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:
Sun over a peaceful sea
Small creature holding a ball of yarn
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…