Tiles Come to an End, For the Moment

Here is the last set of pictures for the tile project I’ve been chronicling recently (look back at the previous three posts if you want to see the other members of the group).

Today’s topic for tiles is – glazing.

To explain, I’ve been painting with underglazes, in this case, Velvet, made by Amaco. In essence, they are colored slips that come in a large number of colors. They are not the “shiny”, they are the “color”, is how I explain it to non-clay-making people. I love using them because they can be used in bisque or greenware situations, they can be used on any kind of clay, they can easily be mixed to form new colors, and – the color they are in the container, well, that’s the color they are in the end, only more intense – which is not the case with glazes.

Underglazes end up with a matte finish, soft-looking. They do not give you a food-safe surface, if you need that, and they are not shiny. If you want shiny, you need to add the glaze. Glaze is a glassy substance that adheres to the clay through firing – it can have color or be clear, depending on the minerals and substances added. What it looks like the bottle is not what it will turn out to be after firing.

These tiles have been coated with underglaze with clear glossy glaze on top. Glaze was necessary because the surface of the tiles needed to be easily washable and non-absorbent. My relief tiles and my sculptural work, though, do not have the top layer of glaze, since they are not functional, and I like the matte look of underglaze only. I’m also in the process of making some more tiles (I’ll show you when they are done) that I plan to leave with underglaze only, and set into a frame.

I find that glazing is hard. Not painting the scene, but applying the “shiny” so that it is evenly coated and with a flat, non-bubbly surface. Also, glazing emphasizes any brushstrokes or unevenness in the underglazing. Finally, there is no telling what effect firing will have – you may think you have a wonderful glaze application and be disappointed with the results and have no idea why.

So, I tend to stick with underglaze only, and it suits me well to use this product. It echoes my experience in acrylic painting and so I get the benefit of my work beyond what I do in clay.

All right, take a look at this group, knowing now what I did to get the color and the shiny to cooperate!

16 thoughts on “Tiles Come to an End, For the Moment

  1. agnesashe

    These are charming. I see you say the underglaze is not food safe and you also comment that the tiles are not functional, but could you stick them on a wall. I can picture a royal blue tiled wall with your painted tiles positioned every now and then, or perhaps as a sequence, to add highlights. Do you think using both fully glazed and some underglazed tiles in the same scheme can work?

  2. Laura (PA Pict)

    Thank you for sharing your process. I did a little bit of pottery when I was at school but it was way too long ago for me to remember how things like glazes worked – though I do recall that the colours emerge differently when they come out of the kiln. I love the tile of the chap with his hands on his hips in the snow. He looks like he is hatching a plan to create a really huge snowball with which to pelt someone. I also love the one of the figure chilling out in the armchair. It speaks of contentment and comfort and my kind of bliss.

  3. Claudia McGill Post author

    Thank you. You can see what was on my mind when I made these tiles!

    Glazing can be very complex. I have always stuck with the commercial products and even then there is always a big element of chance. I remind myself that people devote decades to learning about glazing!

  4. Claudia McGill Post author

    The problem with using underglazed tiles in a functional setting, such as on a wall, comes from two things:#1, if the wall gets any kind of moisture while in use, or grease, or needs to be cleaned, and #2, the grouting process. These are related in that an unglazed tile is somewhat porous, not being sealed by the glaze, and can be stained by anything that gets on it, like grease, or the grout in the grouting process. Also, unglazed tile can harbor moisture and therefore…things grow. Not to mention your everyday dirt!

    So, if you wanted to use unglazed tiles, just underglazed ones, I mean, I would say they could be used in places that these conditions wouldn’t apply – you could have a decorative wall and apply the tiles but leave the installation ungrouted. I have made mosaics this way, but on boards meant to be hung on the wall. You could mix glazed and unglazed in this application, because you aren’t worried about functionality, just looks.

    I haven’t addressed the differences in firing temperature for tiles and the different kinds of clay at all, but that also makes a difference in the durability of tiles in use. Another thing is also, if they are being installed outside or inside – weather being a factor.

    So you can see, if a person wants a tile installation, the suitability of types of tiles and glazes and so on depends on what they want the tiles to be doing 0 anything from a mosaic just to look at in a protected area to tiles in a pool outside! This is one thing I really like about tiles, how versatile the form is.

    I think I may have overdone the answer, tell me if I missed what you wanted to know, though!

  5. agnesashe

    Your answer is spot on – it’s precisely what I wanted to know. I hadn’t considered outside tiling or swimming pools, but, of course, tiles are so very useful and versatile.
    I’m guessing that incredibly matt, unglazed appearance of Wedgwood Jasperware is actually some fancy glaze/process. Your thoughtful explanation has got me thinking in a much broader context. I suppose in the end we are frequently drawn back to clay. A medium that has unsurprisingly fascinated humans for millennia. 😌

  6. Claudia McGill Post author

    Good, I am glad to hear that. Something about tiles is like making a cartoon – you can sort of take a different look at things. Not so serious or realistic!

  7. Claudia McGill Post author

    Wedgewood has some information about how they do things on their site which I looked up – got curious. The jasperware seems to be made by a casting process that explains the surface and the color all through the piece. Loved seeing how they put on the applied decoration. I wonder if these are classified as giftware and therefore meet different standards than food-designated? Interesting info I found out, thanks for asking!

  8. agnesashe

    Oh how interesting. As a practical ceramic artist, you obviously understand what they’re talking about with the detailed technical discussions on process and glazes. In the 1960s my mother had jasperware cups and saucers. As a child I can remember they only came out for coffee mornings, but they were definitely used. Pretty sure the inside of the teacups had a glossy glaze though outside was that matt finish. All were hand washed in a washing up bowl – certainly NOT the dishwasher.

  9. Claudia McGill Post author

    Yes, in order to use the cups a glaze would be necessary for the inside and I did read on the site, they take care in washing, but I think they must have really looked beautiful and guests loved them.

  10. agnesashe

    Maybe they did, but the particularly shape of cups my mother bought have dated. Perhaps the design needs another 20 years to be appreciated and then collected.

  11. Claudia McGill Post author

    Yes, that is how it seems it goes. I know I’ve always thought Wedgewood very elegant, just that -in my lifestyle, there isn’t a place for it. So I admire it in museums. Sort of seems too bad, seems to me the cups want to be used, not looked at, but…

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