Written By: Harry Levenstein
Just as there is an art to working with clay, there is also one to working with clay in a more sustainable way. Here at the NCECA Green Task Force we are continually working to bring awareness to the increasing importance of sustainability in our lives as artists and makers. In no particular order, here are our top 10 tips for reducing studio waste:
1. Sponge washin’ is fun washin’
We’re all guilty of turning on that faucet and mindlessly washing our tools without realizing just how much water is being used. When the time comes to wash your tools off, rather than blasting the water and leaving it on during the whole process try simply wetting a sponge and cleaning them off with that. No running water necessary. If you just finished throwing you could even wash them out with the leftover water in your bucket. This goes for your splash pans too!
2. No more paper towels
Honestly, I don’t know why they even still make these things. They are so easily wasted because they are so easily accessible and seem as though the supply is never-ending. Many-a-tree will be grateful for you making the switch to real towels for drying off hands. If you must keep paper towels in your studio, try obscuring their access to make them a bit harder to reach. One of our team members places an actual plant in front of her paper towel dispensers for a very literal reminder of where they are coming from.
3. Reclaim your clay
We’re pushing to make this standard practice in all studios! Get yourself a bucket and collect all of your trimmings, clay slurry, failed pots, etc. Dry clay will need to be slaked. When you’re ready pour it out onto some plaster, wait for it to set up, wedge it back together, and voila! You get more clay to play with, and the studio tech has less slurry to deal with. Everyone wins! I like to throw with a small plaster bat nearby to put my slop directly onto for easy reclamation!
4. Smart glaze mixing
Mix an appropriate amount of glaze for the amount of glazing you are about to do. If you end up with extra, think of a better way to use it than just dumping it out. Maybe a friend wants some? Check out our upcoming blog post about reclaim glaze if you want to take it a step further!
5. Don’t cottle with clay
Try to avoid using an excess amount of clay when making plaster molds. Rather than cottling with clay, four pieces of a 2×4 can be screwed/clamped together in many different ways to form a good outside mold form.
6. Cut plaster waste
Much like mixing a glaze, try to only mix the amount of plaster that you need for your task. That being said, we know it is better to end up with more plaster than not enough, so instead of tossing the extra plaster, have some extra molds ready to dump it into. Nothing else to make a mold of? You can use it to make plaster slabs for your clay reclaim project. Pie pans are great for this.
7. Sink Bucket System
This system will conserve a substantial amount of water in your studio. Place a large bucket in the sink with a few holes drilled near the top. When washing off clay, do so into the bucket. The slurry will collect at the bottom while the water drains out of the drilled holes at the top. Once the bucket has filled with water you can use that water to wash things rather than running the faucet again. Alternatively, you could forego the sink altogether and set up what is known as the “4-bucket system” where four buckets of water are utilized as rinsing stations and the scraps from the bottom can be collected and recycled.
8. Reuse clay bags
Have a storage area for students to put their empty clay bags. These can be rinsed out and reused for reclaimed studio clay.
9. Reach Out!
One maker’s trash is another’s treasure! Getting in touch with local businesses or even individuals can be a mutually beneficial way to deal with waste products. You never know what those around you may be in need of. For example, we have donated excess slurry from our studio to some local folks interested in building cob ovens!
A very effective way to communicate important messages is by posting reminders with eye-catching colors/text. There should be a note by your sink reminding users to be water wise! A sticker on your paper towel dispenser reminding users that they come from trees will help reduce usage. We’ve all heard the ‘yellow mellow” rhyme…
Working in a medium such as ours that depends so much on natural resources, it is our responsibility to be extra aware of the impact that we are having. Incorporating these 10 tips into your day-to-day studio practice will help you start lowering the amount of waste in your space and begin to plant seeds for greener thinking and processes in the future. Like anything, it must start on the individual level. Taking on and considering responsible choices yourself, and once people begin to see and feel the positivity that comes from it, they will soon follow. Feel free to print the following poster to put in your studio to remind yourself and others!
Dawn Soltysiak began firing her pottery kilns with the help of solar panels. She explains how a small change can make a big difference for sustainability.
Owner/artist Dawn Soltysiak operates the 30-acre sustainable farm, where she runs Khnemu Studio and fires her kilns on solar power. Visitors to Khnemu Studio on Fernwood Farm, about forty-five miles southwest of Grand Rapids, Michigan, would likely note the typical Midwestern rural farmhouse. A walk past the house, however, would reveal something unusual about the long barn that extends into the back pasture. All along the pitched roof lay 78 solar panels, absorbing sunlight and converting it to just under 25,000 kilowatts of electricity each year.
solar panels powering pottery kilns
Fourteen years ago Dawn and her husband Rob purchased the small farm and made the commitment to live a more sustainable lifestyle. They raise much of their food, including grass-fed beef and pastured poultry.
With Fernwood Farm well-established in its sustainable agricultural practices, Dawn started to think about alternative energy sources. She says, “I’m a pottery junkie. I have many kilns and have always been concerned about the quantity of energy which my lifestyle consumed.”
Intrigued by alternative energy sources, she wrote a proposal to the USDA’s Rural Energy for America program (REAP) and was awarded a grant that provided 25% of the cost of renewable energy for rural small businesses. Her north/south positioned long barn offered the perfect place for solar panels and installation of the 17.94 kilowatt-hour solar array of 78 230-watt panels was completed in 2012. The electricity produced by the system is used to power the studio and the kilns. The daily average production is about 68 kilowatts a day, with a yearly average of 25,000. Dawn says that the average household uses about 10,000 kilowatts per year. She explains that the production is managed on a credit system: if on a given day, her production exceeds her needs, she earns credits. The energy is channeled into the nationwide “grid,” and is not stored in batteries. Dawn says, “If I make more than I need, why shouldn’t I share that with my neighbor? I would rather share it than store and potentially lose it – storage is limited and eventually lost.” On days when Dawn uses more than she produces, her credits make up the difference. For the most part, the system has met her needs, except for periods of excessive firings, for example, to meet a large commercial order. She estimates she will recoup the $53,000 cost of the system within five years, including the grant funding.
example of energy use
Over the last 14 years Dawn has been making changes toward a more sustainable ceramics studio.
She recycles scrap clay, fires to cone 6 and now uses green energy to fire her kilns. She realizes that this solar project may seem unattainable to most, but she explains that she does not see a difference between paying an electric bill, or paying a loan payment for the solar installation; both are the same money going out the door. However the solar payment is toward her goals and the array will be paid off in 6 years, which then will provide energy with no cost to her, except occasional maintenance. Dawn says “I never dreamed I would be able to able to convert my studio to solar. When the opportunity for the REAP grant came, I thought I have as much chance as anyone else to be awarded the grant. If I do not try, I will never get it.”
This solar array provides the energy Dawn needs to run her pottery studio and gallery, where she teaches classes and workshops, as well as creates pottery production. She offers classes at her studio in a continual year-round cycle. For more advanced instruction, the studio offers workshops and hosts two visiting artists each year for weekend workshops. Over the summer of 2014, Dawn hosted hands-on workshops with Blair Clemo in June, and with Chandra DeBuse in September.
INFORMATION ON GRANT AND SOLAR ARRAY
Rural Energy for America grant (REAP) for small businesses through the US Department of Ag and Rural Development. Small businesses and farms in communities of 50,000 or less qualify for this grant which covers up to 25 % of the system. For more information click here.
The system was engineered and provided by John Wagner.
This year the Green Task Force will be back in the Resource Hall at booth space #137, Look for the NCECA GTF Banner. We have several special guests that will be in and out of the booth during the course of the conference. I want to give a huge thank you to all of the people that are contributing to the booth this year and are really making the GTF shine. Here is a brief bit of information on the people that will be in the booth:
Sustainable Ceramics: By Robert Harrison: We will have a copy on-hand for you to take a look at, this is a great publication that was mentioned in an earlier blog post, the GTF is highlighted in the book and it is jam packed full of information.
Dawn Soltysiak: She will have some solar panels with her and be ready to talk solar, here is her story
A visitor to Fernwood Farm in Fennville, Michigan, would likely note the usual collection of barns and sheds clustered about the typical Midwestern rural farmhouse. A walk down the drive past the house, however, would reveal something unusual about the long barn that extends into the back pasture. All along the pitched roof lay 78 solar panels, absorbing sunlight and converting it to just under 25,000 kilowatts of electricity each year. Owners Dawn and Rob Soltysiak operate the 30-acre sustainable farm where Dawn, a ceramic artist, runs Khnemu Studio and gallery and fires her kilns on solar power. Khnemu Studio offers classes, visiting artist workshops and a gallery which features over 25 regionally and nationally known ceramic artists.
With Fernwood Farm well established in its sustainable agricultural practices, Dawn started to think about alternative energy sources. Intrigued by alternative energy sources, she wrote a proposal to the USDA’s Rural Energy for America program and was awarded a grant that provided up to 25% of the cost of renewable energy for rural small businesses and farms. Her north/south positioned long barn offered the perfect place for solar panels and installation of the 17.94 kilowatt-hour solar array of 78 230-watt panels was completed in December of 2012. The electricity produced by the system is used to power the studio and the kilns. The daily average production is about 68 kilowatts a day, with a yearly average of 25,000. Dawn says that the average household uses about 10,000 kilowatts per year. She explains that the production is managed on a credit system: if on a given day, her production exceeds her needs, she earns credits. The energy is channeled into the nationwide “grid,” and is not stored in batteries. Dawn says, “If I make more than I need, why shouldn’t I share that with my neighbor? I would rather share it than store and potentially lose it – storage is limited and eventually lost.” On days when Dawn uses more than she produces, her credits make up the difference. For the most part, the system has met her needs, except for periods of excessive firings, for example, to meet a large commercial order. She estimates she will recoup the $53,000 cost of the system within five years, including the grant funding.
For more information visit www.khnemustudio.com
Robert is the owner of CI Products, the maker of the Cink. This is an awesome product that recycles the same 11 gallons of water for use in all studio clean-up. I have three of these in the studio at Chaffey College, two for clay clean-up, and one for glaze. They make it a snap to take the sediment and put it back into use when you clean out the Cink severely cutting down on studio waste. Robert will have a Cink there for demonstration so we can all see the magic happen.
Laura Cohen and Herb Massie:
Baltimore Clayworks’ Community Arts Directors demonstrate how quality ceramics programming aid adult men in substance abuse recovery through discussion and a documentary screening. The film created with The Fetzer Institute, who made this project possible, recognizes Clayworks as an exemplar of love, forgiveness and compassion in craft.
Laura is a community artist, arts administrator, mentor, organizer and Director of Community Arts at Baltimore Clayworks. She has her B.S in Art Education from the University of Vermont and a Master of Arts in Community Arts degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art. She is a licensed art educator and has been directing the Community Arts department at Baltimore Clayworks since 2009. Laura works collaboratively with her Co-Director and various communities to overcome stereotypes, prejudices, misconceptions and other barriers through access to high quality clay programming.
Herb Massie is a community artist, organizer, teacher, sculptor, mosaic artist and Director of Community Engagement at Baltimore Clayworks. Herb is self-taught, pulling from experiences having grown up in Baltimore,MD. Herb uses clay as a vehicle for healing, relationship development and community building. He has been leading the ceramics program at Tuerk House since 2009, where he works with adult men in recovery who are non-violent ex-offenders. Herb works collaboratively with his Co-Director and different communities to overcome stereotypes, prejudices, misconceptions and other barriers through access to high quality clay programming.
Meg Roberts is a North Dakota native who grew up in a household of makers, which informed her studies and eventual BFA degree from North Dakota State University in Fargo in 2012, where she founded the grassroots community benefit organization, Plants for Patients. Building on the history of ‘craftavism’ and research on nature’s impact in the healing process, Plants for Patients creates an anonymous post-abortion network of support for women through the gift of a ceramic planter and handwritten note from a member of the community. Roberts continues to serve as the Executive Director and primary ceramic artist for the program which has served more than 1,300 women since its humble beginnings as her undergraduate thesis. Roberts attended a short-term artist-invite-artist residency at the Red Lodge Clay Center in 2011 as well as a short-term residency of her own at Red Lodge in 2012. She presented the theory behind the program on a panel at the 2013 National Women’s Studies Association conference, the 2014 Abortion Care Network annual meeting, and is slated to partner with the Plains Art Museum in 2014 as they host the traveling exhibition, Living As Form.
Meg spends her time away from studio managing Plants for Patients, working at a coffee shop and a women’s health center, and posting photos of her cat to Instagram.
Steven Lemke: The Saint John’s Pottery
Steven Lemke apprenticed for nearly five years with Master Potter Richard Bresnahan at the Saint John’s Pottery. Bresnahan founded the Saint John’s Pottery in 1979 and produces wood-fired pottery using local clay and natural glaze materials. The two artists were recently featured in the apprenticeship documentary and exhibition tour Minnesota Potters: Sharing the Fire.
Located at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, MN, the Saint John’s Pottery includes dynamic Artist-in-Residence, Visiting Artist, and Apprenticeship Programs as part of its mission to increase the use of local and natural materials through generational learning. Bresnahan and his studio host annual firings of the Johanna Kiln, the largest wood-burning kiln of its kind in North America.
For more information, please visit www.csbsju.edu/pottery<http://www.csbsju.edu/pottery>.]
Of Course there will be representatives from the Green Task Force there as well to talk shop about sustainability. We look forward to seeing everyone in Milwaukee.
There is a new book that is now available and will be at the NCECA GreenTask Force booth to view. This is an excellent book full of information about sustainability within the field of ceramics. Written and edited by Robert Harrison, with contributions from nearly thirty national and international makers, experts and luminaries in the field. This book covers all the factors to consider when going ‘green’ from fuels and alternative firing technology to energy-saving methods, sustainable ways to collect and use clay itself, and ways to deal with waste materials and save water. You will even find a section written about NCECA’s very own Green Task Force!! If you are looking for simple and achievable methods to reduce the carbon footprint of ceramic art look no further, Sustainable Ceramics offers examples throughout of potters and clay artists who reclaim, reuse and recycle. Whether you work in your own studio, a community center, college or school, Sustainable Ceramics contains information that will change your approach to how you create in clay.
Robert Harrison is a practicing artist in Helena, Montana working for more than 40 years doing site-specific large-scale architectural sculpture and smaller sculptural works that reflect his interest in architecture. He holds both a BFA and MFA in Ceramics, a member of the International Academy of Ceramics, and is a founding member of WABA (World Association of Brick Artists). He has held the positions of Director at Large, Publications Director, and President for NCECA, and during his tenure as President formed the Green Task Force.
Thank you so much for bringing this book to Life Robert Harrison, the Green Task Force applauds you!!