Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Just opened the kiln and was pleased with the results. I think Suzanne and Tom will be happy with their mushrooms. Those are some fungus-y fungi! Tom is a microbiologist, so this is most appropriate! They haven't seen them yet, so that's all I'll say for now.
I threw in several test tiles and got some good results, as well as some serious Halloween. I have a love-hate relationship with test tiles. They just seem to take so much time.
Other ceramists may disagree with me on that, but (1) I'm pretty impatient in some areas of my life, and this is one of them, (2) I usually do them late at night, "Since I'm running the kiln, I might as well throw in some test tiles." (I'm always glad I did), (3) "Hmmm, wonder what happens if I try this combination," and one thing leads to another, so I end up being in the studio much later than anticipated.
Still, since a fair amount of work goes into each sculpture, I'm highly motivated to make test tiles--little slabs or pillars of clay that are usually fired before applying the glaze, to mimic conditions the artwork will go through. Every type of clay (clay body) will have a different reaction, and different kilns will give you different results. It's like trying to bake using someone else's cake recipe and wondering why yours doesn't rise as much. The test tiles give you an idea of what you might get--gravity can cause the glaze to flow as it melts down over the piece, and give some beautiful surprises (or not). You can get very interesting effects where two glazes meet. And there are slight temperature variations in different areas of the kiln, enough to make a difference. Glaze experts, who know the chemistry behind the all this stuff, have spent decades testing and analyzing. There are even computer programs to predict what you will get or how you might change a given recipe to get something else . Still, even the experts will still tell you, "But go ahead and run a test tile."
Even after all that, the test tile gives you only an idea--like those little color swatches at the paint store. You look at dozens of colors, chose the "perfect" one and, when you paint the whole room, it's not what you expected.
Despite knowing this, I continue to have a preconception of what I'll find when I open the kiln. If I get a "glaze surprise," even if it's a happy one, I'm often just a little put off, at first. But then, I almost always decide I really like the result. (Maybe it's a control thing!) And, more often than not, it inspires a new sculpture, much like what a fiber artist, for example, might experience upon discovering a new fabric.