Thursday, December 3, 2009

Clay "Riffs"

A "Riff" is a musician's variation or interpretation of a phrase or composition of music. Exploring. Expanding. Making musical expansions or comments.

A "Riff" to a comedian is taking an idea and pushing it until it spins off into something hilarious.

Steven Wright: "The other day I got my house key and car key confused; put the car key in the house lock. It started right up.
So I jumped in and drove it around the block. A cop tried to get me to pull over.
I put my head out the window and yelled: "Get outta my yard!"

That's really riffing.

"Riffing Clay" is doing the very same thing.

Well, it may not be Exactly hilarious, but you know what I mean.

I like to take a basic form and push it. Not only does it bring a new form idea into being, it gives new life to it.
Here's a basic rectangular slab-rolled baking dish that was oooched into a flowing form. (I'm sure oooched is a verb.)

Granted, I did not start with a square base--more of an old TV screen shape; oblong with rounded corners. I measured the circumference of the base with a piece of string, then cut out the side from one very long piece of slabbed clay. (only one join) I attach walls with vinegar water, slathered on with a brush, and compressed the wall base into the floor. This must be done with a very light, form-encouraging touch. Otherwise, the wall will be weakened and not stand up well.

I secure the inside wall at the base by using a clay worm, compress and round and smooth the inside join. Then I manipulate the walls. I might form a slight outward bulge at the bottom; a slight outward flare at the upper rim.

A turntable is a good thing to have here. You can work on the walls and easily check how the whole form looks as you manipulate it. I sometimes add clay to create an interest area. Whatever 'feels' like it's working. Depending on how the clay is acting, I either work while it is soft, or wait until it firms up before 'riffing' it. Every piece is different. It is very important for a potter to cultivate a light, clay-sympathetic touch that builds strength into the clay, and not weaken or overwork it.

*Note: Riffed pieces are sometimes really difficult to photograph.

Watch and feel the piece until it has begun to dance to your eye. Knowing when to stop is also very important.

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