Clay bodies and Slips for Weighting to Rise

Our newest installation, Weighting to Rise, engages our interest on many levels, including our love of ancient art history, conceptual evolution of religion and a contemporary understanding of archetypal imagery. The foundation for all this speculation however, is clay.

In the earliest concept drawings for this show I was thinking about terra-cotta red. I love the color but I also wanted to focus on lower kiln temperatures for this show.  The red clay reinforces the connections were making to ceramic objects of a certain age and there is no need to focus on durability or use for these forms as their true purpose is visual contemplation.

Initially we wanted to source the clay locally, from summit brick, but in cleaning out the studio in preparation for this new work we discovered a reclaim emergency. We hadn’t done any major reclaiming in years and there were hundreds of stashes of future intention in every corner of the studio. Organizing and reclaim all this detritus reframed our thinking on the project. The show is in many ways about beginnings and endings and there were so many of those in our lives when we were conceiving this show. The end of Grad school was one of the larger of these transitions and it was partly the deadline challenges of the student lifestyle that left so many bags abandoned. We just didn’t have the time for so much of what is normal studio maintenance. It seemed right then to use what we could of what we had and reclaim all the rest into a new studio body for the coming year.

Some of it we could rehydrate in the bags and wedge back to life. This is a lot of work but the clay does not have to age as much and so is more immediately useful. We slaked the rest down in buckets and mixed with dry. This clay must be aged for some time to enhance plasticity so we did the reclaiming early in the year to accommodate that need.

Reclaiming clay is heavy and demanding work so its great to get help, Gabe’s girls ran the pug mill for a day and really helped us out.

The rest of the hand wedged stuff was random small batches of the clay we had used in the studio for the last four years. There was a little more than 150 lbs of the 200 we mixed when we first moved in to this studio, about 500 lbs of reclaimable White Stone from Laguna of which we bought a ton in late 2013 and a number of clays we only had a bag or two of. These  clays were for special projects or bits friends gave us to try. It was in this last batch that we had the red clays. The one we started with and held to for the entire project was Laguna’s R2 with grog. we had a box of this from my mom who bought it and didn’t use it so it had gone hard in the bags. We started using this as a sculptural medium in the earliest pieces for the show but we found it couldn’t handle water as well as some of our preferred clay bodies so we decided to use it a slip for surface treatment and not the structure of the work.

We were especially focused on its interaction with another Laguna body, Babu porcelain. we’ve used this for years as a slip in the studio for its very smooth texture and titanium free white color. It was the interaction of these two clays that we intended to build the bones of the show.

While I focused on the structure and build techniques we would use, Gabe began experimenting with using clays alone for building up 2 dimensional images.

As the work continued we considered what to do for black and for firing temps more and more. The black we started out using was a commercially prepared engobe that needs a clear glaze over to develop the color fully. While we really liked these results the surface shift with the gloss was not something we wanted to see everywhere and the terra-cotta looks best a little warmer (Cone 01) and the glaze was 06 making once firing impossible.

From here we went off the rails a bit playing with slips and firing temps. We had a small chunk of clay we brought back from the Rain Harris workshop that I really wanted to integrate. She uses the most beautiful black clay from Aardvark, Cassius Basaltic is a cone 5 clay that is very black with a vitreous surface that is beautiful when used as a slip. Using this would eliminate the need for a clear on the black and the porcelain at least can handle the higher temps.

This switch did require a switch in red bodies. For that we wanted to go with a clay that a friend from grad school in Kansas was mining. It’s a midrange clay with a dusty red finish at cone five and we had about 30 lbs of it, plenty for slips. We really loved many aspects of this look, but the higher temps were often too much for the sketchy assembly techniques and so were abandoned. This wall hanging is the best of that combo, before and after firing

wall hanging with face
wall hanging with face fired

It was really the bull that forced us to get real about the firing temps. The technique we used to put that together was risky enough, asking that hot mess to make high temperatures seemed like a recipe for disaster so we brought back the R2 and began looking for another black. We settled on barnard clay for that, straight out of the bag. On its own its very saturated at cone 01 and was a decent compromise.

From here we began using mixtures of various strengths for developing color in the show using the 3 main bodies as a base: Babu porcelain, barnard clay, and R2 terra-cotta

As mentioned earlier we wanted to use what we had around the studio for most of the project but there were a few pieces we wanted science on our side for. After all the struggles with using white stone for slabs that we ran into with The Magic Box, we chose to put some of the trickier aspects in a clay we knew we could rely on. Laguna’s soldate 60 is a work horse for our studio. While not the most beautiful body, its durable, fires well and so forgiving both to students and sculptors who must push edges.

Part of this winning formula is the 200 body we get from the local brick yard as an attaching slip. So much of the insanity of this show is possible because the perfect combination of Soldate with 200 binding it.