Clay, Clay and More Clay!

Durable, Usable and Beautiful

 

We give little thought to the raw beauty of clay and how it has enriched our lives in so many ways. This organic form of earth has proven through the ages to be functional, medicinal and beautifying.

 

Functional Use

 

Man discovered clay when digging, and while rolling the mound of earth within his hands, he pondered and experimented in forming it. Making different objects, he learned that if shaped into vessels, he could store food and water in them. Clay had found its function.

Functional uses of clay can be seen in everyday use such as dishes, fruit bowls, flower vase, terracotta planter pots, bean pot and many other things. And let us not forget the toilet!

 

One slightly odd and unique functional use of clay is 3D printing with clay. A group called WASP invented a 3D printer that extrudes clay to build forms, functional pieces and can even create a shelter that also includes straw. The shelter resembles a beehive. This ingenuity lacks the human touch with clay but does provide compositions that are uniform and beautiful.

Medicinal Use

 

Most are not aware that clay has medicinal benefits and has been used to treat ailments throughout time.

 

  • Antibacterial
  • Gastrointestinal Problems
  • Detoxifies
  • Laxative
  • Diaper Rash

Beautifying Use

 

Clay has been known to be skin’s best friend. Spas worldwide offer treatments that have added benefits of using clay. It is considered a luxury to have a mud soak in a tub or have a clay massage.

 

Cosmetics and beauty products now come packed with the benefits of adding clay.

 

  • Foundation, concealer, and mineral face powder promote a healthier appearance and fight acne.
  • Facial masks containing clay exfoliates and purifies skin cells and has a rejuvenating effect.
  • Hair Products such as pomades, mousse, paste, and wax contain clay promoting healthier and shinier hair.

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The Evolving Clump of Clay

No Red Carpet for the Brick

The simple little brick has never stood in the spotlight and severely lacks any palpable beauty or luster. It has changed the appearance of our world. What once was a barren horizon, now abounds with structures reaching for the clouds. All because of one little brick!

The Origin of Bricks

 

Around 7500 B.C. man took a clump of clay and formed it into a shape allowing it to dry and harden in the arid sun of Turkey. A brick was born!

Brickmaking

 

Thousands of years ago, brickmaking was labor intensive and was produced by hand. The clay was kneaded by bare feet and pushed into wooden molding frames. Excess clay was wiped away, and the frame lifted exposing each individual brick. The brick was left exposed to the sun to dry.

Up until late 1800’s, bricks were made by hand yielding up to 36,000 bricks a week. However, once machinery took over and started mass production, the weekly yield was 80,000 bricks.

 

Because of the low cost and quick production of bricks, raw materials were no longer the preference for building structures. The anatomy of a brick structure was resilient, durable and cost less than those made with wood or other materials.

 

Did You Know???

 

  • Bricks are much more energy efficient because they hold the heat in during daylight hours and release that energy when it becomes dark.
  • Dark red or cranberry colored bricks have the deeper tint of red from being heated and fired at extremely high temperatures.
  • 70% of the world’s buildings are made of brick.
  • The Empire State Building has over 10 million bricks.
  • The Chrysler Building is the tallest brick building in the world.
  • A standard size brick weighs 5 pounds.
  • The BMM300 is part truck, part Zamboni and part locomotive which is filled with a mixture. As it drives, the mixture is extruded out onto the ground in perfect shapes of bricks. It can produce 300 bricks in 1 minute.
  • Some bricks have three holes in them to provide stability when used for walls, chimneys or foundations.

Getting Creative with Brick

 

Acme Brick in Ft. Worth, Texas set their creative gears in motion to set a precedence for their business. Gathering clay material from twenty three of their brick plants, the crew quickly put their thinking caps on trying to design the world’s largest brick.

 

After four failed attempts, moving forward a fifth attempt was made. Not only was it a success, but the birth of “Clay” set the world record as being the largest brick.

 

“Clay” weighed in at a whopping three tons and measured nine feet long.

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The Potter’s Studio

Breathing Life into the Clay

Working the clay over and over within their hands, the potter waits for the clay to speak to them. The feel of the clay’s dimensional form evokes a vision in the potter’s mind of what will be created. With every turn of the wheel, the potter gently guides the clay while its form is taking shape.

As the potter steps back, they are in awe of the beautiful masterpiece that rests upon the wheel. Slowly turning the wheel round and round, the potter looks at the clay form. The imperfections and wonky angles of the piece lend to the organic appearance.

 

The potter carefully selects the glaze for their piece. Stroke after stroke the glaze is applied. Now comes the firing phase where the piece is lovingly placed in the kiln for the final step of the process.

 

Anxiously awaiting to see the finished piece, the potter removes it from the kiln. As their eyes gaze upon their creation, a twinge of emotion overtakes their heart while feeling proud of the beautiful object before them.

 

Did the potter chose the form and shape of what the clay was to be, or did the clay take command of the potter’s hands guiding every movement?

 

Fired Up for the Setup!

 

We would all love to have that little retreat area where we can go to escape the rigors of daily life. This space should be peaceful allowing our mind to wander. For some, their “space” is their studio where they create pottery.

 

To set up a dedicated area for pottery, it does require an investment of both money and time. For the serious-minded potters, careful thought and planning should go into creating your studio. Equipment, materials, tools, space, and supplies are just a few factors that need to be considered in organizing the setup.

 

Dedicated Space

 

A space large enough to accommodate your needs should be planned before purchasing the things you will need. If you are doing pottery as a hobby, you may find that a small room in your house or garage will be ample. However, if you plan to pursue ceramics as a means of income, it would be wise to have a shop dedicated to your pottery.

 

When planning on the amount of space needed, take into consideration:

  • Placement and size of the kiln
  • Worktable
  • Tool Area
  • Damp Room
  • Space for your wheel
  • Shelving area
  • Glazing area
  • Storage area for clay, tools and supplies
  • Sink area

 

Research and educate yourself on the various equipment, tools, and supplies before purchasing. The old saying of “you get what you pay for,” is very true. Cheaper not does mean better!

Kiln

 

This will be your most significant investment in equipment. Your purchase of a kiln should be based on your production goals. The more you want to produce, the bigger the kiln.

 

  • Decide if you want an electric or gas kiln.
  • Choose a kiln based on your needs.
  • Measure area kiln will be placed in before buying.
  • Make sure electrical wiring or gas plumbing is installed for kiln
  • Properly install kiln
    • Place on concrete floor
    • Have proper ventilation
    • Ensure there is enough room to walk around the kiln

 

Wheel

 

Your wheel will be the paramount piece of equipment for producing pieces. A few things to take into consideration before purchasing:

 

  • Do you want an electric or manual kick?
  • What horsepower do you want?
  • Do you want a reverse switch?
  • Portability
  • Wheel-head options
  • Splash pan area

 

Work Table

 

It is ideal to have at least a 4’ x 8’ work area that is flat. To efficiently work with clay on your table, it should be covered with heavy canvas. A DIY approach to a table is quite simple by using a sheet of plywood and stapling the canvas to the underside of the wood.

 

Damp Room

 

Pieces that are not finished need to be stored in an encapsulated area. This prevents the piece(s) from drying out and keeps it damp enough to continue work on it. Some DIY ideas to make a Damp Room:

 

  • Old refrigerator (unplugged) with shelves
  • Shelves with plastic wrapping around it

Make It Your Own

 

Your studio is your personal space where you are free to create and relax. Personalize it with bright colors, whimsical art, and soothing music. Candles not only help with the odor of the clay but creates a warm, inviting atmosphere.

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About Laura

 

The Beginnings of Pottery

Ceramics or Pottery?

Many confuse the term “ceramics” as relating solely to plaster, greenware or bisque.

However, “ceramics” is the umbrella term used for pieces produced from working with clay such as pottery.

What exactly is clay and where does it come from?

The earth provides this bountiful material and has continued to do so for centuries. Clay is formed when rocks containing feldspar are exposed to water. Depending on minerals that are in a body of clay, the colors can vary. For example: if a clay is red, it is because there is iron minerals present and if a clay is black, it is due to the presence of a mineral called manganese.

The First Works of Pottery

Mankind discovered clay around 24,000 B.C. It was thought that clay was found when digging. Man formed objects with the clay and put it in fire to harden it. This ingenuity led to the formation of vessels they made to hold water and store food. Clay bricks were also made which were used for building things.

 

Clay

 

When working with clay, maturity temperature, workability and color sets them apart from one another and defines what works best for a specific piece of pottery.

 

Maturity Temperature

  • Each type of clay matures at varying temperatures. Therefore it is fired to a particular temperature to reach the desired point of doneness.

Workability

  • A particular type of clay is chosen depending on its ease of forming without difficulty.

Color

  • When making pottery, the type of clay may be chosen because of its color. When the clay has certain minerals (i.e., iron, manganese), it will have a distinct color.

Types of Clay

 

The type of clay is specifically chosen for a project because of its color and grain. There are three types of clay:

 

Porcelain

  • Color: Pure White
  • Grain: Fine
  • Uses: China Dishes, Figurines, Lab Equipment, Electrical Insulators

Stoneware

  • Color: Buff, Gray, Dark Brown
  • Grain: Coarse
  • Uses: Pots, dishes, sculptures, slab work

Earthenware

  • Color: Brown, Orange, Red
  • Grain: Fine
  • Uses: Flower Pots, Tiles, Sculptures

 

The Kiln

 

Once a piece of clay has been formed into the desired shape, it requires a drying method to become hard and sturdy. The formed clay is placed into a kiln to reach the desired hardness.

 

Primitive kilns date as far back as 10,000 years ago beginning with the pit kiln.

 

The pit kiln was a shallow hole dug in the ground where pottery was placed scattered in the pit, stacked, and fired. Once the pieces were cooled down, the ashes were cleaned off revealing a functional piece of pottery.

Types of Kilns Used Today

 

Throughout the ages, the kiln was perfected and modified to reach a desired effect on pottery pieces.

 

There are three types of kilns:

 

Electric

  • Most common type of kiln
  • Used for small loads

Gas

  • Runs on natural gas
  • Used for desired earthy coloring

Wood

  • Fueled by wood
  • Used for unique wood ash glazing

 

The Wheel

 

The pottery wheel or “potter’s lathe” is used for shaping the clay form with precision while using the hands, fingers or tools. By placing a lump of clay in the middle, the potter spins the wheel as they use their hands to smooth the clay as it turns.

 

Around 3,000 B.C., mankind began using a rough version of the wheel to perfect their form. Using a moveable platform to walk around, they manipulated and worked with their clay form.

 

Down through the centuries, the wheel was improved to meet the needs of the potter.

Today, most wheels are electric allowing the potter to control the speed; however, some prefer the rustic control of the wheel using their foot to spin the wheel.

 

Endless Beauty

 

Regardless of the period a piece of pottery came from, the organic and rawness are ever present in every piece.

 

Working with clay removes the potter’s thoughts from the clutter of life and places it on the simplicity of what earth has provided us to hold. The art of pottery not only produces beautiful and functional pieces, it provides a strong connection between the potter and the earth.

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Laura Ross

The Potter Behind the Wheel

Laura Ross sits behind the wheel as she gently guides the path of the clay. As the clay takes form, her thoughts engulf her mind as she contemplates where this piece will call home. Will it be someone’s kitchen or sitting on a grand shelf calling for the attention of gazers as they pass by?

The Beginning

Laura’s pottery interest was sparked as a painter. Experimenting with clay and the enjoyment it brought, she decided to pursue a degree to polish her skills. Under the tutelage of Tom Marsh (a functional Japanese potter), she obtained a Masters in Ceramics from the University of Louisville.

A succession of her Style

The beginnings of her artistry developed with low-fired decorative pieces that traveled to various galleries and art stores. The succession of her art style evolved as she began producing high-fired stoneware. Her vision was to make pieces that were functional for customers to use in their everyday life.

 

As she honed in on her individual technique style,  Laura discovered a way to alter the shape of the piece prior to firing. She termed this as “out of round.” After manipulating the shape of the piece, it was then kiln fired using a combination of ash, shy and iron-based glazes.

Firing Method

Discovery of a new firing method took hold of her direction as she exposed her pieces to the Soda Kiln. The soda kiln uses a rather unique technique using soda (baking soda). The soda is introduced into the kiln at the highest temperature. The finished appearance of the pottery is raw and organic. No two pieces will be alike as this method produces originality and uniqueness!

The Regional Potter

 

Nestled along the banks of the Ohio River in Kentucky, Louisville has become Laura’s home. Her studio is adorned with her works of earthy pieces. The many exhibitions and shows she attends expose the beauty of her clay talents to those attending.

 

Laura shares her passion for pottery in teaching classes and passing her style and technique on to her students. Tradition, learning and the love of clay is her endeavor to continue the ancient art form evident in her work!

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Greetings pottery fanatics

Who loves pottery?

We definitely do!

Our passion and special artistic forte is pottery. Every and anything to do with pottery, it’s origins, it’s different forms around the world and it’s many uses. We will also be sharing our own forms of artistic expression through art.

Feel free to send us pictures of your own artwork or beautiful pieces you come across. Send all correspondence here