Breakable Clay

By February 11, 2014Blog, Process, Studio

It’s one of the most tactile, responsive, and forgiving materials one can choose to work with.  When wet it is infinitely malleable into any form one can imagine.  It can easily be pulled apart and mashed back together and take on any texture pressed into it.  Even after it dries one can still make repairs or even take the dry clay and simply reconstitute it with water to create something entirely different.

Once fired, it goes through a chemical change where it can no longer break down in water.  I often do a bisque, a lower temperature first firing that transforms the clay into a porous material that receives glazes well and makes the clay less prone to breaking.  The second and my final firing is when the clay is fired to an even higher temperature to transform the porous material to stone and the raw glaze to a matte or glossy finish.

The Clay Cowgirls are built from clays that are also used to make pottery.  After firing, the pots from these clays are still fragile, but considered dishwasher-safe, oven-safe, microwave-safe etc, but as sculptures various parts become more delicate or subject to breakage.  The varying thicknesses of the pieces also make them more susceptible to damage.  Since people aren’t eating off of them it’s probably a no brainer to say no dishwashers, ovens, or microwaves.  The pieces are stable and unlike canvas and paper are not often subject to environmental variations, but they are brittle and easily broken.  The most usual damage is breakage caused by the objects being transported, cleaned, bumped or dropped.

So here’s a little tutorial on basic care:

Handle carefully and as little as possible
Display apart from objects that are moved regularly
If handling with gloves use latex rather than cotton (objects can slip on cotton surface)
Pack in foam with at least 3 inches of padding on all sides.
Shippers will often double box with an additional 3 inches to insure safe delivery
When I ship myself I wrap pieces in layers of 2mm foam taped solidly around the piece paying special attention to more fragile extensions from the body of the sculpture.  I add 3 inches of bubble wrap, foam padding, or other material to secure the piece in the center of the box with at least 3 inches between the sculpture and the edge of the box and fill any extra space with packing peanuts, or newspaper, etc.
Cleaning and maintaining
Textured ceramic surfaces: clean with a dry soft bristle brush, (fibers from cloth or paper can catch on surface and leave traces behind)
Glassy surfaces can be cleaned with a cotton cloth, damp or dry
Small repairs
gorilla super glue dries in 10-30 seconds.
I keep multiple epoxies around, but long curing times require the precise securing of the pieces together for the duration of the curing time often resulting in slight shifting of the pieces.
For larger repairs, missing pieces, and other sculptural modifications I like Magic-Sculp available at