I've had several people contact me this past year in regards to my surfaces. SO, I figured it was time to divulge some of my secrets, that are totally not secrets at all. Below you'll find some info on terra sigs, glaze tweaking, etc. Hope it helps some of you out! If you'd like to see more added to this page PLEASE contact me. This portion of the site is very new, so I know there will be more to add here and there. Thanks!
- My article Hand Crafted Cuisine in Pottery Making Illustrated's Jan/Feb 2016 issue on how to make my stacked oval bowls.
- The first thing I'm going to say is TEST. TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST. I don't care if you found a "tried and true recipe" or if you're mixing up a glaze that you've used a thousand times before. You always want to test a new batch of glaze, sig, slip, etc. so that you don't loose a whole kilns worth of work. PLEASE, for the love of clay, TEST!
- The second thing I'm going to say is that these are all my own opinions on surface from testing and trying out different things. One of the things that I absolutely love about the ceramics field is that I might say one thing whereas another ceramicist might say the total opposite, yet whatever we're doing works for the both of us. Don't take my word for anything (except the first bullet point on this page cuz that shit is important).
- Third, never loose your sense of curiosity and experimentation. Those are two HUGE factors in creativity and especially in ceramics. Just because you think something might not work, try it anyways. Of course, don't fire your kiln with cone 10 rated brick to cone 14, but you know what I mean!
- Fourth, TEST!
- Since the first rule of all this madness is testing lets talk about test tiles. I make small circular test tiles from a slab of clay. I cut out the tiles like sugar cookies and punch a little hole on the top of them so I can hang the tiles from a binder clip or on the wall by a nail. I fire my tiles flat on a kiln shelf, so I get the horizontal view of what the glaze will look like. The glazes I use don't move/run much at all, so I'm more concerned with color and finish.
- If you're more concerned with the vertical running of a glaze you can place these tiles on a bead rack or nichrome wire supported by two soft bricks. This will save you space in your kiln too!
- The reason why I like making my tiles this way is because it saves space and keeps them organized.
- I purchase different sized binder clips so I can group certain tests together, for instance, say I was testing a base glaze with several different colorants, I would put all of those tests on one small binder clip.
- I like to use test tiles as swatches too. I have a collection of swatches (also on a binder clip) that I can use to figure out color combos, but when it comes to actually using swatches paired next to ceramic pieces I use my test tiles.
- Alright, the world of terra sigillata can be scary as hell. You hear so many horror stories about it, but I'm here to tell you it's okay. Take a deep breath, because although sig can be a bit tricky at times, it really is a piece of cake once you've got it down.
- The first thing you want to do is decide on what your doing with the finished piece. Is it functional or is it sculptural? If it's functional and you want a large surface of the pots to just have sig make sure you are using a clay body that has a very low absorption rate of water. Yes, I know that terra sigillata technically means "water tight," but bottom line is, it's not as water tight as the name leads you to believe. If you're glazing about 80% of the piece I wouldn't be as worried about finding a clay body that is super tight, as some of those glaze materials (such as sodium based material) will fume and slightly coat the sigged areas. A GREAT example of this is Ronan Peterson's work (check him out he's totally awesome).
- Okay, so you've got the clay you're using, now what? Lets talk about sig baby. I use Pete Pinnell's Terra Sig Recipe, but I tweak a few things. I only let clay settle for 24 hours. Pour off after that 24 hours and you have sig! You may need some water to evaporate from the sig, so just leave the lid off for a few days, making sure to check back with it. I want my sigs to be the consistency of 2% milk. Not totally thinned out, but I don't want them thick like whole milk. I want to apply sig onto my surfaces and not see it wipe off with a brush (I brush on my sig, and I'll talk about my in the next bullet point). TIP: put a sieve on top of your container so no bugs or junk get into your siggy goodness. No ball milling, no tears of frustration, nada!
- Okay, so you have your sig. Congrats! See that wasn't difficult! Now you have to decide on application method. You can spray, dip, brush, etc. I personally brush because I want an uneven coating of sig on my work. Sayyyyy whatttt? Yeah, so, because I pinch I can brush sig onto my work and get more sig to settle in the heavily pinched areas, whereas the brush moves the sig slightly off of the raised lightly pinched areas of a vessel. If I were to spray I'd get an overall even coating. With that said, if you are throwing your work and using a finishing sponge or smoothing the hell outta a sculpture with a rubber rib, for instance, I recommend spraying or dipping. You'll get a more even coating, if that's what you want. With that said, please don't think that this is the way you have to do it. You can use any application method, depending on the effect you'd like your work to have in the end. TESSTTTTT.
- Now here comes the epic testing part. You've gotta make sure that your sig fits onto your clay body well and that you're gonna dig the surface at it's final firing temp. You can apply sig to bone dry or bisqued work. Ya just gotta test what works and what you like best! Enjoy!
GLAZE TWEAKING (not to be confused with twerking)
- Ahh, the wonderful world of glazes. It's vast, magical, and confusing at times. I'm not going to lie, I love nerding out on some ceramics chemistry. I started mixing glazes as a sophomore in high school and back then I had no clue what I was doing, but wanted to learn so I thought I better get to makin' em! Today I take any and every approach to glazes. I formulate and mix new glazes, find them on the internet and in books and sometimes tweak them to fit my needs, get recipes from my friends, use commercial glazes, etc. Why limit yourself?
- John Britt has some excellent information on how to take a high fire glaze and lower its temperature.
- Matt Katz's article discussing boron in glazes is my go to when I'm attempting to lower a glaze's maturing temperature.
- Essentially what Matt says is that the first thing you can do to lower a glaze temp is to add varying amounts of fruit 3124 to a glaze. Make several 100 gram batches of the glaze and add 5% 3124 to one, 10% to another, 15%, and so on until you get a fluxed out result. He does say that this is just a first step, so this might not get you exactly the results you need. I find that it works pretty flippin' well though! Several years back I converted a cone 10 reduction glaze to cone 04 ox. by using 3124 and borax.
- I make up small batches of glaze, because I don't use much quite honestly. I pick a base I like and mix up about 1/2-3/4 of a 5 gallon bucketful of dry glaze material. I mix it SUPER well and then will begin to test parts (by volume) of base to colorant. I find that I am able to test quickly and make up small batches of glaze quickly, if needed. This also helps with studio storage. Once I mix water to a small batch of glaze I add CMC gum in order to make them crushable. I add about a tablespoon of CMC gum per cup of liquid glaze.
- I like to use AMACO's Velvet Underglaze series for all of my underglaze needs. Yes yes, I know, I could make up my own, but lets be serious right meow. AMACO does it right and I personally think it's worth the moolah. Such a killer range in firing temperature, vibrant ass colors, and I'm not applying them like it's buttercream icing on a cake, so I think it's worth it. You can order directly from AMACO or from most ceramic supply shops.
Taking images can be super intimidating. In undergrad I was so terrified of taking images of my work that I rarely took them! Once I got to grad school I decided I needed to learn how to take better images of my work.
First things first, what is the overall look you're going for? I like using a white backdrop because it's clean, simple, tasteful, and makes my work look like a product (same concept that Apple uses with their products). So, I'll be talking strictly about how to take images on a white backdrop.
- Make sure you have the proper equipment! You're going to need, at the very least, two soft box lights. I recommend three, but you can get away with just two. Click HERE to be directed to a link for a set of three soft box lights off of Amazon.
- You're also going to need a piece of Plexiglass. You want the dimensions of the Plexi to be about 20" wider than the typical width of your pieces. The length should be at least around 50" (again depending on the work you're shooting).
- The other things you'll need include a can of white flat spray paint, a table, at least two clamps to clamp the Plexi to a table, a tripod, camera, and a computer.
- Peel the protective backing off of only one side of the Plexi. In a cool dry area with plenty of ventilation shake that can of spray paint (like a Polaroid picture) and begin to spray the side of the Plexi you just peeled the backing off of. You may have to spray multiple layers, making sure each coat dries between each layer. *I would wait a full day for the spray paint to totally dry before using your backdrop.
- Peel the remaining protective film off of the Plexi.
- Take your Plexi over to the table, which should be pushed up against a wall.
- Clamp the Plexi to the table on the nearest side to you. This will create a sweep.
- Position one soft box on the left hand side of the table at a 90 degree angle with the Plexi, then more the light toward you ever so slightly. Do this with a second light, but on the right hand size of the table. Position your boom light so it is directly over the flat part of the Plexi, then tilt it toward you ever so slightly.
- I start out by putting a piece of mine on the Plexi and making sure that there are no crazy intense highlights from the soft boxes. If there are then move the soft boxes until they disappear on camera. Odds are you're not going to get a totally seamless white background just by shooting your image (set 8 will take care of that).
- Alright! Start shooting! I don't have any recommendations concerning cameras, I use my iPhone...yes, you read that correctly, I use my iPhone's camera. Yes yes, I know, I should probably invest in a legit camera, but I'm always taking pics on the go and the iPhone works out pretty well!
- WOO! You did it guys! You can always bring the photo into Photoshop or Lightroom to make sure your image is purrrfect and that the photo looks as true as possible to the real life object. Happy shooting!
LUSTRE (application and firing)
Lustre, like sig, can be tricky and a pain in the ass. BUT, don't worry about it! I'm here to help ya babes. Take a deep breath in and breath out (jokes on you I tooted, tehehe).
- Okay, so the first thing you're going to want to do is apply a clear glossy glaze over whatever surface you're wanting to apply lustre to. With that said, lustre takes on whatever surface you put it on top of. So, if you use a matte glaze then you'll have a matte lustre. So you can play with it to suite your own work.
- After you open your glaze firing take out all of the pieces. TIP: separate the pieces that'll get lustre from the rest of the kiln unload. I like to assess all the pieces later and get started on lustre right away!
- Use rubbing alcohol/alcohol swabs to clean off all of the glazed areas you'll be applying lustre onto. Once you do that go through with a micro-towel or something that won't leave a fiber residue and make sure the surface doesn't have any junk on it from the alcohol swabs.
- LET YOUR POTS DRY. Yes, I know, alcohol should evaporate quickly, but I was having some issues with lustre and talked to some friends and did some research. It looked like I had these lil clusters of pinholes on my lustre. Not cute. Not at all. Turns out there's a term called "spattering." It's when water is trapped underneath the lustre and doesn't have enough time to come to the surface.
- Alright, so you've waited two hours. IT'S TIME TO GET STONED AND LUSTRE THE %$&@ OUTTA SOME #$@%. No, but seriously, if you guys have checked out my Periscopes then you'll know I'm a terrible person and don't use a suitable mask when I apply lustre. Please PLEASE use a vapor mask. I have dealt with headaches and a strange depressed hangover the next day after applying lustrous and I actually just purchased my own MASK because of it.
- Put on some latex gloves, get out the lustre essence or lacquer thinner, lustre, very soft flat haired paintbrushes, shop rag, etc. and get to lustring!
- Start by dipping your clean brush into the bottle of lustre. place the brush on the far end of where you'd like to begin lustring. You want to move across the surface as quickly as possible so the lustre can level itself out before it dries. When you're applying it should be a very light caramel color. If it's not then dip your brush in the lustre essence (if you're using multiple lustres then you should pour a tiny amount of essence into a container to use so you don't contaminate your big bottle of essence). I mix up my essence and lustre right on the piece I'm applying lustre to. You can also mix essence into your lil bottle of lustre, but I find it just keeps evaporating, so I mix it all in on the piece.
- Okay! So your pieces are all good to go! Give your pieces a good look down and make sure you've applied lustre everywhere and none of it has "ran" off. Sometimes, because of the solvents, lustre will run down the glossy surface of your clear glaze underneath.
- Place your pieces in an electric kiln with plenty of room for each piece to relax (about 1" personal space between each one). Once you're done loading the kiln take all of the peeps out and prop the lid about 3."
- Yeah...you heard me. Lots of air flow! You want all of the solvents to air out from the inside of the kiln before you really start rockin it. Turn the kiln to low/preheat for 3-6 hours.
- Once that's done turn all knobs to medium (cone sitter kiln) and once you begin to see dull red heat in the kiln close up the lid and pop the peeps back in and let the kiln get to temp as fast as possible! Turn all knobs to high bb!
- Hopefully you come in to beautiful blinged out work the next day! Happy blingin.'