Play with Clay

The easiest way is to use a polymer clay to create creatures and more. This modern marvel is already made up in bright colors and is very quick to assemble. It's your best choice if you have only a day to complete a project. Don't underestimate the value of pure fun and where it can take you. Polymer clay creations Wallace and Gromit have gone on to win Academy Awards!

If you want the thrill of decorating the perfect pot but don't want to go through all the steps to create it from scratch, a pottery studio such as downtown Fredericksburg's Pots and Palettes might be right for you. They have already made the mugs, photo frames, bowls and so forth and fired them to the bisque stage. Now they await your creative touch to make them into something special. The pieces will need to go in the kiln again, but the staff will take care of that, and your pieces will be ready to pick up in about a week.

Would-be potters who really want to get their hands dirty and thrill to creating something entirely their own should consider taking a class at a local studio, Liberty Town Arts Workshop, which offers classes for kids and adults throughout the year.

Here are some words to know from the world of traditional pottery:

Bisque stage: We say a piece is in the bisque stage after it's been baked for the first time. Usually it will be lighter colored, dry, and rather delicate. Pottery must be very dry before it's fired (baked) otherwise it might fall apart.

Clay: There are different types of clay. Potters in colonial times mostly used a red clay such as might also be used in bricks to make earthenware, like the terracotta pots that are used for house plants. Fine china is made from a particular kind of white clay. Different kinds of clays need to be handled differently.

Firing: Baking the clay. Depending on the kind of clay and what you want it to look like, you may choose high temperatures or low ones. Raku is an example of a type of pottery fired at low temperatures.

Glaze: The slick coating that is applied to pieces after the bisque stage is called glaze. It comes in many colors. Potters mix the glaze's chemicals with water before using it. A glaze makes a piece better able to hold liquids and easier to clean.

Greenware: Raw, unfired pieces are called greenware. Greenware goes by several names as it dries: wet/plastic, leatherhard, and dry/bone dry.

Handbuilding: Making pottery without a wheel by pinching pots, coiling clay, cutting slabs, or using molds.

Kiln: The oven used to fire the pottery at very high temperatures. It can be powered by electricity or more traditional fuels and is often lined with bricks. Kilns come in many shapes and sizes.

Scoring: Making scratches on two pieces of pottery so they will hold together better.

Slip: A thin mix of clay and water that has many uses in making pottery.

Throwing: Creating pots on a spinning wheel. These pieces take a lot of practice, but the results are prettily uniform.

Our area has several terrific pottery studios that you can visit within easy walking distance of each other. Dan Finnegan's workshop is located at Liberty Town Workshop in Fredericksburg. Trista Depp creates beautiful pieces at Sophia Street Studios only a few blocks away. Potters lead interesting lives, so it's better to call ahead and make sure they are available to speak with you on the day you wish to visit.

Can't make it into town? You can see a great step-by-step of what happens in a potter's studio in Gail Gibbons' book, The Pottery Place. Check out more books on the history of pottery and how to make crafts with clay in our Play with Clay booklist.

The Web sites listed below also have fun projects to try for beginning and more experienced artisans.

On the Web

Clay Crafts from Home and Garden Television
http://www.hgtv.com/hgtv/cr_clay/0,1788,HGTV_3236,00.html
Older kids (and adults) can enjoy making animals, dolls, jewelry, pottery, and more. Most crafts use polymer clays and extra materials, but the results are impressive.

Family Fun: Clay Time
http://familyfun.go.com/crafts/buildmodel/feature/famf199605_ff56clay/
Recipes for four different kinds of kids' play clay.

Making Native American Pinch Pots
http://www.teachersfirst.com/summer/pinchpot.htm
Use easy, self-drying clay to make a good-looking pot that's impressed with designs straight from nature. These pots may not hold water, but they make good pencil holders.

Polymer Clay Crafts for Kids
http://www.daniellesplace.com/html/clay_crafts.html
Make it with clay! Star ornaments, gift tags/holiday ornaments, and a mini-book. These require a few extra materials from the crafts store.