Not Your Mother’s Majolica

Majolica glaze is a white tin or zinc-based glaze that provides a smooth coating on terracotta clay and acts as a perfect foil for underglaze decorations which are painted on top of the Majolica glaze.  The beauty of the Majolica is that it doesn’t move,  so anything you paint on top of it stays put.   For an explanation of the process, press here and here.

Here are some classic examples: tiles from Portugal.

MajolicaTilesPortugal

So I probably should not have been delighted when I took this out of the kiln.

8-out-of-the-kiln

And yet, I was.   To be fair,  I didn’t start off conventionally.  I took a terracotta bud vase, dipped it in a cone 04 dipping glaze called Ice Blue (you can get the recipe in a free booklet on the Ceramic Arts Network site here. ) 

The glaze has chunks in it and it’s supposed to run and collect in crevices.  It can look interesting when you use it on white earthenware (see right) and beyond boring over terracotta (middle). 

We have a bucket of Majolica glaze in the studio and I decided to experiment.  I had to dip the vase three times to get a good coat, letting the glaze dry completely between coats.  You can see the crackling and crazing from the Ice Blue glaze in the right hand picture below that might have looked interesting had it been on the right kind of clay.

7-underglaze-decoration

I let the glaze dry overnight before adding the underglaze decoration.

7-underglaze-decoration

And here’s what I got!  This was fired at cone 06.  I surmise that the Majolica and the underglaze shifted because the Ice Blue glaze beneath it moved.  I am not sure what I expected.  Not everyone will like this, but for me it was a pleasant surprise.

A Walk to the Navy Yard

Mary Schneider draws and paints on pottery, but what she depicts is not always the usual fruit, flowers and leaves you might expect to see. The inspiration for her latest creation came from walks to the Philadelphia Navy Yard that she took with a friend during the winter days of the pandemic lockdown. She plans to trade the plate, with the image of the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy for a pen and ink drawing of the same vessel by her walking companion.

Little Teapots

I don’t drink much tea, but have become intrigued with making wheel-thrown teapots. Teapots are considered one of the most challenging items a potter can make. Mostly, I suppose because so many elements have to work together at the same time. The handle has to fit ascetically and physically. The spout has to pour efficiently and be placed so you can fill the teapot up. And when you do fill the teapot up, it can’t weigh a bloody ton. It has to be east to handle. And the lid needs to fit properly. You need to be able to get it on and off easily and it has to fit whichever way you put it on. And it has to stay on while you pour the tea, either by itself or be capable of being held in place while the tea is being poured.

And that’s just the physical attributes of the teapot. It also has to look good or at least not suck. I heard someone describe a teapot as a jar with a handle and a spout. Why not a mug with a spout and a lid, I thought? A little teapot to hold a nice cup of tea. I started small and here’s what I came up with.

Here’s what I started out with. Two mug-sized pots, lids, and three spouts each. You’re always supposed to make more spouts than what you need because you are sure to screw one up. Good advice.

Here’s one of the first teapots I put together. You might think it looks OK, but it’s all wrong. The lid is clunky and what about that knob? It’s really not good for much. And who could get two fingers through that handle? The body and spout are OK. I decided to trim the top of the lid which had plenty of clay to spare, and replace the handle.

Here’s the teapot with a trimmed lid and a new handle. I trimmed the lid of the other teapot flat too. I didn’t think a knob would work for either teapot.

My solution? A birdy knob for one teapot and a circle for the other. One third of the circle makes the knob and two thirds of the circle makes a nice handle. And they look like they belong on the same teapot.

I’m usually do underglaze decoration for my pottery. I thought I’d fool around with stains this time.

And here are the finished teapots. The handle on the birdy teapot is not optimal, but it is a vast improvement over how I started. More teapots to come!

Official Portrait

More from the mind of Marjorie Waxman.

Nerikomi In Progress

Now that I have a kiln that can fire to cone 8, I can finally experiment with colored porcelain and Nerikomi on my own schedule without having to wait forever to see how a pot comes out. I am using mason stains to color 257 porcelain which I bisque fire at Fleisher Art Memorial, and then fire it a second time at home, unglazed, to cone 6 . This porcelain was made to be fired to cone 8-10, but it gives very nice results at cone 6 which is how they fire it at The Clay Studio where I first started using it. I only take my kiln to cone 6 to preserve the firing elements. I’m learning as I go by watching videos and reading what I can on the Internet. Most of the books on the subject cost a small fortune and I haven’t found any in my local library. No matter. I’m having fun and that’s the only thing that counts.

How’s this for inspiration? I love the spiral motif and never saw it in a plant before-not like this anyway. Anyone know what this plant is called?

Gray, black and white spirals sliced like jellyrolls
Holes plugged with white clay
This will be the top of the bowl
Bottom of bowl over a form
Inside of bowl inside the form.

When the bowl gets leather hard, I will smooth it with a metal rib. It is extremely fragile when it’s bone dry, so I try to do most of the work at the leather hard stage. After it’s bisque fired, I’ll sand it with wet/dry sandpaper and then fire to cone 6. After that? I plan to experiment with paste wax. This will be a decorative bowl.

Evolution of a Decorated Bowl

One of the things I miss most is not being able to go to the pottery studio because of the pandemic. Fleisher Art Memorial is reopening its open pottery studio program in the fall (with safety precautions). I am looking forward to returning.

In the meantime, here are some pictures of a bowl that I threw on the wheel and then decorated with slips and underglazes. It’s white earthenware, low fire pottery.

In My Workshop Right Now (as of Yesterday)

Colored porcelain jewelry elements waiting to be bisque fired.

 

Experimenting with different textures.

 

 

Colored porcelain pinch pots.

 

The cracks can stay

 

I work on fabric or canvas

The polymer side of the table

 

Making fish (taught by Amy Sutryn at May meeting of Philadelphia Area Polymer Clay Guild)

 

One lazy Bluefish

Pottery Surface Design

I made two pieces this year that I actually like.  Imagine that!pot

This one’s going into the  fundraiser for Clayathon.  It is hand built (using the tar paper technique ) and stands about 9 ” tall.  The surface is screen printed, painted and carved.

This next one, also slated for the fundraiser, is hand built earthenware, screen printed and painted and is about 7″ wide at the base and 11″ tall to the top of the lid. It is perfect for a cookie jar.

45

The last piece is a failure.  It went into the bisque fire looking like this:

g0

 

and came out missing a side piece.  I decided to glaze it anyway.  I like the surface effect  but this one goes into the reject pile.  I kept the pattern, however, and am going to attempt this one again.  It’s about 14″ tall.

 

This Week

A bunch of pictures from this week

Wind Challenge Matthew
Matthew Borgen

Caught the  Wind Challenge Exhibition at Fleisher Art Memorial

Took pictures of the many mushrooms that have popped up in my neighborhood after last week’s rain.

Flowers are beautiful even when they’re dying

Helped kids paint pumpkins at Palumbo Recreation Center

Some Pottery in Progress

Saw some new (to me) Murals

And met some incredible artists and makers at Philadelphia Open Studio Tours at the Bok Building.  This deserves its own post.  Stay tuned,

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Last week, a reader warned about the application of a  toxic herbicide called glyphosate to wheat crops rendering all but organically grown wheat safe to eat.  I decided to read up on glyphosate.  The Food Babe blog  pointed out the dangers posed by this chemical, citing a report by a group called Food Democracy Now.  (Read the report here.) But the Snopes.Com site argues that the report’s information is false.  I am not a chemist and cannot do my own tests.  I will say that the discussion of the scientific methodology used in the report seems vague, (compare the testing done to determine the link between smoking and lung cancer), but I do not know whether this comes from an intent to deceive,  poor writing, or an editorial decision that the reader would not understand a more thorough discussion of the testing procedures used.    I have not come to a conclusion.  I am presenting this information so readers can draw their own conclusions.    

Boris
Boris does not care about any of this apparently, 

Wiggling and Faceting: More DIY Pottery Tools

I’m taking a throwing class at The Clay Studio this summer with a wonderful teacher.    At our last class, we learned how to throw faceted pots.  Read more about faceted pots here.

FacetedPots

Some examples of faceted pots we saw in class

Then the teacher showed us a faceting tool with a wiggle wire instead of a straight wire.  It left interesting patterns when it was dragged across the clay to cut facets, and there are a number of ways you can drag the wiggle wire through the clay to decorate your pot. Take a look at some examples here.

I have always liked the look of mugs that were cut off the wheel with wiggle wires, but I never invested in a tool to do it.  That and the faceting tool got me to thinking.  Why not make myself some wiggle wire tools?  And that’s what I did.

 

I made a cut-off tool first.  I had an old straight wire cut-off tool that was a bit frayed.   I simply coiled the wire around a mandrel and it kept its shape when I removed the mandrel.

 

If you don’t have a spare cut-off tool, you might try coiling stainless steel wire which is more difficult to do and not as flexible, but if you coil a long enough piece, it should work.  I would recommend a 22 gauge or so wire. Crafting and similar type wires are probably too soft and liable to rust.   Attach the ends to washers or dowels and voila!  a wiggle wire cut-off tool.

For the faceting tool you will need a piece of wood about the size of a small pocket comb, say four or five inches long and an inch or so wide.   I cut off part of a paint stirrer that was thick enough to accommodate screws but I would recommend a sturdier wood for a better tool.

I  drilled holes to accommodate two flat-head screws and two holes on each side for the screw eyes.

I coiled some 22 gauge stainless steel wire around a mandrel.  I recommend that you secure the mandrel and wire in a vise before winding.  It will make the job much easier.

 

 

Insert the hardware.  You might want to add a drop of wood or epoxy glue in the screw hole if you are using a soft wood.

Uncoil the wire.  It will be stiff.   Make several wraps around the screw eye and feed a straight section through the slot in the nearest screw. You might have to straighten out a bit of the wire with flat pliers to do this. The picture shows you how you should have your screw angled and why a Phillips head screw won’t work.

Stretch the wire over to the next screw and make sure it fits into the screw slot before winding the rest around the other screw eye.  Be careful when you cut this wire because it is stiff and can go flying.  You can tighten the wire by turning the screw eyes.

 

You can also try pulling out springs you might have around the house and using them to facet pots.  But I think the tool would give you more control.

Two more tools to add to my vast and growing collection!     Here’s a video showing how to put facets on a pot with a wiggle wire.