Thursday, April 1, 2010

Change is Never Easy . . .

Or How Working in Black Clay is Putting on the Pounds.

In my studio, it’s never easy to change from working in one medium to another.  When working in 2D collage and mixed media, I have my table set up with a large piece of heavy-duty plastic placed over the stretched canvas top and underneath white butcher paper. The plastic keeps me from cutting into the canvas when using my Xacto knife. All of that is removed down to the permanently stretched canvas which is used when I work in clay. But this is the set up only when I’m working in lighter colored clays – stoneware and porcelain. 

What takes more time is when I’m working exclusively with Cassius Basaltic, the “black” clay – it’s actually chocolate brown. It necessitates my stretching another piece of heavy canvas on top of the first and then a piece of light cotton canvas material on top of that since this clay will stain anything that it gets on.

And it does get on everything that isn’t protected in some way or another.

I was introduced to this particular clay years ago. I’ve always loved the look of black pottery and used to do raku firings to get that result. I even had my own raku kiln made to my specs by the inmates at Deuel Vocational Institution, Tracy, California, where I was an artist-in-residence for years. Teaching ceramics classes there, every couple of months on a Saturday, I would drive up to the exercise yard at the prison in my big yellow Dodge station wagon packed with the raku kiln, the propane gas tank fitted with the appropriate hose and burner, several large metal tongs and assorted tools, all of which were thoroughly inspected going in and coming out. It was a day long event for my ‘guys’ who would work with me through their lunch into the late afternoon, until they had to get back to their cells for ‘count.’ They made some incredible pieces and they, too, fell in love with not just the process, but also the beautiful surfaces it can produce.

With all that going for it, raku can be very time consuming and is more of a collective process than an individual endeavor. I needed another person to help lift my kiln off and put it back on the stacked clay pieces for the fire.  Then, even more folks were needed to pull the red-hot pieces off the shelves and place into combustible material quickly to force a reduction burn and smoke, which makes the bare, unglazed clay go black.

After I left the job at DVI, I rarely if ever did a raku firing with my own equipment. Luckily, I found this Cassius Basaltic clay, which matures into a black ceramic surface. Granted, it doesn’t have the subtlety of raku but it does satisfy my lust for the deep black I once created with fire and smoke.

But there is a bit of a problem. Working with Cassius Basaltic clay really IS like working in chocolate - the smooth consistency; the way it gets on everything that isn't protected; the way it coats my hands when I've finished a throwing session.

No wonder I'm eating more chocolate than usual.  This change in the studio, the move to working in  black clay may mean another change is inevitable. I may now have to reorganize my closet - find those larger size jeans and put the smaller ones towards the back.

Thinking about this is just making me hungry. Excuse me. I'm going to get a piece of chocolate brittle.