Back in the Workshop…

June 19, 2017 , In: Ceramic Clay, Clay, Inspiration, Studio

This year started actually quite productive for me regarding my work with clay. The “it started” seems to imply a but and there was a rather big ones. As you may remember if you follow Art Elements for some time, I am part of a community workshop (the Makerspace Leipzig, I wrote about it here). I do enjoy working there and see the other projects, get and give help for projects and just meet with people from very diverse backgrounds.

But as always when there are a lot of people involved, no matter what, there can be some problems. In my case it happened with several of my projects that they were moved (or whatever) in their most fragile state – the drying phase. It happened with two stacks of plates, with my example pieces for image transfer and last but not least a slab-build lidded boy that was meant to hold donations or money for the used material (we work on a trust basis and since we are all members of the community workshop, it works surprisingly well).

We filled up one wall only with this adjustable shelf system. Especially the drying drawers are now easily reachable (I am quite small 😉 ).

As you can guess… all also projects I wanted to show here. Maybe even with a tutorial? I was quite demotivated (also due to other more personal reasons) to create more and then we also changed the workshop divisions. The textile area got smaller and moved into the space where my ceramic area and the cement area was, we got to the bigger area as well as upcycling, paper crafts, tiffany and screen printing. We had to let go of the big looms with a heavy heart but in the end they were not used a lot if at all while other areas struggled with space for current projects. The Makerspace Leipzig is still young and we are still adjusting to what works and what not.

And a little peak in some of the drying pieces from several members.

So instead of showing you a single project I thought I show you little bit what I am working on, some of my ceramic pieces and maybe in the end the current projects of m husband (also a member of the Makerspace Leipzig, my christmas present for him since two years 😉 ). 

Some of my first test plates… like several pieces I’ll show you here, not all of them “survived” the drying state. Still some nice examples for texture.

I am still in the process to develop my own skill further, to test example projects also for other members of the makerspace (for a lot of people it is easier with example pieces to devlop their own ideas), to experiment with the materials and especially to play with textures!

An easy method for image transfer. If I find the motivation, I’ll make some more examples again and will you show the whole process. But since this was also broken… *sighs*

One part that I love about all clays, be it air drying, ceramic or polymer clay, is to find new items to creature surface textures. At least I can show you a lot of different “things” to create textures. 

Any old textured wallpaper left? This one is really old and ugly but I love the impressions I get!

The biggest difference for me between working with ceramic clay and polymer clay is actually the size I am working on. For tiny wee pieces I actually prefer polymer clay, but the bigger and bolder pieces or household items like plates and cups, there is not a lot comparing to ceramic clay. Also I love bigger pieces just to be able to show bigger and bolder pattern!

This is an acrylic plate that was cut with a laser cutter from another member of the makerspace. He made this at the same day I found a lot of my drying plates broken, so I would be cheered up again.

The easiest material to create pattern in ceramic clay is anything that is able to soak up water: Plaster, bisque fired clay, wood, paper, fabric…

It soaks up some of the humidity of the clay and not sticking at the clay (of course the clay should not be too humid to begin with and there is a limited capacity for different materials to hold water). 

At the day I played with some cabbage leaves the daugthers of another makerspace members were also there and joined me to work with clay. Some weeks later their father told me, that the younger one (around four now?) picked up a leaf and and said this would be for the “woman with the red hair” to impress it into clay.

I also use material that are not able to soak up water, like the acrylic plate, the silicon texture plates, metals or not dried organic materials. It took me some time to get used to different kind of clays and to find the best time point when the clay stiffed up a little bit while still being pliable. At this point the clay is not too sticky and I can carefully use these materials. 

This silicon texture plate is meant to be used for baking… but just look at the impressions I can get with it!

Waiting is actually the hardest part for me. Waiting for the clay to stiffen up, waiting for it to dry to the several stages to work with it, waiting for the firing, waiting for the second firing (or even more) for the glazing…

Is this gorgeous or what?! 😉

I honestly think I could work for days and days with clay without every running out of the joy or new ideas to try. Sadly I have to work in between… But just the idea to create my own glazes, to mix my own egypt fayence paste, to make more texture tools…

The toothbrush is one of my favorite scoring tool!

This lidded box was really fun to create but harder than I thought. At work I am really exact with my measurements and everything but for my artisan creations I prefer to just go with it. For this it would have been better to take some time before to get all the measurements. Lesson learned… and… sadly… this box also was broken. But it did look great!

“Spende” means donation in german. This should have been the money box for the used materials. It also had an opening in the lid. Also after not measuring I really managed to get the proportions right. The lid had some “teeth” to fit perfectly in the corners of the box. It also dried perfectly, I was really happy about my first box.

In the end I have two favorite patterns (at the moment at least): A running lace pattern and all of my wooden indian fabric stamps. 

This lace looks even brighter in reality and was a table runner or so? Quite… ugly…. but a friend gave this to me for pattern and I do love the texture!

There are several lace patterns I like to use (the shown one is my absolute favorite). I even bought some horrible plastic lace used for plate sets or this outdoor plastic lace table cloths. Horrible to look at but great pattern! They are also really cheap and mostly I prefer to use my real lace (except the shown one) in fabric projects.

It gives nice deep and clear impressions and is easily removable from the clay.

I also use textured slabs for my plates.  The method I use work with clay with or without grog (I hope I get the english terms right). I love the smooth surface even without using any slip or engobe I get with non-grogged clay but with a little bit of small grog it is easier to prevent any warping during the drying. 

This was made with wooden indian fabric stamps.

Of course the best prevention for warping is to prepare the clay carefully but a little bit of grog makes it easier especially for beginners to get good plates. I take care while I role out the clay, that I change the direction with every stroke and roll in all directions (horizontal, vertical and both ways diagonal). I also turn the clay and let it fall a little bit on the surface (this has to be trained to not get any wrinkles but if you can flip pancakes, you can do this too 😉 ). 

Simple paper plates are my molds.

I carefully compress the surface after the rolling. There are tools for this but I always get marks with them so I prefer to use the heel of my hand. I slightly mark a circle using a paper plate as stencil and then add my texture. The same plate I also use as guide to cut the clay. 

I already told you I am impatient and it is really hard for me to let the clay rest between all steps. It is easier to transfer the textures and cut out clay to the paper plate mold when it has stiffend up… but I always want to do everything immediately. I compress the rim of the plate before I put it in the mold. To turn it I simply use wooden plates: One below and one on top, then turn it around, so you don’t need to use your hands. 

My super sophisticated plate drying method…!

This makes it also easy to turn the clay on the paper plate mold. I make sure the outer rims of the cut clay and the paper plate are nearly even (I don’t go for perfection, I like a rustic look). The I take the plate a few centimeters above the ground and let it gently fall down. The clay will snug nicely down to the plate. It is a careful process and in the end every plates falls down at east ten to twenty times. 

The clay also dries covered with paper plates and a weight on top (also a reason why the clay should have stiffen up, otherwise the pattern might be smashed… but as soon as the clay has stiffened up a little bit it is surprisingly strong already). The paper on top and below allows for an even drying. 

This one you will already have seen yesterday since it was inspired by our challenge topic “blue”. But I don’t have so many others to show until now, they all didn’t make it to the glazing state… So I hope you’ll forgive me.

I used a semitransparent glaze for this plate. But to add some contrast and enhance the pattern, I used some black underglaze in the impressions of the texture. Even if it is not “in your eye”, believe me, it enhances the overall look. Can you understand why this is my favorite lace pattern?

Love it!

And in action: My husband and I are always the first tester! 

Excuse the plastic pots, there are still some seedlings growing and waiting for our new vertical bed, that my husband will build after our new bed.

I also use these pieces to test glaze interactions and effects. There is something so tactile and fascinating with glazes (and even without the challenge topic, I have a preference for blue glass surfaces).

Semi-transparent and transparent blues, opaque purple and some colour dots.

And even if there are some great artist with gorgeous painted and glazes surfaces, for me, there is something extra special if the glazes plays with a textured surface.

This texture was made with some strange covering netted plate for barbecue. Not sure if I would have ever combined the plastic material with my grilled food but it works with clay.

Another topic for example projects are of course cups. Something usable, with an outer surface to decorate and a lot of potential variations of shape and size (one can always say it was all intentional after all).

Another text piece to see how the glazes would react with each other. Since I have already a lot of test pieces for all the glazes alone, I already know how generally their running behaviour is. So I layered the glazes who run easily just at the top of the cup.

The end results are from gorgeous to ugly, from useable to broken surfaces. Often I even prefer the mistakes because I learn more from then especially how far I can treat the clay and the glazes. My biggest problem is that a lot of the test pieces end up in our own household or they found new homes (as gifts). That means I need new example pieces for the makerspace…

A simple slab-build cup. It was again a test piece therefor the three “rings” of glaze but it found a new home (one of the wood working area guys at the makerspace really like it and he helped my husband… there it went).

And last but not least: My husband is building our new bed! The beams he uses are really old. They stored for at least 30 years and before came from an old farmhouse (so maybe even hundred years or older) and the wood worms ate a lot of them. 

There will also be an upper row of beams and drawers at the bottom.

This is one picture I can show you because he is only to be seen from the back and also a little bit blurry ;).

Some of the smaller beams for the top.

To be able to have a workshop that works for both of us is something really special. Since we do this in our free time, it is important for us not to be apart but still be able to follow our own favorite crafts! 

Hopefully I can show you (finally) new plates soon! Last saturday I finally made more and since they have a new drying space they may even stay whole 😉


Claire Fabian

Claire Fabian loves to experiment with materials and ideas. She needs to create to “keep her sane” and the process of creation itself is the most important in her work. She is drawn to weird things, to organic and natural textures and loves a tribal and ancient vibe. She makes beads as well as jewellery, but also loves mixed media pieces and little sculptures. Amongst her favourite materials is polymer clay, ceramic clay, all kind of metals, glass beads as well as everything found in nature. She is also working in research which may explain her desire to experiment.
    • jewelsofsayuri
    • June 19, 2017

    Such fabulous textures and plates. I am not a clay person but after reading this post, I feel like trying clay

  1. Reply

    I just love all the textures in your clay pieces! Sorry that you had some breakage. I hate when that happens.
    I think my favorite texture is the cabbage leaf!!

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