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Reproduced from Hay, G., Save Money, Carbon, and my conscious, Pyre Newsletter, Ceramic Art Association of WA, April, 11-13. Some modification of layout and text has been made to improve reading from a screen. To read more paper clay articles click here. Share |

Save Money, Carbon, and my conscious by Graham Hay There is a guilty pleasure creating 2.86 metric tons of CO2 to attend a Swedish sustainability symposium (1)(2). But perhaps I can still redeem myself, if you follow some tips in your own studio and class room. But before I get down to that, a little background to the symposium: Both President of the International Academy of Ceramics Janet Mansfield, and the welcoming Gothenburg cultural and political leaders, stressed that sustainable practises must also protect cultural groups, as well as the environment. The shrinking Scandinavian ceramics industry has had a negative impact on the associated ceramic art community. There is little point in saving the environment if whole industries, and communities that have built up around them, collapse. That we need to minimise the social impact of economic and pro-environmental changes, is very appropriate in the current Australian public debate about carbon pricing. The most informative speaker was Nancy Selvage (, from Harvard, Ewha (Korea) and Tohoku (Japan) Universities, who provided detailed common sense reasons why ceramic artists need to develop sustainable ceramic practises, now. In the US there is an emerging requirement for Public Art projects to comply with the same ecological audit as the materials used to make the building. Similarly, there is a emerging trend by ceramic retailers, and those commissioning work, to request an environmental audit, or documentation of the carbon cost of the inputs, creation and eventual disposal of the work. I suspect that it will not be long before Australian educational institutions teaching ceramics, will also face these same environmental audits. Nancy also presented research that deflated the common perception that hand made ceramic cup, is more environmental friendly that the paper or styrofoam cup, particularly if water and energy used to wash it is included (3). A number of speakers commended potters who dug and made their own materials as this diminished the energy need to mine, process and ship this material. In WA we have the unusual situation where most of our clays and glazes come from the Eastern States of Australia. But with the small size of our ceramic community, it makes sense, if we want inexpensive, consistently high quality materials. Only a few artists, potters and educators can afford the time and cost of developing these resources themselves. But perhaps they can share this knowledge and material with others? Nancy itemised how we can reduce the cost and environmental impact of firing our ceramics. Soft brick kilns are more energy efficient than hard brick. At Harvard they fibre lined and then used ITC Ceramic Coatings inside their soft brick kiln to also reflect the heat back inside and so bring the studio kiln efficiency closer to that achieved in industrial tunnel kilns.

Other practices include changing clay body types to lower the kiln firing temperature, and thus energy use. Changing from a stoneware / porcelain clay, to using an earthenware in the studio (and classroom) not only substantially reduces the energy used, but also the cost (remember electricity and gas prices have increased recently), and time taken for kiln firing. Single firing, even glazed work, was also mentioned. My students and I have been doing the latter successfully for over a decade. Some research has been undertaken in using microwave assist technology, to heat work from inside, to speed drying and thus firing energy consumed. Mention was made of the non-fire option, illustrated with 3200 year old Chinese statues in perfect condition, currently in US Museums. Speakers and exhibitors at the symposium such as Malene Pedersen, have built artistic practice based upon this idea. For two decades I have argued that we excessively focus on fired colours for sculptural and non-functional work. Glazing this work is completely unnecessary, and the source of endless disappointment for beginners. Cold finishes, RTG (room temperature glazes) or paint, are all much more sensible decorative finishes. For those demanding glossy finishes similar to glaze, I point you towards the almost bullet proof automotive enamel spray paints at your local hardware or car accessories shop. Of interest was the "cradle to cradle" philosophy which involved recycling our work and studio rejects without loss. Given that probably more than 90 % of what is made in studios and classrooms is never put outside or used with food or liquids, it does not need to be fired, nor glazed. When it is no longer required, dropping it in hot water will not only recycle it into fresh clay, but also enable the painted skin to be removed (4). For those who know my own work, it will not surprise you to know that paper clay was mentioned a considerable number of times by both speakers and exhibitors, as a solution to many artistic and technical problems. But I digress. At Harvard University they use a 3 bucket system for water used to wash glazes off equipment. They produce scrap (let's call it a "lucky dip") glaze from this residue, as well as use different dilution oxide containers. Clay slurry from the clay traps is made and fired into bricks. However, they do pay for a hazardous waste company to remove the residues from under glazes. Nancy, and Andrew Livingstone (UK) are part of a now quite obvious widespread and historical trend by artists to recycle either whole or parts of their or others functional ware or ceramic figurines into new works. I have yet to see much of this "3D ceramic collage" work locally. Others such as David Bins and Alasdair Brenner (UK), David (Yu-Le) Chen (Taiwan), JeoungAh Kim (Sweden) and others have researched recycled ceramic and glass waste, via breaking up, grinding and firing, into a new ceramic material, and frits. How many of your fired rejects end up as landfill, rather than been recycled as new artworks, or made into grog and then added to your clay? Perhaps relevant to sunny WA, Nancy mentioned that the first solar kiln, which reached temperatures of 1500 C, was invented in 1700 by Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus (why not visit the Gingin Gravity Centre to see simple solar ovens) may offer a future for WA, at least for the early stages of firing. I have mentioned only a sample of the suggestions and speakers at the Symposium. Those seeking more detail might like to request a copy of the published papers via their website or contact myself (ph 0432 978 733) to borrow my copy.


1. The International Ceramics Symposium 2011: Ceramic Arts and Design for a Sustainable Society was held in the FrĂƒÂślunda Culture Centre Gothenburg, Sweden between 7 and 11 March 2011. See a full list of speakers, abstracts and exhibitors at, 2. at 4/4/11. 3. See summary at 4. As indicative of the interest in this area, my article Why burn paper?, The Journal of Australian Ceramics, 2007, 46, 84-86 was reproduced in Ceramic Review, UK, 2007, 227, 35

Reproduced from Hay, G., Save Money, Carbon, and my conscious, Pyre Newsletter, Ceramic Art Association of WA, April, 11-13. Some modification of layout and text has been made to improve reading from a screen. To read more paper clay articles click here.

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Save Money, Carbon, and my conscious, By Graham Hay  

Summary of the International Symposium on Ceramic Arts and Design for a Sustainable Society, held in the Franlunda Culture Centre Gothenbur...