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More on Paperclay
by Graham Hay

P aperclay is an increasingly popular medium with artists, craftspeople, hobbyists and teachers. It offers all the properties of a favourite clay body as well as the opportunity to use techniques borrowed from woodwork, bricklaying, candle making and metalwork. While paperclay has been around for decades as a way to create non-warp clay slabs, it has recently become popular as a ceramic art material because of its dry building properties and pre-firing strength. Introduced to paperclay by Jaromir (Mike) Kusnik, a ceramic technologist who had been experimenting with it since the early 1980s, I have been exhibiting and teaching paperclay techniques since 1992.

Paperclay Sculpture by Grham HayAs indicated previously by Caplan, Ellery, Gartside and Gault (see references), any clay can be made into a paperclay by mixing a smooth puree of water and paper fibre into the clay body while in slip form. While some artists prefer to use cotton-based paper, the local non-gloss newspaper is both satisfactory and inexpensive. I roll it up and push it through the branch port of an electric garden mulcher before covering the paper flakes with about ten times their loose volume in hot water. A free-standing slip mixer is used to puree it until all individual pieces of paper disappear. A flyscreen or plastic shade cloth is used as a sieve to remove most, but not all, of the water. As a guide, I remove just enough water so that the puree does not slide through my fingers. I mix a third of a bucket of puree with two thirds of a bucket of clay slip, by volume. I have not needed to use this technique for some time, however, because a local clay manufacturer has been producing and selling earthenware and stoneware paperclay at conventional clay prices for the past year.

Slipcasting properties are retained and, provided the paper fibre is sufficiently fragmented into individual fibres, the clay can be used on the potter's wheel. However, extruding fine rods is not possible because the paper fibre disrupts the process. The resulting fibrous clay can be joined conventionally – plastic-to-plastic, as well as radically – plastic-to-dry, or dry-to-dry. While the latter techniques are relatively simple processes, they do involve some unlearning of entrenched habits. The easiest way to grasp the real advantages of paperclay is to make long rods or strips, allow them to completely dry before joining using paperclay slops or slip as the joining 'glue'.

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