Actually the very first step in making clay is to have a clay body recipe, which John does. This means that the clay body, which is what potters call their basic clay, has many different variations and percents and each potter develops what works for them over the many months and years of daily potting. John started with his mentor’s clay body and tweaked it until it fit his desires, his requirements. The recipe, and it is just that, is on a 3×5 card in his glaze box, which is full of glaze recipes, but I have jumped ahead. I apologize and will get back to the topic.
So, John uses several clays for various reasons, each to do with how he likes the clay to perform or respond to his hands and what he wants to do with it. All important things to consider.
Before John’s knee replacement a few years ago, he had been making clay twice a year for over 30 years. Now we have given our recipe to a fine bunch of folks in Paoli, WI who make and deliver our clay, saving John wear and tear and his old and new knee.
He would empty bags and bags of the different clays into two large Rubbermaid stock tanks.
He fills the stock tank with water and when there is the right amount, he plugs in his electric handmixer and spends up to an hour mixing the clay and water until he is satisfied. Then he moves onto the next tank.
Then, the clay sits in the tank. He’ll mix other secret ingredients and mix those also.
John likes the dry sunny days of the fall because it’s nice to be outside mixing clay in the sun and because one of the steps in this process involves drying, and there’s nothing better than a dry September or October day with a little breeze.
Once the clay has been in the tank long enough, then John begins drying it out enough for the next step. Scattered all over the lawn around the tanks are plaster slabs and old screens with old sheets on them resting on old bricks. This is our high tech drying system. He uses large scoopers (old gallon milk jugs) to scoop up the sloppy clay and pour it out onto the surfaces of the sheets and plaster. The sun and wind dries the clay fast enough for John to roll it up and carry it upstairs for the next step in the clay making process: pugging clay.
This whole process can take up to two weeks depending on the weather, mostly to make several tons of clay.