Monday, September 29, 2014

Controlled Rehydration

I'm confident that most emerging metal clay artists know the basics of rolling, texturing, sanding, finishing, and rehydrating clay. When clay dries out, we add enough water to make it malleable and workable again. When we have finished fabricating a design, we understand the benefit of a final examination of our work so we have the chance to repair/finesse dry pieces before they go into the kiln (it's so much easier to refine a design in the original greenware than to wait to repair a fired metal object). Sandpaper, files and other tools usually work well on a stable, well constructed piece, but smoothing surfaces and reinforcing joins in delicate areas can sometimes be troublesome (and stressful).

(My iPhone took great pictures of my fingers -  the clay, not so much)
When completing a light sanding, I bumped my arm and broke the
bail in half! I used thick slip in an effort to get the bail to just stay in
place long enough to set up. Then I groomed, filled, smoothed, and
otherwise repaired the break (letting any fresh clay dry in between each task)
before using a damp paint brush and a sponge tool to smooth the work. This
area was only 1/8" wide in the greenware stage and very difficult to access.
I use a process I've come to call controlled rehydration to 'groom' my work when I think traditional sandpaper or needle files may be too harsh. In the past I've been tempted to use sandpaper too aggressively in an effort to get it to work faster, or sometimes my fingers will shake slightly as I remove an unwanted bit of clay or deep scratch - which may lead to breakage and heartache.

Instead, I'll employ a damp watercolor brush, moistened toothpick, barely wet sponge tool (or even a finger) to gently and patiently wipe the offending blemish away. The important thing to remember when using this technique is that any amount of moisture - no matter how slight - will rehydrate the clay to some extent, which is what we wanted in the first place of course, but which can also cause the clay to be more fragile than we might realize.

It's important to be aware of where you're placing your fingers, how much pressure you're using, and to always let one repair job dry completely (even if only for 30 seconds) before you start working in another area. Placing a mini dehydrator or cup warmer nearby will help speed the drying process.

Just the merest hint of moisture (true confession - I use saliva, which is not as wet as water) will be enough to get the job done. Always tamp a wet tool on your wrist to remove excess water before using a 'wipe' motion to smooth or fill the clay (getting in the habit of using silva when working with fine silver was okay in my book, but I have to retrain myself with the advent of base metal clays).

When wet/finger sanding, (or as I call it - controlled rehydration) you're effectively taking material off of one area and immediately depositing it in another to fill a slight gap, pit or scratch; smooth a bumpy surface, or remove unwanted texture marks. When turning to a harsher file is not the best alternative, give controlled rehydration a try. Let me know how it works for you.

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

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