Failure Friday: Clay

I've been thinking lately about how much failure there is in making ceramic art.  We tend to make it look so easy and effortless but that comes from years of practicing our craft.  Failure occurs more often than most would think, especially now that I'm working through some new ideas, clay bodies, glazes, and molds.  But it's a part of the process and leads us to learning new things about this material we're so intimately aquainted with.

I think it's good to switch things up from time to time in the studio.  Sometimes that fear of failure can keep us from changing our glazes, firing tempurature, or what have you.  Admittedly, I'm a bit of a perfectionist and failure can be extremely frustrating.  But when something is just not working the way I want I take a moment to think about what it is I'm learning from that experience.

This move to Utah has thrown me into a bit of a tailspin with all that I'm trying to work through.  But I'm trying to tackle one or two things at a time.  Figuring out a working clay body is first and foremost while also designing a new mold here and there.  When I was planning my move I thought I would throw out all of my molds, around 100 or so, and start fresh when I got here.  I'm so grateful that my friend Donna Polseno talked me out of that.  I narrowed it down to around 25 molds that I would pack and move.  That allowed me to start working right away and make molds as I go along.

With this in mind I've decided to write about my clay, plaster, and glaze disasters.  This week I'm sharing my trial and error with clay.  I mixed up 10 gallons of the clay body I felt was most successful from my last clay tests.  This was enough clay to make work for the holidays but not enough to feel like I would waste a bunch of material if it didn't work out.  I quickly found out that this clay was problamatic.  The clay was not plastic enough for me to be able to bend the handles slightly to attach them.  So they all cracked before they were even attached.  Ughhh....  Then I found out the clay did not like my complicated molds, like the scalloped bowl or jar, again not plastic enough.  They all cracked at the indents.  About 50% of all the things I made survived the greenware stage, bisque firing, and glaze firing.  But once everything was removed from the kiln, cool to the touch, and resting on the shelves for a few hours the large forms started breaking.  I think this could be a glaze/clay fit problem but I can't worry about that until I figure out my clay.  Small round cups and bowls survived just fine.

Now, I'm running another batch of clay tests.  This time I incrementally increased the ball clay (plastic clay) and the flux (melter) while also decreasing the silica (glass).  So far I like the feel of the clay, it seems a little more plastic, and after soaking the test tiles in water overnight they absorbed less than 1% of water.  The next step is to mix up one of these clay bodies in a two gallon batch and cast my molds.  Hopefully, I can post the results next week if not it will have to wait until after my month long hiatus to the East Coast.