For something free I use pieces of 1/2 inch drywall. It can be salvaged at
home building sites.
Unpainted porous drywall is perfect for drawing moisture out of clay.
Clay releases so long as it is dry. A damp sponge cleans them after use.
Drywall is perfect for rolling coils. I dry tile between two pieces (leave
scrap of clay around the tile to avoid drying the edges too fast).
IMPORTANT: Use 2 inch packaging tape and wrap all the edges so none of the
gypsum can fall out of the board. If any small piece of this plaster-like
material gets in the clay, it will cause popouts when fired. Tape won't
stick to dusty or damp boards, so I do it while the boards are new.
Burnish the tape securely.
For classroom use you may want to make them all the same size (like drawing
boards) to use by individuals for rolling out coils. Size them to fit the
storage place. They can set vertically on one edge.
To set pieces on while working, I like cheap unglazed commercial ceramic
tile better because I don't have to worry about plaster chips getting in
the clay supply. Scraps of matboard or chipboard (old tablet backs) are
also great for setting projects on while working (disposable).
For slabs from soft clay, you probably need canvas or heavy cloth (denim
works) pieces so they can flatten the clay between to cloths and pull the
cloth off by pulling it loose. If the clay is sticky, pull cloth off the
clay. Pull it straight sideways to roll it off - do not pull it upward.
If clay needs to be thinner, lay the cloth back, flip the clay cloth
sandwich over. Pull the other cloth loose, replace it and flatten some more.
For something free, I have also flattened slabs between leftover house wrap
paper. Builders cut out large pieces at the windows. Dupont makes it from
Tyvek (also used for indestructible mailing envelops the do not tear).
I find the following assignment particularly appropriate if I have an
inhibited group of students. The clay is between two pieces of cloth (or
Tyvek), students flatten it by DANCING on it in their stocking feet. Play
music. I tell them, "Feel for thick places. Avoid the thin places." When
it is evenly flat and thin enough, I have them only remove one cloth.
Leaving it securely stuck to the other cloth, they stress the clay by
bending it (and straightening it) until it takes on an ACTIVE SURFACE
TEXTURE like the skin of an elephant. We put the textured slabs back on the
floor and make a variety of small soft pre-shaped pieces of clay. The
small pieces are violently thrown down into the slabs to produce small moon
craters. I then ask them to consider construction using overlapping joints
that can reveal some of the best natural clay edges from the slab. Seal
the joints from inside or backside for strength, but leave the exposed
None of the above is demonstrated by me. I just tell what action to do
next. There job is to discover what the action does to the clay. There
are no right or wrong solutions. There are lots of accidental designs. I
ask lots of open questions about composition as they work. They have to
make lots of choices along the way. They construct at least two sculptural
pieces or vessel forms. After the work is dry, they must select the most
expressive piece and soak the rest. The students make their own individual
selection after a bit of small group processing.
As a variation, I have the class first make a simple smooth cylinder on the
wheel or with slabs. The expressionistic clay is then combined with the
cylinder to producing relationship choice challenges.
As a variation, I have them use the process to make a functional piece to
hang on the wall Functions can be wall vase, mirror frame, weed pot, house
key holder, soap dish, tooth brush holder, whiteboard frame, sconce, candle
holder, letter holder, pencil holder, small shelf, etc. Rather than assign
them the function, I have the class jot down lists and then share their
lists with the class and everybody writes down everybody else's idea.
Anybody that lists something unique (not listed by another student) gets
points. This teaches idea generation. Additionally, it can help if they
describe the user's interests and personality (either self or recipient) in
order to focus their choice making and personalize the work.
This lesson is used to build a frame of reference for a follow up
discussion of Peter Voulkos' work. I don't have to explain what Voulkos
was doing or thinking. They can explain it to me. They have
experientially gained a bit of insight into abstract expressionism as a style.