Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Julia Art of a Clay Handbuilding Demo

On Friday, I drove down to East Windsor, New Jersey, to Meadow Lakes Senior Living It was the closing day of the NJ Senior Art Show. showing best-in-state artwork by artists 60+. I was on the educational program, doing a clay working demonstration from 11-noon. (Marketing note to working potters and crafters: use those tags and labels! An organizer had thus found my website, and me, through a search using the phrase "NJ potter".)

I used to do mini clay demos for groups of campers at Camp Simcha (1994-2001), where I ran the Pot Shop (Bigger kids: "Do you sell pot here?" chuckle, chuckle,) and where I taught kids ages 6-18 the processes to make projects. But it was like no time had passed once I got going with the demo on Friday morning.

The audience this time was made up of nearly all artists, mostly painters and photographers. Some also had experience with clay. I was about to explain something fairly basic, which is taking slabs and putting them over hump molds and into slump molds to make plates and trays. But after 27 years of handling clay, I figured I could add some intellectual dimension even to the presentation of relatively uncomplicated techniques. In order to make the one short hour interesting and full, I’d practiced and followed certain pieces right through glaze firing for the last month or so, simplifying technique and number of tools used. I had taken the challenge as a reason to handbuild instead of my usual wheel-throwing. There would be no potter's wheel available and the demo needed to be completed in a very clean presentation room.

I planned it like Julia Child's cooking show! I demonstrated making the plate, platter and bowl  like Julia made recipes. The platter, for example, went much like the following.
French Chef, Julia Child (source

On her show, let's say Julia was making pie. First Julia would  have made the filling and set it aside. Following the step-by-step idea, I made the slabs of clay and set them aside at home on Thursday night, ready to bring to Meadow Lakes next day. (A covering of plastic kept the slabs moist and flexible.)   Julia demonstrated how she mixed up and rolled out the dough, and how to fold it into the pan. Demonstrating at Meadow Lakes, I showed how to texture the clay slabs with handmade tools, using a carved wooden coggle wheel and a flower-patterned stamp.  I showed how to drape the clay into my slump mold (in this case a plastic tray from IKEA), and then I cut away excess clay from around the edges. I added extra surface stamping to my soft, textured pieces. 
(Remember, you can always click on the photos for an enlarged view.)
Freshly made, soft slab platter, in slump mold

 Let’s say Julia had to bake the crust before filling it. She would put the pan into the oven, and at the same time take out from the oven a fully baked piecrust, and say something like, “In the interest of time, I made this earlier.” Following Julia's pattern, I showed the people the semi-finished, "leather-hard" piece I had made the evening before, looking quite like the one I had just made fresh from soft clay, but having lost most of its moist sheen, and no longer malleable(Note: Yes, you saw me practicing this form in a previous blog post.)
Leather-hard platter from previous evening, removed from slump mold

Julia might then fill the piecrust with the prepared filling, and when she put that filled pie into the oven, she would simultaneously take out a finished pie. Following the Julia pattern, I showed the people in my audience a glazed, fired, complete piece of pottery, very similar to what they had just seen me make. 
Platter; a finished pie, as it were

Role model, Julia Child! The methodology worked beautifully.
As a side note: I had put prices on the bottom of my pieces, just in case. You never know.* (*Marketing note to artist crafters: Don't miss a chance to sell, sell, sell!) I also distributed flyers for the Potters Guild show, where I will be with my work on November 11th- come see!

*Sunday Nov. 11th
Time:  12 am to 5 pm
Place: Community Presbyterian Church, at 1459 Deer Path in Mountainside (corner of Deer Path and Meeting House Lane, social hall entrance)
(Cash, check or credit cards accepted)

(*One more marketing note: Always get the word out!)

It's a most interesting potting life, people. No matter how long I've been at it, it is a learning opportunity every step of the way. 

Post script: Now that I have been reminded how much fun it is, if you have a clay demo opportunity for me, it is very likely I will be interested! Go to my website,, and Contact me. And as ever, thanks for reading about the art and business of pottery!

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