Clay Is Actually Mud

images (27)The remains of a stone, thrown off a mountain, grinded smaller and smaller and smaller. Granulated, pulverised, powdered into dust until it settles as silt into the quiet arms of a river. For centuries people have been extracting it. We dig it up to wash and knead it and then…

Some 15000 years ago people discovered that fire could transfer clay into stone. And we are still doing that. We started out with bowls that could contain our food and the first figurines. Female figurines of course, for women give birth, give life.

Those first sculptures were hand formed, made without a wheel or a mold, everything was shaped by hand. When you visit an archaeological museum you may sometimes see those bowls, dating back several thousands of years, still containing the fingerprints of the maker. A man or woman just like you, with hands and fingers. Perhaps cursing because things didn’t work out the way he or she wanted or being proud and happy with the result of all this kneading and pushing and firing. It was garnished with twigs and strings and pinches and nudges in the clay. Balance and order the device of decoration, just like today.

It takes several years before you are able to impose your will upon clay. It is a time consuming process to really get to know the material. To learn when to shape, when to let it dry. Dry a little bit so you can continue later. Then go on shaping, sustaining, more drying, polishing until it is exactly what you want it to be.

Then you fire it. Modern clay ovens are computer operated. You put your work in the oven and adjust a program. Mine usually takes about 18 hours. I start with a little drying (90 degrees) to remove all the water to prevent the work from exploding because the water starts to boil. Then be careful with the quartz inversion at 573 degrees. This is when the clay changes from hard silt into a stone like substance. If this process goes too fast it will go wrong. 900 degrees is just right to change and strengthen the clay but some clays can be fired up to 1300 degrees. Porosity and hardness will be determined by the temperature and type of clay you use.

We use clay products all the time. To eat and drink from, to pee in, for cooking and washing, to look at, to isolate, as a heatproof material. Even to live in and under! Clay is an intriguing material…