Ceramics - A Multi-Process Art: Building
It all starts with the clay. The clay is custom mixed especially for hand building. I purchase my clay a ton at a time. It's surprising how fast I can use a ton of clay! I use the Pinch Coil method of building. I roll a coil of clay out to the desired thickness and length and then I build the outer-wall or surface of the piece I am creating by adding this coil and forming it into a surface by pinching or squeezing the it into the shape I'm working towards. This forms the rough general shape that I will sculpt later. I can only add about 2 inches a day. As you can imagine it takes months to build my larger work. .
I build my work in sections for a number of reasons. Foremost is that as the work gets bigger and bigger it also gets heavier. The un-fired clay called GREEN WARE. Although dried and hard to the touch GREEN WARE is fragile. It can collapse and crumble. By building my work in sections I can fire the lower sections before the overall weight becomes too much for the work to support. The first firing is called a BISQUE FIRING and produces BISQUE WARE. This firing vitrifies the ceramic material and makes it hard and able to withstand the stress of the weight as I continue to build. More about BISQUE WARE later. .
The firing of ceramics is the most technical aspect of my art and entails a great deal of craftsmanship. Once the work is fully sculpted in clay but before it is FIRED in the KILN it is called GREEN WARE. The first step is to fire the GREEN WARE so that the clay can VITRIFY. Vitrification is the process where under high temperatures the clay molecules fuse into a crystal, glass-like material. During this first firing my KILN will reach a temperature of 2045 Degrees Fahrenheit.
Following this first firing the sculpture now appears a chalky white and is hard to the touch. This is called BISQUE WARE. There will be additional firings as I apply colored GLAZES to the work. Most pieces are fired at least 4 times and some as many as 6 times as I add color and detail to the work. More on glazes and glazing in the next section.
Glaze is what gives the work color and texture. We often think of glaze as providing a glassy reflective surface to the work and this is true for many glazes. But as you see from my art I work with many different glazes that yield a verity of surface textures. .
GLAZE FIRING: Glaze is applied to the BISQUE WARE in stages. Each glaze is a specific color and is fired at a specific temperature. The temperature range for my glaze firings is 1940 degrees to 1730 degrees Fahrenheit. The hottest temperature colors get fired first. Lower temperature colors get added next and fired until all the colors are applied and fired. This can lead to up to 5 firings for color application alone. .
The final application of color is added using China Paint. China Paint is a glaze like material that fires at a relatively low temperature of 1300 degrees Fahrenheit. China Paint gets it's name from it's frequent association with porcelain China dinnerware. There it is used for patterns and floral designs and silver or gold trims. I use it much the same way in creating details on faces and hands, drawing patterns and animal designs on top of the fully glazed work.
Building, Multiple Glaze applications and china painting detail all combines to make a finished work. When a work is complete more than a month as passed and each section of the work has had at least 4 and as many as 6 or more firings in the kilns. The most amazing part is when I finally get to see the finished work for the first time. It's a long process and it takes patience but it is always worth the great feeling I get when I see my vision take form and enter the world. I am so grateful that I make art. And I am so pleased that so many people love and own my work.
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