Some time back I posted about getting back into my clay studio.  I had been M.I.A. for a few years due to a flagging economy, health concerns, and lack of any creative impulse.

Using the wheel to throw pots was getting increasingly hard on my back so I decided to experiment with “hand building”, a potter’s term for making things with clay without the wheel or the use of plaster molds.

I needed to make replacements for some tiles that broke in a display in the lobby of a hospital that bought some wall murals from the studio and gallery I used to work in.  These replacements were my first efforts after I got back in.  Several of them warped.  I have possible technical explanations for that.  One of them is that the process used “slab inlay” where one colored clay is pressed into another color of clay.  Two things happen; clay is displaced so that the borders of the piece have to be reshaped.  This manipulation can cause clay to develop a memory for a shape you did not intend.

The second issue is that the clay “bodies” need to be very similar.  They need to have the same shrinkage rate during drying and firing.  If they are very different they can actually pull apart, but more often they just pull at each other and change shape.

I noticed that the dark clay body warped worse than the white clay.  I’m not sure why that happened.

The second set of tiles is representative of a series of “Eclipse” tiles that I made for the coming solar eclipse.  Dillard, Georgia about 12 miles up the road is on the path of “totality”.  Every motel room has been sold out for over a year. We are expecting a busy weekend and rural gridlock.

These tiles were created using a slab roller instead of a rolling pin.  They are more consistent in thickness, thinner, and created from the white clay for the ones that have the arbor vitae imprint, and from dark clay for the other set.  Again, some of the dark clay tiles warped, and did so without slab inlay.

These tiles were the product of desperation and utilized several untested techniques, colorants, and a glaze that I had modified and had not yet tested.  Except for losing a couple of the dark clay tiles to warping they worked out.  The colorants were diluted clay slip that I sprayed on creating thick and thin areas of light in the background, the dark side of the moon was created using a black mason stain and a material called Gerstley Borate.  The streaks away from the sun were supposed to be yellow.  I mixed a yellow mason stain 50/50 with the Gerstley which made them too dark, but then serendipity helped me out.

The glaze is based on a barium glaze that a potter named Rene Murray was kind enough to share.  Barium is a potential problem.  It aids in modifying and enhancing colors in glazes, but it is not food safe.  So, I went to the books and modified the glaze substituting another material high in calcium for the barium on a mole for mole basis (pm me if you want any information about this).

Rene’s barium glaze was turquoise blue-green.  I used the same colorants and it is a pretty green without the blue.  I used the same percentages of colorants that she did, but the color is more intense and it provided a wonderful amplification of texture.  And that effect served to highlight the streaks that were supposed to be jets of gasses from the sun’s corona that turned out too dark, providing a halo around those streaks.  I would like to tell you that I planned that, but it was luck.

I usually run a set of test tiles in a glaze firing.  This time I found three out of eleven that I liked, and two used the glaze I modified.

It is interesting that the modified glaze seems to be temperamental about the way that it is applied.  All of the work was dipped once for about a second except a large piece over which I poured the glaze letting it run off the edges, and a set of flat test tiles that had the glaze brushed on.  The brushed on glaze was blue over both light and dark clay.  The large piece was green, but its thickness almost obscured the underlying clay.

Test tiles help avoid kiln disasters.  Some glaze combinations melt and run like crazy and can create a real mess on your kiln shelf.  One of my test tiles did that, but the run stopped just short of contact.

Runny glazes can create cool effects when you are expecting the glaze to move.  They look good on the rims of mugs, and some potters create “dams” on the side of pots by creating a lot of texture and then apply the runny glaze above the dam creating thick and thin areas which produce interest.

for some reason I can no longer add images to this post from my computer.  Perhaps, I can find a workaround. 

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Comment by Rodney Roe on August 6, 2017 at 6:23am

This demonstrates the effect of layering glazes.  The image on the left is a tried and true, glossy, black glaze called Licorice.  The test tile on the right has Licorice layered over a specialty glaze that may make the overlying glaze glow due to the formation of crystals in the glaze.  The effect was interesting, but there was a problem.  The Licorice ran a lot over the SCM glaze.

This image demonstrates the runniness with the glaze almost going to the kiln shelf.  Glaze that reaches the shelf bonds with the shelf and has to be broken off and then ground smooth again.

Comment by Rodney Roe on August 6, 2017 at 6:26am

Here are flat tiles that had the modified glaze brushed on instead of dipped.  I like the blue.  The dark areas on the lower right are colored slip that I put on to see how the glaze would look over the slip.  I like the plain glaze.

Comment by koshersalaami on August 6, 2017 at 6:36am

What's a slab roller?

Imteresting stuff. I notice that in the last photo of the actual post you depicted the eclipse in negative. Or is that a depiction of the full moon moving across the viewing hole? 

Comment by Rodney Roe on August 6, 2017 at 6:53am

A slab roller works like the wringer on an old fashioned wringer washer.  It is mounted on a table and the gap can be adjusted.  Starting with a lump of clay and a fairly open gap you crank the clay through the roller, reorient, close the gap a bit and repeat until the clay is the desired thickness.  I can't see the gauge on our roller so I use my finger as a feeler and stop when the roller is getting uncomfortable. ;-)

As to the images; they should all be negatives in the respect that we will see the dark side of the moon occluding the sun with the corona extending out from the edges of the moon.  These are pretty impressionistic.

Comment by koshersalaami on August 6, 2017 at 6:58am

In the last photo in the post itself the disc is light and the border is dark. An eclipse is the opposite, as it is in the last comment photo. 

Comment by Rosigami on August 6, 2017 at 7:00am

This is SO interesting! I sure do love seeing your work! The coming eclipse seems to have set you on fire.
I did a lot of hand-building in my day, but was never proficient on the wheel, and never conversant in the properties and possibilities of glazes. 
I love seeing your experiments and explanations. 

I've had the same issue in adding pictures. Here is the work-around: Save your piece as it is, and then go back in and edit it. For some reason, the program seems to have an undefined limit for adding pics in one go. You should be able to add more when you do it this way.

Comment by greenheron on August 6, 2017 at 7:49am

These are quite lovely. I like how the glaze breaks along the sides in the dipped tiles, and like the atmospheric quality you get with the brushed on glaze. My favorites are the tiles where you pull together the turquoise glaze as sky, with the under-slip, and the arbor vitae bit as tree. 

If traffic is as bad as predicted, you could have a captive customer base. If it stops moving altogether, maybe the only way they will get to view the eclipse is on one of your tiles :)

Wait. If traffic isn't moving, how will you get your tiles to Dillard? 

Comment by Rodney Roe on August 6, 2017 at 11:53am

Rosi, there will be an art fair in the city park in downtown Clayton the weekend leading to the eclipse.  I'm hoping to sell there.  A couple are already sold.  I've priced them to move.  I don't need a drawer full of yesterday's eclipse tiles afterward.  This has been sort of an event project for me, but I've discovered some effects and techniques that I plan to use in future work.  Thanks fror your compliment.

greenheron, thanks.  I was hoping that the glaze would pool, much the way Celadon does, in depressions creating depth, but the breaking at the edges is even better to my eye.  The day of the eclipse I think will be spent at home.  I can imagine drivers peering up in the sky rear ending drivers peering up into the sky.

Comment by koshersalaami on August 6, 2017 at 12:35pm

I can see you making a whole bunch of easy pieces, then strolling through the stopped traffic selling them to stuck people. 

Comment by Rodney Roe on August 6, 2017 at 6:18pm

With a Homeless Potter sign?


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