Friday, 1 July 2011

Cave woman thinks like a fish

An apt title in more ways than one!  I've spent just about all of today in my garage studio making one of the final pieces for the Blue Reef project. I haven't decided what to call this piece yet; it is simply a pile of 'caves' designed to be used for hiding or spawning.

The work is being made from a clay which is becoming a real favourite of mine: Earthstone's ES60 Smooth Textured Crank.  This is crank clay but with much finer grog particles than would be found in a normal crank.  It's a real pleasure to work with  as it is not so rough on the hands as a normal crank and yet it is just as structurally strong. It gives a lovely toasty oatmeal finish when reduction fired.  I love it.

I get my clay supplies from Bill Todd at Sedgefield Pottery:  It was Bill who originally recommended the smooth crank to me - he knows his stuff does Bill;  being an ex-potter himself certainly helps!
I am making the caves by hollowing out hemispheres of clay and then joining them to make full spheres and then cutting out an entrance to each one.  Eventually, they will all be joined into a single structure and I will cut more holes so that fish can pass from one cave to another using a more-or-less continuous pathway through the whole piece.

original small-scale model amidst larger components of final pieces
This piece is going to take quite a while to complete but it has been - so far - extremely satisfying to make. My fear now, though, is that the downward effect of the weight of the caves at the top of the pile is going to cause the caves at the base to slump more than I want them to.  This wasn't a problem with the original model because the overall weight at the top was much smaller.  I may have to provide some supports in the lower caves to prevent excessive slumping.  I have various ideas for this including packing the lower caves with screwed up newspaper balls, inflating balloons inside of the lower caves (that is probably a slightly mad idea but could be fun to try!), creating temporary clay pillars to support the upper roof of the lower caves... etc. I'll have to construct another slightly larger model before putting the final piece together in order to determine what works and what doesn't.  I'm learning that this is a common requirement with larger works in clay: because the tensions and stresses on the material increase exponentially as the piece grows in size, the only way to really find out what will happen for sure is to make life-size models.  It all adds to the time taken to make the work but ultimately it saves you from the disappointment of having your work fail in firing after spending many days or weeks in making it.

Further progress reports will follow!

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