Feat of Clay

For the first few weeks after having Covid I didn’t feel any urge to paint. Instead I either tidied up or organised my art supplies. And then I had two of those dives into a craft I only occasionally dabble in. The first was jewellery-making, which led to ideas for making brooches, which led to me unearthing my small supply of air-dry clay.

Well, it’s been a long time. It turned out that the terracotta version I’d used to make some macrame beads years ago was now too solid and crumbly to use. After consulting the internet, I crumbled it up into a container, added water to soak in overnight, then spent an afternoon pushing it through a sieve then spreading the resulting paste out to dry on the shiny side of the glass slab I use to grind up pigments for ink.

That was going to take a few days, so I opened a pack of white clay and started to play. Even though it had to be over ten years old, it was still in good condition. The first pieces I made were simple flat shapes to paint later, so I could get a feel for how the clay worked. Then I made circles, a square and a heart with an edge, with the intention to make little mosaics.

I haven’t yet made anything from the flat shapes, but I had fun painting the ‘frames’ and filling them with tiles. They have brooch pins glued to the backs.

Having opened a pack of clay, I was worried it would dry out in the years that were likely to pass until I got the inclination again. I hadn’t used up much clay, so I tried making something bigger: a brush holder, which isn’t the most attractive thing I’ve ever knocked together but works.

Then I went even bigger and made a mug-sized candle lamp. Not something I’d normally use, but I thought I might be able to hang earrings on it. The mistake I made was to not let the side panel dry a bit before attaching it to the base. The holes reduced the integrity of the clay, too. The side slumped in on itself and the holes started closing up. Fortunately, the plastic cup I was using for water was exactly the same size as the vessel, so I wrapped it in baking paper and inserted it inside the piece, then turned everything upside down. Now gravity was in my favour, stretching it out again – though I still had to re-cut the holes. The next day the vessel was dry enough to remove the cup. When it was dry I painted it black on the outside and silver inside. The sides are too thick to get earring hooks into, so I guess it’s going to have to be a candle lamp after all.

In the meantime I’d had more brooch ideas, I made a paint tube and paint box…

… and a pair of abstract shapes with round hollows in them. I filled one with glitter and the other with scraps of wire and beads.

I also made some mushrooms and abstract flowers that were painted with some of the terracotta clay paste thinned a bit to make a slip. The stems are florist wire. No idea what I’m going to do with them.

When the terracotta paste had finally dried to the consistency of clay, I gave it a good knead. By then I didn’t have many ideas left to try, so I decided to use it up all in one project. To do this I made a a flat leaf shape and pressed that into a bowl covered in cling wrap. When it had dried enough to hold its shape I took it out of the bow. It took aaaages to dry.

This whole clay adventure took a lot longer than I had expected. Much longer than my enthusiasm lasted, unfortunately. On the day I sanded the white clay items I was really over the whole clay thing, but it got more interesting once I began painting things and glueing in mosaic tiles, glitter and jewellery scraps.

But I’m done. I’ve put the unused flat shapes in among my jewellery making supplies until I know what I want to do with them, and both clay and jewellery-making supplies have been put away. Now, with the craft table cleared, I’m free to dive into the next thing.