Cone Six Throwdown: Highwater Clay's Helios
This is a bag I grabbed from my colleague (or boss?) Todd Burns‘ stash in the U of L studio. Though not really marketed as a cone 6 clay, here it is, free, so I’ll give it a shot! Some distributor sites say it is inended for cones 6-11 while the actual site claims it is intended for cones 7-11. I actually fire at cone 7, basically because my clay body doesn’t quite fit my glaze unless I do, so I thought I might as well try it. Here is the description Highwater gives “This is our grolleg-based porcelain. It is very bright and a joy to throw. Believe it or not, Helios can be fired from cone 7 – 11 with fabulous results.” I know general wisdom is to stay away from range clays like this if you are a cone 6 firer, and this may be especially bad for my in particular because the bottom of my kiln hits cone 8 while the top is around cone 4-5, which for the time being is beyond my control as I don’t own the kiln that I depend on. My solution is to put all my many, many refires up in the top so they pop their bubbles but don’t run, and all the fresh ones go down below. Anyways, back to the topic, which is: how does Helios porcelain feel to throw?
Even before I crack open the bag, I notice that it is quite hard. Leather hard. I open it and cut off a chunk anyways. I start to wedge it and at first it is crumbly, but as soon as I work it a little, it relaxes, and is in fact quite soft. The texture is very smooth and quite dense. It dries very quickly and forms a skin of dry cracking clay on the outside. So this is the first “true” porcelain that I have worked with in this test. It is pure white. I almost feel guilty setting it down in my studio where every surface apparently has something on it that makes the clay look dirty or stained. I must say, I have never worked with a pure white no-ball-clay grolleg porcelain before in any capacity, but it does have an amazing visceral appeal in the raw state. Already, it feels precious. Once it has been woken up a bit, I find that it is pleasantly plastic, about the right consistency, but is sort of slumpy. When you set a wedged chunk down in a tall cylinder as I often do, it gets shorter as it sits there. It is actually slumping as small cracks appear on the surface.
I cut a chunk off and put it on the wheel to throw a bowl. It requires, when centering, that you ease into it. No sudden movements allowed, it simply doesn’t respond to them, stands defiant of them even. Relax, slow down, and there it goes. It is both hard and soft at the same time, depending solely on how hard you try to push it, in an inverse relationship. It has enough tooth to stand up for a while, It stretches nicely. I know that I need to be careful laying it down, because it has all of a sudden gotten really insubstantial between my fingers. Somehow I can barely even tell it’s there. I manage to get the right shape, but feel that I must be cautious and leave it fairly thick down towards the bottom. It collars well, but doesn’t like to stay where I leave it. There is a slight undulation on the lip. not sure if it’s the clay’s fault or mine, but man, I really don’t like it when my pots have that. As I suspected, the bowl does not transfer off of the wheel well at all. In the slight jerkiness of prying my tile/bat off the wheel, the bowl goes eliptical on me. ugh.
On to the tumbler. It is very easy to throw a tall and thin cylinder. When throwing vertically, the tooth in this clay really shines. As I alter the shape to my classic tumbler form, it does so gladly. This clay really likes metal ribs! It manages the transfer well, but I’m still a bit nervous. It feels like if I have shaky hands, the wiggling would revert this clay to a liquid (just kidding, but it very well might collapse).
This clay is completely different than the ones review previously. In the cone six throwdown Helios was the first true porcelain, being pure white, hinting at thixotropy, and a little bit short. If you are a porcelain lover and don’t mind a bit of “wonk” in your pots, this one is quite pleasant to throw. I, on the other hand, avoid wobbles at all costs. I like my forms to appear stiff and almost machined. I think Helios is just a bit too wabi-sabi for my work, but it was fun…