes for great garlic as well as anything I grow in the garden.  I also invested years ago in decent garlic seed from Hood River Garlic. I save the best heads from the img_3077years’ crop for the next. The bigger the clove planted equals the biggest bulb for the next year.  Also worthwhile was purchasing the book Growing Great Garlic:The Definitive Guide for Organic Gardeners and Small Farmers by Ron Engeland which is the bible of garlic growing.

The cloves are all tucked away now in their winter bed with a generous covering of straw mulch They will appear again come summer with the turn of the shovel as delightful bulbs- Christmas in July!

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