the process

Rather than the traditional technique of enhancing ceramic appearances with glaze colors applied to a form, the color in my work is built directly into the form with colored porcelain slip (a.k.a., liquid clay).  I then apply a clear coat of glaze which allows the vibrant porcelain colors to show through, while producing a dinnerware-safe and glass-like appearance.

 

I choose from about 50 color variations of porcelain slip, which I have produced in my studio by mixing precise amounts of mason stains into white porcelain slip.  I then design from the outside of the piece working my way towards the interior, layer by layer.  Each layer gives more strength to the piece, with the outer and innermost layers also serving a visual appeal role.  The first layer of slip is what will become the outermost layer, and is also referred to as the design layer.  It is applied to a "canvas" made of plaster.  I create my own plaster canvases on a potter’s wheel, then carve and sand them to produce finer detail and a smooth surface.  The plaster’s purpose is to draw the moisture out of the porcelain slip, leaving a pliable, albeit thin veneer of a design.  

 

The portion of the colored porcelain slip pressed against the plaster in the early phase of the process will ultimately become the visual focus of the piece.  However, it’s too thin at this stage to withstand handling.  Additional layers of slip, usually in solid colors, are subsequently added directly on the back of the initial design layer to build up what will become the wall to a point where it’s thick enough to be handled. The moisture wicking properties of the plaster are strong enough, even after removing moisture from the design layer, to draw moisture out of the additional layers of slip.  The last layer of slip is what will ultimately be seen on the inside of the piece. If the design layer results in varying thicknesses, its topography may translate through in at least a subtle way to the innermost layer, not unlike the children's classic story "The Princess and the Pea". 

 

I then separate the piece from the plaster canvas after the design veneer layer and additional layers of slip have bonded together and are dry enough to be handled.  The piece is still prone to deformation at this point due to the remaining moisture content, so it will need to dry more before additional shaping.  When the piece has dried to the point where it’s considered leather-hard, I will return to the wheel to finish the rim, trim a foot, and apply one more layer of colored porcelain slip to achieve my signature contrasting color scheme on the bottom.  There's only a small window of time between when the piece is dry enough to be handled and moist enough to accept a layer of slip on the rim and the bottom without cracking due to the variable shrinkage rates between wet and dry clay.

 

Each piece also goes through a wet-sanding process with progressively finer grit following both the bisque and glaze firings to attain a highly polished surface.  The sanding is definitely not my favorite part of the process, but is made a little more tolerable by listening to a podcast or custom playlist from a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones.

 
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