So, how is it that I didn’t learn this early on in my clay career? And, even curiouser, once I did learn it, why did I not practice it until 2012?
It was clearly due to the Perfect Storm of Sloth, involving
1. A very handy and dirt-cheap (pun intended!) source for clay,
2. An all-too-convenient method of dumping the unwanted bits into a group recycling process,
3. A strong streak of fastidiously-fed laziness cloaked in an utter lack of interest.
I had not one compelling need! Being a slow-working hand-builder, I also just don’t create the glop like those wheel-throwing potters do, therefore I am not forced to deal with it.
Odd unusable stiff scraps, begone! Let me open a nice fresh bag of just-right clay, use all I can and ignore the rest when it gets too dry or too wet. It was that way for a decade.
In the past year, however, Reasons and Needs have come to town:
I pay retail for my clay now.
It’s a hassle to get all those heavy buckets of dried chunks over to the college to feed to their recycle stream, and they take up a lot of room while they wait. (Plus the dog will eat them if left uncovered at his nose level!)
I got curious about how much more work I could get out of a bag of clay if I did this.
I also practice my reclaiming method in small batches, as you shall see. It keeps the whole process manageable and pleasant.
Let’s take a look at what’s involved.
As I work, I toss my scraps into a bucket. When it’s full, I chunk them up into even-ish pieces, as in the photo up top.
At the end of a studio day, in preparation for the next morning, I dip those chunks – all ranges of wet to dry – handful by handful in water for a few seconds and then into an empty clay bag.
I wrap the bag well and let the scraps absorb the water at least overnight, but they will keep for a long time until I’m ready to reclaim.
Usually the clay scraps have turned into a slippery-sticky-lumpy goo. I take this out of the bag and spread it as best as I can on a flat rectangular plaster bat. The plaster is a really absorbent surface which will suck the water out of the clay in a matter of hours, but a piece of drywall or wood could work….even canvas or a towel, just change it out if it gets too damp before the clay is workable. (Newspaper or paper towels NOT recommended!)
Plaster works great. When the clay pulls away, it’s time to flop it over to the other side for awhile.
When both sides aren’t sticky, it’s time to ball up the scraps completely and wedge to create as even a texture as possible, in both wetness and consistency. You can throw the lumpy balls onto your wedging surface to compact and condense even further.
Use your fists or something like this firm-squishy bouncy bonker, and flatten your wedged lumps of clay to pancakes about 2 inches thick.
Then using a slab roller or a rolling pin and gauge sticks, roll the thick slabs into thinner ones. Alternatively, you can skid the thick slab along a surface to thin and stretch it by tossing it slightly sideways.
Air bubbles aren’t the bane for hand-building that they are for wheel-throwing, but it’s still nice to remove the obvious ones.
Continue to roll out as thin as you need for your project. I always feel rich to get this much more usable clay out of a bucket of scraps.
And that’s the Easy Illustrated Why and How of getting the most out of your bag of clay! Do it and revel in your own bumper crop.
~Liz Crain is a ceramic artist actively engaged in learning the craft of her art.