Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Paperclay Sandwich

© 2009 Anthony Foo

The thing with commercially prepared paperclay is that you do not get the variety of clay bodies available as you do in traditional clays. My local distributor, Aardvark Clay Company carries the sculpture and throwing paperclay made by IMCO in Sacramento. Laguna Clay Company in Los Angeles recently started carrying their own version of Bmix + sand paperclay. Laguna Clay Company in Florida has a wider selection of paperclay (from low to high fire) but they do not ship to California.

As paperclay artists, unless you get into making your own paperclay, you are limited to what is commercially available.

In the past couple of years, I've started using the color and texture of the available clay as my color palette. That way, I don't have to deal with the issues of high fire glazes.

So .... how do I get these ordinary clay into my paperclay sculpture. My "Earthship" series employs a technique which I call "sandwiching." I don't know what is the proper name for it, but it's something I came up with because that is exactly what you do.

With the help of paperclay slip/slurry, I attach regular/ordinary clay onto my bone dry paperclay foundation. In this example, it is the "hull" of my "Earthship" series.

"Earthship 2"  and  "Earthship 3" has Grogzilla clay lumps stuck onto the ENTIRE outside of the piece. This Grogzilla clay has a high grog content with feldspar crystals in it. On high fire, the feldspar crystals "pop" and you get random pearl-like droplets (for lack of a better description). Sometimes they look like little white teeth. Maybe hence the name "Grogzilla." I really like this clay for its texture. The "Grogzilla" clay is available from Clay Planet, Santa Clara, CA.

The paperclay slip did not have any trouble holding on to the Grogzilla clay at all, although there was some surface cracking along the edges. I used more paperclay slip to cover up/seal the cracks as best I can. On both pieces, I used a Red Iron Oxide wash as a colorant. No glazes were used, with the exception of some flashing slip. Both pieces were fired to Cone 10 reduction and the sandwich technique performed and held up beautifully.

I have used this technique on either side of my pieces. In "Last Boat Out", I used Black Mountain sculpture clay on the inside of the hull. The outside rough texture was done with wet paperclay to dry technique.  I kept adding the wet paperclay to the dry foundation until I was satisfied with the thickness and shape/profile of the piece. Again, this was fired to Cone 10 reduction.

This "sandwich" technique will allow you to introduce readily available clay onto your paperclay structure.

Hopefully, you will find this discussion an inspiration to your own projects.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Paperclay and Cracking

© 2009 Anthony Foo.

The bane of all ceramic artists - CRACKING! There are many reasons why and when a piece cracks.

1. Crack during the drying stage - greenware
2. Crack after the bisque stage
3. Crack after the high fire (in this case, Cone 10) stage

What to do and how to mitigate the problem. The discussion here pertains only to paperclay, and is based on my personal experiences with the sculpture paperclay from Aardvark Clay Company, Santa Ana. IMCO (from Sacramento) is the manufacturer. I've been using this paperclay since 2004.

1. Crack during drying stage - from leather hard to bone dry greenware.
This is usually due to improper/weak joining, especially when you are doing dry to dry joints. Another reason is unbalanced/uneven drying once the joints are formed. There are 2 kinds of cracks here.

One is a surface crack formed primarily from not using enough moisture in your paperclay slips/slurry. The solution here is to use a thinner paperclay slip (ie more watery slip)  and cover/re-coat the cracks. It may take several applications to completely cover the cracks.

The other more serious one is the deep structural crack due to improper technique. I find that the only way to find out if this is a structural crack is to take a knife or similar tool and dig out the crack and see how deep it goes into your piece. If it is not too deep, the good news is that it can be fixed with paperclay. Remove enough of the dry paperclay until you do not see the crack. Make the hole/opening large enough to do a decent repair/patch job. If during this digging out of the crack, your piece/seam falls apart, then you really know you've not done a good joint. Don't worry. Don't panic. Just start over and this time make sure you spend the time making a good, strong joint with good technique. That's one of the advantage of paperclay. You just can't go wrong with it, and even if you did, it's fixable. This advantage alone gives me peace of mind.

Do not be stingy in your "excavation." Spritz the area well or soak the area with a wet paper towel and let stand for some time for the surrounding dry paperclay to soak up this moisture to create a better moisture balance. Use very "mushy" paperclay to fill in the hole you made. Keep the area moist as the surrounding dry paperclay will want to "suck" the moisture from this spot, so keep the water sprayer handy.

2. Crack after the bisque stage.
Sometimes, even with our best care and technique, we still get cracks in our pieces. Sometimes everything looks good in the green stage, but after the bisque fire, you notice the cracks. If it is a hairline crack, it's really tough to do anything about it. If the crack is large/wide enough to patch with paperclay slip, you may try that. I ususally use a very runny paperclay slip as filler. The bisque piece will absorb the water from the paperclay slip very quickly. Several coats may be necessary to fill the crack. It also depends on how bad/serious the crack is. To be sure my patch holds, I usually re-bisque the piece to test my mending. If it survives, it stands a good chance in the high fire; if not, it's better to remake your piece.

3. Crack after high fire.
This happens sometimes as high fire (Cone 10) puts a lot of strain/stress on a piece, especially tall, vertical pieces.  As sculptural pieces, there is no reason to take it to Cone 10. A Cone 6 firing will do fine. When you find a crack in your piece after a high fire, it's pretty much "putty/epoxy time." Unless your piece is meant to hold water (for example, an ikebana vase or something similar) I usually don't do much about it. Sometimes the crack adds character to the piece, sometimes it does not. At this point, you can't do much fixing it.

A very appropriate quote from my instructor, Julia Klemek, "Don't fall in love with your piece until it comes out of the kiln (this is Cone 10 fire)."

Monday, March 23, 2009

Does Paperclay Slump?

© 2009 Anthony Foo.

This is a great question and it also demonstrates the advantages of paperclay.

I like to build rather large, tall pieces, but don't have the patience for regular clay to firm up before continuing. As a result, my earlier pieces did slump. Any large moist piece of clay will slump. However with paperclay, there are techniques you can employ to shorten the wait time for the piece to firm up.

One of the advantages of paperclay is that it will tolerate "forced drying" ie either drying your piece in direct sun, which is actually the mildest treatment compared to the other methods I will discuss here. These are experiences gathered from my own work.

I've used a heat gun at the highest setting to help dry my piece faster. It's actually used to strip paint by heating up the paint so it bubbles up and can be scrapped off. 

A propane/butane torch works well too. It's the kind that you use for heating up copper pipes for plumbing works.

Use caution and always wear protective goggles and leather gloves when using these instruments. DISCLAIMER: Use at your own risk.

The intense heat WILL NOT crack nor cause your piece to explode. You will see steam coming out of from the area where you are directing the heat. You will also see specks of clay/pulp burning  and popping off. This is natural as there is organic pulp in the clay and that will burn off.  You will actually see you piece drying before your eyes. Depending on how thick your work is, it may take some time for it to firm up. I find it's best to keep the heat source moving to distribute the heat evenly across the area you want to firm up. If your piece is really thick, the outside may feel firm and dry, but deep inside it may still be moist. It will take some time for the moisture that deep within your piece to dry out.

If you are energy conscious, then just use our abundant So. Calif sun to dry out your piece while you relax, clean up, have a cup of coffee or just work on another section of your project.

If you have a smaller piece you need dry quickly, you can use the above mentioned techniques or employ the services of a microwave. It's best to use an old one that you can dedicate to your art and not mix it with food preparation in your kitchen. No, the piece will not explode in the microwave. I started with a low setting for about a 15 second burst at a time. Eventually I got bolder and was able to zap it at the highest setting for a minute or so. Again, steam will escape from your piece so handle with care when taking it out. This method is a great way to get your cup. vase, mug handles to firm up quickly for attachment to the rest of the piece.

Why are the above methods possible with paperclay and not so with regular clay?

The answer lies in the paper pulp fibers which act like conduits (and in reality, they actually are) to allow the water/steam to safely escape to the outside. The forced drying in one area of your work will draw the water from other areas (thru the pulp fibers), balance out the water content and prevent, minimize cracking. 

And what happens if my piece cracks?  I'll cover this in another post.

Hope this helps.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

And the Winner Is ....

Well, not quite me.

However, I did received the Honorable Mention Award for my pieces "Last Boat Out" and "Family Ties" at "Made in California 2009" show at the Brea Art Gallery. There weren't many ceramic sculptures so I was glad my pieces were there to give some representation to ceramic arts.

"Last Boat Out" under the spotlight. "Family Ties" way in the background.

A conversation about "Family Ties"

Taking a closer look at "Last Boat Out"

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Paperclay and Inclusions - Part 2.

© 2009 by Anthony Foo.

The advantages of Paperclay continues.

In Part 1, I talked about the various organic materials that can be incorporated/kneaded into paperclay to create interesting and random textures. Another advantage of the paper fibers in paperclay is its ability to coat and adhere to various materials that ordinary clay will not. The paper fibers will "grab" on to the irregularities of the surface to be coated and hence form a foundation for the clay to stay on.

In my sculptures, I've used paperclay to coat steel mesh (hardware cloth aka chicken wire), cotton twine, thin reeds, flowers,  twigs. etc. The paperclay I've used is the sculpture body paperclay from Aardvark (IMCO in Sacramento is the manufacturer) and the Southern Ice Porcelain Paperclay, imported from Australia by Laguna Clay Company in Los Angeles. Laguna Clay Company has stopped carrying the Southern Ice Porcelain Paperclay, probably because of its cost.

Both types of paperclay will can be used with the above mentioned materials.  The paperclay slip is made to a "heavy cream" consistency for the brushing method.

When I first start out, I usually brush it on with a soft fan brush, liberally loaded with the paperclay slip. This can be messy work so spread out old newspapers for easy of clean up after. It's slow work here as you need to let the first coat dry completely before the next application. It may not look like much but you are already coating your object with the paper pulp fibers.

I prefer brushing to dipping because I can control the coverage of the details. You may prefer the dipping method if the object to be coated is small enough to fit into your bucket of paperclay slip. Shake off the excess slip and let dry. The first few coats will be slow going until you have built up several coats. From here, it goes pretty fast as the fresh paperclay slip will stick on to the bone dry paperclay coat extremely well. This is actually the fun part and I enjoy this time the most. You can literally see the layers build up.

If you are using the dipping method, it's best at this point to thin out your paperclay slip a bit or else you will have to much slip adhering to your object with each dip. The dipping method is faster but if you are not careful, it will cover up/obliterate the details you have on your object. You can also use a combination of brushing and dipping. Whatever works for you to get to the desired thickness of coverage and still show the details.

In this discussion, I'll use my sculpture "Trapped" to show the different stages in the coating technique. The piece is bisqued fired only. The bamboo reeds and cotton twine burns out; the steel mesh is still encapsulated within the paperclay coating.

The sculpture could probably go to Cone 3 or 5 with the steel wire embedded in it, but since I'm using a community kiln, I'd rather not risk damaging the kiln. 

Initial forming stage - Materials used here are chicken wire, bamboo reeds, cotton twine.

After first coat of paperclay slip, brush technique, drying in the sun.

After 2nd day of coating. There must have been approx. 15 coats already here. I lost count!

Final stage. I'm happy with the coverage and thickness of the paperclay slip over the entire structure. The build up of coverage is anywhere from 3/16" to 1/4" thick.

Paperclay and Inclusions - Part 1.

© 2009 by Anthony Foo.

This is one of the many great advantages of paperclay. A variety of organic material can be kneaded into or coated with paperclay to create interesting textures. Materials such as grains (rice, beans, etc), sawdust, straw, rice husks, pasta, cotton twine, steel mesh, even high fired fragments embedded into paperclay will fire successfully.

I will use the example of incorporating cooked rice (left over 1-2 day old is best - the kind you use to make fried rice) into paperclay as an example here. I use Brown rice here as this is what I eat at home.  White rice works just as well.

This has become my trademark texture for my hand pinched bowls/cups. I've added as much as 50% cooked rice to 50% paperclay. A higher percentage of paperclay to organic material will be easier to work with. A higher percentage of organic material will be weaker in the bisque stage as there is less clay to hold everything together. I usually use about 1/4 rice to 3/4 clay, by volume. A lot of it is done by eye and feel and becomes more of an art than science. If you want more texture, add more rice and vice versa. Just bear in mind the above comment about post-bisque strength.

This is the reason why cooked rice works with paperclay and not with ordinary clays. The paper fibers in the paperclay act as a wick to transport moisture from the cooked rice to the outside surface  and hence allows it to dry. Ordinary clay will encapsulate the moist rice and it takes "forever" for your piece to dry, if it does dry completely at all. I tried one time with cooked rice and Black Mountain sculpture clay and it took over TWO months (in summer temperature and days in the sun) for it to be acceptable for bisque firing. My pinched bowls survived the bisque firing without blowing up. Compare this time scale with a matter of days when using paperclay for your piece to dry and ready for bisque.

You will be asking "Can I use raw rice?" I have not tried it before, but had a student who used raw lentils and it worked fine. The reason I like cooked rice is because during my pinch bowl forming process, I can "mush" the rice to make it conform to the shape I want. Raw rice grains incorporated into the paperclay will not give at all. You can still work with it, but not as easily in my opinion.

Another advantage of using cooked rice is that you can easily carve, sand, grind your work after it has dried completely. Depending on the thickness of your work, it resulting "completely" dried piece has tremendous greenware strength. I've made a piece that is deliberately very thick and after the bisque fire, took a stone chisel to it to chip away the surface to expose the texture below (Gate 3)

You don't have to knead the rice into the paperclay; you can also press the rice onto the surface of the paperclay to create the imprint. In this case, I would recommend using raw rice as cooked rice will just become mush when you press it onto your paperclay. You don't have to worry about the rice grains which are stuck to the surface of your piece. They will fall off or burn out in the bisque fire.

Hope this helps. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions about this article. I'm also interested in learning about other people's experiences with this technique. I hope this article (and future ones) will also encourage other ceramic artists to push the boundaries of paperclay.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Couple's Bowls, 2009.

This set of hand pinched bowls were made from one ball of the Southern Ice Porcelain Paperclay, divided into two and the bowls made from them, hence the name. Presented as a wedding gift.

Southern Ice Porcelain Paperclay, mixed with rice. The rice burns out during the bisque fire and leaves the texture. Celadon glaze on inside, no glaze on outside. 

Approx. 4"D x 4"H

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Irvine Fine Arts Center - Annual Arts Festival 2009

Irvine Fine Arts Center, 14321 Yale Avenue, Irvine, CA 92604

I will be exhibiting and selling my sculptural pieces in this year's Studio Arts Festival at the Irvine Fine Arts Center.

Please stop by to say hello and enjoy my works. Hopefully one of my pieces will find its way into your own art collection.

This annual art festival runs ONE day only - Saturday June 6th, 2009 from 9AM to 5PM.

Art-to-Art Palette Online Article.

This link is to a partial reprint of the online article that appeared in the 2007-2008 Fall/Winter Section of Art-to-Art Palette journal. Please scoll down to the second article.

Title of the article is "Asian Heritage Play Main Role in His Works of Art."

"All That Remains Are Summer Grasses", 2007.
Stoneware clay  - Raku fired, with white crackle glaze. Natural bamboo, waxed linen cord. Collection of 4 vases - Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall.
Sculpture arrangement: 22"H x 30"W x 12"D

"Made In California" 24th Annual Juried Exhibition, Brea, California.

I will showcasing two of my pieces in this year's show. 

It runs from March 21 thru May 1, 2009. Reception and Awards Ceremony is on Saturday, March 21, 7-9PM.

Please stop by and view the exhibition.

Monday, March 2, 2009

New Piece for 2nd Annual Tea Set Exhibition

"Take Out Tea", 2009.

This is the completed tea set arrangement for the Irvine Fine Arts Center 2nd Annual Tea Set Exhibition.

The clay is Southern Ice Porcelain Paperclay. I decided to low fire with a clear crackle glaze 'cos the tea pot had a couple of hairline cracks at the corners and I did not want to risk it cracking (which it probably would) in a Cone 10 high fire.

I made the fortune cookies just for the fun of it and to complement the take out feeling of the set. The handle for the tea pot is braided from 3 steel wires. Size of tray is 14"W x 10"D.

For more information about the Tea Set Exhibition, please see the earlier posting below.

An Exercise in Simplicity

I had some extruded clay tubes left over from my last project "Family Ties" and decided to make some thing "simple."

This was the result - a sake bottle and 2 cups. It's high fired to Cone 10, so it's completely functional. I look at it more as a sculptural arrangement.

The "crumbs" are dried clay broken up and "glued" to the sides with paperclay slip.

Glaze was beaded white over a clear glaze. Clay body is Bmix and sand. White slip was applied to the greenware before bisque fire. Some tinges of mauve appeared on the beaded white glaze which was quite interesting. I don't know how it got there. Perhaps contaminant from other people's glazes since this was fired in a community kiln at the Irvine Fine Arts Center.

Bottle: 11"H, Cups: 3"H, 2.5" D