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Clay work during Quarantine! (Hand building)

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  • Tip Bones

Hello all! During these tough times you might find yourself looking for something creative to do! I'm here to tell you that ceramics or clay work could be an option! Clay is relatively inexpensive to buy (usually less than 0.90 cents a pound, around $20 for 25 pounds) unless you are buying porcelain which I would not recommend for a beginner. You can even find clay in river banks! Hand building is easy once you get the hang of it. Your pieces might not look pretty the first few times around as it's sometimes hard to get a smooth surface.

There are also 3 types of hand building!

1.) Pinch pots (which aren't necessarily my favorite but are fun to make! Good for making little animals.) This is when you pinch the clay to make a bowl/plate!



This is a pinch pot I made with feet. the design is using sgraffito technique which I will demonstrate in another post. This is an unfired piece of work with underglaze on it. 

2.) Coiling (which is a little easier but a bit more time and effort, they produce some really cool results!) This is when you make long string like pieces of clay too coil around. I will have pictures of ones I have made in the past.



These are coil forms I made. These produce really fun results and there are so many things you can do with them! These are glazed with regular glaze so they have been fired twice. Once at a low temperature to get it bisqued, then came the glaze, and then fired at a higher temperature to get the glaze this color and make is safe to put things in.

3.) Slab work (which is my personal favorite!). This is when you roll out a flat piece of clay, which you can do with a wooden rolling pin. I have a table top slab roller coming in the mail but those are expensive unless you can find a used one from craigslist or Facebook Market Place. I got mine from The Ceramic Shop website for about $519 including shipping as it was on sale and I am serious about clay work. If you like slab work and think you will be doing this a lot or you don't want to have to roll out clay with a rolling pin this is a good option. (I have my boyfriend roll out my clay as I have a pinched nerve in my right arm).



This piece on the left was a slab of clay wrapped around a vase. I let it sit or a while to stiffen up the clay and then pulled the vase out from inside. This is also painted with underglaze and has been decorated with the sgraffito technique. 

The piece on the right are two plates that I made with the sgraffito technique 

I will be doing lessons with pictures (and if I can upload videos, videos) for each of these hand building techniques. 

Here is a list of what you will need with some optional things!:

1.) Clay! I buy my clay from  (I'm not sure if it linked but you can always copy and past or google The Ceramic Shop) I live in Massachusetts, USA and right now everything is closed so I get my clay from this website that is based in Pennsylvania. They actually have very decent shipping prices. I also swear by Laguna Miller Clay, mid-fire clay. I use "MC66 Smooth White WSand WC-610" (0.79 cents per pound) as this is a good all around clay for hand building. You could also buy from a local store as almost every State has a local ceramics store, you might not get Laguna Miller clay but if this works better for you, it works better for you! Another tidbit is most places sell in 25lbs, that's normal, you might have more luck getting a smaller bag from a local store but that is not guarantee. Clay also needs to be wet to make things with. Having a spray bottle with water filled to wet your clay when it's becoming dry is your friend. I should also say you can always get dry unfired back to wet. It takes bait of time but you can always bring your clay back to moist/wet. If you have a damp basement (like I do) that would be the ideal place to store the clay but you could also get a humidifier to put in your room where you are storing clay in. 

2.) A Place to do your ceramics! Now I would have a vacuum on hand to vacuum up the particles of clay left over as dry clay dust is toxic. It has silica dust in it which contributes to the disease silicosis. If you have a vacuum on hand to immediately pick up the particles after you're done then that's fine to be able to do at your dining room or kitchen table. Outside is also an option too as then the particles are not in your house. You will also need a piece of canvas cloth if you don't have an unfinished table to work on. Moist (I know everybody hates that word but it's one of the best to describe clay) or wet clay will stick to finished wood and it can be kind of hard to get back up. I don't recommend it. I have never tried this but you could possibly use parchment/wax paper taped together to cover your table? I will try this and let you all know! Cling wrap is also another good option as clay does not stick to it. We also use cling wrap to line forms for clay on which I will explain what those are a bit later! These are very good for slab work!

3.) Forms for slab work! These are easily found around your house! You can use plates, platters, vases, and things of that nature! I have even used cupcake tins to make little tarts as a final project for my ceramics class. (I had to make a type food using clay). You don't necessarily need these but it makes some slab work a little easier. 

4.) I've mentioned these before but cling wrap (cling wrap is your friend!), I have BJ's near me but any wholesale store will sell the big cling wrap. If you do not have a membership to any of these types of places, any grocery store has cling wrap, including Walmart. Tupperware (too make slip which is clay glue made from clay and water) - these can be found at Dollar Tree for $1 or any grocery store. 

Optional things to have:

5.) tools but you don't necessarily need those for hand building. These would be bought at your local ceramics store or online. Michael's has some but not a whole lot, another good option would be Blick's Art Materials. If buying from Blick's I recommend the "Kemper Potter Tool Kit". 

6.) Underglaze- this type of glaze can go on unfired clay as it has no glass particles in it. You can also do cool things with it like slip trailing (which I will do a class on) and Sgraffito (I will also do a class on this!) This one you do need tools for). The reason I am not saying regular glaze, is because you need to have your clay bisque fired (which means the clay is fired at a low temperature in a kiln to make it hard and not easily breakable. The stage before you fire for the first time is called bone dry and it is easily breakable. The first fire also makes the clay hard which means it won't disintegrate in water. After the first fire you can still put underglaze on but people put regular glaze on a bisqued piece. You need a kiln to fire regular glaze. Regular glaze CANNOT go on unfired clay. If a local ceramics store is still firing pieces you can get your clay bisque fired and put on regular glaze. None of the studios around me are firing at the moment. I will be doing a post on glazes and different types also if this is making you confused. I will be posting post that before I start the lesson on the different types of hand building.)

If you have any questions, I do have an email where I can respond to you faster. Please let me know if you have trouble understanding the terms used here and I will make a post about the terms. 

My email is: [email protected] 

I hope you all have a lovely day!