What Is Clay Anyway?

Even if you have never worked in clay, you have probably remember having fun as a kid playing in the mud or with Play Dough.  What child doesn’t love the squishy soft nature of mud between their toes or the marvel squeezing out that bright blue Play Dough spaghetti from the Fun Factory?  There’s just something very appealing to our creative nature that is drawn to this material that is so easily shaped, then so easily “smooshed” back together and reshaped.  

While clay is somewhat similar to mud in these qualities of plasticity, there is a very important difference between the two materials.  Mud, generally speaking, comes from dirt…that is, from decomposed organic material (think dead/decaying plants, bugs, trees, and animals, ew…), while clay actually is made up of decomposed rock.  As such, its very nature can be transformed!

So clay is different!  It has the wonderful quality of becoming metamorphic when fired to very high temperatures.  Essentially, this means that the clay will actually undergo a chemical and physical change when fired, becoming more like stone that like mud.  This change is a permanent change; once fired, the clay pot will no longer be able to turn back to soft, plastic clay, but will take on and keep the shape the artist has created, though the form will be reduced in overall size due to the elimination of all moisture from the material.

Once this change has occurred, the “frosting on the cake” happens when glaze (actually a layer of glass, another ceramic material) is applied to give the ceramic form strength and beauty!  In the extreme temperatures of the kiln firing, (over 2000 degrees!) this dull coating of liquid “paint” becomes a beautiful surface of glassy, glossy color that bonds with the hardened clay to make the piece functional, strong, and beautiful.

The process is amazing and the results are delightful and satisfying to the ceramic artist!  

Posted on December 22, 2014 and filed under Education.