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
- 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
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
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