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I want to make you a bet. Clay will make you happy.
Maybe only in the moment, maybe for a while.
There's a crafts-as-therapy movement and I believe clay should be at the top of that list.
I mean real clay, the kind your mugs are made of. That stuff is squeeze it, smush it, tactile therapy gold.
Best part? There are no rules. (I'm looking at you knitting and crochet ;)
Where do you get it? What do you do once you’ve got it?
Read on to find out.
Potters, ceramicists, ceramic artists, take your pick, they are a very friendly bunch. Having a hunch that was true was the first thing that brought me to clay after a tragic loss. Clay was instantly my therapy, and then so much more.
Throughout the country you will find community ceramic studios. That just means someone has a kiln and will let others use is as opposed to someone with a kiln who only fires their own work. Could be an individual, could be a business. A few ways to find a kiln:
Do you know about firing? So, ok, clay is wet. Left out in the air it will dry. We call that air dried clay greenware. Then it gets put in a crazy hot oven called a kiln to fire two times at two different temperatures. First, at a not so hot temp, we call that bisque fired. Then, at super hot temp, we call that glaze fired. If you wanted to apply glaze to your piece you’d do it in between those two firings.
Yikes, this is all getting complicated! It’s not. Don’t I need a potters wheel? You don’t.
You need four things. A block of clay. Some tools from your kitchen. A kiln to fire it in. Some paint. That's it!
The clay comes from a ceramics store or your community studio. Obv you can google that, or check this long list. Findakiln also lists stores.
The tools are a knife, fork and spoon plus a few more kitcheny items.
The kiln, well that’s back to your community studio.
House paint, this is how you’ll add color. I bet you even have some right now. Or buy some of those little test pots at Lowe’s - so fun!
Moving on. Wait . . .
Can’t it be more complicated? Yes, if you want. You could take classes. Fun! You could glaze your work at the studio. Pretty! You could go wild at your local ceramics store. Fun, again!
So why all this trouble when crafts store sells polymer clay, I bake it in my oven and its done in like 15 minutes? Well, for me, they scratch two different itches. I love polymer clay for working small. I’ll even make some parts of my work out of polymer clay and glue them on. (Get to know PC-11 epoxy glue, it will be your best friend.) But the kind of clay that is basically dried up mud can do two things that polymer can’t:
It’s more therapeutic. Clay feels so wonderfully squishy in your hands.
You can go as big as you want to because it firms up as it dries. You’re not going to be adding wet clay to totally dry clay, but as it becomes less bendy you can add more and just keep repeating this process.
Ok, one last cool thing about clay before I show you the steps; it’s very local. Wet clay is heavy and expensive to ship, but clay is made all over the country (remember, mud). So when you buy clay it comes from fairly close by. If I’m on the west coast different clay will be available to me than if I’m on the east coast. Alright, fun fact. Now lets move on to the steps.
<— that's a block of clay
Ask your community studio if there are any rules about what kind they’ll fire. There are different temperatures for different clays, they might say the word cone, its confusing, just check first. Read this to learn about cones.
Raid your kitchen.
Buy more if you want, but this is what I use every day. Piece of paper (so your clay doesn’t stick to your table or whatever), fork, knife, spoon, paintbrush, cling wrap or trash bag, lazy Susan - she’s optional.
AKA clay therapy.
This is what you'll do:
Pinch off a handful, smush your clay out into a patty as wide as you want your base. Trim it with the knife if its not a circle.
Roll out a coil with your fingers and palms.
With a fork rough up both the coil and the base where you want them to be attached.
Paint some water on both roughed up parts (you’re making Velcro! We call this score and slip)
Stick the coil onto where you’ve scored the base and smush the insides and outsides down with your fingers. This is the stage I set the whole thing up on a lazy Susan if I have one, its just easier for me.
Now keep adding coils. You do not need to score and slip on these additional coils*.
This is the part where I say there are no rules. You can coil and stretch your clay outward. You can pull it inward. You can go straight up.
You WILL get frustrated because this is the part where your hands are learning. They’re learning how thick or thin to stretch the clay, how much to blend the coils together. You are working in a form of hand building called coil building. If you start to look at artists who do this you’ll see they all do it differently.
When you want to stop, or your clay is sagging because it needs to firm up before you go any higher, wrap it loosely in plastic wrap or a trash bag.
Lastly, as the clay starts to set up you can smooth out any imperfections with the back of the spoon.
*When you come back to this project again score and slip your first coil.
Find a kiln.
Unless you want to apply glaze at the community studio you’ll want to ask them to both bisque fire and glaze fire it before you pick it up. They charge by the pound and you’ll pay $2 up to, I don’t know, $5 per pound? Its not terrible.
A note about glaze. This is what makes your mug shiny (though it comes in matte too) and food safe. It’s a lot of fun, and frustration. You can buy brush on glaze at a ceramics shop or dip your piece in a bucket of glaze at the studio. Ask them to teach you how, or skip that part and proceed to the next step.
This is not food safe, but it is very durable. House paint. Interior, exterior, matte, gloss, all up to you. Paint it on, let it dry, maybe spray it with some polycrylic if you’re concerned. Whatever you do just know that clay and paint are very good friends and bond well together.
That’s it. I hope you find clay happy.
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