I have been working in clay for about fifty years, almost exclusively with animal themes. I usually work with an open clay body, a fairly sandy raku clay recipe I mix myself. Beginning with slab construction, or if the piece is small, a solid lump of clay, my first interest is the gesture, or pose. Then I let the piece firm up somewhat. Coming back to it the next day, I can refine the directions, draw in some suggestions, and begin to add modeled form. I usually start several smaller pieces at once and work on them as a group, gradually working out what I want.
The animals are individuals to me, and I try to stop once the personality is established and the basics are there. I like to leave some sense of how the piece was made, sometimes in a remnant of the texture of the canvas I roll the slab out on, sometimes in a little roughness in the modeling, sometimes in the harder line of the trimming. I like to leave in some of the scoring and drawing marks, and they may lead me to draw more with a sharp tool. I feel the piece should portray an animal in spirit and in form, but still be a clay animal.
I like to raku fire smaller pieces. This is a process I worked with in graduate school under Paul Soldner. I was primarily a sculpture major, and throwing never seemed to work for me, so I made some little crèche figures and animals and Paul suggested I raku fire them. I like the grays and black that naturally occur on unglazed clay and I have a small palette of raku glazes. I generally use glaze as an accent, but sometimes, of course, the glaze becomes important.
Post firing reduction, or sawdust firing has also been very useful to me in a series of life sized slab antelope figures. These began to develop in 1980, following an extinction theme. In this reduction process the unglazed clay colors involve more browns and tans than in raku. I have usually painted some lighter accents on the damp clay with raku glaze, let the pieces dry thoroughly, and run a slow bisque, then reduced the work in sawdust for the effects I am trying for. That is really an extension of the feeling I find in raku. I enjoy the happy accident, and use the effects I can control as well. Since I am making sculpture rather than functional ceramics, and one cannot control everything.