Thursday, July 29, 2010

Miniature clay firing: Altoids box reduction

This is a project I plan to continue indefinitely; just an easy and time-space-energy-effective process to make some miniature clay objects that I like to make and rarely do because of time-space-energy limitations.
The process is simple.
During camping, I made very small clay whistles and figures that I could fit into an altoids box...

I used a rock as a surface, and my usual tools for whistle making, which include a chopstick, an exacto knife, a palete knife, a needle and a forming tool. You will notice the clay is white prior to firing.

I used sawdust to cushion the whistles as I put them in the altoids box, but also because sawdust will combust within the chamber creating a reduction atmosphere: as the burning hot atmosphere within the box is deprived of oxygen to burn, it will burn the chemical oxygen within the clay, turning it black.

It's like packing a mini kiln, which is something that, of course, attracts me very much. At night, I pack the box full of sawdust completely, and fire it. The most important thing is to increase the temperature slowly in the beginning. Strangely for clay, I fire these almost imediately after they're made, though sometimes they don't survive the temperature shock. I also make sure to reach plenty of temperature once the initial risk of busting is over, otherwise the clay will not bake to a vitrious state. Sometimes I cover the coals where the pieces are buried with metal sheets in order to dramatically increase the temperature. (I have used crushed soda cans; in scarse conditions they work great!)
All this is an alteration of a resurrected Native American technique that I learned very indirectly (via library) from Tewa potter Maria Martinez. I still have many years to practice before my pieces could look remotely as black and soft as hers.

Normally I would not make a fire just to cook some miniature pieces, so I throw the boxes into any other fire I come accross, camping, cooking or at a friend's gathering, etc. In this case though, I am also firing a large vessel, a "mama olla", which I might share in a future post. Unearthing the fired clay is so fun! We make a family event of it every time.

And last, is the reward of opening each small box, each containing miniature music-making treasures: pinch-size bits of meticulous work and devotion. some have survived the process, some have not.

Thanks for stopping by!


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Canoe Adventures!

My family vacation, canoing at the Bald Eagle River. Life is not all work!

...or is it?...