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Addicted: clay/slip-casting/mould-making is my jam.

As the title says: clay, slip-casting and mould-making is my jam. Totally incorrect grammar, but a true statement. Sorry.

They are superficially three different entities thus requiring an “are”. However to me they are one and also “are my jams” just doesn’t sound right leaving us in the awkward position of having nothing that sounds right.  But in the words of a typical Brummie: ah well (Brummagem for nevermind).

So what is  slip-casting?

Slip-casting is the art of using plaster of Paris moulds to make casts from liquid clay. And to me this sounds delicious.

I had never heard of slip casting until I first found a course at the Midlands Art Centre on it May 2018.  I was heavily pregnant and working as a trainee GP at that time. It was a hard for me physically, and a hard time for our little family on may other fronts, but I felt determined to enrol on this 12 week course despite being due to give birth halfway through. I told myself that even the first 6 weeks would be worth the course fee of £168. And it is true. If you want to do a course that involves making stuff that looks “proper” with your hands, and you like colour and mould-making, then this course definitely gives you a lot of opportunity. The first one being to learn from amazing ceramic artist Sue Dyer about all things clay from history, to building techniques, to fixing cracks to decorative options. Secondly you have the opportunity to get the work you make kiln-fired. This is a core transitional process in ceramic-making and involves a lot of trial and error, and cracks and broken hearts. But eventually the cracks get smaller and you get to make proper stuff and it’s amazing. And then that starts you off on just how many things can I mould and transform? And that’s where I am now. Looking at everything with an eye to moulding it, firing it and decorating it to make something cool. I love this process. I have learnt so much, and have much more to learn.

My first mould was polystyrene cup. I loved the simplicity of moulding this form. It was a one piece mould and I have made three little cups so far. I felt so elated when my cups came out of their final firing, so happy at the things I had made. But then I noticed how small they were, and it taught me about how clay gradually shrinks with each firing and how porcelain has a high percentage shrink rate.

My second mould was a little plastic trifle bowl. This was more complicated and has only given me one piece so far, I used a white glaze on white porcelain, the walls were too thick and the bottom was uneven but it ay be a grower. This started me on a path of looking at everyday plastic packaging and other items with an eye to moulding them. the two experiences combined have also led me to investigate 3d scanning as a way of upscaling the original before it shrinks. I haven’t made my own index piece yet, but as I get more ideas, I know this is the way forward for me.

With each piece that I mould and cast I learn about my own aims and tastes. So I know that I care deeply about the form, I’m interested in using the form as the decoration rather than just having a superficial  decorative glaze. I like my faceted surfaces and angles. And I need to play with more colour combinations. I want to use the white glaze again probably on a coloured base with a textured surface. I like big chunky pieces, so I need to scale up my originals and consider clay bodies other than porcelain which is generally used for its translucence. However, my own research into the use of porcelain by commercially productive potters has led me to realise that it is also often used arbitrarily to raise the monetary value of pieces.

Throughout its history porcelain has been a highly prized material. In China, where it was invented, this was originally for its physical properties. However, as the years went by and Europeans became aware of it, spies were sent into China to discover how it was made. Porcelain’s initially scarcity raised its value manifold to the the point where this is now in our shared consciousness (if you believe in such a thing). Saying this, however, toilets are also made out of porcelain for completely different reasons than translucency. And so that fact takes a bit of pressure off in me in terms of making my walls thin enough to demonstrate the prized translucency. I’m more interested in how amazingly durable it its. You don’t get many Terracotta toilets, so I don’t have to use crappy old terracotta (excuse the pun) for my designs even if they don’t glow in the light.

 I had my baby half-way through my first ceramics course and I went back three weeks after. I had to finish off my pieces and I found a way of making it work. And I have tried my best to do that ever since, show up to my “pottery class” even though I’m not really a potter and even though I am regularly late, or tired or leaving my baby with family for a couple of hours. Then one day on my way to my class, I realised I was leaving my baby (with his dad) for this course, and I realised it was because I really love what I do there. And without Sue Dyer’s guidance, patience and kind attitude as a teacher, I may not have had the rewarding experience of moulding making.

And so it is, I’m tooled up and ready to go. I bought a fettling wife a while ago, a clay cutter (basically a garrotte) after that. Most recently I have purchased a respirator to avoid inhaling either the plaster dust or the dust from sanding off my ceramics.

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