Let the Clay Lead the Way – Part Three

After last week’s post I had evidence of what the garden clay slips looked like once they had been bisque fired, so I spent some time between classes decorating a selection of clay buttons with combinations of the different slips.

I started making buttons in the classes earlier in the year after I had a piece of a clay slab left over. This had squidged out between the blankets in the thickness roller and had taken on the knurled pattern of the rollers and I wanted to do something with it. I used an old 35mm film canister to cut out a disc and made holes in it and lo and behold I had a “button”. I had a lot of fun making these and testing different glazes on them, although getting the holes and edges free of glaze could be a challenge.

Anyway, this term, with functionality off the agenda, I decided to still make buttons, but this time their fate would be as items for use in other artworks like paintings and so on, rather than as items for garments. So no holes in the middle! It’s a nice way to get lots of identical items which can then have variance.

I used simple motifs of crosses and circles on the buttons, in combinations of the different slips. So there should be either a cross or a circle of each slip, plus combinations of them all. The idea will be to try out lots of the glazes on them (and leave some unglazed).

However, in order to make sure they don’t mess up the kiln if there is any reaction with the glazes I made this saggar to fire them in. This is an open clay box made from a set of slabs and when the buttons are placed in here they will not only make the kiln easier to pack, but any instances where the glazes melt, run or drip will happen in the box rather than on the kiln shelves.


This week I also got results out of the kiln from both the bisque and glaze firings. Here you can see the pieces I was working on in the last post in their bisque fired form. The pieces at the top are all decorated with commercial slips, whilst the three circles in the bottom tile are the garden clays.

Most interesting though were the results from the glaze firing of the original test pieces. The focusing is messed up on my camera at the moment but you can see here how the bisque fired pieces looked with the clear glaze applied to them last week. I didn’t glaze the entire tile and left some of the slip and raw clay visible for comparison. Note how the clear glaze is not clear until it’s fired.

After being fired to cone 6 they came out looking like this!

Note how different everything is. The Boston clay on the left has disappeared under the glaze and is a delicate dark brown where it is unglazed. The Banbury clay in the middle is more robust but still patchy under the glaze and is purple when unglazed. The Botley clay is also patchy under the glaze but the unglazed part has a sheen to it and is almost dark blue. If you remember the observation of how this clay behaves at cone 6 temperatures in the last posting then it’s probable that what we are seeing is it melting. The control piece is of course normal – plain buff clay with some clear glaze at the top.

It’s becoming clearer to me now that not only are these three garden clay slips different because of geographical reasons, but they are also probably different in terms of preparation. It may well be that the reason the Boston clay is so delicate is that it is more like mud than the others, but also it may have been mixed more thinly. This gives lots of scope for future experimentation and expression.

But I now wonder about the fate of my buttons and their decoration knowing more about how the slips behave at different stages in the process. This is all part of experimenting and “seeing what happens” I guess!

Speaking of which I decided to partially glaze some of the other tiles. I saw this technique used in some work in the MA show at Bath Spa University this year and I realised that since this collection of work by me was going to be non-functional, then there was the possibility of experimenting with partial glazes rather than dunking the whole piece in.

So if these were meant to be bathroom or kitchen tiles then they would have to be fully glazed in order for them to be wiped down in a wet environment. But as pieces for use in artworks the glazes can become an expressive item as well as having a purely functional purpose.

The glaze was applied to this tile using a turkey baster type device (or as I like to call it, the chuffer). It will be interesting to see whether it stays where it was applied or whether it creeps and flattens out when it is fired.

On this tile I used two glazes, a blue glaze and the clear glaze. Note how the blue glaze…is pink in its unfired form. Again, they were applied using the turkey baster and it will be interesting to see “where they go” at the high temperature firing.

To give an idea of this, earlier in the year I decorated a tile with white glaze over the same blue glaze. Normally both of these glazes are meant to be used for dipping pots into so what I was doing was somewhat unorthodox.

You can see in the final fired piece how the two glazes have fluxed (or melted) together and how the original line pattern has softened and blurred and taken on a totally new look. This is interesting, but probably not reliable as there could be so many factors affecting how much they flux each time they are fired.

Compare that to these tiles decorated with proper (i.e. not “garden”) coloured slips.

See how the original lines are retained after glazing and firing.


3 thoughts on “Let the Clay Lead the Way – Part Three

  • I love your experiments ! We did similar experiments on my MA, we collected river bed clay and painted it on test tiles and we were asked also to collect wood ash, mix with water ( wear a mask when mixing as can burn your lungs) and to paint on test tiles- the results were fascinating!

  • I need to check whether we can use wood ash in the kilns at college. I want to try it though. Simon Leach talks in one of his videos about digging for clay near trees, making pots and then glazing them with ash from the wood to create pieces truly located in the landscape. Such a cool idea!

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