The last location we ventured upon independently, during our Wunderkammer Field, was a small local, South Welsh gallery in Swansea. It was interesting to see carefully curated, poetic and colourful contemporary exhibition by Anne Gibbs, in a small, intimate, local venue dedicated to art and contemporary craft; compare to big, nationally (or even internationally) renown museums, galleries and collections we seen on our travels.
It refocused our attention on our (now very informed) practice, and how it could fit within the big world, or even the small local one.
Throwing on and off for about 2 years, I really want to extend and perfect my skills in throwing and turning vessels in this first year project.
These are my latest trials in throwing with a larger, 1kg ball of clay of White St Thomas.
By this point, I found centring and pulling up the walls relatively easy, as well as centring and turning leather hard vessels.
Being so scared turning my pots before and always thinking how impossibly hard it is; by now I must say I am looking forward to turn every single vessel I throw on the wheel.
However, there was significant collapsing and failing when adapting the shape of a larger cylinder, showing me that I need plenty more practice.
That was after setting a small challenge of producing number of identical cups
from 400g of Ash White. Drawing the design and then using a ruler to measure the width and hight while throwing, I managed to produce 9 reasonably same cups.
This exercise was great to limit myself into a one, slightly inward curved shape, and repeat it over and over; focusing my skill to develop in areas important when throwing: controlling the hight, width, thickness of the walls, curvature, etc.
However, I still feel that I don’t have full control in ensuring the shape and size is identical, therefore I shall repeat this challenge again to be more consistent in my work.
I also turned each cup to finally learn it, therefore the result was always slightly different, not really limiting myself but rather just play and get practice in the pure timing of the leather hard stage and centring and not cutting through the walls or bases.
I also tried to apply handles onto the cups. First pulling a handle, which proved to be rather tricky, but after a few attempts the result was acceptable.
Nevertheless, I wasn’t completely satisfied with the result; so I touched the extruder for the first time.
The result was even less satisfying, with the extruder disk providing too thick handles for my cups.
However, the immediacy and industrial, like a pipe or cable look was desirable, so I’ll have to look at producing my own extruder plates later.
Here are my earliest thrown object from 500g balls of Ash White and Terracotta at the beginning of this year. Always going for as thin and light walls as possible, but still rather modern, industrial and rather minimalistic look.
In the very near future I have to look more on functionality of my vessels. In their shapes as well as features such as handles, spouts and lids.
Initial processing of my dug clay from Fforest Fawr near Tongwynlais, and shaping it for experiments and analysis.
After drying up my clay at home and braking it into smaller pieces, I brought the dried clay to the studio where I covered it with water to soak and brake the dried pieces up again.
Leaving it for a few days to sit and braking it up a bit more with hands I noticed how my substance is more like a sandy mud, than a clay.
I decided to screen it first through 30 mesh sieve to remove any larger sand, rocks and organic debris more easily, and then again through finer 40 mesh sieve.
The process was very strenuous and incredibly smelly, the clay substance releasing powerful sewage odours, giving me more proof that what I have is a highly organic and sulphury substance with little clay in it.
When I removed all larger sand and organic debris with the sieves, I poured the wet mud onto a plaster bat to soak up excess water, and tried to wedge it into a one ball.
The substance felt rather sandy and as sand is a non-plastic part of a clay, I knew that my clay would be very short and lack plasticity.
This would make it difficult to shape my clay into tiles for further testing, therefore I decided to integrate some clay available in university to make it more plastic and malleable and see how the two clays would react.
There could be another option on how to separate and retreat the clay from my dug substance, using levigation. However, that was the more time consuming process and I already felt slightly behind with the task.
I decided to introduce the same amount of porcelain as my dug clay; choosing porcelain for it’s plasticity and whiteness; so that any colouring from my raw clay would be more noticeable.
Wedging the two clays together, the mixture was still too short for my likings, so I added a bit more porcelain.
Totally my clay mixture consists of 1296 grams of my raw dug clay and the same amount 1296 grams of porcelain with extra 300 grams, as the mixture was still too short. That is 44.81% of clay sourced in Fforest Fawr and 55.19% university’s porcelain.
I ended up with a more plastic and malleable clay, but also more porcelain than my dug clay.
I managed to shape the original raw clay at least into a ball of 100 grams, to test the water content in the dug substance.
The clay mixture was also shaped into a 100grams ball to see the weight difference compared to the pure raw clay, bone dry and then bisque fired; suggesting the amount of water as well as chemically bonded water in the clays.
The test tiles from my porcelain and raw clay mix will be fired to different temperatures raging from just bone dry, biscuit fired to 1280°C reduction.
This will demonstrate changes across the different temperatures as well as the shrinkage rate, when measuring the 10cm long line marked on the tiles.
After drying for few weeks and then weighting the 100 grams balls again, the difference in water content was 33.3 grams for raw clay and 26.1 grams for clay mixture with porcelain.
As a summer project before starting the degree we were asked to dig up some local clay for further testing, analysing and experimenting with.
Also undertaking a short research into how the area was used before for production; socio-historic timeframe, history and geology.
I dug up my clay in one of my favourite explorational places around Cardiff, where I tend to go on a short bicycle trip to relax and explore. Fforest Fawr with the Castle Coch nesting nearby, above the village of Tongwynlais.
Landscape – Site of Specific Scientific Interest – the woods surrounding the Castle Coch know as the Taff Gorge complex, are amongst the most westerly natural beech woodlands in the British Isles. … The area has unusual rock outcrops, which show the point where Devonian Old Red Sandstone and Carboniferous Limestone beds meet.
In the area of Tongwynlais, coal, limestone and iron ore deposits could be found in close proximity to each other, allowing creation of early industrial landscape for iron production.
The mine entrances known as “The Three Arches” (or The Three Bears Cave) descending of up to 20 metres deep into the thick bedded limestone, is still visible, but fenced. The walls of the cave reveal how the mines were carved, with cylindrical features; former drill holes for dynamite to blow open the seam.
The iron works ceased in 1879 due to competition of surrounding towns using cheaper methods of extraction.
Looking at British Geological Survey’ viewer, I could pinpoint the location of where I dug the clay substance and look at the geological composition of the area.
Unfortunately, there’s no specific information on surface composition of exactly where I dug the clay; but “Alluvium – clay and slit,…” deposits very close-by in the village.
The bedrock of the forest area is sedimentary Dolomitic Limestone, formed about 326-359 million years ago.
Equipped with only a small frog trowel, big buckets and a dear friend driving me to the chosen location, I enthusiastically set out for the investigational task.
With the advice from the letter stating the summer project, we’ve found a small stream in the forest. Trying to dig approximately 40cm deep before excavating the clay proved to be challenging without a proper spade. So after about 20cm of excavation I couldn’t go any deeper so collected any, at least a bit plastic seeming substances.
Back home I spread the mud substance, removed any larger rocks, twigs and leaves and let it dry. In the process a strong smell of mainly sulphur creeped across my house.
In our weekly ‘Material Alchemy’ lecture we were encourage to look into clay suppliers and the description for their clays.
One of the most widely used clays in the CSAD are from POTCLAYS. Established in 1932 as a clay mining company in Brownhills, South Staffordshire; it now creates premium-quality clay bodies with a worldwide reputation.
The supplier has very good website with large selection of products for potters, however the only technical information for their clays is the recommended firing temperature; which for the clays used in CSAD is 1150°C – 1290°C for Buff Stoneware and 1160°C – 1300°C for White St Thomas.
Valentine Clays is another British family manufacturer of clays, from which the CSAD gets its Red Terracotta clays.
The website also states the basic properties such as texture, appropriate use, colour and firing range:1080°C – 1180°C
I haven’t manage to find any more first hand manufacturers of clay with good website and online shop.
However COMMERCIAL CLAY LTD is another manufacturer from Stoke-on-Trend established in 1982. Its old-fashioned website shows all of their clays with some data sheets information.
I searched for suppliers in Slovakia too, finding only one KERAMIKA BIELA HORA s.r.o. manufacturing a multi-purpose clay, however the website doesn’t even inform if it’s stoneware or earthenware.
Most of the suppliers buy the clays produced in Germany or other European countries.
Local clay depositories and previous mining activity such as in Pozdisovce has apparently been closed, mostly due to low competitiveness and demand, as well as bad business practices from Communist era.