This September, armed with the help of the a travel grant from the New Brunswick Arts Board, I took a raku paperclay workshop at La Meridiana. I met lots of new people – and cats and one dog – but my mission was to get to know paperclay. Lorri Acott uses paperclay on metal armatures in order to achieve otherwise impossibly thin legs in her figurative sculptures.  This principal of impossible thinness is what attracted me to her work initially, but the works` emotive gestures fully engaged me.  Our work was raku fired, since the metal is meant only for lower temperatures.

Understanding armatures

Understanding armatures

Lorri explaining the paperclay plus armatures equation

Lorri explaining the paperclay plus armatures equation

Since 1981 La Meridiana –  a ceramics school in Certaldo, the heart of Tuscany –  facilitates clay workshops available to and taught by people from around the world.  The facility is very fine, including several types of kilns and a broad range of specialized tools, including a complete spectrum of glaze materials. Did I mention that they also cook for us? Lunch was always a fresh new dish (this is self indulgent, but I’m a very picky eater and Italy both cured it and made it worse – I know, right?).

The view from the dinner windows

The view from the dinner windows

Initial stages of some of my figures

Initial stages of some of my figures

Anyway. One defining quality of paperclay  is that it’s not picky about water content when it comes to attaching to itself.  One can attach a new bit of wet paperclay to bone dry pieces without a hitch. Clay without cellulose added will not attach to another piece of the same clay that’s not at a similar dryness – science,  I guess.  The tricky part comes with the finishing work: when carving into paper clay the surface becomes fuzzy, hard to smooth or add tiny details.   To help with the thermal shock of Raku, our batch of clay also contains molochite – a fine porcelain grog.  Our pieces were removed from a 1186 degrees Celsius kiln and placed on a bed of sawdust. Why? The glazes are still molten and the clay is ultra porous at that stage so, placing the pieces in a combustible material extracts the oxygen from the glazes and also injects the clay with smoke. It’s a bit magical and dangerous.

Raku bed of fire

Raku bed of fire

Here is a video of the process: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lODDsePmbbA&feature=youtu.be

Gattina, raku fired paperclay with armature inserts

Gattina, raku fired paperclay with armature inserts

Gattina is one of my pieces to be featured in the group show: ‘Foundation’, an exhibit opening on November 8th at the City Gallery of the Saint John Arts Centre. Foundation includes work by the six interns of the Saint John Sculpture Symposium 2012.

Next blog: Magione and Casa Voltole with some bonus shots from Pisa.

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