Friday, June 13, 2014

Hello, summer!

Or, how to maintain your studio practice when you no longer have a studio... 

 Goths on the beach. Yay summer!

At The Ceramic Shop, we deal with schools of all kinds -- from elementary art programs to university ceramic departments, we spend much of the academic year servicing these programs in Philadelphia and beyond. When school ends for the year, though -- no matter if it's college or pre-K -- ceramic work doesn't have to stop, even if you no longer have access to your school's art studios. We often speak with students who aren't always sure about how to proceed with continuing to make work without a kiln, or a large array of glazes, or that ever-abundant studio clay.  Granted, that's one aspect of ceramics that can, indeed, be difficult -- your work and progress can be so access-dependent. Well, many of us on The Ceramic Shop staff have been there, and as such, we have plenty of suggestions for keeping your practice alive during those moths when school is out.

In the first place, keep an open mind here -- you may have to get creative! Luckily, if you're embedded in the arts, you probably ARE creative, so that part won't be hard. Also, be willing to alter or expand your practice to materials/spaces/scales/etc. Below, I've posted a quick guide to products, home-studio suggestions, and resources (focused on Philly, because that's where we're located) for the ceramic artist on summer sabbatical. 

1. Consider using materials that do NOT need to be fired.

This Marblex self-hardening clay is just one of several self-hardening clays that we offer -- in general, these are air-drying clays with a decent working time, and once they SRE dried, you can paint or sand them. As its name suggests, Marblex is fairly hard, which makes it a durable choice for the artist who may be used to working with hearty fired clays. This clay in particular is nice for jewelry, beads, smaller sculptural works, and other projects, and it comes in a 2-lb. block. Check out our other self-hardening clays here. (Look for products labeled 'self-hardening'.)

Depending on the kind of work you typically make, you may hit some limitations here -- if functional wares are your thing, self-hardening clays really aren't the best materials. Also, if you work on a larger scale and are accustomed to purchasing clay in the standard 25- or 50-lb. bag or box, self-hardening agenst are sold in smaller amounts -- usually 2-5 lbs. However, if your goal is to keep your hands busy during the summer months, it's a decent solution.

2. Catch up on your mold-making.

This, of course, only really applies if you use molds in your work, or plan to use molds, but the summertime is a wonderful time to build up your mold library. Even if you have a small space in which to work, you will be able to make some small sprig molds, which can be used to apply ceramic decorations to pottery once you re-gain access to a studio. We actually carry several already-made sprig molds, just to give you an idea of what they look like:

The mold pictured here is by Creative Paradise -- check out their other molds here.

Mold-making supplies can be reasonable affordable, depending on the type of mold you'd like to make; a spring mold like the one pictures above requires a fairly minimal amount of materials, though. First, you need something you want to cast -- I went through a big kick a few years ago where I made spring molds out of all of my old pencil toppers from the '80's, and now those creepy little plastic figures are committed to clay, permanently. Next, you need some No. 1 Pottery Plaster. This is a very fine-grained plaster that we sell by the pound or the full bag, and it's great for capturing tiny details on small (or large!) objects.  You will also need a clay that can work as a bed or a base for your mold. If you have any clay laying around -- say, reclaim-level stuff, as the mold-making process may leave plaster chunks in your clay, making it unusable -- you can use that. You can also use plasticine, which also serves as a sealant for when you pour your plaster into the mold. Hey, we sell that too! I like this stuff.

You will also need something to pour your mold into -- for smaller projects, a tiny Tupperware-style container is usually fine. As far as further directions for mold-making are concerned, that's a whole 'nother can of worms -- and there are, of course, several resources available online. There's a great quick video tutorial from Ceramic Arts Daily -- you may have to register (for free) for the website to view, but it's worth it. Check it out here.

3. Re-fill your brain bank

Making good ceramic work isn't just about doing, of course -- it's also about reading, looking, and learning. Being 'forced' out of a studio for the summer can be a great opportunity to use a different part of your brain moreso than you might when your hands are constantly in clay. Have you been particularly resistant to, say, learning about glaze chemistry? It might be easy to brush that off when you have access to a studio -- after all, you have to take advantage of that time, right?!? No studio means no excuses! Be hard on yourself in the nicest possible way. And, hey, it's summer after all, which means that in many parts of the world it is AWESOME outside. Catch up on your reading in the great outdoors! 

At The Ceramic Shop, we stay stocked with ceramics-focused books covering a wide variety of topics -- from the technical to the aesthetic, beef up your clay library here.

4. Temporarily join a new art space

It can be really easy to get super comfortable in your school-based studio set-up, but one really wonderful thing about the ceramics community is this: No matter where you hang your clay-encrusted hat, chances are there will be like-minded people who are also just as interested in 

Resources for this suggestion vary quite widely from region to region, but here in Philadelphia, for example, I can lay out what a temporary studio join might look like. One of the most awesome resources that we have in town here is The Clay Studio. This is a ceramics education-based nonprofit here in town that offers a VERY wide range of classes and workshops. In the summer, programming is expanded to offer even more options for both adults and children of all ages. Registering for a wheelthrowing, moldmaking, or handbuilding class comes with studio access -- and a great reason to hang out with brand-new studio pals. 

If class when school is out isn't really your thing, though, and if you just want studio access, plain and simple, The Clay Studio does also offer studio rentals, which can be a nice solutions for your summer productivity.

Although The Clay Studio is kind of the cream of the crop, plenty of local art centers and community centers feature ceramics departments that may have similar summertime offerings -- check out the resources in your area to see what's out there. In my experience, the people you tend to meet in these settings are an incredibly varied group -- from my own days in community studios, I have friends that I have NOTHING in common with aside from a mutual love of clay -- and that's pretty awesome.

5. Really can't stand to be away from a kiln? If you're in Philly, use our firing service!

That's right. Sometimes, you just need a kiln. Maybe you have the time and space to continue your ceramic production but you don't have a place to fire work. If you're in the Philadelphia area, come to us! We have several different kiln sizes in which to fit your work, and we can carry out any type of oxidation firing you may need, from decal to high-fire cone 10. Check out our firing services details here and please feel free to give us a call at 215-427-9665 if you have any questions at all about how we can help you to finish your work. 

So there you have it -- these are just a few suggestions to help you stay creative during the summer downtime months. If you've found some tricks that work for you during times when studio access might be limited or non-existent, we would love to hear from you! In the meantime -- stay cool!

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