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!



  1. Hey, I don't know if you check your blog, but I'm not sure how else to let you know you were featured on Small and Creepy Films...

    Hope it's still up there by the time you read this.

  2. Oh hi!
    It took me a bit to unveil your true identity!
    Hey, thanks so much for all your wonderful comments and the update on the video!
    It was weird to see the insect maker as a creepy thing, but I guess looking at it in that video... it IS pretty creepy... especially that weird ending, ahahah
    I remember when Sarah's granma came over once (that was our kitchen) and she saw that drawing in the back wall and said: "Who's that supposed to be, the devil??!" hahahahaha
    I unwillingly make creepy stuff, aaargh!!!

  3. Well, Small and Creepy is curated by a friend of mine who was hired by Caroline Thompson, who wrote Edward Scissorhands and Nightmare Before Christmas, all this to say- over there at small and creepy- creepy is a good thing! :) I think it just means small and so extraordinary, it might cause a tingle or some goosebumps, but always an awe- for better or worse. :) Hope everyone is well in your world! Love your work!!

  4. Well, he just did a great job! His creativity can effectively use in business too! Selling miniature clays can give you profit. Good news is that they are available on online purchasing! Catch them in a very reasonable cost with the best quality.