ClayWorker's Newsletter
"The aesthetic beauty of pottery lies in the archeological finds of our past."
Volume #1 Issue #2 February 1, 2013
Inspiration Through Clay

It is often said that clay is the only medium where creativity can be surpassed beyond any other art form. Yet, what makes clay such a satisfying material to work with? And where does the clay take us to give us our creative ability

To answer the first question, we must go back to our childhood days when our backyard was our playground and getting dirty meant having to take an extra bath before bedtime. Probably the memory that sticks in many potters' minds is the stories their parents tell of mud pies and eating dirt. For those who never experienced such a childhood past time, we envy you. Or do we? There was something about being close to the earth as a child, working with water and mud and all the utensils, creating inedible (but sometimes tasted) pastries.

We didn't understand the relationship between water and earth, nor did we understand how that flat cookie shaped mass dried in the sun to create a semi-permanent disc. Yet, we continued to play in our giant clay pit, unknowing as to the inspiration the material was shaping us.

As we grew older, educational training has shown us that this clay mass can be created into wonderful object to the cherished, used and savored for thousands of years. And this is where we come to the understanding that clay is a material that can be tested and formed into objects and shapes brought on by constant play.

Through handbuilding and throwing, our minds develop a 'sense of one with the clay body'. This term, used often in our studio, refers to the ability of an artist to respond to the clay as it responds to our touch. At first, the potter manipulates the clay body, changing it to meet the ideas a potter sees about how clay objects are formed. Simple shapes are the primary idea a novice potter has about clay. As a potter works with clay long enough, the clay body will begin altering our way of thinking about form.

A touch here, or a movement there, changes the surface of the clay and introduces a new artistic design or shape. Experience brings about changes in clay form. From these changes comes new ideas and testing of a clays ability to perform. The potter begins to allow the clay to take shapes beyond the simple forms to those which introduce the creativeness hidden inside our minds. Forms become larger, more elaborate and more detailed in design. Attachments are often added to blend symmetrical form with added appendages. The potter begins to stretch their creativeness to develop a unique style in their work.

There are times when a potter's creativeness becomes blocked. Shapes and forms may fall into a routine that can cause boredom or the inability to establish new ideas. This is especially true when a potter works with functional ware. To alleviate this period, the potter should look to others work for inspiration. Copying is not the answer, but refreshed styles will often assist the potter in moving past the blocked period to the creativeness once felt.

Whether a new potter, or one that has been working with clay for many years, each holds their own creative style and technique when working with clay. The ability to master their style and continue developing new works comes from allowing the clay body to respond as an independent medium, expressing itself from the response it gets from our hands and tools. Keeping this in mind, working with clay is still the most satisfying medium in the artist industry, and will continue to produce ware that outlives any artwork known to the human race.

In this issue:

Editor's Corner
Inspiration Through Clay
Don't Under Estimate the Power of Colorants
Pottery Tips
MicroKilns - Ceramic Kilns or Bad Idea?
Free Class!

Editor's Corner

With our first issue behind us, we now nestle down to tackle the rest of the year. Our studio is busy preparing for the upcoming year with new events at the retreat. We have a lot of projects planned as we begin a new season.

We are preparing a new resident ceramics program designed specifically for the ceramic student who desires a unique one-on-one training atmosphere. The program will offer educational classes, workshops and studio training. Students will have the opportunity to complete a detailed portfolio of their work while residing at our facility.

What gives this program its uniqueness is two areas of education not offered in any undergraduate or graduate college. A complete glaze chemistry program that teaches students to design, develop and put to test glaze chemicals, while problem solving issues that arise from developing glaze recipes. And an in-depth program in pottery history, from the Jomon period to present day. We believe this new program addition will benefit all who choose a complete pottery educational experience in a relaxed learning environment. This ClayWorkers issue continues with the glaze formulation series; Don't Underestimate the Power of Colorants, which should prove to be an article packed with information for every novice and advance potter.

Enjoy this issue of Clay Workers Digest!

Editor in Chief,
Ti Phillips

MicroKilns -
Ceramic Kilns or Bad Idea?

In our high-tech world, designers are rushing to create new and innovative ways to quicken the pottery design process. And although potters are in complete agreement that our environment needs protection, how these products work and increase our production is of great concern to the manufacturing potter who relies on quality as well as fast production methods.

Originally developed overseas, the microkiln is now manufactured in the United States under various brand names. Typically the same design, the microkiln comes in two sizes, small and medium. We purchased the medium microkiln which included fiber paper to protect the surface of the kiln. Hoping it would be large enough to fire a small bowl, we soon found that it was only 3.50" high and 6.50" wide, with a firing chamber of only 1.77" high and 4.33" wide.

Our test would include a porcelain tile with the application of china paint. We followed the instructions by placing the fiber paper on the surface of the microkiln base then placed our 2" x 2" glazed porcelain tile on the fiber paper. Placing the lid
on the base, the microkiln was placed inside the microwave and turned on to the recommended time, 10 minutes. When the microwave turned off, kiln gloves were used to place the microkiln onto a brick surface to cool. After waiting the recommended 20 minutes to cool, we removed the lid to the microkiln and examined our tile. The glaze did indeed melt and fuse to the porcelain tile.

We then chose to repeat the process using our own low temperature china paint glaze on the test tile. The glaze was applied with three coats of one color and a painted glaze decoration on top of the base color. Again, we fired the microkiln to the specifications. Upon removing the tile, we found that the glaze melted but did not completely fuse to the porcelain tile. The glaze fused to sections of the tile, but chipped when tapped lightly with a metal spoon. Once again, we repeated the porcelain test with our china paint glaze and increased the timer to 11 minutes. This test proved successful.

Upon testing we found that microkiln does what it claims in firing low fire glazes onto a ceramic body. However, the microkiln lacks any way to make visual determinations on the progress of a glaze body. Therefore, several tests may be required to determine the actual time needed to fuse the glaze to the clay body. This will result in much wasted energy use and materials.

Also, because of the small size, it is extremely limited in the firing size of the ceramic object. There is no real use for the microkiln in the potters' studio, even as a test kiln because of the firing limitations and size. The cost of the microkiln is about half that of the cost of a good used test kiln, if the potter is in need of one for testing glazed tiles.

The microkiln does not allow for bisque firing, and we feel that fluctuation in the microwaves ability to heat after extended periods of time may cause further failures of the microkiln to melt and fuse glaze. The total cost for the microkiln, fiber paper, china paint pens and 1100 watt microwave was under $300.00. Therefore, it is our recommendation that the potter should save their money and purchase a used or new test kiln rather than the microkiln for glaze testing.
Don't Under Estimate
the Power of Colorants

Series #2 On Glaze Formulation

In our last series, we covered the use of a base glaze and a few raw colorants to create primary colors at cone 05 temperatures. Although many potters, who have had basic experience in glaze mixing, can come to the conclusion that primary colors can be achieved at low and medium temperatures. But when attempting to create high temperature primaries, the steps to create a recipe become more involved.

Glaze colors are based on three specific criteria. First is the firing temperature, second, the raw materials included in the base glaze and third, the opacifiers and colorants used. The higher the temperature, the less stable the colorant remains. Add the fact that many different materials are in a base glaze and create various chemical reactions, a colorant known to produce a specific color may surprise the potter when reaching high temperatures.

Therefore, a different strategy is taken to stabilize a colorant so that the base materials and firing temperature will have less reaction to the purity of the colorant. Frit, a unique form of stabilization, is used to reduce the negative effects on a colorant while also creating a safer colorant to introduce to the glaze mix.
This chemical process is primarily used to reduce the toxic and poisonous characteristics of a raw material, making them safer to handle as well as helping to overcome the leaching of toxic materials after a glaze is fired. Fritting is also used to make soluble materials insoluble, lower the firing time of a glaze body, and to bind several unstable materials into a single stable raw material, therefore creating a reliable additive to a base glaze.

Fritted colorants, also known as stains, are oxides that have been mixed and fritted to create a stable colorant used in a base glaze. The method is simple, but does require several pieces of equipment that are usually not part of the potters' studio. Therefore, purchasing stains from a manufacturer is often the preferred choice of the potter. But for those who remain steadfast in playing a part in all areas of pottery creation, stains can be made in the studio with studio made tools and equipment.

Stains are created by blending a carefully studied group of raw glaze oxides and colorants in proportions that will result in a specific color. To insure the mixture creates the correct color, some oxides used to create base glazes may be added to help create a stable mix. Once blended, the powdered mixture is placed into a crucible and fired until the mix melts into a liquid form.

A crucible is simply a pot made for melting. Although crucibles can be purchased from a ceramic supplier, we made our own using high temperature stoneware. The crucible was
thrown on the wheel to create a symmetrical form. Although any size can be made, our crucible was 6" in height and 5" wide at the mouth. A pouring lip was created to assist in removal of the melted stain.

The melted mixture is removed from the kiln with raku tongs and poured into cold water to end the heating process and to shatter the mixture. The water is drained and the glass-like mixture is allowed to dry before it is placed into a crushing machine. The glass is pulverized until it has become a powder. Crushing continues until the powder is a specific mesh size.

Once again, a crushing machine can be purchased, but is very expensive for the studio potter. Our machine is designed using PVC pipe, concrete, and pulleys. Weighted, the simple tool will crush the stain into any mesh size required.

As a powder, the stain is introduced like any other colorant, with exception to any limits that may change the color, such as zinc, temperature, or other oxides that may alter the stains ability to produce. As a colorant, stains are the most stable of all the colorants in high temperatures, but should still be tested prior to using on ware. A simple starting point for developing a stain body is to research the available stains on the market. As required by federal regulations, the materials used in the stain are listed, without their percentage amounts. It will be up to the potter to determine as to the ratio needed for each oxide listed. But beginning with the manufactured stain lists, a potter will have a good idea about the composition of a stain body, thereby allowing the potter to begin testing to create a series of stain recipes used in the private studio.

ESF is offering a free class for the month of February!

Do you love clay but don't have a clue about the available types and their characteristics? How about enrolling in a free Clay Bodies Class!

Click on the Classroom Portal below, create a student account and enroll in Orientation 101. Once completed, your instructor will enroll you in CLAY100C. This class is offered with no further obligation to enroll in additional classes.

Pottery Tips

Tip #002

Hand building tools are not limited to high cost manufactured items. Many tools can be adapted from other sources. Kitchen ware, hardware tools and even dental tools can be used to cut, score, slice and design clay. Just remember, if you choose items from the kitchen, don't return them to the kitchen. Some raw clay and glaze materials are toxic. Purchase kitchen tools from garage sales and hand-me-down shops!


The best source of inspiration
comes from nature.

Next Issue...

Surface Design - Those Incredible Marks
Editor's Corner
Studio To-Do List
Equipment Maintenance - Keeping Tools Working
Raw Materials Storage - Safety and Convenience
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