Panopoly Creations

Unique Challenges

I’ve discovered that virtually all of the information available on the internet on the subject of ceramics and kilns is written by/for either someone working on a group studio, or someone working from a house.

I work from neither a house nor a group studio. I work from a two-bedroom apartment that I share with two other people. I have a yard, but I share it with approximately 15 other tenants. I wish there were more info out there for someone with the limited space and use requirements that I have, but there really doesn’t seem to be.

What the Internet Did and Didn’t Tell Me About Working With Ceramics:

1. Rehydrating Clay.
I found lots of different methods of how to do this. Most of them involved smashing the dried clay with a hammer prior to hydrating, and/or drying it in thin layers on big plastic racks after it had been hydrated. The first seemed too messy and I didn’t have the equipment/supplies for the second. I ended up just putting a whole block of clay in a bucket full of water, covering it, leaving it in the sun, and mushing it up with my hands after a few days. This worked pretty well, but would have worked better if I’d used less water and left it alone longer.

Of course that also would have been a lot easier if my back yard included something everyone else takes for granted: a hose, or a spigot, or some kind of running water. But, no, all the water I needed had to be lugged down three flights of rickety old stairs.

Following another internet suggestion, I next tried drying the muddy stuff by putting it in a pillowcase and hanging it to drip-dry. After three days in the sun, this only resulted in one ruined pillowcase. I then moved the clay back into the bucket and left it in the sun for a few more days. This once again worked well, and would have worked better if I’d had the time to leave it there a few days more.

But by then I just really wanted my clay. I brought it upstairs and spread it in thin layers on some upholstery fabric samples I had laying around. I left some of these out for about a day and it turned out perfect, but I really wanted some of that clay that night.

So following more internet directions, I took the least-wet clay I had and formed it into a bunch of small, clumsy little coils. I made the coils into small arches on a baking pan, and baked them for 5-10 minutes at 250 degrees in my oven.

With most of them, this made very workable clay, but it was a lot of effort for a very small amount of clay. I really do not recommend getting that impatient. With the rest, the clay got too dry–which was okay, I just stuck it in a bowl with water and it was rehydrated the next day.

2. Kilns

My dad offered to buy me a kiln. I wanted a medium-sized one, but had to settle for the smallest high-fire one I could find, due to space issues. My boyfriend had to haul it up the stairs for me.

I got it installed okay, but my one roommate has had all these questions: about the noise level, about fumes, about smells, about heat. Many of them are valid but I don’t necessarily know how to answer her. Before my old roommate moved out, I worried about him getting drunk and stumbling into the kiln on his way out to have a smoke, getting second-degree burns along the way.

I have the kiln in a very well-ventilated room, that’s sealed off from the rest of the house, and the kiln isn’t very big…but I haven’t yet been able to get a clear verdict on whether or not I also have to use the vent system it came with. I have the vent set up, and I can use it, but…it’s loud. And the kiln room is right next to the kitchen. And I don’t want to drive anyone, including myself, crazy. And the ventilation ducting, by necessity, must rest on potentially flammable materials, and I can’t figure out if it gets too hot for that to be safe.

The internet appears to have failed me on this one.