The Glaze Game

Pop quiz!

Remember that set of tumblers I made at the beginning of the semester? The ones that in essence had to reflect the many stages of clay? Well, about three weeks ago, they were bisqued, and moved from the kiln back onto my studio shelves… and that is where they have remained as a constant, taunting reminder that glazing needs to be done; but none of the glazes in our studio have really presented themselves to me, begging to be applied on these tumblers.

A fellow student once told me that glazing is everyone’s least favorite part of ceramics, and boy was he preaching to the choir, but glaze experimentation is crucial in building a more cohesive portfolio, and therefore becoming a better, more independent ceramic artist. Take a look at any one professional ceramist’s line or portfolio. Typically their glaze preferences are extremely evident and remain consistent. Perhaps the consistency is evident in the color selection (vibrant, highly saturated hues versus earthy tones), or perhaps in texture (matte versus glossy), or in regards to the temperature to which the work is fired (cone 6 versus cone 10 versus cone 12). Furthermore, glazes are often chosen on the basis of opacity (opaque, transparent, or translucent). How could one be expected to create the most successful product line or portfolio if only one set of these glazes is available to apply in an artist’s phases of exploration?

Within our ceramics department, my professor and studio technician have been more than willing to help me prepare and mix new glazes for use on current and future pieces. They understand that I am thinking critically about aesthetics and final outcomes. They know that when I take the initiative and inquire about glazes and how to mix them on my own, I am gaining technical knowledge about the ceramics industry and the professional studio lifestyle. So in my search for new, transparent, cone 10, reduction glazes, I stumbled upon a really interesting database where one can search for the best glazes based on the artists parameters. Check it out! It is just so convenient to have all of this information organized in such a way where it is easily accessible.

20150930_173942My professor also gave me an incredible resource of his when I asked about new glazes. He had an entire binder filled with glaze recipes compiled from when he was in graduate school. All of the information was entered into charts and tables so that each recipe could be easily found, like a print database. After we spoke more about it and deciphered the jargon of the binder, he informed me that instead of making many different glazes from scratch, another approach would be to create the base of a glaze and experiment with different colorants and ratios of colorants. If I know my cone temperature, kiln atmosphere, and desired surface texture, I can complicate the process less by starting with a simple base.

So yes, as of late, I have been dreaming of my future studio—the one that I build or design or fill the way I want, and the one that I run the way I want. I know that producing clay art is not inexpensive, no matter which angle one examines it from. Expensive start up costs in regards to equipment and machinery and high energy costs of firing kilns to thousands of degrees are just a couple of the issues that potters and ceramists must confront as they embark on their independent careers. So as I consider which glaze to apply to my tumblers, I’ll consider some cone 6 glaze experiments too. They might be more economically friendly later in my own personal career, so it would be good to at least have some experience with them.

I’d love to know our reader’s thoughts about cone 6 versus cone 10 glazes, as well as feelings about oxidation versus reduction firings. Maybe one is better for delicate tableware, and others are better for robust sculpture. Let’s share in our experience!! Comment below, and thanks for the read!!

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