Secrets of porcelain

Clay is a surprisingly mouldable material that is relatively under explored. Here’s a look at the range of possibilities that clay presents.

UK-based crafter Fenella Elms has been exploring clay for years. Her artful pieces are representations of what clay can become: studied works of porcelain practice. They are beautiful as artworks in their own right, but also serve as examples of ceramic potential.

She works primarily with slip, a form of clay that has a lot of added water. This produces a thick, creamy liquid for sculpting with. The slip is poured onto boards made of plaster, making workable sheets that can be cut and torn.

Like water, slip fills every crevice. Fibres are added, making the clay stronger to handle during sculpting. To increase its shine and shimmer, the clay is fired to around 1280°C.

Inside the kiln, the clay transforms. The fire brings out vibrant colours and translucency. Fenella uses glaze as glue or to highlight texture, rather than as a decoration by itself.

Different procedures are used to produces varying works. Mixing powdered porcelain with water, and sometimes stain, Fenella forms individual ‘beads’. With enough beads a flow is created onto a raw porcelain sheet.

When the composition is created and has dried, the sheet is fired up to 1260°C. This makes the sheets shrink by around 20% and this shrinkage gives the clay a softly undulating edge.

Focusing more on the edges, the porcelain slip is poured onto plaster in very fine, thin clay sheets. These sheets are cut into strips and these are crafted into shape.

The finished works, the artist notes, have a light and lively quality about them. This is perhaps not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about clay. It does illustrate what can be achieved with a patient approach to this secretive material.

Images via Fenella Elms.