Reviving Mud

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The beautiful, all-knowing, Angelica Fabian mixing clay from scratch.

Written by Alice (the potters’ daughter)

The last post from Clayworks here on our blog, Mud was in 2013. I’m not sure what happened in 2014, but I know why there were no posts in 2015, ’16, or ’17. In 2015 my parents became grandparents, and a few months later my dad was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. We lost him in 2016. Our personal lives, and our Clayworks lives, were shattered.

There were times we wondered if it might be better to just let it all go. Clearing out forty years of Clayworks (forty years of my dad) from our East Sixth Street galleries was too much to bear. There were days when everything came out of the kiln all wrong: things cracked, glaze colors were off—and we didn’t know why. There were projects where we simply gave up and refunded customers.

There were days we brought hand-written formulas to Armadillo Clay and asked them to help us decipher what materials, exactly, my dad had written down on the back of this scrap of cardboard taped to the (now empty) glaze bucket. Please help us, we said. And they did. So many people did.

Thank you artisans of East Austin. So many of you served as resources in our first year doing this on our own.

We’ve streamlined our glazes and our products, nearly all our firings have been good this year. Angelica knows our clay materials like the back of her hand, Stewart knows what goes in the glazes. We have a new website, and things today are relatively quiet (in a good way). Our galleries are leased to the energetic, creative guys at Volcom, and we work in the old studio out back. Interesting work keeps coming our way, and Stewart, Angelica, and my mom have taken on custom projects and more.

We have spent the last two years building ourselves back up, and we are ready to launch our new website, reconnect via our newsletter, and revive our blog, revive Mud.

We are glad to still be here. We think my dad would be glad we stuck it out too.

John Gray at the wheel -Bill McCullough Photography

Photo of John Gray at the wheel by Bill McCullough

 

 

 

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Making a Tile Address Plaque

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Soldner Clay mixer at rest

Making a tile address plaque begins with the mixing of clay. We buy clay that has been mined, dried, pulverized, screened and shipped to our local clay supplier.  These various clays come from various parts of the country, but since we add the water here when we blend and mix our clay the shipping weight and carbon use is diminished by about a third of what it would be to transport wet clay. IMG_0751

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To make a tile number we first create a clay slab either by extruding or rolling.

Molds, which we create here in our shop either from plaster or rubber, are pressed into the slab and the number is then cut to size.DSCN7149

DSCN7148Drying is accomplished by placing the number in the sun onto expanded metal which allows the clay to dry equally on all sides and greatly reduces the likelihood of warping.

After  the clay has dried, we either bisque it or glaze it green. To bisque means to do a preliminary firing, usually at a low temperature. A green tile is one that is dry but not fired.IMG_0763

At our studio we have traditionally done most of our glazing on green clay but recently we have begun bisquing  the tiles which are decorated with the use of a syringe. For some reason we have been getting a greater percentage of tiles with faults that need to be reglazed a placed back in the kiln when we use green tiles. So we are bisquing most of them now.

This is how we get the glaze on the tiles. This is a veterinary syringe.

The glazed tile is now ready to be place in the kiln along with other objects.  We try not to fire a kiln unless it is full.IMG_0746

Firing the kiln takes about 15 hours. Six or seven of those hours, only the pilot light is on. Slowly raising the heat to about 300°F and holding it there ensures all the clay objects are dry and will not crack from steam escaping the clay.

IMG_0749 IMG_0750We usually have an inventory of finished numbers and decorative trim peaces so that our clients won’t have to wait the 2 or 3 weeks it takes to complete the tile making process.DSCN7167

Here you can see how we put our plaques together. Thin set mortar onto concrete board. After the mortar is dry the piece is grouted .  Notice the predrilled holes in the corner tiles for attaching to the wall with screws.

DSCN7168The finished plaque is grouted and can have various colors surrounding it.

More number styles can be seen at http://www.clayworks.net

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Two Craftsman Sconces

IMG_0698Two unglazed, unfired craftsman sconces are drying on a shelf and waiting to be glazed and loaded into the kiln.

We will post photos of the sconces after they have been glazed red-brown, fired and fitted with art glass windows.

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Branded Sconce

A customer ordered 7 sconces with a custom design; a Texas ranch brand.  They provided a thumbnail image.  We took it into Adobe Illustrator, traced it and saved it as a vector file.  Then it was scaled to fit the sconce keeping in mind that it will shrink 12% after firing.  We printed, traced and carved this pattern into clay.  Then we poured a polyurethane mold.  Once the mold has been removed, it’s ready to use as a custom design stamp.  The brand will be pierced so that light shines through at night.

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Consider the Grackle

grackle“The grackles crack their throats of bone in the smooth air.  Moisture and heat have swollen the garden into a slum of bloom.”—Wallace Stevens

The Grackle is an unavoidable part of the soundtrack and setting of Austin, Texas.  When we at Clayworks first began to explore the idea of a Grackle theme exhibit to kick off our annual East Austin Studio Tour show, we wondered whether anyone besides ourselves found the ubiquitous bird an inspiration.  We began asking around and discovered that a number of Austin artists had been contemplating or even making Grackle art for a while.

Grackle Show at ClayworksThe original Great Grackle Show opened at Clayworks for the 2011 East Austin Studio Tour.   The show continues through March 2012 at Austin Bergstrom International Airport.  Participating artists are:

Kathleen Ash, Barbara Lugge, MAKEatx, Caroline Wright, Aly Winningham, Susan Wallace, Lyon Graulty, Stewart Gray, John & Chris Gray, Barbara Attwell, Ellen Gibbs, Phillip Wade, Carly Weaver, Melody Lytle, and Fran Berry.

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Clayworks 2011

After a couple of rocky years, we feel like we we’re back in business in here at Clayworks. Our projects in 2011 represent the range of sustaining work we need, from custom tile to lighting, murals, signage and restoration. Here is a sampling:

Houston Arboretum Trailmarkers

The Trailmarkers are mounted atop sculpted concrete tree trunks.

Wayfinding tiles for the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center, a project that came back to us after years of delay due to the destruction Caused by Hurricane Ike.

Inscribed donor tiles and murals.

Pavers inscribed with the names of donors and stamped with Boy Scout insignia surround the twelve Scout Law murals.

Inscribed donor tiles for the new Scout Training & Education Center in North Austin. Along with hundreds of donor name tiles stamped with scout insignia, we made a dozen Scout Law murals.

Restaurant SconcesA commission to choose 45 sconces from stock and air freight them to Holland for Four Roses Mexican Restaurant near Amsterdam.   The owners had visited our shop on a scouting expedition for Southwestern fixtures and Mexican food recipies

Restaurant sconces

Chisholm Trail Museum mural

 

 

 

 

A 30-in. square floor mural for a museum courtyard showing the path of the Chisholm Trail from Cuero northward.  The colored clays which make up the mural were cut to shape while soft.

 

frog fountain spout              Replication of clay frog spouts for a fountain on the grounds of the Perry Mansion, an Austin estate currently undergoing an extensive renovation.

And there’s been the steady flow of bread & butter work–hand inscribed donor pavers for schools, churches & libraries; individual address plaques made to order and sconces of all descriptions for homes and public spaces.

tile address plaqueclay sconces in kiln

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Chisholm Trail Mural

Here’s the finished Chisholm Trail Museum mural, all set and grouted, ready to be picked up.  Robert Anderson Landscape Architects contacted us a few months ago for a 30-in. square floor installation for the museum courtyard showing the path of the trail from Cuero northward.  Museum Director Robert Oliver provided a map of the trail.  We started with a pencil layout, and once it seemed right converted it into a computer image.

We then enlarged the pattern and made slabs of the five colored clays used in the design:  terra cotta, buff, cobalt, copper and white. We cut the shapes from their respective colors and fit them together puzzle style.  While the clay was still soft, we inscribed the trail and the rivers and place names.  After firing, the mural was set onto concrete board and grouted, so that it can be set as a single piece at the museum

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