Creating Color

Creating Color

Nothing is more frustrating for a ceramic artist than being limited by chemistry. For me, limitations in chemistry could be caused by the fact that I generally fire in an oxidation chamber. This means that my kiln fires with electricity and the chamber is full of oxygen during the firing. When this happens, an oxide like copper in a glaze will be green at the end of the firing. The same copper oxide in an oxygen-free chamber would make a red glaze. This means that I can only get greens, golds,  creams, and blues. Because those are the limits of high-fire oxidation.

Those of us who dabble in creating crystalline glazes are told that our limitations run even deeper. But if there is one thing that we have learned throughout history, we have found that finding the solution takes only the desire.

So how do I manage to create other “impossible” colors in my oxidation chamber. I simply create them. “Simply” isn’t always so simple. It means that I must figure out a way to apply the color to my pieces and create a glaze that will play nicely with that applied color. This requires many tests along the way; and various test firing schedules.

Here are a couple of photographs of my application process.  Developing this process has allowed me to create red, yellows, oranges, purples, and shades of blue that tickle the sky.

And with that, my frustrations are a thing of the past…. until I try to create yet another color.


Like Crystals on Glass

Like Crystals on Glass

One of the questions I get most frequently is “how do those crystals grow on your pieces?”. Most people who have tried creating crystals, have given up in frustration. While I can understand the inclination to quit, I also know the joy of understanding the controlled randomness of this beautiful art. The other question I get asked often is if the crystals are completely random. Well….. yes; and no.

Crystals are formed on my work pretty much exactly as they are formed in rock. It all starts in my glazes. While all ingredients are important, there are a few that are essential. I need silica, zinc, and frit (glass ground to powder form).  Once the zinc and silica meet the right amount of heat, crystals “seed” and I can begin to grow them. Based on my temperatures and the amounts of zinc and silica I put into my glazes – along with other colorants – I can guide the number of crystals, size of crystals, and the shape of the crystals.

What this means is that each person will see something different when the look at my work. Often times, the same person will see something different every time they look at the same piece. One moment you look at a piece and think the crystals look like angels floating toward the heavens. The next hinge you know, it’s almost dinner time and you walk past the same piece and all you can see is bow tie pasta floating in boiling in water! Tell me…. what do you see?



Another Step Closer

Another Step Closer

I finally have the first indications that defying gravity is just around the corner. Months ago I envisioned incorporating cool colors into my work that are scientifically impossible. Because I fire my work in an oxidation atmosphere, at temperatures approaching 2350 Fahrenheit, most bright colors burn out. In this atmosphere, the stable colors are generally greens, browns, and blues. This is why the colors you see most frequently from ceramic artists are variations of these three colors. While those colors can be very beautiful, they simply are not enough for me.

For a few years now, I have been creating work in reds, yellows, purples, oranges; along with the traditional colors mentioned earlier. This project, however, has been about incorporating these colors in deeper, richer hues. It has also been about adding a medium to my work that will add these rich colors with the look of glass. The tiny little problem has been that medium I am adding is completely fluid until it firms up.  But I am getting closer.

Last week, I pulled new work out of the kiln and finally began to defy gravity. Tiffany blue and the deepest purple married in this piece and fluid medium lived in a vertical state.


The Precursor to Creativity

The Precursor to Creativity

This week was all about carving and pieces, and firing large platters, to prepare for the mixed media aspect of the work. The difficult thing about carving work is that once the piece is pierced, there is simply no turning back. It takes only one misplaced cut for a piece to be ruined.  Although, at times, a bad cut leads to something more beautiful – but that takes quite a bit of luck. As with many artists, there is a pretty good chance that hours of work could end up in the scrap yard.

The good news is that this week was not too bad. I did a bit of carving, altering, and firing. There were a few bright spots in the firing, so I have several pieces heading to this week’s mixed-media phase. If this works, I may be euphoric.

If not, then I will have:

wedged clay (20 minutes)

thrown a large piece on the wheel (25 minutes)

trimmed my piece (30 minutes)

carved my piece (45 minutes)

slip-prayed (30 minutes)

first fired (12 hours)

glazed (45 minutes)

glaze-fired (15 hours)

…..done all of this work creating a beautiful piece (that I love by the way) just add to the “learning” pile. We shall see what happens this week. Fingers crossed.



When Contrast Comes To Life

When Contrast Comes To Life

This color journey continues as I search for striking contrast. This week was all about testing. Testing color, fluidity, texture, timing, and ultimately how I could defy gravity. Each test gave me a taste of “failure “. The reason I put that word in quotes is because I learned some of the things I wanted to learn.

It is definitely more fun as an artist to try something and have it work the first time. While I have mastered many parts of my craft, I have not yet mastered how to bring all of my artistic visions to reality. In terms of my current project, I am attempting to defy gravity while working with a new medium. I have yet to figure out how to defy gravity, but my tests have gotten me a step closer.



Designing For Contrast

Designing For Contrast

Over the years, one thing has remained consistent among ceramic artists who specialize in crystalline glaze – simple, smooth, clean forms make the best backdrops for glazing. For the most part, I am in agreement with my peers. Learning to make beautiful crystals – I mean REALLY learning to have some control – only comes after significant trial and error. The last thing we want to do is create a piece the competes with our beloved crystals. No, no, no…. That just won’t do!

This is where continuing out of the comfort zone comes in handy. I am approaching this project from multiple directions and, with any luck, both approaches with result in work that complements the crystalline. As with all of my work, fluidity is essential. If I can’t keep the viewers eye moving around the piece, I will fail at evoking emotion. I need to create contrast without competition. I’m going to do this by creating cutouts in the piece and then filling the void. And with that, we have new challenges. Many of these challenges will be covered in future blog entries.

One thing that all potters know is that every time we touch a piece, we have a chance to ruin it. Cutting into it with a sharp knife increases that risk exponentially. That is what makes this part SO much fun. Once I jump in there, turning back is not an option. This will be the design that helps me to create fluid contrast. At least that’s the plan…



First Comes Vision

First Comes Vision

One of the most difficult parts of an artist’s journey can be turning her vision into finished work. Often times, I am walking the dog, reading a book, or simply cleaning my pool when a vision suddenly comes to mind. I can see what the finished work looks like, but I don’t yet know how I can make it happen. My “vision” doesn’t tell me how to overcome certain obstacles….. also known as physics or chemistry.

The Science Of It All

While there is much creativity in my work, ultimately I am also beholden to science – specifically physics and chemistry. I may see a form that I want to create, but first I must respect the physical laws that rule how much clay is required to support different parts of my piece. What will stand up and what will fall? How far can I push a piece before it collapses? How do I make fluid matter stay put on a vertical surface? There are answers to these questions and without these answers, my vision will remain a vision. If only that was the only challenge…

Once I find the answers to the physical challenges, chemistry will throw up the roadblocks. You see, I create my own glazes. What that means is I must mix all of my chemicals in the right proportion in order to get the color and effect that I envision. Since I fire in an oxidation atmosphere, my color pallet is limited…..unless I find a way to make it limitless. This takes resilience to get through the testing, failures, frustration, and SUCCESS!

Follow My Vision

I am completely uncertain if I am going to be able to take my latest vision to a finished piece. It will defy the laws of physics and that is not the easiest thing to do. But, I am certainly determined. I do know that I will keep this vision in my head every step of the way. Some of the steps will not be pretty, but I will not let that derail my efforts. Here is a shot of the early phase of testing. This is where I will be able to make the most mistakes on my quest to defy the laws of physics and chemistry. Step one is simply cutting into a piece, that is perfectly symmetrical, in order to make it less perfect. Follow me if you can…..and try to see if your vision matches mine.


All Journeys Begin With Another Step

A Journey Begins With Another Step

I think many new artists come to a point in their artistic journey where they start asking themselves some very important questions. What does my art say about me? Does the observer understand what I am trying to say with my art? Where is this journey taking me? How is my voice different from artists who have influenced me? Does my work evoke an emotional response in me and the observer?

Many of these questions were the impetus for my application for the Emerging Artist Grant Program. It is time for another step in my artistic journey. Now that I’m here among these other amazingly talented artists, I can take another step toward my vision…

This year marks five years since I made my first ceramic piece. Like most people, anniversaries like 5, 10, 15, 20 years make me take a look at what I have achieved and what I still need to say. For me, this means refining form and incorporating mixed media into my work. This may be one of the biggest challenges that I have taken on as an artist, because the work I currently do will want to compete for dominance with the medium I want to incorporate. I with either be able to make each part work in harmony or I may find myself at another crossroads that leads me down a new creative path. To the artist in me, these are all incredible steps in my artistic journey.

This is where the steps in the journey will unfold. There may be successes and there may be learning experiences (sometimes called “failures”). I will show them both, because no artists has ever created only beauty on their journey. There are always “failures” along the way that teach her something she didn’t know yesterday. I hope that you join me along the way for another step.

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