The use of paper fibers to strengthen clay is nothing new in the ceramics industry.
In the middle of the 20th century potters began to explore paper fibers in their clay, a concept that they borrowed from the building industry. Learn the value of porcelain paperclay.
Depending on the amount of paper used, fibers will act like paper mâché and give dry strength to porcelain. It makes it easy to work with, but bear in mind that although it will be strong in the making, it will be harder to smooth out and if you would like to carve it, you may need alternative methods to do that, since tools will pull the paper out.
As the paper burns out in the first firing, the bisque strength will also be lesser than regular porcelain. Porcelain is in any way by itself, weaker than stoneware clay after the bisque firing, so it needs careful handling. I have many foam “cushions” in my studio.
To mix paper porcelain
Mix up a thick slip that will “blob” off a spoon. The paper can be any clean paper, but toilet paper or paper mâché (100% paper) is best to use. The smoother consistency needed; more clay slip can be added. Use an electric mixer if possible to get the best blend.
There is no perfect recipe, so when you test it, mix up a small amount. Try using 1/3 slip clay, with 2/3 paper for a very coarse clay. This mixture will most possibly leave holes in the bisque. ½ and ½ clay-paper ratio will be smoother, but still very coarse. 1/3 paper and 2/3 clay is a good starting point for a more traditional porcelain appearance.
Make small tests, so that if you do not like to work with it, you would not have wasted your precious porcelain clay. Write your findings down. Whether you use it directly or build on that knowledge at a later stage, your notes will always be valuable.
Additives to paper porcelain clay.
Since you will add an organic material to your porcelain that will begin to rot in the wet clay, potters are looking for ways to preserve it. In my opinion there is no perfect way to keep it wet for long periods of time. It will definitely loose its power as the fiber begins to break down in the rotting process.
Some potters add disinfectants like Dettol, tea tee oil, bleach, or dishwashing soap to their clay. Others preserve the clay in the refrigerator. All these methods will prevent the rotting smell, but it will not prevent the fibers from breaking down.
The best thing to do is to mix just enough clay at a time for the project you have going. It is easy to make porcelain into a slip and it is easy to make paper pulp. Therefor it is possible to mix your paper porcelain in a very small amount of time and if you dry it out on a plaster bat, you can have it ready within an hour or two after you started making it. Keep small dry porcelain chunks handy to slake quickly and the process is as simple as making grits for breakfast!
The porcelain sculpture below is made from a combination of regular porcelain and paper porcelain. Paper porcelain helps to obtain a lighter base.
Learn how Antoinette re-wet her preserved paper porcelain
It is harder to carve clean lines through paper porcelain, since the fibers may be pulled out, leaving a rugged line. For that reason Antoinette adopted a different approach when she carves in paper porcelain. The envelope below is created with a different carving method.
How to preserve your excess paper porcelain.
I dry my unused paper porcelain out in slabs to prevent it from forming mold and when I am ready to use it, it is easy and quickly to re-wet. You can simply wet a towel and drape it over a slab of paper porcelain. In half an hour it should be ready to wedge and use. If you need it in a slip, just add some water to it. See the pottery video above.
Commercial paper porcelain
I am not aware of a commercial paperclay in the USA. There is one in Europe with which I worked before. It is available at Lehmhuus AG and Zsuzsa Füzesi builds beautiful, large porcelain sculptures with it. If you discover one, please let me know so that I can share the info with other porcelain potters. In the Porcelain handbuilding with Antoinette Badenhorst, I teach potters in one of the videos how to mix their own porcelain paper clay.
Just remember, even if you do buy a commercial paper porcelain, it is still just paper fibers and clay, unconditionally of what is added to commercialize it. They may be able to sell a perfect batch, but experience have taught me it do not last much longer than my own mixture.
When I was teaching a class at Lehmhuus AG in 2016, we were invited by Zsuzsa Füzesi for a very delightful evening of ceramic and cultural discussions. At the time she was working on the paperclay sculpture below. Zsuzsa expertly design her porcelain sculptures to withstand the demands in the kiln.
A few things to remember about paper porcelain:
Know the paper that you are using. Just like the clay industry, the paper industry is a scientific industry in which additives strengthen the paper, make it more dense or help to thicken the paper.
They may add kaolin, bentonite - like gums, opacifiers, glue and many other things that forms a basis for their success. Just like we have our secrets with clay, they have theirs in the paper business.
The significance of that is that the raw materials that I just mentioned, is also present in our porcelain. Therefore you should not be surprised if your paper porcelain is not as white or as translucent as the original clay body.
Learn more about porcelain in my porcelain online workshop or attend one of my hands-on porcelain workshops
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Video: Pottery demonstrations blog
Antoinette Badenhorst is a ceramic artist working with porcelain clay. She teaches potters all over the world in hands-on and online workshops. Antoinette is the author of many articles, blogs posts and the author of "Working with Porcelain"