Mia’s Steps for Clay Art

Spring is coming and that is wonderful time while nature wake up into the life. Soon everything will start blooming, people will smile in direct proportion to the intensity of the sun and become more open for new. Maybe it is good moment to discover new hobby? For me spring is perfect time to wake up my creativity. And actually I have never shake myself to arise/awake and push to create. My inner artist is waking up gently itself. Everyone has its inner artist I believe, same like inner child or inner critic. But spring is this amazing time while we blooming naturally as everything around us. Same like our garden where we spend more and more time because we like it. I do not want to sounds like “once upon a time” but seriously, spring is coming and it will finally appear at once with all its beauty and glory. And we can follow those cheering vibes. And before summer will make as lazy and desperate to chill we should enjoy the nearest future. Spring is fun for everyone. For gardening lovers, old people who enjoy their pension and those young and teen who think that thy are too cool to be interested of any gardening or being a green finger. Whatever your hobby is there is no doubt that everyone fell good among nature and everyone enjoy their morning coffee bare foot surrounded by green aura. What about your garden this spring? Do you have any plans for its design this year? Will it be left in wild freedom? Or maybe you already planed weekend for spring cleaning and shopping in home base ? But what if I would try to inspire you and I would tell you about: How  to decorate your garden by making your own hand made lovely decoration? It can be mugs for that morning coffee, bowls for fruits, plates with names of: basil, mint, parsley, oregano for your herbarium. Cute Signs inviting birds for meal at your place? Would you like to have garden party maybe with your grandchildren teaching them what biology means by practice? Would you like to share your passion or knowledge with younger generation? Seeds and plants together and create tags for vegetables? What about your own hand made colourful flower pots on pottery wheel that you could make together and spend valuable family time?
I was asked to write article to share my knowledge about clay and some tips. And as I started to think how to rearrange my garden space and how to decorate it for this nice season I thought this is gonna be good idea to tell you step by step and present by real examples how my passion and big hobby looks like in practice. And if you will find it useful or interesting - do not think about excuses like, “ I do not have any clay, any kiln, any tools” - I can promise that whoever would love to try it and make your own creative ideas really happen - you can visit my workshop. (You can contact me here personal or for group tickets). Step 1: Clay is plastic like plasticine but its big advantage in that after baking it in the kiln it become fixed and hard. And of course you can create a 3-dimensional garden sculpture but to start easy I chose another example. So first I would like to present how to make cute ornament to hang on anywhere you like to mark your plant names. Actually those creatures called usually as bas-relief - are my favourite. I was always impressed that this tiny heart with written simple “for you” or “I love you” can means so much for receiver and become sentimental gift even if it is small and symbolic like post card. Although it is more durable than paper after clay is hardened in kiln. And also clay is resistant to weather circumstances as ceramic characteristic is, for example, being waterproof does not corrode and never loses its colour on sun (does not fade).
What I also like in clay creation is possibility to give it any shape you like and that can give yourself opportunity to discover many symptoms of your talents. For example you can find out that you have skills not in sculpturing only but also decorating or linguistic. Because you can write on clay any sentences, your own poems, favourite quotes or word-games regarding to your project or person for who you dedicate it. Look at some of my examples:  

To create some of those, first you have to make lump of clay flat by rolling pin. Very similar like to make pastry for cookies. Next when you have plain piece of clay - any thickness you prefere, you can cut (by knife and tools for ceramic) any shape you like. However, what is good and really easy for small children : you can use even cookies cutters to get expected form. (My workshop in that case can offer probably all calendar occasion (Easter as well) and you would be amazed how many cookies cutters and gadgets one person who does not enjoy cooking can possess :D I think my addiction from shopping at confectionary section could be even inspiration for another article written about human weaknesses and disorders ;) Well I gave up to fight with it and just accepted that some people invest money in crypto nowadays, some women probably in shoes but me… Well definitely I am unusual minimalist with great collection of cookie cutters. Anyway, coming back to main topic: I wanted to say that it can be fun using all kitchen gadgets that our grandmothers hide in the bottom of drawers. And this is what I enjoy in clay - we have endless possibilities to design our ornaments. On wet clay we can draft, draw, stamp, impress on it anything we come up with in our minds to create our fraction / pattern: it can be laces,  plant twigs, toys, buttons, shells etc. Anything you like - that could give as a nice structure. More examples below:

Step 2: Things that we create - when you think it s done - need to be left to dry (water which clay contains have to evaporate and be left for some hours). My tip and preferences are to keep my object with small imperfections because to refine edges and inequality when clay is dry and still not baked is the easiest way to refine some last details. You have to be gentle and careful because objects are very fragile in that moment - as dry but not baked ( later when clay is burnt becomes very hard and need more advanced tools to do that but before drying is too sticky in my opinion to bother - but still is up to you when anyone feel it is nicer and easiest to anyone).
The reason why we have to dry clay anyway is not only last corrections / amendments - most of all our objects will explode in kiln by high temperature if we put there wet clay. Because boiling water can tear out solid particles of clay and destroy sculpture by cracking. Clay is amazing fun and also process which demands and teach us patience. Here is how looks object after being dry and prepared for being baked/ burnt.

Step 3: Fire the pottery. To make clay hard and give to it final, fixed form - it must be burnt out in a special kiln. A kiln is able to heat itself inside minimum until 650 celsius degree (depending on the composition of clay, on the percentage of quartz - some clays need higher temperatures). Process of burnt while temperature grows slowly first ( to let last water particles evaporate) then faster and next high temperature is kept constant - needs 6 hours of baking. After that we need to wait few more hours until temperature of kiln will go down itself and we will be able open it safety to see our solid clay objects, which looks the way we expected but now they are fixed and can not be broken easily - as pictures shows:

Step 4: Next and last step is amazing and quite magical part (even for experienced ceramist) - that step is called glazing. Glazing is painting our object by glaze. Same while simple painting we use brush to paint our objects or sculpture but the trouble is that glaze has nothing similar to usual paints else than at the final result painted object become shiny, glassy and having intense, permanent colour. Glaze is actually kind of enamel which consist of metal and non-metal oxides which influent at the end on colour or semi-transparent coating. It gives objects also features as: resistance to water which increase usability of ceramic - and it is used for decoration and aesthetic value. (It could seems like high level of chemistry what it actually is but you do not have to be scared about toxin in your garden or something like this. Once glaze is hard it become one of the most biocompatible material which is never again able to make any allergy for human body or release it s metals components out of structure - is not corroding and does not react even if we use it to create artificial teeth from it which are permanent located in wet circumstances of our mouth). So do not worry. The only difficulties is fact that glazes do not behave as paint. And that can be difficult from one side for beginners. From the other side you can find it so magical because you can never be 100% sure what will be the result when you decide to connects some different colours of it together. Definitely you can not mix them and you always use separate brushes for each colours because you may destroy permanently basic colour of glaze. (its oxides reacts and if you mix yellow and red you rather not get orange shade - it probably ruin them to black). But there is some tricks that I learnt, some of them I found out and discover myself intentionally or accidentally really pretty. Sometimes I am not able to obtain that effects again - and that makes me disappointed but also it makes that object while this colouring try as unique and unrepeatable. It is amazing process and very emotional when you wait next few hours after painting (because glaze needs another burnt) to see how it will looks like at the end.
Glazes are very faded coloured sands - I would say to describe it literally - with some water. I keep them in jars with attached ready, burnt samples or with signed name of colours otherwise I would not be able to recognise all of them from the others. So when you paint your object - it needs some concentrations and some different precision than painting with liquid pain. Consistency of some glazes makes that painting is not always smooth movement of Bruch but much more like putting small drops of that material. And if you paint one part blue and next to it you paint green you can find out at the end that this borders of colours become marked as a beautiful unexpected brown line as a results of its mutual reactions. So you never know what you can really create and that is always excitement for me when I open kiln to see that mysterious magic which may happened unpredictable.
There are some pictures of objects while glazing and how they looks ready to be baked in kiln.

Step 5: To burnt clay is easy, dry objects you can just put inside the kiln as they are one on the other. With glaze is a bit more demanding and complicated procedure. Glazes reacting with itself and when they are burnt - they actually melts its glassy particles. So if you put one glazed object too close to each other they will melt together in place of their contact point. So you always have to locate it them them in kiln separate and keeps distances between them. Also temperatures are much more higher. And some of glazes needs 1080 °C some of them even up to 1450 °C . And well, we have to wait few hours as well. But usually effects are worth that waiting. Just take a look for some of them:  

I do not have to tell you that the very last step is just to put some strings or ribbon if it s needed and just enjoy decorating your garden or home. Clay and pottery gives you infinite possibilities of creating beautiful items. Whatever you like or love, home numbers, any kind of ornaments, flower pots, jars for your pencils, unusual tea mugs and well think about it… Think about your own ideas, projects and be welcome to try :) I hope that pictures below will inspire you even more to check if ceramic can be also your hobby: