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bad clay...brushes

updated fri 30 may 03


Elizabeth Priddy on thu 29 may 03

An interesting parallel of clay and chinese brush painting-there are many...

A beginner needs a good brush in order to control the water as he learns. The longer you paint the more you begin to understand that it is the water in the brush, minute differences that make all the difference. So beginners buy better and better brushes. Very expensive, very exotic paper to help absorb the water. Throwing money at water doesn't work. You have to learn control. Of your wrist, of the brush, of how much water you let escape the brush with your ink and into your paper.

Masters can paint with whatever gnarly bit you give them because they know that it was never the brush, it was them. I watched to see which brushes the masters chose when I watched them painting in Beijing. We started to talk and I discovered that the older gentleman had been using that same brush for about 40 years. It showed in the work. The brush had started out expensive and new. It became perfect over great spans of time and use. I am beginning to have brushes I love. It shows more in the wear on the handle than in the softness of the hair. I have learned to love all the brushes I have and know that they all have beauty held there waiting for me to learn to see it and get it out.

Similarly, I have thrown with some gnarly clay. On some visceral gut level, I love it when it is bad. It makes all of my brain and body work together to make the pots happen.

But when I get down to business and there is money, I mean, Pots, to make, I use clay specially blended to a hydration of 5 versus the normal 6-6.5. I used to throw with extra dry clay, wanting it paper thin and fine, muscling my way through it. Like painting on paper with sizing, very difficult but strange effects.

(And I throw on a clay tile bat system that my husband the engineer and I came up with about a dozen years ago. I am still using the same imported italian terra cotta patio tiles. It looks a lot like that system you can buy made out of plastibat type stuff, but I like the tile better. It makes the clay dry and pop off so beautifully.-description on how to make in the archives.)

Water is indeed what it is all about. Probably has something to do with us being about 80% water...


PS A northener can learn to love grits: just throw some cheese in it and call it polenta, they'll fish out 10 bucks a plate for it. Reel em in!! And grits were invented as a cheap grain paste. But then red-eye gravy was invented and they were elevated to the sublime. True grit lovers don't put all that greasy butter on it, you put greasy red-eye gravy on it! (Made from the pan residue that comes from frying county ham, aka prosciutto.) So just call it prosciutto and polenta and have yo' fine self a mess o' breakfast! Don't use too much water! Nobody loves soggy polenta.

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