Note: This is a series of articles about the mediums people use to express themselves and create some great works of art for us to enjoy.
My only real experience working with clay was in 7th grade art class. I made a small urn type of thingy on the wheel. My grade was a “C.” That is why I was excited to be able to spend some time with people who really know how to maximize the potential of this great medium.
“The more you work with clay, each potter develops their own style,” said Janet DeAnna, a member of the Clay Guild at the Marco Island Center for the Arts. “It’s very interesting at shows because, many times, we can pick out who did the pieces.”
Janet, along with a few others from the Clay Guild, met with me to talk about clay. “I’ve been working with clay for almost50 years,” said Sandy Howe, a Fulbright Scholar in Ceramics. “There are still things I haven’t done yet. There are very few limitations when it comes to clay.”
While the possibilities seem endless, there are some things to know as the piece is created. Upon completion of the initial art piece, the clay has to be totally dry before going into the kiln for a bisque firing. It removes a lot of the water in the clay, with temperatures reaching upwards of 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 14 hours. Bisquing is done so you can glaze it more easily, although some artists even glaze on greenware and skip the bisque cycle. A bisque piece is hard and easy to handle, turn and work with.
There is quite a science behind glaze, and it is an art form in itself. Basically, glaze is the coloring you see on pottery. Some people dip theirpieces, some spray it on, and others paint. Once done, the piece must be placed in the kiln for another firing.
Many transformations take place during the firing process. Many times, the piece may crack or break through no fault of the artist. It happens and is just part of the process. That’s why it is like Christmas when the kiln is open and the artist can see how their piece transformed.
It doesn’t take years to learn to work with clay. But the possibilities an artist can realize with clay evolve through experience. “You get in a zone,” says Ginny Mueller. “Like when I’m throwing (on the wheel), it’s meditative. You don’t notice anything else around you.”
Etoila Bristow had just finished working on a major project. It was time for the bisque. With some support from the others, and a little upper body strength, she got it into the kiln withoutmishap.
“A major reason my husband and I moved to Marco was the presence of a strong art community,” says Etoila. “I took classes in many different mediums. Once I got to clay, I was hooked! I was able to be more successful in my artwork with clay.”
While clay is a fascinating medium to work, with almost endless possibilities, there is also the camaraderie. Guild members do lunch once a month, they learn together, support each other, and teach other. It seems even the most experienced potter can still learn a thing or two from an apprentice potter.
You can learn more about pottery, clay and classes by contacting the Art League. Just ask for someone in the Clay Guild. Janet says there is one thing to know before you get into pottery: “If you want nice fingernails, this is NOT your medium.” A small price to pay for being able to do some amazing things.