Gaye Stevens describes her research project dealing with paperclay and its possibilities
Originally published in Ceramics Art & Perception.
In July, 2000, I began a research project with the assistance of a Faculty Research Grant from The College of Fine Arts,University of New South Wales to investigate the properties and potential of porcelain paperclay.
My studio work is concerned with the vulnerability of being human, with the dynamics of how we interact as a community and the consequent processes of acceptance and rejection. Hence, the juxtaposition of light and shadow has held significance for me as a metaphor for inclusion and exclusion. I have been searching for a medium that will convey fragility and vulnerability but one that also has a degree of permanence. In early 2000 I had read an article by Steve Harrison ‘The making of paperclay porcelain banners’ (Pottery in Australia 37/2 1998 p68-69). In this article, Harrison describes how he makes paper-thin porcelain banners of translucency that can be imprinted with “tools fingers and objects”.
It seemed that this medium had potential for the type of sculpture I wanted to produce. My aims were twofold. Firstly, I wanted to find a way of imprinting thin sheets of this body with a photographic image to produce a watermarked effect. That is, I wanted to find a way (without using any ink), of pressing a photographic image into the clay body, using some appropriate kind of intaglio printing plate, in order to yield a heavily embossed image which when backlit, would produce a photographic watermark. Secondly, I wanted to explore the potential of this body for producing 3D forms that would lend themselves to illumination.
My starting point was his recipe for porcelain paperclay :
- Clay Ceram 50 %
- Nepheline Syenite 50%
- Ceramic fibre (1000˚C) 8 %
- Fine paper pulp 17 %
- Water 30%
The claybody is fired to cone 8 in an electric kiln.
The ceramic fibre helps to stabilise the body after the paper pulp has burnt out at 250ºC and stops the thin sheets from cracking “along the stress lines created by the decoration”.
The initial process of familiarising myself with porcelain paperclay body proved to be not as straightforward as I anticipated. The result of my first batch was coarse textured and short, totally inappropriate for holding the imprint of a recognisable photographic image.
To produce a finer textured body I used shredded ceramic fibre (rather than ceramic blanket which I had used initially, that had to be laboriously torn into tiny pieces) and mixed it with a heavy-duty blunger in about four litres of water, until satisfied with its homogeneous consistency. I mixed the paper pulp in a similar way and with about the same amount of water, but I used boiling water this time, to help break down the fibres. The ceramic fibre and paper pulp were then thoroughly mixed with the blunger and the other dry ingredients were added.
The extra water in the mix, which allowed for easier blending, was removed by heaping the clay on a plastic tarpaulin and allowing the clear water to run off over a few days. The resultant body was sticky. I found the easiest way to work with it was to roll it into slabs between sheets of heavy-duty plastic.