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  • Reclaiming Clay: A Rationale and Pictorial How-To

    On: August 10, 2017
    In: Artmaking, How To's, Studio Journal
    Views: 4861
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    The Summer Re-Run Blog Posts are running down. This might be the last one, but it’s a goodie; one where the comments are probably more interesting than the post itself. Originally published September 26, 2012, it speaks to a grown-up awakening regarding resources and costs. And while this is still a great method, I no longer work this way and my clay scraps have been reduced to near ZERO. I will let you have fun reading about this small scale reclaiming method (and be sure to peruse the comments!) and then, in the sign-off, I will tell you what I do now…Enjoy!

     

    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 a perfect storm of economics and sloth, involving

    • A very handy and dirt-cheap (pun intended!) source for clay

    • An all-too-convenient method of dumping all scraps into a group recycling process

    •  A strong streak of fastidiously-fed laziness cloaked in an utter lack of interest

    I had no compelling reason to deal with my scraps. Being a slow-working hand-builder, I also just don’t create the massive leftovers like those wheel-throwing potters do, therefore I was not especially forced to deal with them. The scraps easily disappeared and all I had to do was open a nice fresh bag of just-right clay instead. It was that way for a decade.

     

    In the past year, however, compelling reasons and needs to deal with leftovers 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.

    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.

    Scraps get dunked and bagged.

    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.

     

    Wetted scraps sit overnight.

    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.

    The really messy part that I avoided until now.

    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, just change it out if it gets too damp before the clay is workable. (Newspaper or paper towels NOT recommended!)

     

    Did I say it was gooey sticky and messy?

     

     

    The plaster soaks up the water fairly quickly.

    Plaster works great. When the clay pulls away, it’s time to flop it over to the other side for awhile.

     

    Gather the now-manageable clay and wedge it.

    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.

     

    Pound it into a thickish slab.

    Use your fists or something like this firm-squishy bouncy bonker, and flatten your wedged lumps of clay to pancakes about 2 inches thick.

     

     

    Roll the slab thinner.

    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.

     

    Poke holes in the inevitable air bubbles.

     

    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.

     

     

    A few fresh new slabs from spare parts.

     

    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, who now pretty much uses ALL of her clay the first time around by keeping scraps workably moist and then either generating all sorts of rolled, textured and cut test tiles and tubes which she bisques and keeps on hand for quicker answers to surface design/glazing possibilities AND/OR she forms the wet pieces back into small balls and makes lovely spontaneous pinched pieces, some of which are keepers, the rest are also testing candidates.

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  • What Dreams May Come

    On: July 27, 2017
    In: Artmaking, Community, Creativity, Studio Journal
    Views: 1453
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    Dove at the Cabrillo College “Grave Changes” Exhibit, Davis, CA 2012

    The Summer Studio Journal ReRun Posts continue, and I have a longer Preamble to this one:

    It’s five years on from this post, originally published June 14, 2012. I have re-posted the true story at the end of it a couple of other times and places, since it is so delicious.

    What’s not so delicious is that my mentor Kathryn’s still gone. For lots of reasons I can no longer find creative refuge in the Cabrillo Ceramics Lab. But the undeniably solid one is: she’s not there. There are some of her lovely small works and her photo in a glass case with her name writ large on the entrance doors. I am proud of her legacy, but I still hear her laughter ringing and think I glimpse her moving away similar to the first dream recounted in this post.

     As it should be by now, an artist and teacher who I admire and wholeheartedly support just earned a tenure-track position and will occupy her long-empty former office.

    Here at my studio, I have a collection of her fabulous smaller works and lovely handwritten notes, which I keep nearby, occasionally shuffling them about in an afternoon’s agitation. She’s rarely in my dreams now. So it goes. What sings to me currently were her creative dry spells, her doubts. She continues to mentor me in retrospect. I get frustrated with my artistic direction at times, yet know I am compelled to continue, just as, well, just as I saw her do. She, too, wrestled with making meaning. Felt impatient with the selling, the galleries, the shows. Worried about the same stuff. And additionally carried the onus of being a teaching legend, receiving the projections of hundreds and hundreds, most of whom largely misread her humanity, mistaking her most unfairly for a demi-goddess. I hold her utter humanity as a person and a sensitive artist to heart and cry.

    And for all that lovably warped humanity, here am I as well, shambling along, telling my tales. Forthwith, here is another worth repeating:

     

    It begins: In my dream, my longtime mentor, Kathryn McBride, is happily tending a trayful of her wonderful new ceramic pieces. She’s comfortable with what she’s created, almost matter-of-fact in the pleasure she takes in them.  She’s just at the edge of my peripheral vision, off to the side, a tad behind me. I’ve glanced over at her, but we’re in parallel play mode, not interacting directly, not speaking.  Yet every bit of my psyche is soaking up her contented presence, enjoying her enjoyment. I notice how this one dream moment conflates a myriad of actual ones from nearly a decade of being around this artist, this teacher, this person, in exactly this manner.

    When I return to waking life, I hasten to write down such a marvelously domestic dream; after all,  I’ve been asking for it for months now.  My last Kathryn Dream – only days after she died in late February of this year – was metaphoric:  full of confusion and anger, milling and indifferent crowds, tilting kilns and broken bisqueware. I needed that dream at the time and it clarified my existential questions, but I have desired another to tell me how it is now and give me a specific green light.

    Since February, I’ve been majorly “called away and taken up with things,” as K used to say. Much of it had to do with helping to complete collaborative works at Cabrillo College that she had been involved with, and stretching to meet some formidable deadlines in the process. (The photo is from one of those: the Cabrillo exhibit for the annual Ceramic Conference in Davis each April.)  I also began teaching my own Beginning Handbuilding students, was accepted into a Big Important Exhibit and even Won An Award.  I could have used her trusted and willing ear many times and have groaned, moaned, yelped and winced at its loss. Slowly, through the busy-ness and the stages of grieving, I found new ways to relate to K: a snippet of memory, a phrase, new insight into why she was a certain way, a sense of presence.

    I hoped, though, that in good time I would receive at least one more dream giving me permission to write about the essential and yet often incidental things that knowing Kathryn afforded me.  What kind of attention was I really paying all those years of beach walks, field trips, art groups, projects upon projects and parallel play? What beyond the clay work at hand was the heart of the matter? It’s coming clear. It has to because it’s all I have.

    A Story.  One fall evening,  K and I stepped from the ceramic studio and kiln shed – where we were working on pieces for the Culinary program’s dining room and she was watching over a slow firing in the gas kiln –  and we went right next door to the campus theater to take in a performance of the dancer/choreographer Tandy Beal’s multi-media production  Here After Here: A Self-guided Tour of Eternity. It is an unflinching, often humorous and exquisitely artful look –  done through dance, video, spoken vignettes and audience participation –  at what we think happens after we die. (If you ever get the chance, go see it.  I hear she plans to take it to San Francisco.) Right before Intermission, there is a small reveal and the audience is challenged to ask, either by cellphone or of the person sitting right next to them: “What do YOU think happens when we die?”  After nearly an hour steeped in the sensitive and moving performances addressing this profound mystery, I swear, K and I turned to each other…paused…inhaled…exhaled…and then she said, “Do you think the kiln is up to cone 8 yet?”

    ~Liz Crain, who is relieved to at last be able to share and celebrate her special take on her ceramics-plus life with Kathryn McBride, 1950-2012. This post’s title is from the famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy from Hamlet. which is worth another reading.  And additionally – five years later – she wants to tell you that the effects of a some mentors absolutely go lifetime deep and surprisingly wider than originally thought.

     

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  • Rust as Teacher

    On: June 27, 2017
    In: Artmaking, Creativity, Studio Journal
    Views: 1144
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    ceramic shot-up rusty conetop beer cans

     

    In our Summer Studio Journal Re-Runs, let’s revisit this post from September 1, 2011 which is essentially a paean to the well-examined rusty surface. It seems the more one looks at rust, the more one sees and the deeper the story it tells. Even now, as my work is moving in other directions, the things I have learned from trying to recreate the tastiest rusty surfaces stay with me and continue to whisper. I still relish rust! Let’s see how it began.

    (more…)

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  • Crying “FIRE!”

    On: June 15, 2017
    In: Artmaking, Community, Studio Journal
    Views: 333
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    fire alarm

    We interrupt the Studio Journal Summer Re-Runs for an new post I can’t let wait until September, thanks to the ponderings of my thoughtful virtual clay buddy Carter Gillies. Carter wondered earlier this week about the difference between an artist merely expressing herself in her art and that of her further intending to communicate to others and wishing to be clearly understood by them. A lively discussion ensued about whether being fully understood was even possible and whether it should be definitive in any way and how should an artist feel about it all, especially if understanding seemed to rarely happen?

    (more…)

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  • Figuring Out What an Electric Firing Costs: Update!

    On: June 1, 2017
    In: Artmaking, How To's, Studio Journal
    Views: 1378
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    OverallKilnformula

     

    Here’s a Studio Journal Post that I could probably re-run annually, but am just getting back to after over three years. Boy Howdy, things have changed since its original date of January 18, 2014! I ran the numbers again (they’re the same for the kiln’ s power and firing hours, but keep in mind that older elements make a longer firing time.) The electric rate, however, has increased (shock!) and this kiln of mine now costs 30% more to run. The procedure described here is still the same, but know that the cost reflects a “worst case = most expensive” scenario. I never run my kilns at the highest rate. I am on a Time-of-Use plan and pay close attention to when rates are lowest, usually firing after 8PM. It’s a small habit to develop, but worth it.  Maybe you’re solar-powered or have a home battery system, the point is to know your costs.  So, here’s the original posting to help you figure it out:

    (more…)

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  • Kit Carson and Me

    On: May 18, 2017
    In: Artmaking, Creativity, Studio Journal
    Views: 1117
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    Here’s another post from the Archives. (Guess I’m in reruns for the time being.) Originally posted July 12, 2011, it’s a description of what comes alive in the studio as I work and listen to a great book on CD or a radio interview and make further connections to my process and choices. 

    (more…)

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  • Hacking an Ikea Cart

    On: May 4, 2017
    In: Artmaking, How To's, Studio Journal
    Views: 2721
     1
    IkeaCArt5

     

    Recently I saw a couple of these Ikea carts in a small apartment and mentioned this hack to their owner. Then I thought to re-run this post, originally published May 20, 2014. This rolling work surface is still in use and still the most versatile I have. And what with my still tiny studio, I greatly appreciate how I can tuck it out of the way. Some ideas are good for awhile only. This one’s a longterm keeper. Here’s the original post:

    Meet a sweet small Ikea rolling cart. This gray one was bought – a little dented and scratched, but fully assembled and discounted by 40% – in the AS IS section which is by the checkout at most Ikea stores.  It was my second cart and even if I didn’t exactly know how, I knew it would be an asset.  It has found a home rolling around among my three kilns holding my stilts and small props and shelves. Sweet indeed!

    But I really want to tell you about my first Ikea cart, the powdered turquoise one that we appended. (more…)

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