Craft

  • Craft

    72 Hands

    From the Tiangong Kaiwu (天工開物) encyclopedia compiled by Song Yingxing (宋应星) at the end of the Ming Dynasty comes the oft-cited quote:

    “共计一杯工力,过手七十二,方可成器”

    For the total work required to make a single cup, it must pass through 72 hands, and only then can it become a vessel.

    72 Hands is an effort to document all types of ceramics techniques.  The video style is very simple- a single take of each technique focusing on the artisan’s hands.  Each video is accompanied by an article with a description of the technique and photos.  Videos are shot in high-resolution 4K Ultra-HD resolution which gives a clear view of the technique.

    Support 72 Hands

    To support the continuation of this documentary series, please consider becoming a patron.

  • Techniques

    Plaster Bats for throwing

    To be updated.

    Throwing large pieces on plaster bats reduces cracking issues.

     

    Using chamois leather to attach a plaster bat to the wheel

    Large sheets of chamois leather for drying cars can be purchased online very cheaply.  Synthetic versions that I have tried do not work.

     

    Cut a piece of chamois leather slightly larger than the wheelhead.

    Soak leather in water and position on the wheel head.

    Using a rib, scrape out water while the wheel slowly rotates.

    The leather is now completely attached.

    Pour a pool of water or thin slip on the leather

    Dip the plaster bat in water for a few seconds.

    Firmly place bat in the center of the wheel, wiggle until secure.

    When finished throwing, pry off the bat using a flat tool.

  • Techniques

    Working with a mirror

    A potter friend once made fun of me for using a mirror. But no matter how much I improve, I don't think I'll ever stop using a mirror when I throw and trim.

  • Techniques

    Glazing

  • Antiques

    Nothing new under the sun..

    With 10,000 years of history, there’s really never anything new in ceramics, just reinterpretations of the past.  Bowl base fragmentEdo period, Takeo Karatsu type.  Freer & Sackler Galleries.

  • Traditional

    Traditional celadon

    Recent firing with traditional porcelain stone glaze.  In the past I’ve tried but failed to use modern materials like feldspar and kaolin to capture the beautiful, unctuous surface and depth of porcelain stone celadons.  In this glaze the coloration is completely due to iron occurring naturally in the material.

  • Techniques

    Blades

    I use X-acto blades all the time, some modified for specific tasks like carving porcelain or scraping glaze off of feet.

    I’m not sure if it’s all part of a vast X-acto conspiracy, but it seems that a lot of people don’t know that these blades can be easily & quickly sharpened?  While there are a number of sharpening methods (even just using bare fired porcelain) that will work, it can be tedious to get the sharpening angle right.  The most convenient method I have found is an angled sharpener (pictured).  Just a few quick passes through the ceramic sharpener gets the blades useable again.  It’s faster for me to sharpen the blade than switch out a dull blade for a new one.  (Unfortunately my sharpener is approximately 45% degree sharpening angle (> 20 degrees per side), it might be better to have a narrower-angled sharpener.)

    Also note that not all X-acto blades are stainless steel.  You don’t want rusty blades all over your studio or in your reclaim.  A 10 or 100-pack of stainless steel #11 blades might last you a lifetime.

     

    A step up from the X-acto blades are stainless steel surgical blades.  They come in a wide variety of shapes and sixes perfect for a number of jobs.  I usually use the blades without a handle.  They come in ten-packs and last a really long time if you sharpen them.

  • Techniques

    Pouring Glaze with a Watering Can

    I’m sure that using a garden watering can for pouring glazes is a common technique, but when I came up with the idea I thought I was a genius 🙂  The design of a watering can ensures a constant, strong stream of liquid during pouring that is perfect for glazing.  Bubbles are reduced since the watering can pours liquid from the bottom of the can.

    Adjust the specific gravity of the glaze. Here, a 250ml beaker is zeroed-out.

    The weight of 250ml glaze is 386.7. Dividing by the weight of water, 386.7/250 = 1.55. For this glaze, 1.5-1.6 is a good pouring thickness.

    Filling a watering can with glaze.

    Rotating the piece with your hand, maintain a continuous pour of glaze.

    You might need to rotate the piece backwards and forwards two or three times.

    Using a brush with watered-down glaze, fill in any holes.

    Glaze must be sufficiently watery in order to be absorbed into the hole.

    Glaze will inevitably end up on the outside of the piece. First scrape with a blade or metal rib.

    Finally, sponge off any glaze that remains on the outside.

    Pouring the Outside

    Once the inside is glazed, I will wait until the next day to glaze the outsides.  It’s important not to overload the bisque ware with water.

    I use an old electric wheel for pouring the outsides.  It’s important to rotate the wheel at sufficient speed so that glaze does not gather on the inside rim of the pot.

    Here’s a good video by John Britt about pouring the outsides on a turntable.

    Plastic strips are inserted into the splash pan to prevent glaze from spraying outwards. A heavy plaster model is tap-centered on the wheel.

    A soft piece of sponge is placed on top of the plaster to protect the inner glaze surface.

    A bowl is placed on top of the plaster model and tap-centered.

    The watering can is used to pour glaze starting from the foot. My finger stabilizes and prevents glaze from running into the foot.

    The application properties of your glaze will determine the amount of time the glaze should be poured. For this celadon glaze with an SG of 1.48 I pour from 4-5 seconds. Keep the wheel turning after glazing to ensure excess glaze is forced from the rim.

    Once the glaze has lost its glossy sheen, scrape off glaze from the bottom of the foot with a rib.

    Using a wet, clean sponge, clean off remaining glaze from foot.

    With sufficient wheel speed, the glaze should not gather too much on the inside of the pot. Once dry, excess rim glaze can be scraped off.

  • Craft

    Orton vs. Chinese Cones

    Well, that didn’t work out.  The kiln master ended up over-firing, past Chinese cone 10.  Orton cone 12 probably dropped around Chinese cone 8/9.  Looking forward to doing a better test in my own kiln.

  • Techniques

    Low-fire Electric Kiln

    I’ve finally gotten a new low-fire electric kiln.  This kiln is designed to fire up to 1000°C, so it’s useful only for on-glaze enamels and bisque.  Total cost was 2900RMB, which is about $420USD.

    The kiln uses 45cm X 50cm shelves, a common size here.

    Elements are also snaked through the bottom of the kiln, on top of which are placed bricks.

    Single K-type thermocouple placed in the middle of the kiln.

    Locking wheels, really handy.

    Control box.

    Element connectors

    Spring door.

  • Techniques

    Slow drying

    I have a couple “wet boxes”.  These are plastic bins with lids into which a layer of plaster has been poured.  The plaster is kept wet in order to maintain humidty, slowing (if not stopping) the drying process.

    However, I haven’t used the wet boxes in a long time.  I’ve found it much easier and more convenient to simply wrap each piece in it’s own plastic trash bag.  Pieces stored in this manner can be trimmed weeks or even months later.

    Ware placed on MDF bats and wrapped in plastic trash bags.

    Ware is placed mouth-down on an MDF board to prevent warping. The boards mold easily, alternatively only wrap the ware.

    After two months the ware is still wet, although the moisture is now distributed more uniformly.

    Bags of clay are double-bagged in large heavy-duty plastic bags. A piece of soaked plaster is placed in the bottom of the bag.

  • Techniques

    Kiln & Firing

    This page is in progress and will cover my kiln and firing.  For now it is just a place to store my notes.

    A typical 47kg/100lbs LPG propane tank used for firing gas kilns. Depending upon firing style, a small kiln requires 1 to 1 1/2 tanks per firing.

    The older bottles can be very dangerous. Sometimes the top pressure-release valves leak, even after closing.

    Hydraulic hoses connect the tanks to the gas line.

    In my experience, the hose connector is the most likely point of failure. Earlier models of hoses were just rubber and would start leaking at the connector after about 2 years of use. The rubber cap ring must also be regularly replaced.

    The first gauge measuring pressure directly from the tanks. Newly-filled tank pressure usually varies from anywhere between 0.2-0.6 MPa.

    Electric water heater and gas filter.

    Typical gas line connector. Inside each end is a rubber collar and plate that under pressure should eliminate leaks.

    The pressure regulator reduces the gas pressure to a level we can use in the kiln burners. I have mine set at 0.05 MPa.

    Gauge measuring outgoing pressure from regulator.

    Kiln room valves. The bottom lever valve can be used for coarse adjustment, while the top (needle?) valve is good for fine-tuning.

    The final gauge measuring pressure at the kiln. A typical firing rarely goes above 0.02MPa.

  • Glazes

    Colors of Celadon: Iron and Titania

    Following images from Bonham’s 2014 auction, The Feng Wen Tang Collection of Early Chinese Ceramics

    A Qingbai incised conical bowl

    A Fine Yaozhou Celadon 'Peony' Carved Bowl

    The best resource I’ve found about color in Chinese glazes is Nigel Wood’s Chinese Glazes.  Chapter 8, Iron in Chinese Glazes, covers iron in detail, while celadons are covered throughout the book.

    There’s a great range of colour in Chinese celadons.  In traditional celadons, color is mostly the result of materials containing naturally-occurring iron being fired in a reduction atmosphere, with the color modified by the balance of other oxides in the glaze as well as the underlying clay body.  Relatively small amounts of titania, manganese, copper and even cobalt can affect the color in significant ways.  Ancient kilns like Yue, Hutian, Longquan, and Yaozhou became associated with certain colors and qualities of celadon, as the materials used at those kiln sites naturally contained particular blends of oxides.  In Jingdezhen, celadon glazes seem to have evolved from fairly simple geographically specific material-based recipes (e.g. 10 parts glaze stone from Yaoli, 1 part glaze ash from Leping) to extremely refined and intentional recipes with similar base glazes that incorporate additional materials for their specific ability to modify color.  This lead to glazes named not just for kiln sites but also specific colors and qualities:   天青 (sky blue with a small < .2% addition of cobalt),豆青(”bean” celadon pure green iron celadon),影青(”shadow” lake-green),粉青,玉青 (jade celadon),冬青 (winter green),鸭蛋青 (bright duck-egg green), just to name a few.

    But celadons in the Song dynasty were mostly restricted to local materials.  Thus if your local clay and glaze stone contained only trace amounts of titania and low amounts of iron (such as in towns near Jingdezhen), then you could produce the famously pure blueish-green qingbai glazes.  While if you were in the Northern Yaozhou kilns where materials naturally contained more titania, your celadons would tend towards olive-green.  (These are greatly over-simplified and generalized statements.  Regarding Yaozhou celadons, in Chinese Glazes, Chapter 6, The Stonewares of North China, Woods also mentions the blueish-grey glazes of Yaozhou, as well as the possible influence of coal firing on the color of Yaozhou celadons.)

    For me, part of the beauty of Chinese ceramics is the ability of those ancient potters to reveal the beauty of their local materials, and how the resulting aesthetic of each kiln’s wares was in large part driven by the nature of those materials.

    Of course, these days most of us make glazes by blending various “standardized” materials, with color variations resulting from additional coloring oxides.

    The following test is a simple biaxial blend showing the influence of iron and titania on the color of a base glaze.  I’m now using Pinnell Clear for all of my additive tests as I find it a much better glaze than the traditional Leach 4321.  Further tests could be done using small amounts of manganese, copper and cobalt, as well as varying the fluxes and silica:alumina ratio.  For this test I substituted Grolleg for New Zealand Halloysite, but I did not adjust the recipe to account for the slightly different chemistry.  For this test it is important that the base glaze has as little titania as possible, so it’s best not to use “dirtier” clays.  The test tiles are made from Jingdezhen “super-white” porcelain, which serves as a good blank canvas for the glaze colors.  These glazes look quite different on dirtier porcelains and stoneware.

  • Glazes

    Glazy: One Year Old

    One year old!

    Exactly one year ago, Glazy registration was opened to the public. Since then, we’ve made a ton of improvements and added many more recipes.

    Thank you!

    94% of website server fees have been paid with your generous donations. Thanks to all of you who have added recipes, photos, and contributed valuable ideas to Glazy. Special thanks to Pieter Mostert and Matt Katz for all their help.

    Notable new additions to Glazy:

     

    Stull SiO2:Al2O3 Charts

    Si:Al Charts now include a Stull overlay as well as color-coded R2O:RO Ratios. To learn more about Stull, R2O:RO ratios, and other illuminating aspects of glazes, see Matt Katz’s Introduction to Glazes Online.

     

    Extended Search

    Simply click the eyedropper icon or one of the photo swatches to search by color. Keyword search is now greatly improved with natural language text search and the ability to search for numbers.

     

    Material Safety Information

    Newly added this month are hazard warnings for each material in the recipe. There is still a lot of work to be done in Glazy to provide accurate, easily understandable safety information for potters.

     

    Todo

    There are more improvements planned. The most important change in the next few months will be the addition of material lists, including regional and supplier lists. Material lists can be shared between users and rated.

     

    WE NEED YOUR PHOTOS!

    Ceramics recipes “do not travel well” and are very sensitive to differences in materials, preparation, application, firing, and cooling. The best way to compare, critique, and refine our recipes is to share photos of our results.

    If you have photos you would like to share but find the Glazy interface too complicated, contact us and we will help. If you represent a school or studio with a lot of tests, we can help add the photos and recipes for you.

  • Techniques

    Razor trimming

    I’m not sure if double-edged safety razor are still available in the West, but here in Jingdezhen they are an essential trimming tool.  These razors are thin, sharp, and most importantly flexible.  Great for wheel-trimming details on small forms, or for scraping hand-built objects.  The most used brand is Flying Eagle.  I get the more expensive stainless steel ones.  At 5RMB for a 5-pack, each blade is about 15¢ USD.

    Two brands of safety razors available in China

    Using a Dremel or similar tool, edges of both thin and thick razors can be ground for specific uses, like scraping glaze off these plate feet.

    A Dremel tool was used to create a notch in this blade for use in scraping glaze off this unique foot.

  • Glazes

    Glaze Transparency Test

    Recently I’ve been wondering if there’s a reliable way to test glazes for transparency.  A method that would allow one to compare results from different firings and glaze types.

    Paint manufacturers have a system for testing paint opacity that uses a black and white card from which a contrast ratio can be calculated. The primary manufacturer is Leneta.

    I couldn’t find any parallels in the ceramics industry.

    I wanted to try a similar method using porcelain (white) and stain/colored porcelain (black), adjusting the results to account for the fact that our whites and blacks are not pure.

    Paint Opacity Chart from Leneta

    Using my whitest porcelain, I created a colored slip adding 8% of a local black stain.  (Ideally one would use a standard mason stain.)  Adding Darvan, I made a thin slipcast slab that I then cut into small squares.

    Cutting square slabs of stained porcelain

    Using the same casting porcelain I made a thicker slipcast slab which was then cut into square test tiles.  The black stained squares were then applied to each test tile and rubbed flat.  Finally, the tiles were bisque fired in the hopes of minimizing contamination of the glaze when dipping.

    Test tiles after adding black-stained squares.

    Two 100 gram batches of glaze were prepared:  Pinnell Clear and Pinnell Clear with added 10% Zircopax.  Using volumetric blending I created tests in 2% increments.  The tiles were dipped in the test glazes.  Ideally, steps would be taken to ensure even thicknesses of glaze.

    Test tiles after firing in reduction to Orton cone 10.

    The fired tests display a nice opacity gradation as zircopax is added to the glaze.

    Unsure of the best way to measure transparency (or opacity) using these test tiles, I tried the simplest approach I could think of.  Adjusting the image to greyscale, I averaged the colors of the white test tiles as well as each black-stained square.  Below are the Brightness levels measured in Photoshop using the HSB scale.  If these tests were going to be made consistent across firings, I suppose one could normalize the photos based on the color of the unfired white porcelain body.

    For the opacifying power of Zircopax relative to this specific test, I created an opacity scale in Photoshop using the 0% glaze as a baseline and then matched the tests to this scale.  According to the scale, a 4% addition of Zircopax opacifies the glaze by 30%, while a 10% addition of Zircopax opacifies the glaze by 70%.  I’m probably vastly over-simplifying things.  For instance, I didn’t take into account the fact that the entire test whitens as Zircopax is added.  Also, there will probably be few times in ceramics where there is a neat linear relationship, for instance adding 14% Zircopax to the glaze won’t necessarily get me to 100% opacity.

    Below is a closeup of the black squares.  If I had made these tiles more consistently, with a crisp, straight border between the black and white porcelain, it might also be possible to compare diffusion.

    Close-up of colored squares.

  • Antiques

    Wanli Pheasant

    Blue & White pheasant head on a Wanli dish.

    Single photo from iPhone with Eyeskey lens.  More details here.

  • Glazes

    Jun

    A Jun glaze on stoneware from the last kiln

  • Craft

    Brother Thomas Bezanson

    Brother Thomas Bezanson

    From Creations in Clay, a book of essays and photographs of Brother Thomas Bezanson’s work:

    For many years of my work as a potter I was concerned with learning the skills and technologies proper to the potter’s art.  I was focused on looking back to accomplishments of the past; I was open to those men and women who shaped the tradition of ceramic art.  They were my teachers, by necessity of my ignorance.

    Then at some point in a time out of time they left me standing, so to speak, in a dark forest where their ability to guide me came to an end; there was no longer a path of the past to follow.  There were no paths at all, except the one I was called to make for myself if I did not want to be just another derivative, condemned to repeat the past, or bootleg from the present.

    At this juncture I gradually became aware that my new teacher and best guide was my own work itself.  It led me into myself, into my own inner experience.

    Porcelain vase with copper red glaze

    Wintermoon (Vase)

    Vase

    Hexagonal platter

    Jar with cover

    Tea bowl