Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Floatin' Like a Butterfly

Julie went into Philly today, and bought a hundred pounds of Cassius Basaltic.

When I got home from work, we heated up the leftover green chili from Sunday (an instance of 'Roadkill Chili', made with pork this time, pretty much the same recipe as Beachcomber Chili, but the pork is cooked first, the chicken stock is used to deglaze the pan, and then the pork is in the chili for the entire cooking period), I changed clothes, carried the two boxes of clay in from the car, and went into the studio.

Julie wanted a few vases so she could put dragons on them. She had cleaned up the studio last week while I was out of town, so it took me a while to find where my ribs, sponges, needletool, and cutting wire had been stashed.

I broke out a bag of Cassius, set it on the counter next to the sink, and opened it up. Cassius is a dark clay when wet, something like the color of a Tootsie roll, and is a little darker than Standard Clay 112. I stood the clay up on end, and cut off a slab of clay which was about a third of the bag (~eight pounds). I then cut a third of this piece off, and went to the wheel.

I tend to bounce the pieces of clay against the wheel head to blunt all of the corners and reshape the piece into something more or less symetrical before starting to throw. I had been taught not to slap the piece into a ball with my hands, since this can cause bone spurs in the potter over time. The clay is smoother than raku clay, since it has less grog.

The stuff centers and throws beautifully. My bucket of water got muddy quickly, but I could pull more of the clay out of the base of the walls and use it to raise the walls than the Standard clays that I have been using. I don't know if this is due to an issue with how the clay was stored (I suspect some of our Standard clay may have gone through a freeze cycle last winter), or whether it is some attribute of the clay body, or Aardvark clays.

I threw three pieces. Two were tall vases, like I had thrown for Julie out of Raku clay and the Standard 112. In both of them, I was able to use the Korean collaring method to narrow the pieces and make them taller. The third piece is a bottle, shaped like a volumetric flask. The walls of the base were nice and thin before I started to collar the walls into a narrow neck.

The surprising thing about throwing with this clay is how much technique came back to me while working with it. Raising, collaring, and teasing the clay into doing whatever I needed; it slides and glides beneath my fingers (this is REALLY sexy stuff to throw with), and my mind is flooding with memories and images from twelve or thirteen years ago, when I was throwing in Atlanta, which was the last time that I had touched the stuff.

I saved whatever scrap clay, trimmed rims, rib scrapings, and clay removed from the foot of the pieces before I cut them off the wheelhead so that Julie could make slip with it for creating her dragons.


Whenever I have thrown in the basement studio, my eyes and sinuses tend to dry out. This time, I also have a headache, and there is a funny taste in my mouth. I have read that Cassius contains a lot of iron, manganese, and titanium, so I'm wondering if I'm sensing or tasting these elements or their compounds from the clay.


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