Coil, pinch and paddle
All my figures and large pots are made with the coil, pinch and paddle method. It is a lot like how the mud wasps make their nests. I watch them working in my studio, forming the tiny vessel shapes, centimeter by centimeter, with the same clay I use to make my pieces.
To begin a figure I start with a slab of clay made into a flattened cylinder which forms the torso. I add short coils or wads of clay to build on the legs, pinching and paddling, compressing soft moist clay with my hands into one continuous piece, working inch by inch toward the feet. The same process is used to build up the torso and arms.
The feet and hands are made as separate parts, then attached to the open ankles and wrists. With eye and hands, I pinch and paddle my way, shaping the over-all form as I go up to the head. The last feature I work on is the face, cutting the holes for eyes and mouth to get the right expression. If the eye holes are too big, too close together, too far apart, the spirit of the piece is not free to come out. When it all comes together, the figure is looking straight at you.
Sometimes I make a maquette before I begin a figure. Inevitably as I get going the idea fades, then the clay and my hands create the shapes. The wood-firing has the final say as the flames and hot ash swirl around the body of clay. Very often the gesture, the presence of the finished piece surprises me too.
I choose to work with a Georgia clay used for making red brick. It comes straight from the mine with the variation in particle size that occurs naturally. The clay has a wonderful texture that guides my hands to make the shapes that I make. This feeling of the clay is an integral element of the finished pieces.
This clay becomes vitreous at 2150 F, the temperature we fire in the back half of the anagama kiln. The long wood firing at the relatively low stoneware temperature brings out the soft clay colors, layered with a dusting of ash that compliment the forms.
Originally, clay determined where the potters worked. This is still true in Japan where whole communities of potters have worked for generations with only the clay indigenous to the area. The techniques used to work the clay, the shapes that were made, kiln types and ways of firing, all developed out of their intuitive understanding of that specific clay. The potters, intimate relationship with the clay is reflected in the final pieces.
Things are different now in our modern world where we have access to any clay we want. In the US, with the exception of the Native American traditions, we don't have the deep roots, the thousands of years, tradition in the use of clay from which to learn. Some potters choose to work with many different kinds of clay.
The aesthetic and tradition in which I grew up as a potter shaped my choice to work with one clay similar to that which I worked with in Japan. I find it liberating to explore in depth the relationship between this clay, the kiln and firing, the shapes, and my own intention. The process of integrating these elements empowers the work.
Next: Firing the clay