Just Scraping the Surface

Deborah Schwartzkopf

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Technical Information:
I love glaze testing!  It has taken quite a lot of trial and error to get the surfaces I want using an electric kiln at mid-range temperatures.  Currently I use a Mac 6, a cone six porcelain, which forms a white canvas for the glazes I employ (made by Clay Art Supply in Tacoma, WA).  

On the edges where the glaze breaks and through the translucent liner glazes this clay shows through, making for a lighter palette overall.  I am drawn to glazes that have a stoney matt surface. I use these for the overall exterior glaze and then spray on glazes that have a higher sheen or add color shifts..  This layering adds variation in to the surface.  
I have developed an online Glaze Resource of cone six glazes with recipes and results included (pictured above). Each of the twelve bases was tested on three different clay bodies, with 9 color tests on each base. You may search for results by hue, opacity, and surface.  Along with the results are notes, images of the test tiles, and a tutorial on how to make thrown test tiles.  Please check this out! If you are ever in the area, stop by and see the wall of tiles in person.  This will continue to be added to! 
 

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Where I am going with my surface decisions:
I am searching for a surface that shows process.  I want the stoney matt glazes I use on the main surfaces to feel like a skin-  integral to the form, rather than an applied shell.  Initially the variation in these surfaces was given by the salt or wood kilns I fired my work in.  As I have changed firing temperatures and atmospheres I have relied more and more on my decisions and techniques to create surface variation.  I also want to add swatches of color that are more graphic and carry the feeling of intentional placement. I balance these two by spraying/ layering glazes on the main surface areas and covering the swatches of color I want unchanged with wax resist. Now my glazing is a record of my decisions and placement of color. On the surfaces of my work, I merge our culture’s signals and nature’s placement of hue. In my Seattle garden, hummingbirds flash and scoot for nectar from my winter blooming rosemary  and mahonia bushes. I look at their marking and notice. Traffic signals and brake lights illuminate the night, demanding attention as I bike through the city. I mix the placement I see in these scenarios and blend them together to find their own reinteration on the surfaces of my work.  With intentional placement, these visual messages imply function, trigger associations, and call for exploration. I find the relationship between form and surface integral and defining. Each informs the other within my cyclic studio practice. I spend weeks making work, glaze for days, see the results, and then I have new ideas to approach making again. It is this constant returning and searching that keep me inspired in the studio. See more process images on my website. 

A. Blair Clemo

I have been using my current red stoneware and accompanying glazes for several years now. Having a developed and reliable claybody and glaze palette sets up parameters for me to work within, my materials have a certain feel, color and working property that largely dictates what I make. The consistency provided by these parameters is not a bad thing; I need consistency to have a sane practice and ensure work is good quality for real-world obligations. Consistency does not mean ridged repetition, my practice sees forms come and go and evolve through serial making. It is these parameters though, that I have recently found a little stifling. Ideas for new pots are filtered through these parameters and I seem to assess how well they seem to fit my work.

For the past year or so, I have been itching to make some new work. Not simply adding some new forms or a few new glazes, but making a new body of work entirely. This decision did not come from any Eureka! idea I had, one which made me stop what I was doing and shift gears entirely. This drive to make new work comes from a need for new questions, new technical challenges and a desire to know what’s next. I am simply not getting the same level of information from this work that I once did, and I want that level of engagement again.

Here’s the problem: I don’t know what I want to make. If I had had a eureka moment, lightning striking the top of my head and spilling out of my fingertips into a lump of clay, I would be off and running, already establishing the new material parameters through trial and error. But because that didn’t happen, I am approaching this new work in a new way. Rather than starting with an idea of what I want to make, and establishing parameters as I go, I am starting with material parameters, and letting them dictate where the work is going to go.

Black Claybody Prototype.

Black Claybody Prototype.

I am starting at the bottom, with the clay. I began testing new claybodies several months ago, with my mind fixed on a black, but porcelain like clay. This seemed like a fine place to begin, having some kinship with my current porcelain-minded yet dark bodied work. I tried not to worry too much about what I would be making with this clay, but rather let the material lead me somewhere.

Once I had a black body developed past technical flaws and it had the qualities I wanted (smooth with less than 1% porosity), I started to assess what it “needed”, and what it’s limitations where. It’s tough to glaze, as it is oppressively dark and sucks the life out of transparent glazes. Opaque glazes are fine, but I have been playing that game (dark clay with breaking opaque glaze on top) for a long time, and it didn’t seem like this choice would inspire too much change. I decided to test slip surfaces instead of glazes. After testing a few colors, I found a rusty orange that had some potential. I started thinking about forms and what conceptual potential a rusty surface could have.

Surface tests as varying stages.

Surface tests as varying stages.

Strange things started to appear in my sketchbook, installations of wrought iron gates made from clay, drawing inspired by everything cast-iron and Victorian and geared mechanisms gunked up with layers of rusty glaze. These are things that I never would have thought of if not for the test tiles I was making. No, I don’t think I will be making any of these strange things I have been brainstorming on. They are too much of a divergence and will likely not chase that questions I am pursuing. But I do know that I have already started down a new path with clay, the parameters of which will eventually lead me to what I am looking for, a new practice with plenty of fresh ideas to explore.