In many ways recycling – or rather reclaiming clay doesn’t make sense. After all clay is fairly inexpensive, it’s a plentiful resource and here in LA we are 30-40 min from two centers that sell and produce clay which is then supplied to the rest of the US, so factoring in shipping and transport one could argue is negligible. We understand why so many potters and studios don’t do it: it’s costly, messy, difficult, and to get consistent results it's time consuming. There is no return on investment and any numbers person looking into our studio would advise us to cut this practice ASAP. And there are days (usually when rent is due) that we consider putting a pause on this work as well. But every time we see how much clay waste gets produced in the studio we just cannot turn our backs on this material we love. So every month we rededicate ourselves to saving every scrap of trimming we have, and this month we want to share with you our love of our STUDIO clay!
When we started our business (almost 3 years ago now) Mel had one item on her wishlist and that was that we get a pug mill and reclaim our clay. However when it was just the two of us the excess clay was limited and manageable. With our small batch production work we are able to get 24 breakfast bowls out of a 25 bag of clay. We calculated our trimmings and waste to be about 2 lbs at most and between the two of us we could wedge that up and reuse it easily – it was part of our weekly routine.
It was 6 months after we started hosting classes that reclaiming clay began to be a struggle. Buckets were filling up with trimmings and abandoned green ware faster than anyone on the team could manage. We kept pouring more plaster bats, getting more buckets, filling corners and shuffling everything around to make space where we hardly had any to begin with….We knew something had to change.
It wasn’t until we opened Still Life Studio Santa Monica in March of 2020 (perfect timing right?) that we were able to start a clay reclaiming program – pug mill and all! It took a few months to find a system that worked for us: we decided to lump all clay together: dark/light, earthenware/porcelain, cone 6/cone 10. Controversial, maybe, but we decided to produce a clay that we can use as a studio clay for practice, for teaching, for experimenting. This allowed us to recycle more clay, faster, and the result is a clay that we give out free to all our members and students to use as much as they like.
So far we have been pleasantly surprised with the studio clay: pugged clay is soft and easy to use, perfect for centering, easy on the wrists. The color is most often a toasty light brown with specs, which sometimes has swirls of light and dark. Some of our members have used it in their art production and even successfully fired it in cone 10 – that was a pleasant surprise! But it has had some drawbacks as well: some pieces have come out of firings with blisters, every once in awhile we fins bits of a sponge or towel that was missed in the mixing – oops! – and you do have to wedge it more than clay straight from the factory to ensure its evenness.
Can the studio clay be used for large pieces? Is it consistent enough for production work? How does it hold up for hand building, extruding, slabs? Well this month we will be showcasing pieces made with the Studio reclaimed clay. All month long we will be testing out different methods, techniques, firings and glazes and sharing with you the results. We have fallen in love with our studio clay – messy bits and all – and we hope you will too!