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Large Figure 3: Seeing red

I have decided to try making one of my creatures in a black clay. This way I will be decorating in reverse from my first two others, i.e. the body is dark with light drips. What a totally different feeling it is to be working with this clay. I'm trying out Valentine's PF680 (Black Smooth). It is gritty without being rough. What I like about it is its internal strength, which is very helpful with my coiling process. However, everything I or it touches turns red. As I'm also working with other pale clays I need to be very vigilant and tidy. I'm not even sure if I will be able to use any of my wooden tools with a pale bodied clay again!

Anyway, another element I find difficult when working with this clay is the amount of fine grog. It gives strength but makes the finishing stages difficult. I try to get a very smoothly finished surface, which is so difficult to achieve with this clay. But I'm getting there. I just need to let the clay dry more. However, I don't want it to dry too much before applying my white slip as I don't want the clay to shrink too much and create a bad fit between slip and clay body, resulting in the slip cracking off as it has done with one of my little trial pinch pots.

So, as with two figures done before I start off with coiling upside-down. This time I decided to only close it up on Day 2 of my making process. This allows it to firm up and I wanted to ensure a good bond which I cannot get without turning the piece over.

Day 2: I turn it around but need to ensure that the shape is well supported with foam and bubble wrap. Because I cannot look and evaluate the shape of the whole piece from all angles until it is firm enough to handle, I am working a bit blind. This time I've decided to add a few more angles and gentle ridges to its shape without loosing its biomorphic qualities.

The last element I added was this sort of fin. I did play around quite a lot with different shapes before settling on this. Now I need to let it dry a bit more before I can refine its final shape which I do with a combination of scraping the surface and gently hitting it with a wooden spoon.

Day 3: Trying to get it smooth I use a either a metal kidney scraper or the back of a metal spoon. However, just as I get the surface shiny I tend to expose gritty areas again. It needs another day drying before I can properly work on the surface.

But it is firm enough to be able to turn it around and work on all sides. With this clay I'm actually using my hand much more than with the other clays to smoothen out any ridges left by the tools. Using you sense of touch is very important as you often can feel imperfections that you cannot see at this stage but will show up after bisque firing.

So, I wrap my beast up again in layers of plastic bags and it goes on to the shelf to be worked on tomorrow. But not before I finally remember to poke a little hole through the clay wall into the inside cavity. I should have done this a bit earlier. Clay shrinks when drying and you need avoid any trapped air inside as it will burst your piece - worst case scenario: blow up in the kiln. When I poked my hole in I could actually hear the air escape!


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