Artifact Tiles – Part 1

A few weeks ago, I was buying some clay at the Ceramic Shop in Norristown, PA. My attention was attracted by a display of sample tiles for Amaco Lead-Free Low-Fire Opalescent Glazes.

I mention the whole name so that you can look it up if you want. I’ll do my best to describe it in concise terms – these glazes are designed to “break”, meaning they are used on tiles with relief, the glaze color collecting in the low spots and the underlying clay or underglaze color revealed in the higher areas.

I was intrigued. I thought I’d buy a couple of jars of it (I chose Bluebell, a turquoise color, and Transparent Pearl, a white) and see if I could make anything of it.

My first thought was to make relief tiles similar to ones from the past – here is an example:

But I didn’t want to go back to doing something I feel I’ve done enough of. My more recent tiles have resembled small paintings:

and I enjoy doing them. I don’t want to move away from this style of working. I like the process of making them and I like the results.

Still, I was curious and it doesn’t hurt to try out something new. If nothing else, I’d know to stay away from this line of inquiry in the future!

I needed to think about my work process. The product literature emphasized that these glazes were to be used on items with relief – there is no point in using this kind of glaze on a flat surface as the breaking effect will not occur.

It also recommended using terracotta clay or else doing an underpainting with an underglaze color. Well, I had plenty of Velvet underglaze on hand – that’s what I have used for years in all my tile work.

All right. Now what would my tile designs look like? I was not sure how much small detail would survive in this process. I have found that glaze tends to smooth out details. I decided to try impressing various objects in clay, making marks of various depths, patterns, and sizes to get some idea of how things might work.

I rolled out both terracotta and a white clay (both are low-fire, or earthenware, clays and are suitable for use with these glazes. As you may know, clay and glazes have to match as far as firing temperature). I pulled out a box of odds and ends and started pressing into the clays.

I did not worry about the shape distortions of the tiles or invest much design sense. My goal was to make sure I had enough variety to get an idea of what looked best.

I ended up with a good array of tiles. They dried for about a week and then I fired them at cone 06 for their initial trip to the kiln. Here are the terracotta tiles:

and the white tiles.

Next, I tried to figure out how I’d manage the color/glaze combinations. I had two types of clay, two glazes, and a lot of Velvet underglazes. I thought about things for a while and made some lists.

Then I started putting on the underglazes.

I had an elaborate scheme to get as many samples as I could, but I got a little mixed up. Still, it worked out in the end all right. As I went along, I photographed each tile and made a list of the underglaze/glaze combination, so that later on I could see which ones worked and which were less successful.

I then separated the tiles into two glaze groups and put them on the table in these groups (20 being Bluebell and 10 being Transparent Pearl).

I glazed them, putting on three coats as recommended, and loaded them in the kiln, planning to fire them at Cone 05.

What happened? I’ll tell you…soon…

33 thoughts on “Artifact Tiles – Part 1

  1. agnesashe

    Am looking forward to seeing the end results. I was amused to read I am not the only one who starts diligently logging combinations (dye measurements in my case) and then gets in a wee muddle! How lucky we are these days to have a quick photo record.

  2. Claudia McGill Post author

    Thank you. I made many tiles in this style over a period of years but I still like that one you mentioned very much. The simplicity of it still appeals to me.

  3. Claudia McGill Post author

    Yes, those photos were a big help. I will say my list of combinations (clay/underglaze/glaze) was accurate but the plan I had as to how I would distribute these variable, oops, I read off one column and applied it to the items in a different one, oops… But, in the end, well, it all turned out ok. I think my problem is, I tend to get new ideas as the process goes along and the original set up does not accommodate them, though I try, and then it’s fitting things in, oh dear! oh dear! it all goes nuts.

  4. Sharon Mann

    Thanks for sharing your process. I’ve never worked much with clay, but would like too. I’ve put on my list of art making to take a class at the local college. Love your designs.

  5. Claudia McGill Post author

    Thank you. I took clay classes off and on for some time 20+ years ago but about 8 or ten years ago I decided to intensify and got a small kiln for at home. I really like handbuilding as opposed to the wheel, but then, I have so little experience with the wheel (as I don’t have one and my classes focused on handbuilding). I think you’d like it and the ideal place to learn is in a class where you can also get studio time. Our community college offers classes like this as a non-credit thing, I plan to try it (for the wheel aspect of it) in the future. I’d love to see clay work that you do.

  6. Claudia McGill Post author

    Thank you. It is a process. A friend of mine in the clay world once told me, don’t fall in love with your work until it is done, meaning, the final firing, it did not fall apart, and so on. And clay is a lot of experimenting. Experience makes a difference.

  7. sueblackpenart

    Oh yes, I believe that at once… And I dare say that experimenting is essential throughout the creative process in whole. Another thing art has got in common with science. Great work, Claudia, chapeau.

  8. Claudia McGill Post author

    If the colors had no glaze at all on them, they would be exactly as the picture tiles earlier in the post – the colors deepen. If I put a plain clear glaze over them, they would darken in color, but otherwise look the same. The glazes I am planning to use, though, will alter the colors, because the glazes themselves have color in them, though the glaze will concentrate itself in the hollows of the tiles. It is kind of unpredictable and that’s why I have to experiment and experiment with them because it is something new to me. So I put them in the kiln and just cross my fingers!

  9. Claudia McGill Post author

    Thank you. I made and sold hundreds of tiles like these, each one unique, and after a while I felt my brain had dried up on inspiration and they were no longer fun to do. Maybe I will go back to the style someday!

  10. Pingback: Artifact Tiles – Part 2 | Claudia McGill and Her Art World

  11. Robin

    I love Joan different all of these tiles are, yet they still show your style. You are one of the blogs I check out EVERY time. Just love what you are doing.

  12. Claudia McGill Post author

    Thank you. What a really nice thing to say. Makes my day.

    And I think I have lost the thread of the postcard thing we were talking about. If so, please, if you want to, remind me what you were thinking and this time – I will velcro it in my head, as a college professor I know used to say.

  13. Claudia McGill Post author

    I have learned that with clay it is important to work in a disciplined manner when trying to find out how new techniques or materials work, because it often isn’t intuitive, and with clay, there is a lot of time involved in the processes so you can’t just take a stab at it and hope things work out. Or why did they work out. It’s taken some time for me to develop this patience!

  14. Jeanette Clawson

    I’m developing more patience with acrylics as I discover what I can do when I work more slowly and methodically. Sometimes I just want to get paint all over. I think I’m going to go do that now…

  15. Claudia McGill Post author

    Thank you. I enjoy your work too. I worked in fabric art when I first started making art, doing appliqued wall hangings, which then turned into paper collage and now I mostly paint, with clay on the side. Anyway, what I mean to say is I enjoy the fabric world you are working in and what you are doing.

  16. Pingback: Artifacts Found at My House – One | Claudia McGill and Her Art World

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