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Storm in a “Tea bowl”processing a found clay.

August 1, 2016

Many of us have a little story associated with the storms that battered the east coast of NSW early in June 2016. Some have a huge story with their homes and possibly livelihoods being threatened by the waves or torrential rain. We got off lightly with a leak in the bedroom downstairs, it happens once a year when the winds come from the east. These ‘easterlies’ drive the rain in a horizontal fashion against the bedroom window and the leak appears as the water is driven between the frames. A bad installation job!

I am up on the central coast of NSW around Terrigal once a week and generally make the most of my Fridays and try to get out into the surf. This visit was 2 weeks after the storm and the effect on the homes along the beach between Terrigal  and Wamberal lagoons was obvious. Mother nature has surely shown who’s in charge and decided to re-model the coastline as the weather front moved through.

View to Terrigal Skillion from the rocks near Foresters headland. light winds and friendly seas today.


A house on the beachfront. Three weeks ago these stairs sat on a bank of earth with grass all around now transported “somewhere else” by the waves. There are multiple homes with similar erosion. 


Mother nature also exposed lots of hidden slabs of cement. I imagine these have been buried by the builders over the last 30 to 50 years as a cheap way of recycling the slabs from previous homes as the new homes were being constructed. These slabs were picked up by the waves and scattered around like a croupier delivering the cards.

The waves also exposed a bank of clay. Bonus!

Over the last thirty something years as a potter I have enjoyed the process of ‘winning’ and creating work from my own found clays. Toward the end of my two years of full time ceramic study at East Sydney TAFE College “ESTC” I focused on processing my own clay and firing with wood. I dug everything from a disused clay mine near my home in Wahroonga NSW. Stoneware clay, earthenware clay, Iron oxide for the glazes it was all there waiting to be utilized in some ‘potters own adventure’.

Post TAFE wood fired work utilizing found clays and slips early 1990s

Using found materials is a process that I continue to find immensely satisfying. I don’t do it often however when I think about just why I enjoy it so much  I generally arrive at the following. Somehow It brings me closer to nature, provides a more holistic sense of ownership of the work and results in a piece that has location specific qualities. Location specific work is something that Steve Harrison past teacher of mine, mentor and friend has focused on for many years. Steve taught me a great deal and it’s a great support to have someone to share the joy and explore ideas and experiences with.

He also makes some “stonking” woodfired pots………… thank you Kevin Mcloud

Look at the forms and surfaces on these two pieces, Yum!

Bowl 1

“Stoneware Cup with felspathic glaze that has turned completely black due to carbon inclusion during the wood firing. I get good reduction in my wood kiln.” 2016 -Steve Harrison.

Steve Harrison

Steve Harrison Wood Fired Bowl “Found clay”

At present Steve is on a 10 year long project to go to each place in the world where they make single stone porcelain and make some work there in each of those places. He plans to have a show of this collected work next year 2017 at Watters Gallery  in Sydney.  This 2017 exhibition promises to be something really special. Find out more about Steve’s work and lifestyle here on his blog  Steve Harrison

Follow the Watters link to visit Steves page at the gallery.there is a pictorial history of each of his shows with the gallery over the years. It’s a visual treat.

I digress…….Back to the beach clay!

This little stash of clay peeking through the surface of the sand got me thinking about turning a storm into an opportunity for exploration. Normally storms create the waves that I ride on a Friday and this day ‘with no board to ride’ the storm offered something different. As I thought about this little deposit of clay I pondered simpler times and that period of study at East Sydney. I felt really excited about the prospect of testing this local clay knowing  that the ocean would soon conceal it in the sand again. I then pondered how I might share the experience and ‘here we are’ documenting the process

The soft ball size chunk of loose clay from the sand, and a nice little pebble that I thought might make a great template for a plate. Both captured in the early morning light hence the long shadows.


Broken up and dried in the sun.


Slaking in water left, the same clay after 30 mins on the right.


Mixed in a blender to unthickened cream consistency “yes a blender” they don’t last long around these parts. Then Sieved through  (right to left) kitchen mesh for larger pebbles, 30 mesh smaller pebbles, 80 mesh the beach sand, 100 mesh finer sand again.


Then onto the plaster to de-water the slurry and bring the clay to the plastic state so that the throwing can begin. I left half the slip around 30 mesh for a more textural brew and sieved the other half to 100#


Plasticity is exceptional, not in the slightest bit flabby for the push pull test and nice points with minimal tearing on the rabbits ears top left. 100# in the foreground and 30# to the rear. Looks a lot like Keane 5 and 5B. At this point I can’t wait to make something.



In any text that one reads about processing clay it’s recommended that clay be aged for as long as possible to help the plasticity. In my experience this time is really beneficial to the plasticity of clays that are a bit short. I can’t lay these two little tennis ball sized chunks of beach clay down in the cellar just in case my daughter catches the clay bug. It’s late, I’m tired…….the clay can age for 12 hrs.

I throw with it the following day and it’s fantastic, Nothing added and just the really coarse materials removed. The 30 # batch stands up well. The 100 # is lovely too and ever so smooth.

I like thrown feet so I try some options with the tiny portion of clay that I have set aside.

Some fired Christmas trees (some call them mice) to assess colour and glaze fit. Cone 10 oxidation and reduction. The ‘Mice’ are sitting on some of the oversize sand and iron captured by the sieves. I fired this up to get an idea of what might remain in the body. There was minimal CaO.

Results look promising, some iron spots and crazing of my standard test glaze however nothing that sets the alarm off.

The fired tests show a nice buff colour in oxidation and deep chocolate in reduction. The brown sand below is a sample of what was left in the sieves.


I have removed some of the iron bearing material from the original clay sample and plan to try this over the glaze. It breaks down easily in the mortar.

The two storm bowls with their thrown feet make it through the bisque just fine. I have coated them both in my ‘flowing white’ and dabbed some of the iron mix on the rims then pop them both in a cone 10 reduction. Both placed on Setters ‘just in case’ things go pear shaped.


I have to wait a whole weekend before I can get into the kiln. Happily both bowls of ‘storm clay’ emerge intact, not a pear to be seen. The clay looks great, the natural iron has bled nicely and both results show lots of potential.

100# clay below




30# clay below





The first coffee, possibly the title should read ‘Storm in a Coffee bowl’

So there we have it. left some foot prints and stole some clay nothing added however some sand was taken away ‘mother nature has plenty’ and I experienced real joy creating two special little pots.I highly recommend it!


From → Technical posts

  1. Soledad Contardo permalink

    Thanks Chris, I really enjoyed the article/blog post. I would love to learn more about reclaiming clay. (And everything else) Best regards Sol


    Sol- Funny that you should mention recycling. it was one of the first posts on this site.. follow this link to that post

  2. Julie robinson permalink

    Thank you for a beautiful and moving exposition of love and passion. Uplifting!

  3. jhildebrandt2012 permalink

    Thank you Chris for this wonderful blog!

    I really enjoyed reading it and remember my own experiment in Cert 4.

    I made 3 little bowls and saw only the other day that my daughter is still using one of them.


  4. calsyarns permalink

    great read, love the clay and the end result bowls, nature at it’s best. Caroline Wright

    Thanks Caroline. I had a lot of fun with it and am enjoying finding ways to use them each day. “the new toys”


  5. ddoliverx permalink

    Such a great article Chris….thankyou for sharing your passion and vast experience……I fully comprehend.Cheers DD

    Sent from my Samsung GALAXY S5 Mini on the Telstra Mobile network

    Thanks D
    So glad to hear that you enjoyed it
    Knowing your love of found clays I felt that post would resonate with you.


  6. Ray permalink

    A really inspiring story Chris. So great to see your enthusiasm and knowledge coming together to make some pots that are really special. Plus the photos show how I can attempt to do the same with some clay. I just have to get out there and find it. Perhaps the new hospital site om Warringah road!

    Thanks Ray.

    Glad you enjoyed it

    There is heaps of clay in this area, yes the hospital site may be just the spot. I remember several times when they have been excavating on the college site, clay shows up 1 meter down


  7. Joyce Patricia Rodier permalink

    Terrific Chris….what patience…..what dedication….thanks for sharing the whole process. Joy


  8. Chris, thats a lovely post! I enjoyed (not the bit about the house steps! though). x Janine

    Thanks miss King.
    Such a pleasure to play with that little sample. Something the two of you have made such a part of your lives and something I can do because I have been educated by the two of you over the years.


  9. Nina Matthewson permalink

    What a lovely insightful read thanks Chris

    Sent from my iPhone


  10. Luvvit. From start to finish, every step of the way under your control and nothing extraneous brought in. I bet that coffee tasted good. And we both know my level of glaze savvy, but is that a rutile glaze? PP.

  11. Thanks Chris for this great story with beautiful explanation and photos. I shared it on my Facebook page, and others have shared it from there.

    Thanks Carleen, Glad that you enjoyed it.

  12. A great read Chris. Thanks for documenting it for us all to ponder.

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