When I was a small person I used to spend many a happy hour making figures out of local clay on the beach and leaving them to dry in the sun, ruining countless swimsuits and other items of clothing in the process with ingrained clay whilst my mother sat on the sand and read ( did you hear that dearest children I used to let MY Mother, sit ,undisturbed, for hours on end, and read) Oh how my mother laughed as she merrily scrubbed the laundry! ( which probably serves her right for leaving me to play in mud whilst she read undisturbed). Alas, I never inherited my Mother's ability to sit and read unmolested and in peace., and I still ruin my clothes with ingrained clay but they now have that extra je ne sais quoi of glaze stains as well ....
And this is how its how they get there...
1. First take a lump of clay, a banding wheel, a variety of odd tools, a pair of clean hands and a cup of coffee. Place lump of clay on wheel., turn it around and around until you can see what it is going to become. Drink coffee, remembering to wipe hands on trousers first. Always remember , oh my best beloveds, that it is no good trying to turn the lump of clay into an elephant if it wants to be a dog. Ignore advise from partner passing through studio, insisting it really should be an elephant . Wipe hands on jumper in order to remove dry clay powder in order not to contaminate wet clay when grabbing lumps of it from clay bag for offspring , who have now discovered my whereabouts and the fact I have clay out and insist , naturally, they must join in.
2. Once I have settled children, thrown cold coffee away and made another, ( having carefully wiped clay on my shirt tails to avoid dirtying kettle) fiddled with clay until it is happy with its shape and made several other small creatures (at demand of your off spring who have completed their works of art in seconds flat and now want me to make something for them) I leave clay figures to dry in warm place away from aforementioned offspring and cats. This is not easy to achieve in an open plan house situated in a zone currently being used by God as a practise run for the second deluge. Wipe hands on trousers again to avoid getting clay finger prints all over house whilst searching for suitable place of safety for drying figures.
3. Once thoroughly dry (takes several days that, which gives me a chance to unsuccessfully shift clay from clothing) I place small creatures in kiln carefully packing them so they don't fall over as they are as fragile as crystal at this stage, and fire to the required temperature remembering to place kiln God on top of kiln and reminding children and their visiting friends , for the hundredth time and in two languages, that they are not allowed to touch it.
4. Have more coffee and pace floor , resisting temptation to open kiln until the temperature inside has fallen to room temperature . Try not to imagine that pieces made by beloved offspring have exploded due to unforeseen air pockets and , in so doing , have shattered the rest of the contents of the kiln ,which comprises several days work and a very special customer order for hand made tiles amongst other bits of bread and butter. I get up several times in the night just to check on the temperature and find a huddle of cats lying under kiln basking in its heat. When I have the big kiln in the barn firing the feral cats think its thier own central heating sytem snuggle up underneath that one too. Think how thrilled the cats proteciton league would be if they knew!
5. Once kiln has dropped its temperature to somewhere cool enough not to shatter its contents once lid is opened, I take a deep breath and open kiln and breathe out with huge sigh of relief, as nothing has exploded and, taking care to not drop now fired bisque pieces and place them somewhere safely away from small boys and cats until they are cool enough to glaze. In theory I should wait until the kiln reaches room temperature before daring to open it but as its so cold at the moment this could take until August.
6. Cover entire kitchen table with bright orange and pink checked cloth so that table will not be ruined by over enthusiastic glazing of youngest offspring. It goes without saying that I have a perfectly adequate studio with a vast table which has a sensible wipe clean surface which I never use, as glazing at the kitchen table is much more fun. Here I can combine it with bright witty conversation from partner, as he replenishes the coffee pot ,and shout maternal advise to boys about not killing each other and getting on and tidying their rooms without having to move , plus of course, make lunch and answer phone and all those trifling multi tasking activities that make being a modern woman such fun!.
7. Having carefully mixed small quantities of glaze, wiping any spillage with my elbow and cleaning my brushes on my sleeve, I remove cats from table and assembled a vast array of paintbrushes ,rags and jars of water , place fired lump of clay (now miraculously transformed into a something which is not an elephant) on to banding wheel and proceed to paint. Our cats like drinking the dirty water in which I have cleaned my brushes and stretching luxuriantly on large sheet of glass on which I have mixed the colours. Now, although a pink and green floral patterned cat may be unusual and even attractive , as I am constantly warning my children, as I lick the brush to get a fine point, glazes are not really meant to be consumed as some contain toxic chemicals such as lead. I am still trying to decide if cats are mad due to licking glazes from their fur or whether they are mad and that is why they do it. I have already established I am un peu loufoque so the effects of long term brush licking are not open to discussion.
The glazing process goes like this. I load my brush and steady my hand then stop to remove cats, break up some territorial fracas in playroom,and let dogs in and then out. I then start again which is why it takes so long. Once I have completed glazing all the animals and figures leave to dry in safe place. for about 24 hours. Clean kitchen of all traces of pottery activities, make snack for hungry offspring and then repeat stages 3 and 4..., making very sure no glaze has sneaked onto bottom of figures otherwise they stick to the shelves ( and when I say stick I mean nothing but breaking them will get them off and then you need to grind shelf down to remove all traces of glaze so next time the glaze does not sneakily re melt and stick anything sitting on it to the shelf , also need to check that none of the pieces are touching each other a they will then stick to each other, and which is why all potters should know how to use an angle grinder)....and then I wait..
This is the worst waiting bit. It takes about 24 hours or longer for the kiln to fire up to the right temperature, then cool down again. With a bisque firing or first fire, if I open the kiln with all its little unglazed bits in before it is really cool no real harm will be down as long as the temperature is below 100 degrees. If I open it too soon after a glaze firing the gentle ting ting ting of crazing can be heard and like Pandora's box once opened it is to late, the harm is done . If the inhabitants of Noah's ark keeping warm in the kiln need a gloss glaze I then have to repeat stage 4 with a gloss glaze....a very messy business for which one should always wear an overall, or not in my case.
And at the end of it all this is what you get...... hopefully..
and finally ,this pair ....
At this stage I should really apologise for the way photos are so badly laid out and for the length of this blog..more like a dissertation really..but I shan't because the layout is blogger's fault as its playing up today and if I am too verbose for you then no one insisted you read what I wrote so you only have yourself to blame.. anyway you have a nice day and I'm off to do what I love best of all playing with clay.. all creatures great and small are of course available for sale via my website..www.unpeuloufoque.com ( oh dear blatant self publicityI shall be shot!!) or rather they will be once I have found time to upload them...