Porcelain has been a part of my pottery-making life for a number of years, since first trying to make pots in the SRU studio. It is emotional and unforgiving, that porcelain. But the beauty it brings is well worth the struggle. I have always had to be "in the mood" to sit down and throw pots with porcelain. An elegant material, porcelain ought to be thrown thin, with rims and edges that compliment it. Trips to Standard Ceramics to pick up clay usually include getting some porcelain. Opening the bag and taking a whiff of its special scent (not odor) gives that reminder of this special material that often comes seemingly as soft as cream cheese.
But working in porcelain is an acquired taste and the unforgiving personality of the material demands extra attention to how you handle it on the wheel and timing when you attach pieces. The window of opportunity for attaching a handle for example is smaller than stoneware and other clays. Well, that is just a point-of-view I suppose. Because what porcelain really needs is treated differently in every step and in that case of attaching, it needs to dry slower.
A few hundred pounds of dried out terra-cotta blocks rehydrated in a trash barrel have coiled into form recently with 8th grade....
I teach art in two buildings. In one case I have the opportunity to share the art room and co-teach with another art teacher. Not only do we share past projects that are tried and true, we also get to develop ideas for the students we currently teach.
A couple of months ago, another art teacher in the district told me she inherited several boxes of clay in her current teaching assignment and that I was welcome to use some. The catch is that the clay is dried out. We are talking bone-dry earth bricks in neat 25 pound cubes, two per box, lining the walls of her supply room. At first I said I didn't want any part of that labor. But then I thought about it and in 24 hours, had a change of heart. Over the course of that one day revelation, I had a few discussions with the art teacher with whom I co-teach. Considering we wanted to do more clay projects with junior high students and what we had budgeted for clay purchase, we were limiting ourselves. You know what, I thought, we could do so much more with the terra-cotta on top of the clay we were going to order. So I got in touch with the other art teacher and said I reconsidered. She was a bit surprised. I told her we could arrange for the district to truck it over with our principals' blessings. After it was a go, the clay arrived a few weeks later. Without going into the details of the muddy mess and painstaking task of wedging, I'm sharing some pictures of the clay being used in class. Of course I use my knowledge founded in the pot shop at Slippery Rock when I work on my own pots. Going through the process with bringing the terra-cotta back to life for the 8th grade coil pots was a sort of "getting back to your roots" endevour.
This season of making pots has taken on an evolution. My first plan was to add more facial texture to the monster wares. They just felt too plain. This added detail slowed the process and in the end I have produced less work. But the monsters just look better. Secondly, I started making most of the pots with a different clay body. Third, I decided to fire the kiln to cone 5 instead of 6. In that game of inches, we're talking saving some firing time and cost that would be worthwhile over the course of several firings. This actually led to a couple other things. I found that some of my glazes seemed to have a little more gloss to them at cone 5. It also inspired me to resurrect a couple old buckets of glaze that I had left for dead. The results have been gratifying.