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Re: Cover tables for clay?


Date: Sun Apr 06 2003 - 08:36:34 PDT

You don't mention what you are making with clay that involves your whole
school. Does it involve rolling out your clay with a rolling pin to
make slabs? Does it involve rolling coils with their hands? Does it
involve pinch pots? ? If I knew more about what you are making, I
could offer you advice truely tailored to your situation. If you have
formica topped tables that clean up easily, you don't have to worry so
much about covering your tables unless if you are rolling slabs. Slabs
should be rolled out on paper or canvas that is taped down securely to
the table, as it would stick to the table when you roll it out without a
surface to roll it on. I almost wish you would email me and I'll give
you my phone number so we could discuss your particulars and concerns by
phone. You sound rather anxious about your upcoming experience with
clay, and I would love to allay those fears for you.
I have a machine in my room called a slab roller that rolls out even
slabs of clay between sheets of canvas. If I did not have a slab
roller, I would have part of the table where students are working
covered with paper that is tightly taped down so it won't slip when kids
roll the clay with a rolling pin. I don't want to go into the
particulars of how to roll a slab until I know if you really need
slabs. Suffice it to say, it's a lot like rolling out a pie crust, but
there are ways to ensure that your slabs are of even thickness.
    I used to cover all my tables with paper prior to letting kids use
clay, but I no longer do that. I show kids how to roll coils with their
hands directly on the formica table tops. I like that better than
rolling on paper, as it gives them a really smooth coil. If they don't
use water on their coils, they won't stick to the table. There's a
whole spiel I could tell you about how to get them to roll even coils,
too. I have a small piece of masonite for each child to build their
sculptures on. If they are making pinch pots, that is not done directly
on the table top, rather, between their two hands, with one hand holding
the clay and gently turning it, as the thumb of the other hand is the
only finger inside the clay, the first two or three fingers next to the
thumb are laid flat against the clay on the outside directly over the
thumb on the inside to press the clay thinner in a spiral rotation. I
tell my kids to NOT put the pinch pot down on the table to form
it all in their hands. Make sure they start at the very bottom, and
work their way gradually in a spiral to the top of the form, otherwise
they will raise the sides too high to get their fingers to reach back
down to the thick bottom later....bottom must be done first, then spiral
up. I tell them to "think (how much clay is between your fingers??),
pinch (thumb on inside, two or three fingers flattened together on
outside over thumb), turn (only a tiny bit in a spiral, ready for the
next thinning area.) So, the chant is "think (how thick is it?), pinch,
turn, think, pinch, turn." I tell them if they think the next turn in
the spiral feels as thin or thinner than the last pinch, don't pinch it,
instead, move on to the next place it feels thicker, and pinch there.
The object is to make it all even thickness from top to bottom. This is
all done with the clay in the hands, not on the tabletop, or they will
have a flat bottom. When finished pinching, they can use coils to build
up the shape taller if desired. Make sure that when they roll the
coils, they make at least one rotation of the coil in their palm,
otherwise, it will never be round. There's a whole spiel I give them
about rolling round coils vs. thick/thin snakes of uneven diameter. The
trick is to start with a light pressure. Start at the left end and roll
the coil under your palm as your hand moves slowly from left to right,
traversing the length of the coil. IT will never be round if they use
two hands. This is a one handed operation! Start from the left, and
roll slowly towards the right, coil under palm, being sure to make at
least one full rotation of the clay in each direction, forwards and
backwards as you roll. You move forward slowly, as you feel the coil
rounding under your hand. Several passes are possibly needed. Remember
too, that if you are building something with coil, the coils need to be
thicker than you think if you are rubbing them together on one or both
sides of whatever they are making (to make the piece look smooth
textured, rather than coiled in appearance.) If you are using coils to
build with and you want to keep the look of the coil without rubbing it
in, you will need to use slip (clay and water mixed together) to make
the coils stay together. WHile moist clay might seem to stick together
when you just push it together, it will fall apart when it is dry
later, unless if you use slip to join things, or "finger weld" the seams
where the pieces join so that the seam totally disappears in t least
several places. The very best insurance for having something really stay
together is to use a little slip AND some finger welding. You have to
keep reminding kids over and over again to use slip and/or finger weld,
or their piece will fall apart later. I could go on and on, but I would
like to know what you are making.

At the end of class, I tell kids to put the still soft and wet clay in a
pile next to the bag of clay for me to wedge the air out of it and put
it back in the bag. I tell them to leave their clay that is too dry to
roll a coilwith out cracking when you bend it, on the table. I assign a
couple of kids to go around to all the tables with a starter piece of
clay and slap it down on the "crumbs" or dried clay pieces. Many people
would put those pieces in a recycling bucket. Depending on how tight
your budget is, you can recycle them by wedging them together on a
plaster bat with a little more water, then put back into your bag.
Wedging clay is another novel, but it's sort of like kneading dough when
you make a pie crust. I'll have to really think about how to DESCRIBE
wedging without showing you. End result, you want the air bubbles GONE
when you arefinished wedgning. Since you are not firing your clay, you
will not need to worry so much about air bubbles, but when you are
handbuilding, air bubbles trapped inside the clay due to faulty building
techniques or just not being aware of them can cause HUGE problems later
in the kiln when they can cause a piece to break apart as it heats up.
(Steam is trapped inside the air bubble, can't work it's way out of the
clay fast enough, and as it expands, it breaks the piece.) There are a
lot of tips I give my kids on how to avoid air bubbles. Ok...back to
the cleanup. I have two kids picking up dried clay for me off the
tables by slapping clay down on topof the dried stuff as they go,
collecting it all together. (It sticks together still, just not moist
enough to roll a coil without cracking). I have one child from each
table washing all of the clay off of the tools at the sink, or I just
tell them to throw the dirty tools in a bucket for me to wash. (soaking
them makes the clay come off easily.) One child at each table is in
charge of washing off their table with a large VERY WELL WRUNG OUT
sponge. Another kid dries. I like not using paper on the tables
because most of the work is made while holding it in their hands or on
the small boards (you could use cardboard, as long as it is not slab
work...cardboard would curl and warp slabs....slab drying is another
whole story...) I also like having kids roll coils with their hands
directly on the table top for smoothest coil making. Paper tends to
stretch and wrinkle their coils. I have one slip bucket in the middle
of the table on a tray, their tool bucket sits next to the slip bucket
on the tray. The only reason I would cover my tables with paper now is
if I was doing a mostly slab project. You could also give each child a
piece of manilla paper to tape down just in their spot. I have recycled
this paper, just let it dry out, shake off the clay nibbies, and it's
good enough for a second use. Call me if you want...just email me, and
I'll give you my phone number. I could probably help you a lot more if
I knew more about WHAT you are making. As per storage with the
youngest ones...I have some large cardboard boxes that I line with trash
bags, they bring me their project at the end of class to wrap up, and I
put them all in the big box on top of the plasltic bag liner, with name
tags on each piece. You could leave a wet but not dripping sponge in
each box or layer wet but not dripping paper towels over the top of
all....then seal up the plastic bag, or add more layers of plastic bag,
tucking them well downaround the inside edge of the box. My older kids
are taught to wrap up their boards in plastic in their bins. I had
the boards cut to fit inside their bins....tricky, eh? I'd love to
help you more. I majored in ceramics, believe it or not....I love to
see new people overcome their fears of clay and have fun with it. But,
you will need to know some basics about attaching and forming, drying
etc. I once wanted to teach a blind person to throw on the potters
wheel at our center for the blind....It never happened, but this feels
like a runner up! (notthat you are blind, just that I have to explain
things in a roundabout way without being able to SHOW you. Talking
directly would help.