Archive for the 'Clay' Category

Line, pattern, index

line, pattern, index; palimpsest and piecing

That was the title of the mini research project I drew up for March.

There were some beginnings:

All above but the writing square are samples based on two classes with Lynn Yuhr (, presented online by Metalwerx. Lynne’s teaching and notes were exceptional. Metalwerx provided excellent support and admin.

Sally Smart
The Artists House

Work by Sally Smart at the Art Gallery of NSW thrilled.

The “index” element came from reading Index, A History of the by Dennis Duncan. I was interested in the idea of indexing as an act of deep reading. Struggling to read a dense chapter in Jane Hirshfield’s Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry as preparation for the creative research group, I decided to try indexing. Just developing a set of headwords was challenging and very effective in both engaging a higher level of attentiveness and in identifying the flow of Hirshfield’s argument.

Next I attempted to combine a few of my focus elements in building an index – or a series of indexes – of the Daily Balance photographs I showed last month.

It became elaborate. An example:

Daily balance #5
Combined with an old charcoal scribble, which was then rubbed back and covered with white paint
became a new charcoal sketch.
I then identified what most attracted my attention and…
a pattern was formed

The next step was going to be the pattern expressed in polymer clay, which in a way I can’t now see was going to become one of a set of pattern index cards. There’s a gap in my thinking here. That’s an index?

At the same time I wrote a paragraph triggered by the various elements – the story behind the glass frog which was a gift from mum.

Plus a list of materials which could feed into an index. Which could be based on edited photos of mum. The closest I could find to polymer clay was a photo of mum holding some children’s play clay. The photo has the sharp image of clay, and the pixelated memory shape of mum.

This was A Very Bad Idea. I was obliterating my mother. I’ve removed the photo from this post because I don’t want to see that again. The entire chain of work was abandoned, although I may return to the pattern generation element.

Instead I have diverted to consider a coincidence in the use of language. Dennis Duncan writes of the “compressed story telling” that can appear in an index. Major incidents in Jane Doe’s life in staccato bursts and page numbers. Jane Hirshfield writes that good poetry, and image in particular “by gathering many energies toward a single end, creates an intense compression of meaning; it carries into the mind the solidity, particularity, and multi-facetedness of actual objects.” And leads on to enlarged awareness.

Different forms of compression can distil down, or open out. Which led on to mapping and models, and how patterns can be found by drilling down into the detail of sunflower pollen or by looking up, stargazing the constellations. In Evocative Objects Mitchel Resnick writes of his attention being held not by the stars, but the spaces between. He went on to explore “systems in which complex patterns emerge from simple interactions among simple parts.

Pattern finding – the simple describing the complex? complex pattern from combinations of the simple?

And then there’s the surprise of the unexpected, a disruption in the pattern. (Explored by Jane Hirshfield in Hiddenness, Uncertainty, Surprise.)

More investigation required.

February Daily Balance

A near-daily exercise, the rules gradually refined and occasionally broken over the month.


Definition of artifact

1a: a usually simple object (such as a tool or ornament) showing human workmanship or modification as distinguished from a natural object
especiallyan object remaining from a particular period
b: something characteristic of or resulting from a particular human institution, period, trend, or individual
c: something or someone arising from or associated with an earlier time especially when regarded as no longer appropriate, relevant, or important
2a: a product of artificial character (as in a scientific test) due usually to extraneous (such as human) agency
b: an electrocardiographic and electroencephalographic wave that arises from sources other than the heart or brain
c: a defect in an image (such as a digital photograph) that appears as a result of the technology and methods used to create and process the image
Source: (my highlighting)

I’ve been wondering what I’m doing here – a question so big and so vague it’s close to useless. Part of the answer is that I like making: the process of working with my hands and mind and skills, tools, materials; to create something that didn’t exist before and in its small way is unique; to express myself; to connect with myself and others; to help me think. The thinking part keeps growing in importance. There’s the meditative aspect, especially with the rhythm and repetition of my preferred additive processes, keeping the hands and front of the brain busy while the mind quests. Plus there’s a focusing effect, with a conscious effort to use making as a way of extending my research, and the attempt to express abstract ideas in physical form. More and more an object at the ends seems to be a by-product of the process rather than its goal or purpose.

The dual meanings of artifact fit well. And what I’m doing here in the blog, in part, is documenting my artifacts – the objects, ideas, and making. The ratios will vary of course. This post, as you’ve already seen, is on the wordy ideas side.

Layered grief
It looks better in person


A year ago mum had been discharged from the palliative care hospital. Just a few days left, with a lot of laughter and love mixed in with the rest. I still think of her through each day. Sometimes it’s the stab of loss. Or relief that she had most of what she wished for when diagnosed – a final summer with family and friends; to die at home. I’m glad she didn’t have to go through the winter of lockdown. I miss chatting with her – her advice, her opinions on all things large and small, gossip. She was my most vocal and unstinting supporter. And I miss the sense of purpose and value and meaning of supporting her. I hate the lurch when I vaguely think that I haven’t phoned her in a while, then remember why. I miss her smile, the pleasure it gave her, when she opened the door to me. I miss the example she gave of taking simple joy in the world, curious and interested – watching children playing, chatting with workers on their smoko, enjoying the joke of chalked signs in the park.

I’m glad to miss mum. I’m glad to grieve for her. I’m so lucky to have experienced such love, to have known such a person. It’s right and human to honour her and our relationship.


Perhaps with time and distance I will see some pattern, some kind of stages in grieving. At the moment I see – feel – complexity and change and repetition-with-variation and layering and unexpected connections. Perhaps a rhizomic rather than linear thing (“structure” seems too strong a word). Is that something I could express in clay?

Memory is an integral part of grieving. My most recent attempt at expressing that was shown 14-Jan-2022.

My notes when beginning to plan this new experiment:

  • extension of distorted memory
  • clearer use of stencil
  • ?dark “Victorian mourning” cane
    • use as background
    • simplified stencil in gloss (?? possible?) black?
    • don’t like link of black to mourning, but works visually
    • peering into the past, overlaying present.
  • a larger, mixed bowl, or a series of cupped hands?


The clay. Once again I used leftovers and oddments from previous work.

Victorian mourning
including build-up and mop-up material
Grief, hope, energy, renewal

I focused on using as much of the clay as possible, laying out slices in a pattern, then filling in the gaps with a cane of scraps of the scraps (a Fiona Abel-Smith technique)

In the photo above the burnished disc of clay is on a sheet of Agreena wrap. Made of silicone, it’s sold as a non-toxic, renewable, recyclable alternative to clingfilm. It’s heavy enough to be able to carry the weight of the clay, thin enough to peel off easily, and is oven-safe. All very handy working with polymer clay.

I didn’t like my placement of the feathers cane at this point, but hoped it would be toned down in the next stage.

Stencilling. The John Chester Jervis jug stencils were used again (last seen 14-Jan-2022) – there is a strong link to the Victorian mourning conventions work. My largest  handheld round embroidery frame was slightly too small. On my larger ThimbleLady lap quilting frame the fabric was not held as firmly, and it was difficult to access everywhere, but worth it I think to avoid moving a frame around and having edges rest on the print. Stencilling was done in opaque black liquid clay.

stencil placement
improvised silkscreen
Left: paper cut stencils in place. Right: stencilled clay

A high level comparison shows the stencilling worked quite well. I’ll go through some caveats later.

Baking. The clay was lifted and placed in a metal bowl, in a “sling” of agreena wrap. That is, it didn’t touch the bottom, the bowl acting as a general support rather than forming the shape. Sausages of foil were used to create an unevenly undulating form, to suggest the distortions and selection that creep into even our most precious memories over time.

Fresh from the oven. The clay slipped down slightly during baking, but didn’t touch the bottom of the metal bowl.


The final outcome is one of the largest vessels I’ve made in the past year of mourning – around 19 cm in diameter, and a pleasant weight in the hand. I love the layers of connection – to mum and our family history, to various lines of research, to my ongoing life and explorations. I like the sinuous edge, and that the bowl is open – inviting, accepting.

The underside came off the agreena wrap with a pleasant shine. It’s bright and busy, but in my eyes visually coherent. Even those feathers look better, in their place like a trim on a skirt, linking clearly with the canes in the middle section above.

The interior is more complex. It is intriguing when held in the hands, moved around to catch the light and to follow lines of pattern. However…

  • the areas of liquid clay are very textured, even after light sanding and polishing. I think this is a side effect of the slightly looser organza screen, moving up and down as I dabbed on the liquid clay. I didn’t want to sand further and start losing stencilled areas altogether.
  • in most areas the “opaque” black still allows the shadow of changing pattern below. Very on theme. However there is a lot of black in the base layer, leading to a visual muddle on what is foreground and what background, impacting the integrity of the silhouettes.
  • The pattern of cane placement is obscured, creating a visual jarring effect in places where different input canes join.
  • on the plus side and ignoring those limitations, the boundary between foreground and background is crisp in all but the smallest detail areas.

As it is, with all the associations it has for me – I am satisfied, happy, when I handle, examine, spend time with the bowl. I’ve learnt in the process. There’s still a way to go in making a stencilled pattern on a busy cane ground work, but I’m getting closer and I have ideas for more tweaks.

More liquid clay experiments

My initial liquid polymer clay experiments (28-Dec-2021) were interesting, but in my first attempt in practice the stencilled clay has very little impact (14-Jan-2022). There is promise, the concept of a larger / clarifying / extending image stencilled on more complex cane patterning remains intriguing. But more work is required. Time to revisit more monoprinting techniques.

Some homemade stamps from past print-making, with liquid clay dabbed on with a cosmetic sponge:

A stamp made with some looped string glued to stiff cardboard and varnished.
This stamp was made from a piece of foam mat, heated, then impressed with a wooden block

Textures from a collotype sampler plate (30-Dec-2015), again with liquid clay sponged on:

collatype plate 8
The original plate, using modelling paste on mountboard as a base
This section uses a piece of mum’s wedding dress
Here a scrapper was dragged through the paste

A gelatine plate was used with a stencil, again with liquid clay applied by sponge:

right to left
* yupo stencil on top then pressed clay on (+ve)
* stencil pressed on clay – transferred on (-ve)
* clay on geli – a little/faint ghost
Using plastic with a corrugated surface as a stamp
Liquid clay was put on the geli plate, some wool pressed in, and then the wool pressed onto the clay
The shadow image left on the geli plate was captured.

I did try a couple of other monoprinting techniques, in particular a variant of backdrawing, but wasn’t satisfied with the result. My method was to sponge the clay on thin plastic, then place that side down on a clay sheet and press through – a little like using carbon paper. Instead of just getting lines where pressed, the whole area of liquid clay immediately transferred. I should try leaving the prepared plastic overnight before use.

Next attempt – silkscreen printing.

Printing through silk screen; plant material as “stencil”. Liquid clay pushed through with old membership card.

I tried to wash the screen quickly – alcohol then soap and water. Traces of liquid clay remained. Not something to repeat. Plus I should have washed and dried screen before using it – bits of dust and dirt were left on the clay.

The screen did what I hoped in terms of keeping plant material in place.

A day later came the next layer of fish imagery experiment. This time some polyester organza in an embroidery hoop worked well as the “silk screen”, and was easy to clean up.

  • Dabbing rather than scraping [with credit card] to spread colour made some differences
    • more flexible for colour placement
      – think this is a key outcome of technique
    • less of indent left in clay
      • if want, could pre-press with acrylic block
        – would probably help definition of colour
    • difficult to get colour into previous indentation
      • if want, could hand apply later.

I later realised the fish is upside down.

Another overnight wait, then colouring the fish.

Used “negative space” stencil to add (upside down) fish)
+ cocktail stick to ease colour into impressed lines of plants.
  • Very little ink picked up on back of stencil – happened to be shiny side of freezer paper, which may be a factor

I really wanted to be able to pick out lines for definition. Time for a side experiment.

  • oddment of clay
  • black ink [dabbed] onto (2 day old) weed.
    onto clay and held with improvised embroidery hoop while pressed – like it!

I also tried decanting some black liquid clay into a small bottle with a gutta nib (from batik work many years ago). I thought this would give a finer line. It looked promising at first, but soon became a big fail.

Inked plant material, ink on thread, other random improvised stamps, the gutta nib lines – all beaded on the surface.

So far I had used a few pieces of scrap clay, mixing in the liquid clay and re-rolling after each experiment. It all ended in the bin.

After a few days of grumbling around, a new plan:

Next fish scene:

  • colour on weeds. pressed in.
  • brighten colours with alcohol inks.
  • get “outlines” using +ve and -ve stencils, slightly out of alignment.
  • fish right way up.
  • smoother “slump donut” baking

Day 1

  • white top sheet on scrap base.
  • weeds and violet liquid clay dabbed on. Used acrylic block to push into clay
  • yellow liquid clay + sunbright yellow alcohol ink
  • looks fabulous

Day 2

  • Both colours faded a bit as they dried out – more pronounced in the violet, which didn’t have the alcohol ink boost.
  • organza not as tight – some nice texture
  • bigger “edge gap” on large fish (stencil a heavier card – relatively)
  • layering on yellow doesn’t make much sense, given effectively no white retained.
    • although “proper” blue around weed
  • blue liquid clay + sapphire blue alcohol ink

?? another idea – texture clay to manipulate colour later added.

Day 3

  • straight red liquid clay – want it paler (distanced)
  • tried threads-as-stencil to add definition
  • looked odd, so used alcohol on cotton bud to add to body shape, eye, mouth

–> uneasy un-balance in level of texture / detail and graphic nature.

Day 4

  • red of big fish faded overnight
  • small fish – red liquid clay + chili alcohol ink
    -ve (stencil doesn’t quite fit +ve
  • tried to make thread shaping clearer
  • want to hold nerve and do black edge tomorrow as planned experiment.

Day 5

  • Small fish with dual stencils
  • large fish done without stencils, using cotton bud
I much prefer the line achieved on the small fish

I wanted to introduce some distortion and slumping in baking – suggesting movement in the water. A rough donut of foil was wrapped in old T-shirt fabric, and the clay pushed in gently.

Final sample:

Lots of lessons, both positive and negative. Lots of avenues to explore. Perhaps the biggest problem for me is the wait between steps, not wanting to smudge layers. If I worked in a more production-like mode, for example building inventory for a market stall, I could work on multiple items at each stage, or have multiple items at different stages of the process. But for me at the moment, making is more an adjunct to thinking. Plus some of this seems to be working against the nature and possibilities of the clay rather than taking advantage of the medium. The more exciting possibility is to use just one or two of these ideas at a time. There’s a lot of flexibility to add my own imagery that I’ve developed over years, rather than relying on commercial stamps and stencils.

Reimagined Memory

This post has been sitting in draft form for longer than I’d like. It’s changing, but I wouldn’t say improving. There are so many chains of thought, so many intentions. So much I’d like to say, but when I type it seems … overblown? underwhelming? And yet this piece is deeply satisfying to me. Words fail.

In general, too facts do not explain values. And in works of the poetic imagination, values bear the mark of such novelty that everything related to the past is lifeless beside them. All memory has to be reimagined. For we have in our memories micro-films that can only be read if they are lighted by the bright light of the imagination.

Gaston Bachelard The Poetics of Space

Bachelard has a poetic and beautiful response to memory. I have returned to this a few times while reflecting on memories of mum, new and renewed. In contrast, Bessel Van Der Kolk wrote of an experiment in The body keeps the score: “We deliberately tried to collect just isolated fragments of their experience – particular images, sounds, and feelings – rather than the entire story, because this is how trauma is experienced.” This darker perspective resonated with my recent jury experience – the conflicting and imperfect recollection of the various testimonies.

Could I show / explore that in clay?

Memory malleable, distorted, overlaid, mistaken, subverted, integrated, enriched.


A few weeks after making this I was moved while reading Laura Marris’s “Atmospheric changes: on meteorology & Camus” ( How do I filter enough to see without being overwhelmed? or too narrow? without skimming the surface? immerse without being lost?

It helped to hold this bowl. Here is a concrete thing that “memorialises” past thought. I love that it settles into the palm of my hand. Is held, stable. I sat, holding the bowl, mind wandering. More and more seeing distortions that somehow carry meaning. I sit with it, resisting ideas of where to go next.


Memory hexagon

I wanted to return to and reimagine memories. A previous post shared some reading on the malleability of memory, the way we edit and reshape history in our recollection.


Left overs of that cane were combined with the distorted end sections, then forced into the conformity of a hexagon. Imperfect mirroring over mismatched seams.

JCJ’s jug

Memories are overlaid, combined, misremembered. I used monoprinting with liquid clay to suggest this.

A faint flower, followed by a butterfly with some opaque black added to transparent red to darken and reduce transparency.

Further deepening and enriching the experiment, the paper stencils used were originally cut and used in a design on fabric for an OCA course.


The imagery came from a family heirloom jug, and has already inspired other clay experiments.



I wanted to add more imagery, more layering of ideas. This time I turned to the glyphs I developed as part of my notebook practice. An infinity symbol was used for “memory”.


Once again I was able to use existing and personal stencils.


Recurring theme

I can’t recall (ho ho) if I’ve previously shared this page of related notes.


Much of the liquid clay colour was lost in handling while I stretched and prepared the clay for baking.

Based on a suggestion from Ruth Hadlow I wanted to take advantage of the properties of clay to further suggest the changes of memory over time. I put the disc on clay on an improvised donut of foil, hoping for slumping and distortion in baking.


Straight from my notebook, some further thoughts on the result:

  • violet liquid clay not visible
  • red visible, but pattern hard to see
  • blue – or actually, protected areas – visible but a lot of colour lost.
  • bottom surface rough from foil
  • doesn’t seem to have drooped in oven
  • no gloss on any of the liquid clay areas.
  • the form is satisfying. It sits well. It spins and wobbles when touched.
  • good to have cut thick and rolled out. Expanded motif size and get good variation.
  • Lost colour on back – didn’t allow long rest + impact of sitting on glass tile when rolling.
    -> ? focus on one side??
  • tried running water into / over it – as a bowl and as an umbrella. pretty. Different effects depending on rate of flow of water.
    –> ?? attempt an indoor water feature?

Liquid polymer clay

Lynn Yuhr, self-described “artist-teacher-creative-maker-adventurer” at The Flying Squirrel Studio does beautiful work in polymer clay. I love the mark-making, the density and space, the boldness and energy of line, colour and form.

Work by Lynn Yuhr, from
Work by Lynn Yuhr, from

I’m also a great admirer of Lynn as a generous and helpful person. I was interested in her upcoming online workshops with Metalwerx, but hesitant given Lynn uses Sculpey clay and I have already invested in Kato products. I sent an enquiry and Lynn responded immediately, supportive of my preferences and with detailed questions and suggested experiments to test whether her techniques can be transferred. A week or so later Lynn emailed again – she had acquired some Kato liquid clay, done her experiments, and gave me a full rundown on what should work and ideas still to be explored. Amazing! Naturally I’m now enrolled in both classes – and even that was a problem-turned-pleasure. There were some issues with my non-US credit card plus challenges with online payment providers, and Violet at Metalwerx was friendly and helpful in finding an approach that worked for us both.

The classes aren’t until February and March, so you still have time to sign up. In the meantime, I’ve been doing my own basic experiments. My previous use of liquid clay has been the clear version, as glue between baked and fresh clay, and as a surface glaze.

Early experiments

1. First look, on white and black clay

Row: 1 liquid clay colours mixed with white liquid clay
Row 2: liquid clay dabbed on
Row 3: Using palette knife

The Kato colours are transparent, and barely show on the black. Adding white liquid clay made them visible, but pastel colours. Application methods attempted made glossy lumps on the surface of the clay ground.

2. Colour mixing

The central colour wheel uses mixing to create purple and orange.
In the corners are purchased colours of purple and orange.

I purchased all the colours of Kato liquid clay that I could find from Australian vendors. They seem to mix reasonably well.

3. Variety of marks

Rows 1 – 3: Marks using cocktail stick; piece of credit card; ball of tissue
Row 1: white liquid clay
Row 2: black liquid clay
Row 3: grey (mix of black and white)
Row 4: white pool with black feathered through; white pool with black dragged around; black pool with white dragged around

Dabbing created the flattest marks, but still with a slight gloss after baking. It all depends on purpose, but I find the stamp of the credit card edge gives a more energetic, purposeful line than any of my dragging attempts.

4. Reds on white

Column 1: cotton ball dabber – red liquid clay; senorita magenta alcohol ink + clear liquid clay; senorita magenta alcohol ink + white liquid clay
Column 2: small brush – red liquid clay; senorita magenta alcohol ink + clear liquid clay; senorita magenta alcohol ink + white liquid clay
Column 3: chili pepper alcohol ink + white liquid clay
Column 4: on black clay. from top: white liquid dabbed on, left 5 min then magenta + clear dabbed; magenta alcohol ink + clear; Chili + white; magenta + white

When I first emailed Lynn I was planning to use alcohol inks in clear liquid clay for my colours. She encouraged me to try the purpose-made coloured liquid clay as well, to see if it had similar properties. With this limited experiment I found:
* alcohol ink + liquid clay dried more on the ceramic tile palette, but a quick spray of isopropyl alcohol restored it to usable.
* I have quite a few alcohol inks, bought for use with resin. Useful to increase my colour range. I have yet to try them mixed into pre-coloured (ie not white or clear) liquid clay.
* The Kato liquid clay colours are labelled “transparent”, so they aren’t useful straight from the bottle onto a dark clay. Dabbing an area with white, leaving it to dry out a little, then over-dabbing with coloured transparent clay seems to offer the best results for a good non-pastel colour over dark clay.

The liquid clays themselves reminded me of my Akua print-making inks in viscosity and transparency – a comparison noted for followup.

Alcohol ink sidetrack

Looking at various videos showing alcohol inks with polymer clay, I was inspired by MyVian’s Galaxy earrings to make a quick Christmas Tree ornament as a gift to some lunch hosts.

Attempt 1 didn’t go as planned.

It looks pretty enough, but the mica powder formed clumps and didn’t show well, and I broke the star while sanding. The gold you can see was later experimentation with gold ink. I used a gloss varnish over the inks and mica.

Attempt 2 looks better in real life.

This time I mixed both mica powder and inks in clear liquid clay, to avoid the need for any varnish. Not great, but it looked nice as one small item on Marianne’s tree.


I mentioned above the material similarities between printing inks and the liquid polymer clay. In a brief flurry yesterday I tried a couple of basic techniques. All use premixed red liquid polymer clay from Kato, on a base of white clay.

In progress
  • colour dabbed using cosmetic sponge (this is on the publicly available material’s list for Lynn’s class, and is much better than the oddments of tissues etc I used in my earlier experiments).
  • cosmetic sponge cut into a shape and used as a stamp.
  • sponge used to apply to the end of a rolling pin, which was used as a stamp.
  • colour sponged onto bubble wrap, then stamped
  • a stencil cut from yupo paper, colour dabbed over with sponge
  • a stamp improvised with string around an old office stamp. Colour sponged on to stamp. This also left some indentation on the clay base, which looks good (for the right purpose…)
  • a flexible net onion bag used as a stencil, coloured sponged on.
  • a shape cut from a thin sponge material (don’t remember quite what – sitting in monoprinting box). used first as a stencil, colour dabbed around it; used second with colour dabbed onto it and used as a stamp.

All of this is interesting and exciting, opening up possibilities. I love it when different areas of creativity start crossing over. I wouldn’t call the colour “rich”, but that in itself suggests more questions. I’m thinking partly of glazes used in watercolours, layering up. Or a stencilled larger design over a hexagon of more intricate cane clay. Perhaps short interim bakes to stabilise in between layers. Any difference made adding alcohol inks to pre-coloured liquid clay. Obviously also there will be lots to learn from Lynn.

Other experiments

For the sake of completeness…

I’ve shown before some of my colour mixing experiments, mostly focused on pairs of colours (for example 31-Aug-2021). I wanted to start looking a bit further.

Above is a basic skinner blend of magenta and blue, mixed with increasing amounts of yellow.

To be honest, I can’t remember where I was going with this. I think it may simply have been seeking some joy, after weeks of sitting as part of a dysfunctional jury hearing in a trial about the unpleasant doings (or not) of a dysfunctional family – and not even the “resolution” of achieving a verdict.

The scraps of my colour set were chopped up and whirled, following a tutorial purchased from Deb Hart.

My choice of base colour really drabs it down. Next time adjust thickness, and maybe darker (even black), for the base.

And finishing on a happier note, some random cane in the stash became a hair clip.

Skills building

A non-creative obligation took a lot of my time through November. I decided to use what making time there was on focused building of specific skills.

Hélène Jeanclaude – Madras cotton technique

Hélène has shared quite a few videos on youtube, plus she has some PDFs of specific techniques for sale. One effect I really like is her “madras cotton”. Straight to results, used in a bangle of hollow beads.

Dan Cormier – Relief Beyond Belief

Dan’s on-line book Relief Beyond Belief is a detailed presentation on silhouette dieforming, including bead design, construction, and finishing. My immediate goal was the ability to create my own forms, rather than using existing bowls etc to support clay in forming and baking. For that I focused on the earlier sections of the course. The initial experiment used one of Dan’s templates, then a regular form of my own for the bangle above.

It was quite straight-forward to create a template and move to a small irregular form, as pictured on the left.

Next was going up in scale.

Form made from a postal box
Base made – shown prior to baking
Veneer made using Madras technique layered onto baked base.
Colours based on kookaburras on our back deck. I was aiming for a neutral palette, but my hints of blues and orange (from wing and tail feathers), only 3 of 11 colours, took over visually.
The baked … let’s call it a tray form … is about 21 x 12.5 cm.
Edges still to be finished.

Dan’s course has some great information on finishing techniques, but at the moment such refinement isn’t a priority for me. What I’ve shown above provides enough enticing leads for the moment.


Cathie in the creative group circled an area towards the top left of the photo of the Madras tray – particularly liking one of the few surviving neutral areas. I took it as a challenge (of the positive, growth-producing kind). Could I make something using only the four “Cathie’s neutrals”?

It just doesn’t make my heart sing.

Perhaps something in between. Three Cathie neutrals plus one colour zing.

Top – original “kookaburra” colours – 11 colours in total
Centre, bottom row – Cathie’s neutral. 1 dark, 2 medium, 1 light
Left, bottom row – blue replaces 1 medium neutral
Right, bottom row – orange replaces light neutral

In my eyes bottom right is the least appealing. The loss of the light neutral dulls the whole. The other two simplified schemes are fine, but the original dish is my personal favourite. There are quite a few process variables available to play with – I suspect Hélène’s madras technique will reappear quite frequently. And probably more neutrals…

Extruder, stamping

A start was made on a systematic review of shapes produced by the various extruder dies. Quite a few seem to be sized so they can be used together to build up patterns. The review has been paused for the moment. I’m still using Kato clay, made a bit more supple with the addition of liquid clay, but still too difficult to work with using the extruder especially during a very cool start to summer.

It was fun to use the baked clay as stamps, as a first step in thinking about pattern combinations. I plan to get back to this. The only extension so far was to take an impression in clay of the incised design on a large pot I have, then use the baked impression as a stamp.

Text and graphic marks

Next I used some of the 3D text from the Wildly Constant experiment (22-Mar-2021).

Impression of 3D text pressed into clay
Thin dark top layer pressed into clay with 3D text, then top shaved back.

I also bought SaffronAddict’s Jungle Flowers tutorial.

Very early results, still unbaked, using marks suggested by SaffronAddict plus some more 3D text impressions. A lot of promise here.


Last month I showed a little research on Victorian mourning conventions, and some small polymer clay dishes made as part of that.

That was one component of my current experience, my exploration, my thinking about, asking questions about … if I have to choose one word, it is “grief”. That word seems both too big and too small. Accurate and missing the mark. With the assistance of my creative group, I came up with some sub-themes to explore: mourning conventions; (un-)balance (energy; tension; cycles); memory and language; relationships (such as positive and negative space).

I decided on a multi-pronged approach. Reading – in particular what I term “springboard reading”, using it as a trigger for my own thinking. Writing – exploring the ideas raised in reading etc. Experiential – beginners’ tai chi, with constant moving in circles, questions of tension, relaxation, energy, action. Material investigation – polymer clay, a means of thinking and of response.

More by-products than outcomes:

Plain Bob Minimus dish

Bellringing is a significant part of our family, and it resonates (!) with multiple themes. Mum learnt to ring when in college in Bristol, just after the second world war. She met dad ringing here in Sydney – just as I met my husband, decades later.

Around the rim is the patterning of the movement in order of bells sounding in Plain Bob Minimus. Following convention, the treble is in red, the course of one bell highlighted with a blue line. Bronze clay is meant to suggest bell-metal; red-white-blue is classic colouring of sallies. The central patterning (using my new extruder tool) is intended to suggest the reverberations of the bells.

Grief, hope, energy and renewal

Feathers came from reading Max Porter’s Grief is the thing with feathers. The clay technique is from Clay Zoo – I particularly liked the movement he creates. The background mix of colours was intended to suggest the “oil slick” iridescence of black feathers, but also hope – in the original quote from Emily Dickinson which was the source of Porter’s title. She wrote “Hope is the thing with feathers”. The bright green is a flurry of movement, the continuous circling of energy of tai chi, the colour of fresh growth.

There were quite a few technical challenges making this. The oil-slick cane was prepared with layers like a slab for mokume gane. Cutting into in to insert the feathers was tricky. For the cycles of the rim, I wanted to use another Clay Zoo approach, but adapting it wasn’t straightforward. I’m quite surprised that the overlaying of three complex patterns works visually.

Work in progress – un-balance, the space between, circling movement

This stabile uses leftovers from my orange-turquoise investigation (31-Aug-2021). That explored the nuances between colours, the threshold times of dawn and dusk. I’m living with it for a while, deciding on finishes. I think an understated gleam perhaps.

I was hoping to unsettling the eye by making hollow beads of different sizes, then using fill to make the small ones heavier, the balance unexpected. An idea to carry forward, as I don’t think it has been successful here.


Eavan Boland wrote of going to the past “not to learn from it, but to change it”, of finding herself standing “as a subversive historian, ready to edit the text”, of a freedom to “return to the past with the discoveries of the present. And then to return triumphant to the present with a changed past.” Boland was writing of the poetic canon, its impact on young women poets. I have been revisiting my own remembered family past, and finding both that history and my current self changed in the process.

Searching for colours associated with memory, I found an article by Jacob Olesen, referencing the work of Inna Segal. She sees lemon as “warmth and intellect”, fuelling the brain, decision making, concentration, while mauve indicates peace and tranquillity, reduces imbalances, boosts brain power and memory.

Lavender on Phillip Island

That took me to a photo of a field of lavender mum and I saw back in October 2012. I added a the dull green leaves to my palette of lemon and mauve, but optical colour mixing given the scale of the final dishes gives a green tinge overall.

The component canes from from Alice Stroppel, Nee Nee Ree and Clay Zoo. I wanted open-ended swirls, a suggestion of the malleability of both memory and cane, the repetition and reinforcement of memories in our minds, the way we piece memories together, make patterns and narratives for ourselves.

I’ve brought the work together in different ways.

Another hexaflexagon (thank you Fiona Abel-Smith).

Arranging them together.

And my favourite …

a simple stack. I love the way they hold each other, and build up.

Two more objects made in this period aren’t part of the project, but were useful as learning opportunities.

A pen-holder, using scrap clay, much of it processed through the extruder, covering a tin.

Version two used canes made following tutorials from Alice Stroppel – seen briefly in my August 2021 post.

The writing I’ve done is all thinking-on-the-page and not suitable for sharing. However I thought the reading list may be of use to others. I’ve certainly found the work / experience, the stranded process I’ve been following, of great personal benefit. Not suitable for this blog, but I’d be happy to discuss further and respond to comments. I think the reading approach in particular is a bit different and of considerable benefit.

Related reading:

  • Kate Zambreno Book of Mutter
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Notes on Grief
  • Max Porter Grief  is the thing with feathers
  • Emily Dickinson – poems
  • John Berger – Mother – in Selected Essays
  • Anne Carson Nox
  • Kate Zambreno Appendix Project
  • Roland Barthes Mourning Diary
  • Tennyson In Memoriam
  • Johann Hari Lost connections
  • Jane Hirshfield Hiddenness, Uncertainty, Surprise: Three Generative Energies of Poetry
  • Giacomo Leopardi Zibaldone
  • Eavan Boland A journey with two maps. In particular “Letter to a young woman poet”

More making, thinking

Last month’s post showed a number of clay hexagons. That sequence of investigation resulted in a “flexa-hexagon”, following the instructions of Fiona Abel-Smith (

Sorry there’s no video – some technical issues on my part – so check Fiona’s tutorial to get an idea of how it works.

The research brief I mentioned last month was heavily modified after discussion with Ruth Hadlow and the rest of my Creative Research group. We’re now in our third year of working together, and our monthly zoom sessions are exhilarating and exhausting. We’re a diverse group, and the familiarity we’ve developed with each participant’s individual interests leads to wonderful questions, insights, and challenges.

Here I’ll just give a brief view of work so far – on 19th century mourning conventions.

Cassells Household Guide (date around 1880s) ( acknowledges the grief, but moves briskly into the practicalities for “the afflicted widow, who, being now deprived of her own and her children’s support, besides being perhaps totally unfitted for business duties, is left among strangers, friendless and alone; and who, most likely, by incurring needless outlay in funeral expenses, deprives of their subsistence those who look to her – who is now their only friend – for food and shelter.” Details are important, for example: “The width of the hat-bands worn differs according to the degree of relationship. When worn by the husband for the wife they are usually at the present time about seven inches wide. Those worn by fathers for sons, and sons for fathers, are about five inches wide. For other degrees of relationship the width of the hat-band varies from two and a half inches to four inches.” So much focus on money, business, status.

Mourning day dress
c. 1897-99
FIDM Museum

That rich purple. I wonder if it was one one the new aniline dyes.

As well as clothing, jewellery was a major signifier. Mum inherited a number of pieces, including this locket showing Louise Eleanor Corfield – my grandmother’s great aunt.

In 2019 mum and I made a pilgrimage to the National Library of Australia, which now holds the photograph albums of John Chester Jervis. Louise’s image briefly joined that of her brother and sister.

A slightly earlier influence is this still life watercolour by Frances ‘Fanny’ Macleay, which was exhibited by her as an honorary exhibitor at the Royal Academy London in 1824.

Mum and I saw it (a reproduction?) when we visited Elizabeth Bay House in 2013.

Elements of these – the colours, the thread work and seed pearls in the locket, the flowers of the still-life – were brought into clay experiments.

First four individual flower canes.

These little bowls range between 5.5 to 6.5 cm diameter. The back one combines two canes.

Extra elements were added, forced into a triangle, which was then cut and re-formed to include “thread and pearl”.

I made little bowls in two of the three potential kaleidoscope combinations.

These are slightly bigger – 8.5 cm across.

Finally I used leftover clay in an extruder, and created a bowl with a more 20th century “mod” vibe.

Back to the smaller size, at just over 6 cm.

The intention is that as my research reading and writing continues, I’ll keep responding in clay – further expanding my collection of vessels.

The space between orange and turquoise

I’ve been using kato clay, a brand specifically encouraging colour mixing with 8 “spectral” colours and a detailed colour mixing page ( But that only circles the colour chart. I love the colours in between as well.

With my first packs I made colour chips of blends with white and black for each colour. It took a little longer, but I now have a set of samples for every pair of colours. For each pair three strips – 100% colour, adding in half as much white, and adding in the same amount of white.

28 pairs mixed with the same amount of white.

If I want green, I could start with the clay labelled green
or the olive green hidden between yellow and black
or yellow mixed with greens or blues

just the beginning of greens

or I can start being a bit more adventurous. In fact the “green” clay turns out to be a very exciting mixer.

some of the green mixes

Green and magenta looks pretty. For each of the light strips I have the same colour pairs with 50% and zero white.

green and magenta

They are a great head-start when trying for a particular colour.

The “Skinner method” (named after the woman who developed and shared it) is a core polymer clay technique. As well as making the colour reference chips I used some of my results when attempting some kaleidoscope cane building.

These are enormous fun, created in a very free and exploratory way. Each set shown above uses just a pair of colours plus white. These are based on videos from Fiona Abel-Smith and Teresa Pandora Salgado.

On an aside, the power of the reflection/mirroring of the kaleidoscope and the pattern-finding of the human eye is amazing. I gave my husband a little clay demo, talking and fairly randomly grabbing scraps on the worktable. The end result:

Yellow and violet were used in a tutorial from Alice Stroppel

Purple and violet
Blend in progress
cane pretty much done

Actually that colour mix was a blast from the past – some silk thread dyeing ten years ago (27-Jan-2011 and on, concluding with final gamp shawl 20-Feb-2011)

A lot of the experiments remain in cane form, with just a few slices taken to make the kaleidoscopes, however I did have some fun combining an earlier Alice Stroppel experiment with some basketry techniques. The central clay medallion was baked with wires already in place.

OK, full disclosure – some earrings appeared too.

Leftover clay from pair mixing blends was used to make a cover for my latest research notes.

The research is around poignant / evocative and objects / things / stuff / sculpture… so I found it amusing to make the folder/holder of readings and notes into an object in its own right. (obvious future making note is to consider shrinkage).

Back to colour exploration, I should have mentioned making a series of chips showing values from white to black.

samples ready for baking in the oven

For that I somewhat laboriously cut out multiple squares.

In most mixing I’ve used the cutter while developing a colour, but when replicating in bulk a mix that was 1 part Turquoise, 32 parts Orange, 48 parts White and 16 parts Yellow I baulked. Happily the graph paper under my glass allows for more efficient cutting of sheets of clay. A 4 x 12 cm rectangle of white takes a matter of moments to cut.

That mix recipe neatly segues to my title topic. The beautiful space between orange and turquoise. It’s dawn or sunset, not mud.

A raw patchwork clump

became a beautiful little dish, about 7 cm across.

There are plans and experiments for making it into some other things,

possibly in combination with a cane made of leftovers, based on Alice Stroppel’s signature method

But I got distracted by a Clay Zoo tutorial (making a tree leaf necklace) using colours in this space, but with some very clever techniques along the way. One is the use of 3 colours in the blending, which has the effect of emphasising the turquoise end and reducing the oranges. The second is creating a leaf cane with colours changing down through it, meaning thick slices cut give leaves of different colours in the final cane.

This meant I needed to revisit my blend samples to get more precise mix ratios for my start colours.

The numbers are drawn into the clay before baking, and index to my colour mixing note recipe book. Across the top is a controlled set of mixing steps, at the bottom, the colours I eventually used.

Yesterday’s end-of-day results


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May 2022

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