5 April 2017

ALCHEMY IN THE CERAMICS STUDIO


I'm testing new glazes. I make small samples, using just 30 gm of dry matter, to which I add about 5% of stains. In these quantities, the measurement of stains has to be accurate to a hundredth of a gram. I have these great little scales, the little oblong thing in the middle of the picture, probably more widely used for weighing heroin than glaze stain, but perfect for the job.

I put the glaze samples on t-shaped tiles, suitably labelled, like the one on the left of the picture. After the tiles come out of the kiln, the bases are snapped off and they're mounted on an A4 board. The best of the tests is made into a large batch of glaze.

I'm looking for a good yellow glaze to go inside tableware. The outside will be a matt grey, which is being tested at the same time.

This is the scientific side of ceramics, which I enjoy as much as the artistic side - but not more so. A colleague makes pottery only so that he can write reports about his glaze experiments. For me the experiment is only a means to an end.

Some potters can't be bothered with this approach. I talked to Gordon Baldwin about his student days under Dora Billington, who was good on ceramic chemistry and who developed a range of glazes for her class at the Central School of Arts and Crafts. Gordon admitted he wasn’t a good student. “I didn’t have the right personality for that diligent testing," he told me. "My idea was more like that of an alchemist, stir it together see what you’ve got and put a pinch more in it.” That approach worked well for him. Different potters, different personalities, different approaches.