The Alchemy Of Clay

Although the medieval chemical science of alchemy never rung true, I have always felt that ceramic is a close contender.

We may not be able to turn base metals into gold, find a universal cure for all diseases or indefinitely prolong life, but we can turn clay into ceramic.

Forming and drying something almost useless before subjecting it to great heat resulting it something hard, strong and far from useless. This fundamental change from one material to another which seem so unrelated is the main reason I am fascinated by ceramics and produce them myself.

I see pottery as four stages:

  • Glazing is optional, scientifically speaking.
  • Wet sticky clay easily formed and shaped but with very little structural integrity.
  • Leather clay which is bendable and can support its weight much better.
  • Dry clay which is extremely fragile but wonderful to carve with.

To then carefully place this fragile material in the kiln, slowly watching it glow red before removing it and allowing it to cool. It is now immensely hard and even rings like a bell.

The first time I pick up every new piece I still can’t believe it started with wet clay in my hands a few weeks ago.

I chose raku for being so exposed and hands on at the finale; the true journey from clay to ceramic is beyond 570 centigrade (Quartz Inversion) and usually hidden far from sight. The vessels start glowing at 800c and by the time they are hard to get near when removing at 1000c I know I have created a new material which may last for millennia.

The next time you look at a ceramic, any ceramic, just think about the alchemy right in front of you.

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