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  • Reclaiming Clay: A Rationale and Pictorial How-To

    On: August 10, 2017
    In: Artmaking, How To's, Studio Journal
    Views: 5127


    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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  • With a Little Help From My Hens – A Process Storyboard

    On: March 29, 2017
    In: Artmaking, Creativity, Studio Journal
    Views: 1207
    Chicken Making Ceramic Bowl

    I’m not quite sure how this all got going, but here it is: nine backyard chickens are my studio assistants. Even better, they are symbiotic co-creators because their “work” turns my humble pinch pots into Henpecked Bowls. What I’d like to do today is give you an annotated pictorial of this improbable process, start to finish.


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  • This Cracks Me Up

    On: March 2, 2017
    In: Artmaking, Community, Creativity, Studio Journal
    Views: 613
    Celadon glazed cracked pinch pot

    Walking Meditation Pot XXII, Liz Crain, 2017


    In my very first ceramics handbuilding class I sat at a large table which included a bunch of newbies like me plus one know-it-all wheel-thrower. I have not met a didact with a more tone-deaf need to expertsplain than hers.  I was still in my Clay Wonder Years, falling in love and wanting to get lost in it. I relished how the outside surface of my pinch pots cracked as I expanded the clay from the inside creating intriguing organic possibilities. But my delight was soon doused with her continual instructions for crack banishment. I avoided her as much as possible, working outside on nice days and making full use of open lab time when she was not around. It took me awhile, but eventually I found the words to counter her: “Thank you, but I don’t learn by having the answers first, and, oh, I LIKE CRACKS!”  I repeated it with a cheesy smile at every unasked-for comment and finally she quit schooling me and turned on the other hapless noobs.


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