When we have visitors in our studio at MudFire, the most frequent comment is “this place is so clean” followed by “I wish my studio was this clean.” With over 150 people using our studio each month we could quickly fall into mayhem without our studio housekeeping rules. You may not have 150 people trucking through your home studio but even it can suffer without proper and routine cleaning.
The most important rule is to wet clean only. This means mopping and sponging dusty areas rather than sweeping or vacuuming them. It also means we only sweep up clay trimmings that are wet to leather hard. We don’t use rugs, carpet, or drapery in our main studio room as they easily trap dust. If you’re working at home, use wipe-clean fabrics or plastics and keep fabric-covered furniture under cleanable coverings. I strongly recommend employing a studio-only shoes policy so dry clay isn’t tracked around the house.
Why the wet cleaning and excessive caution? We need to be proactive not only for ourselves and but also for our studio guests to protect against the dangers of silicosis and heavy metals poisoning. The following are a few tips to get you started.
For MudFire, cleaning up wet means that we use a lot of water. How do we do this while being responsible conservation stewards? Through a process of gray-water reclamation (figure 1). We reclaim studio water for use in wedging-table cleaning buckets, buckets for cleaning up splash pans and pottery tools, and water for preliminary mopping. We settle out the clay in our buckets of slop water (from glazing and working in wet clay) by using vinegar or a small amount of Epsom salts and allow them to sit undisturbed overnight. In the morning the clear water on top is used to fill new cleaning buckets (figure 2) and the sludge is left to be reclaimed or thrown away.
Clean Floor Policy
We also have a “no dry clay on the floor” policy—damp trimmings must be immediately swept up (figure 3). If clay is allowed to dry, we sprinkle down a wax-based sweeping compound and then mop it up or we wet the dry materials and scrape them up.
We also require each studio member to mop and wipe down their work space after each use. Those who wedge immediately scrape wet clay from the wedging areas and wipe down the area they were using with the reclaimed water (figure 4). Our staff also follows up and cleans during shifts to maintain public-use spaces.
Our kiln room is mopped once a week and we wipe down glaze and bisque-ware shelves to minimize dust and glaze chips. Our kilns are vented and we have an attic-style gable vent that is constantly on.
Cycling Clean Air
Our studio has three major HVAC units cycling fresh clean air into the studio and we change the filters every four weeks. In a home studio you could employ the same tactic to keep yourself and your HVAC unit happy by changing vent and furnace filters regularly. Having your duct work cleaned annually is also a good idea.
We don’t vacuum at MudFire unless we are cleaning out a kiln, and our kiln building is separate from the main building. If you do use a vacuum, make sure it has a HEPA filter. Use a dust mask when cleaning up any dried clay.
Sinks Traps and Cleaning in Phases
Our studio has a large sink trap attached to four reclaim bins (figure 5). For a home studio something as simple as a bucket and plug in your drain can work. Or a Gleco-style trap can work to keep your pipes from filling with clay, glaze, and hazardous waste materials.
You can also minimize plumbing damage and the need for these types of catches by making sure you’re cleaning in phases. For example: when finished on the wheel we use our throwing water to clean splash pans and tools first, then use the water buckets in our gray-water reclamation to give the bucket, splash pans, and tools a second bath. Finally, after almost all the clay is gone, we do a final rinse in the sink. This prevents a large amount of clay from entering the drain and conserves water.
We use a similar tactic to clean whisks, dipping tongs, glaze brushes, and trailing bulbs. We have a three-bucket system labeled CLEAN, CLEANER, CLEANEST (figure 6). Rinse your items first in the CLEAN bucket, then the CLEANER bucket, followed by the CLEANEST bucket, instead of everyone running to the sink rinsing glaze down the drain. A wax bucket for wax-resist brushes prevents petroleum-based products from entering the plumbing system.
Proper Material Storage
For your material storage area, wipe your containers in between glaze mixing sessions with a sponge (figure 7). You would be surprised how much you spill scooping materials out and how much dust is spread around while transferring and weighing them out. Do the same with your glaze storage buckets—the outsides get slopped with glaze that can create a nasty dry mess.
We wipe down our tool bins and tools on a regular basis to keep dry clay dust and bits from piling up in tool storage areas. Remember that a clean studio is a healthy studio!
Deanna Ranlett owns MudFire in Decatur, Georgia (www.mudfire.com).
In the Mix: Reticulation Glazes by Robin Hopper
Reticulation glazes form a group of specialized glazes that show patterns of heavy crawling, or reticulation. The patterns look similar to lichens, lizard skin and leopard skin, depending on the glaze base, underglaze coatings and firing temperature. The same glaze may give very different results at a variety of temperatures.
Putting the reticulation glazes over a colored slip allows the top glaze to move and the visible cracks to be colored between “islands” of glaze. Any colored slip will do, but one of the most interesting is usually black, as it intensifies the color of the covering glaze.
With reticulation glazes applied heavily over the slip and fired at cones 04, 6 and 9-10, and with added colorants, a wide range of textural possibilities can be developed. The main requirement in the glaze is a big saturation of magnesium carbonate as seen in the two typical base glazes below.
Excerpted from The Ceramic Spectrum by Robin Hopper. For more information, visit www.ceramicartsnetwork.org/books.
Key for Colorant Additions
b = cobalt carbonate
c = copper carbonate
d = manganese dioxide
e = nickel carbonate
h = chromium oxide
u = Commercial Yellow Stain
vg = Commercial Victoria Stain
x = Cerdec/Degussa inclusion red stain 27496
Key for Firing
6 Ox = cone 6 oxidation
9 R = cone 9 reduction