Monday, June 15, 2009

Testing, Testing, 1,2,3...

Any potter will tell you that testing glazes sucks.
There is just no easy way to do it. It's time consuming and tedious, truly an evil necessity if one is looking for their own glazes that stand out in a crowd.

So I spent many hours this past week doing what I hate: testing glazes.

It has taken me many years to get to a point in glaze testing where I'm no longer rushing through it as fast as I can. I've made WAAAYYY too many mistakes doing just that. I've finally learned to slow down, clear my schedule for the afternoon, pull up a stool and get it done right.

So this time around I'm working on two different glaze bases: a glossy from the geniuses at Digitalfire, and a matte, a recipe that was given to me from the amazing and talented people at NSCAD. I will spend hours researching the colors that I am looking for: what ceramic oxides will yield what results, what ingredients are necessary in the base glaze to give the desired effect. I hunt down appropriate base recipes and calculate them using Insight, a downloadable glaze calculation program (highly recommend it!) and make sure all the numbers look good.

With all the research out of the way, I mix up 500g batches of each, with no colorants, and run each batch through a 120 mesh sieve. Then each glaze is weighed and divided into 5 different containers, all carefully marked with my trusty sharpie. It is at this point that the real test mixing begins. Colorants and stains are carefully measured into each well-labelled container (learned that the hard way, more than once!) and are then ready to be applied to test tiles.

I used to use lots of itsy-bitsy L-shaped tiles that I extruded. Each glazed surface was no more than 1" x 2". I have since moved on to larger surfaces. I found I just couldn't get enough information off of that small a surface. I need to actually SEE what the glaze is going to do, in the manner in which I'm going to be using it. Now I extrude tubes, about 3-4" tall, and 2 1/2" wide. This gives me lots of room to try as much as I need to on the same surface. Each tube is CAREFULLY labelled (also learned that the hard way, more than once!) and at the same time, I make very thorough notes in my sketchbook (again, the hard way...).

Glaze testing is painfully slow. After the research, there's the mixing. After the mixing, there's the firing. After the firing, you have to wait for the kiln to cool. After the kiln cools, you FINALLY get to look at the tiles, and inevitably, try to figure out what to adjust the next time around to get the results you are looking for. It can literally take weeks, months and even years to finally hit the jackpot and get what you were looking for in the first place. As frustrating as it is in the thick of it all, when you finally get that perfect glaze, all of that time spent doesn't seem so bad. It's like hitting pay dirt.

So for all of you out there who are also enduring glaze hell, hang in there! Without all the testing, you'll never find what you're looking for, and sooner or later your efforts will pay off.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Stress and the birth of Ideas

About two weeks ago my very old Plymouth Voyageur Minivan died.

I was busy glazing away in the studio while my husband was out running errands. When he came back, he very slowly walked over to where I was working and cautiously asked: "'s it going?"

"Fiiiiinnnnnnnnne......" I replied. I knew something was up. He never greets me like that.

"I have some bad news...." My first thought was something happened to all the pottery I have in tubs in the van that I cart back and forth to my weekly Art in the Park. "The transmission went on the van."

I honestly didn't know whether to laugh, cry or throw up. We knew it was coming. The poor van was 13 years old and had been with us from coast to coast.

Now these types of events never seem to time themselves so that it is convenient for US. And the last thing I needed was to spend what little I had saved up on another vehicle. (sigh). If you've ever gone through this sort of thing, then you understand just how much stress is involved. Need a new vehicle right away, have no other means of transportation and live out in the country. We stressed about what we could afford, we stressed about trying to find something we actually WANTED, we stressed about borrowing a car to get groceries, we stressed about the plans that now needed to be put on hold. Stress, stress, stress....STRESS!!!!

And in the midst of it all, the ideas began to flow. I haven't carried a sketch book with me everywhere I go, for a while now. I think I need to bring one along from now on. I couldn't believe it. Here I was, supposed to be looking for a new car, and all I could see were colours, blossoms, flowers, patterns, glazes and shapes. It was like the floodgates had opened and ideas were pouring out of me faster than I could get them all on paper. And these ideas were evolving, from one to the next.

I guess it was a bright spot on a temporarily gloomy horizon. Needless to say, we found the PERFECT vehicle. A truck like this one, in a lovely burgundy. And with it sitting comfortably in my driveway, the ideas are starting to slow down. Now I can take some time to digest them, work through them, and figure out what the hell just happened.