Shades of clay. How to use the color of clay itself

Dutch Design in a pure form

shades of claySince the 70s Dutch Design is a major export article. And that design covers all areas, like graphic design, industrial design and architecture.

Some great schools were accountable for the high level of their students. To name a few: the Delft University of Technology, the Design Academy Eindhoven and the Academy for Art and Design St. Joost in Breda.

I had my education at the Academy of Visual Arts in Tilburg and at St. Joost, where I learned to have an inquisitive attitude. And it gives me a real boost if I see this spirit in others.

Ceramics on display at the museum Boymans van Beuningen
(Pictures are mine unless otherwise stated © Hannie Mommers)

Clay is in the ground

Does old-fashioned craft still exist in the 21st century?

delft blue tiles
Old-fashioned tiles at the exhibition ‘Hand Made’ in museum Boymans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Nowadays some young people think every item comes from the store or the factory. They see no connection with the soil or with the cultivation of the land. I once was at an exhibition of home spun wool and what I remember most of that exhibition is that one of the participants said she had discovered that sheep eat grass in the meadow!

But of course there is also a large group of (young and old) people that want to live consciously in regard to the environment and consider how fragile our planet is.

When you are a designer and you are interested in sustainability you might want to do the same as this Dutch girl did. Lonny van Ryswyck decided to go back to the roots for her graduation project for the Design Academy Eindhoven.

Sheer clay- Pure colors

steenfabriek gilze
An abandoned brick factory in Gilze, the Netherlands, is rebuild to a beautiful exhibition center

Armed with a bucket and a shovel van Ryswyck traveled through the Netherlands and scooped clay in different regions. These regions used to be areas of clay extractions for household and industrial purposes. For example Makkum, in Friesland, the north of the Netherlands, was famous for its tiles in the 17th century. Or Gilze, which is near my hometown, used to have large brick factories.

Clay consists of minerals with traces of metal oxides and organic matter. At each site the clay has a different composition, which will cause different colors and a different degree of shrinkage. Van Ryswyck did a meticulous examination of these disparities. She made a study of the composites, so now she knows what causes the colors.

She made molds for cups and saucers, thus making it visible that the shrinkage varies. The end result is a ceramic set with a beautiful variation of brown, ochre and white of which not one pair has the same size.

To top it off she stamped the names of the regions in the objects. You can imagine why I as a graphic designer and ceramist am so delighted with this project and its end products.

tableware by atelierNL
Beautiful sets of tableware by AtelierNL © Photography: Royal Tichelaar Makkum

Can green be commercial?
Quality comes fast, my father used to say

A couple of years ago I heard Lonny in a lecture. She is really passionate about her work and rightly proud of it. And I am so happy for her that a factory – Koninklijke Tichelaar Makkum – has taken an interest in her designs and has put it into production.

If you dig clay you can also dug it

Do it yourself

clay in a riverbank

It’s not that hard to shovel your own clay and prepare it.

  1. Dig up clay from a field or from an area near a river
  2. Let it rest outside for a winter. This is called ‘let the clay rot’
  3. Break it in small pieces and ground it
  4. Add water and sift it in order to remove plant debris and little stones
  5. Let it rest for a while and pour the water that comes on top
  6. Let the clay dry to kneadable thickness. You can do this by either warmth or spread it on plaster plates
  7. Knead or grind it into uniform composition
  8. Store it cool and moist
  9. Before working with the clay you can add grog or paper to your liking. Depending of course on what you want to make with it.

What is product design?

Have a look at how designers think.
It’s so great to leaf through design books and see all the marvelous products people came up with.

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