soil, clay, pottery

My first teacup, not shaped yet.

I made my first teacup. I am debating about putting it back in the water to try again or finishing it, polishing it and baking it in the fire. The first try has some romantic attachment to it. The act of putting back into the water also has this poetic, alchemist-like power. Maybe taking a picture of my first attempt is enough for posterity?

The ability of clay to be reused by simply putting it back into the water is one of its beauties. It has an infinite lifetime if it's not baked or cooked. Once baked, it will also last forever!

While on our beach, my foot got into a patch of soft soil. We've always known it was clay and used it on the beach for skin care or to model small items. Naïma, my daughter, probably plays the most with it. Clay is everywhere on our planet, and it has been part of human culture for thousands of years. Gathering, preparing, sculpting, and baking tools with clay is integral to being human.

It took me many years to decide to work with it. My father is a potter, and I learned how to gather and process clay as a kid. Last month I gathered some clay. Just a tiny amount as a test. I let it steep in the water for a week or so.

The clay won't completely dissolve as it retains its shape. You have to mix it further with water. As I only have a small amount, I can mix it with my fingers. When you gather a considerable quantity, you need more tools to dissolve it properly.

I like the process of starting with a minimal amount. If I were to make my pottery for my use, I would only need a bowl for eating, a cup for drinking, and maybe a bigger bowl for food preparation. Multiply this by the number of people in my family, and I only need to make a limited amount of pottery. Let's at least add a teapot to the mix, though.

Clay often comes with a lot of sand, so the filtering process is one of the most important. Sand will make clay challenging to sculpt and will make the drying uneven. It will be more prone to crack and harder to bake correctly. The less sand you have in your clay, the easiest it will be to work with.

The clay I have here on the beach has a lot of sand. Almost half of what I gathered was sand. To remove most of the sand, I had to filter it through a few filters. The more filter size you have, the easier it gets. I had three filters of different sizes. Tiny filter that I usually use for tea. One for large leaf tea and 2 Matcha filters with a very fine mesh. The sand that you end up with is very fine and beautiful in itself. You can keep it to use it as an incense holder as it's compact.

Once filtered, the end product will be pretty watery. You then have to let it dry for a few days. The clay will sink at the bottom of the container so you can remove the exceeding water. You can wait until you can pick it up with your hands and shape it without being too sticky. If you want to make this process quicker, as soon as the clay has a bit of hold, you can put it on a plaster slab or a smooth plank of wood. This will help drain the excess water.

Like the dow for bread, kneading helps to give a structure to your clay. By folding and pressing the clay repeatedly, you help shape its molecular patterns. It is a similar process for metal working. Working with small quantities is a bit tricky as the clay will dry quickly.

Then you can shape it as you want. You don't need a potter's wheel to get started. There are many traditional uses of shaping the clay by pinching it or rolling it before making the object you want. In this process, you can work with the soft clay, then dry it a bit to further sculpt it. Once it's completely dried, you can finalize the process by sanding it and creating holes or other decorations.

I enjoy how the whole process can be pretty slow. Once gathered, you can leave it in water for a long time. Once filtered, you can let the water evaporate naturally. Once you've done the sculpting, you can let it dry as long as you need. It fits nicely in my packed schedule without adding more to my daily routine.

Gather, water it down, filter, dry, knead, shape, first dry, sculpt, second dry, sand, final dry, first baking, glaze, second baking. My next step in this process is the Raku fire and the glaze. What I've gathered so far is that I could make a glaze from ashes from wood, bone ash, sea salt and clay. We'll see how that goes. First, I must decide if I put this teacup back into the water!