Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Finishing your Pottery: Glaze Fire

Do you live near Princeton, New Jersey? Come visit me at the Crafter's Marketplace on November 19 & 20, 2011. Find great handcrafted gifts for someone special.

Firing Your Pottery: Step 2

Once glaze has been applied to a pot and allowed to dry it needs to be fired again to get the glassy surface most people think of when talking about pottery, so back to the kiln! The pottery is placed on shelves again, just like with the bisque firing, but with glaze firing you can’t stack pots one on top of another because they’d fuse into one when the glaze melts so no touching! Not pot to pot, pot to shelf, or anything else.

When I fire my medium-sized kiln to it takes about 8 hours to reach maximum temperature (2192°F; ~1200°C) and I let it cool down overnight. The pots are still warm to the touch when I open the kiln the next morning.  But don’t sneak a peek! Opening the kiln while it’s firing or cooling can let in a draft of cold air which can lead to cracking, which would be a shame given all the hours you’ve already put into making that pot.

Glazed pottery before firing.

And the same pieces of pottery after firing. For the giraffe plate, I hand painted the giraffe with black underglaze prior to adding the translucent brown glaze on top.
As you can see the color of the applied glazes frequently don't resemble the final fired glazes. This is why potters like to use test tiles, to give us a better idea of what the glaze looks like once fired.

So now you know, pottery making is a laborious process that involves several steps and many, many hours (even if it’s just waiting for a pot to dry or be fired). People often ask artists why a piece of pottery costs so much, it’s not so much the cost of the clay or glazes, or the electricity/gas to fire the kiln, or even the capital investment of the kiln, it’s really the experience that potter has gained over the years of practice and the time it takes to create each piece of pottery by hand. 

And you ask what about the ceramic dinnerware set I can buy for $25 at the local big-box store? The difference comes down to volume, when ceramic pieces can be made by the hundreds using a mold, glazed in en masse, and fired in gigantic kilns, we’re talking a whole different ballgame. Artisans you see at craft fairs, on Etsy, and in galleries have hand crafted individual pieces of art for your enjoyment.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this overview of pottery making. If you want to learn more there are hundreds or books and probably even more websites dedicated to the art of pottery making. And if this has whetted your interest and you want to give pottery a try, check your local art centers, schools or community colleges, they typically offer pottery classes for all ages and skill levels.

Next time I will tell you about raku, a unique firing process that produces beautiful metallic glazes.

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