Reproduced from Farrow, C., (1987) Paper/Clay, Artists Newsletter, United Kingdom, April, p.20-1, from a copy provided by and with the written permission of the Author.


Paper/Clay

by Carol Farrow

A frequent question during the one-year Fellow in Paperworks residency at Oxford Polytechnic last year was "What started you making paper?" My reply "Through ceramics" often caused surprise and because I've had many enquiries about how and why I use paper, I've written an article, which perhaps, will encourage more to try these techniques.

Although the majority of my current work is now in handmade paper, this is because of a lack of appropriate firing facilities in my studio rather than a lack of desire to use this technique which I developed whilst studying ceramics on a post graduate course at Goldsmiths College. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Ceramics Department of Goldsmiths for their bemused patience in seeing me through that period of study with the minimum of fuss even though they often witnessed books being packed into their precious new kilns instead of pots!

At Goldsmiths, I developed my own methods of firing paper and, subsequently, a mixture of paper pulp and clay which enabled me to make and transport very large thin sheets of clay.

Transient Qualities

This evolved from experiments involving the firing of various materials other than clay. One of the materials was paper. I found that paper containing a high percentage of china clay (magazine or glossy paper) when fired to high temperatures (1300oC), was transformed to an extremely fragile ceramic material taking on interesting visual and physical properties. I used paper in the form of books or magazine stacks, usually bound with stainless steel wire to restrain them from 'opening up' during firing, or enclosed in saggars or under the weight of kiln furniture. This transformation of 'books' was not only departing totally from the utilitarian aspect of ceramics but pushing the limits of non-functional ceramics, the resulting pieces being so fragile as to make handling from kiln to bench traumatic. However, this fragility appealed to me, then, corresponding in my mind to my preoccupation with the transient qualities of much of today's written matter. It gave more importance to the look and feel of a 'book' than to its content.

The book had become an object with purely visual and tactile qualities and the reading (handling) of it altered and eventually destroyed it. How often do we read or re-read books on our shelves? How much are they just symbols, momentos, a visual catalogue of past experiences? The element of change brought about by heat to these books gave them another albeit short life, their own substance taking over from the printed word. The finished pieces are not, as some critics have suggested, formed in the kiln purely by chance, but are completely controlled by the firing techniques and the knowledge of how different papers react at various temperatures. It is not the element of chance but that of change which is integral to each piece.

Clay & Pulp

As my work progressed, I ran out of 'books' to fire and turned to making my own paper, giving me another aspect of control over my basic materials. I tried beating/pulping various papers using a glaze mixer, and forming them into sheets in the traditional papermaking fashion and then began to add clay slips to the pulp before forming.

I quickly abandoned the idea of sheet forming in the traditional way and opted for a more direct method. I pulped ordinary (non china clay) paper or cotton linters until it was fibrillated then mixed it well with a clay slurry (ordinary clay broken down well in water), draining off the excess water. I then spread this mixture which had the consistency of soft butter onto a surface to dry. I often used a plaster surface which aided drying, or cast the mix directly onto a paper or card surface. I tested different proportions of pulp to clay and will mention this briefly later.

I also tried draining the pulped paper and mixing it with casting slip then casting in the normal way to give a lighter more translucent cast but I did not develop this.

I filled large moulds with the clay/pulp mix and did not drain them. In this way, solid casts could be made and fired which, after firing, were relatively porous and light. None of these solid casts broke in firing but I slowed down the firing cycle slightly and the cooling as a precaution. With the solid casts a mixture of 75% pulp to 25% clay gave a pitted surface and was very light weight. These surfaces were very receptive to sawdust firing techniques.

Ceramic Sheets
Using a similar 50/50 mixture, I found that I could make very large, thin, flat sheets of paper/clay which in the green state had the fibrous strength of paper and after firing produced light ceramic sheets. It was this method that I used to the greatest extent in my own work, casting various surfaces up to five feet high. I am sure that to make, transport and fire such large sheets of clay in studio conditions without the fibre content would have been extremely difficulty. All of these paper/clay pieces were fired to the maximum kiln temperatures in electric or gas kilns. I would have liked to have made tests at higher temperatures but did not have access to higher firing kilns. The finished pieces were fragile but I believe that any thin sheets of ceramic up to five feet high would have been hazardous to transport.

For the purposes of solid casting, other additives, such as sawdust, worked equally as well. The real advantage in the addition of pulp to the clay was to give fibrous strength in the forming of large sheets. I also enjoyed the paper-like qualities of the fired mixture and the porosity after high firing. Another advantage in adding pulp to the clay was in cutting the cost of the clay.

Mixture

75% pulp to 25% clay slurry was the lightest and most porous/fragile mix.
50% pulp to 50% clay slurry was less porous but stronger for larger pieces.
25% pulp to 75% clay slurry was stronger, heavier but still a little porous.
Clays that I preferred were grogged (T Material), or casting slip (Harrison and Mayer), but fired higher than the normal firing range.

Firing

The firing procedure for the very large slabs was as follows. The largest kiln was 5' high by 3' wide and deep. Ideally they should have been fired flat on a bed of alumina, but as they had to be fired standing, I tried several methods. The most successful was to build a staggered support wall of kiln bricks inside the kiln. The pieces of paper/clay were stood upright against the kiln bricks. If several pieces were being fired together, a thin layer of ceramic fibre was placed between each piece. Finally an enclosing support wall of kiln bricks was constructed. Both walls were built leaving gaps for heat to circulate. The firing cycle was normal to 1300oC except that at about 250oC smoke was given off from the pulp. This lasts for 10-15 minutes depending on the quantity being fired therefore an extraction system is advisable. I did not find the smoke detrimental to the kiln in any way or to other 'normal' clay work in the kiln. There was some sagging and distortion in large sheets if gaps between the support system allowed movement. If smaller pieces could be fired flat on a thin bed of alumina, this was least problematic and time-consuming.

Because the pieces were still porous after high firing it is possible to apply washes of oxides or glaze before refiring. Colour can be added to basic clay/paper mix by adding oxides or glazes directly to the mixture before firing.

A touring exhibition of Carol Farrow's Paperwork and Paper/clay will begin at South Hill Park Arts Centre, Bracknell on Aust 22 until September 27 moving on to West Surrey College, Farnham and Portsmouth City Museum and Art Gallery. The Paperworks Fellowship was based in the Design Department of Oxford Polytechnic in the Paperworks Mezzanine, an offshoot of Ivor Robinson's 'Bookworks' Course.

Book, paper/clay mix cast onto card fired to 1300 oC, coloured with oxides.
Book, paper/clay mix cast onto card fired to 1300oC, coloured with oxides.

This story has no end, paper fired to 1300oC, transparent raku glaze, rakud, sawdust fired pulp/casting slip base.
This story has no end, paper fired to 1300oC, transparent raku glaze, rakud, sawdust fired pulp/casting slip base.


Kiln brick support wall in 5' high kiln.


Paper/clay pieces separated by ceramic fibre (large kiln props were removed before the final enclosing wall was built).


Reproduced from Farrow, C., (1987) Paper/Clay, Artists Newsletter, United Kingdom, April, p.20-1, from a copy provided by and with the written permission of the Author.

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