Jacqui Atkin reports
You will have noticed over the 39 issues of ClayCraft that I use a lot of branded brush-on glazes to decorate the projects. This is because the turnaround for content for the magazine is very fast, leaving me with no time to make and test new glazes after developing and making the projects ready for photography. Traditionally, I have mixed my own slop glazes, whether ready-prepared in dry form from a manufacturer or following a recipe, and like many potters, I was really quite purist about it.
But then another potter friend of mine asked if I had ever tried any of the Mayco brush-on glazes from Potclays. Like me, she had always developed her own glazes but had recently decided to try out a couple in the Mayco range because she had an order for something in a particular colourway that she needed to get out to a customer quickly. She was bowled over by the results – the lusciousness of the fired glazes, the ease of application and the cone 5-6 firing range that is much lower than her usual firing temperature yet produce the same finish. She was hooked, and what occurred to her was that yes, she could spend time, money and effort developing these glazes herself but why bother when someone else has done the work for you with such fabulous results.
So began my own experiments with the glazes and I soon realised they were perfect for the magazine work for all the reasons my friend had stated, plus it would solve my own fast turnaround problem. There was also the added bonus that readers would be able to buy the glazes in small enough amounts to experiment themselves or exactly copy the finish of a particular project if they liked it enough.
Having never considered these glazes before starting work on the magazine, the next revelation was the vast range of products available at all firing temperatures, and this is where I felt a little overwhelmed. I had used many of the cone 5-6 glazes with great results but had little understanding of the lower firing options. So, when Becky Otter from Potclays contacted me to ask if I would like to meet Bre Kathman from Mayco, who would be over from the USA to run a series of glaze workshops, with a view to writing something for the magazine, I jumped at the chance to understand the product range better and pass the information on to our readers.
I was all set to do the three-day course when disaster struck several days beforehand, and I put my back out – a common problem in potters I know, but one that has hospitalised me in the past – an experience I didn’t want to repeat! So, unable to sit or stand for any length of time, I missed the first two days of the course but fortunately just about managed the final day, which was covering the low-fire ranges (the ones I wanted to understand better).
The tutor, Bre Kathman, I learnt, has a Master’s degree in ceramics, runs her own studio and has been tutoring for Mayco since June 2018. She worked as a ceramics instructor, studio manager and as an education specialist at Chesapeake Ceramics for five years before joining Mayco.
I found her to be a great instructor, clear and informative in her delivery and with an immense wealth of knowledge and understanding of the products, as you would hope.
Each of the three days focused on different methods of decoration, and instructions for all these projects can be found on the ClayCraft website. Each one gives a list of what you will need to complete the task. The projects are completed on Mayco’s own bisque-ware, which is available to buy from Potclays, but you could easily apply the techniques to your own work as an alternative.
The programme for the day I attended included three projects:
- Project 1 – Using non-traditional tools for decorative techniques using the Stroke & Coat ‘Wonderglaze’ range
- Project 2 – Low-fire glazes that emulate a high-fire look without the extra energy
- Project 3 – Using designer mats and traditional sgraffito techniques to create one-of-a-kind effects
The day began with the usual introductions. The students ranged from established makers to hobbyists and others, like me, just wanting a better understanding of the products.
I was intrigued by the items sitting in front of me, which included a cardboard tube from a toilet roll, but all soon became clear. We were given a bisque plate for the first project to which we applied two coats of Foundations 001 White glaze using a brush.
Next, we cut one end of the toilet roll tube into strips about 4cm long and 5-10mm wide, then bent the strips back to form a rudimentary flower shape.
Using a sponge on a stick, we coated the flower petals in Stroke & Coat 6 ‘Sunkissed’ and, beginning at the centre of the plate, stamped the shape onto the surface in repeat.
The process was then repeated in other colours – SC 75 ‘Orange-A-Peel’ and SC 74 ‘Hot Tamale’, to fill in the spaces between and blend some of the colours together to give depth.
Each flower was dotted at the centre with SC15 ‘Tuxedo’, using the end of a brush or pencil, and then the petals were loosely outlined with a fine brush in the same colour to give them form.
The outcome of this project really pleased me (although not the choice of colours), but who would have thought to use a toilet roll tube as a decorating tool? It reinforced one of my most basic principles, something that regular readers will be aware of, and that is that you really can adapt the most unlikely things to make tools without laying out huge sums of money.
For the second project, we used Elements glazes, which have a stoneware look but only fire to cone 05/06 (998°-1031°C), to decorate mugs. The techniques included glaze-on-glaze in different colours and thicknesses to encourage ridges, then using decorating mats and Stroke & Coat to print detail over the surface of the glaze.
I wondered how such low-firing glazes could be food-safe, but Bre explained that they are designed to fire hard, even at such a low temperature, but more essentially, the key lies in covering the entire surface to seal the clay from the absorption of moisture. This, of course, requires the pieces to be fired on props to elevate them from the kiln shelf.
The final project of the day was to decorate a tile. We began by applying the Foundations white glaze again, then printed an Ikat design onto the surface using a texture mat. Once this had dried, we transferred the cat outline to the surface with a transfer paper then filled in with black Stroke & Coat. The final task was to sgraffito through the black, to the white foundation underneath, to give the cat its features. This was a simple but effective project that further demonstrated the potential of the Mayco product range, and still, we had only touched on the full potential.
THE GLAZE PRODUCTS used on the course
For those of you who, like me, may be a bit bewildered by the range of products, here is a breakdown, in simple terms, of those used on the day.
These are lovely bright glazes in their own right but also work as a foundation or base on which you can apply other products like Stroke & Coat, to name just one. They are available in a wide assortment of colours, opacities and textures and are stable and non-moving, making them great for design work. Another useful quality is that they can be applied to leather-hard clay as well as bisque and can be intermingled for painterly effects. The colours themselves are mixable, allowing the creation of a custom palette for specialised designs from just a few colours.
You can buy these glazes in 4oz, pint or gallon sizes, meaning you can experiment with small amounts to save on expense.
Foundations are food safe with a wide firing range from cone 06-6 (998°-1285°C), which makes them really flexible.
STROKE & COAT
This is another range of glazes that can be used on their own or in combination with other glazes such as Foundations; the Jungle Gem range, which has crystalline effects; Flux (a flowing glaze, used to enhance movement and promote reactions for interesting effects in the stoneware glaze range) or Cobblestone, a texturing glaze that gives a cobbled surface.
Again, Stroke & Coat glazes are fully mixable; they can be used to produce precise graphic design work or can be thinned with water to create washes for Majolica-style decoration, which is a great alternative to the traditional method. They also have a wide firing range, performing well at cone 5-6 and higher temperatures, cone 9-10. The depth of colour changes at the various firing temperatures and some testing may be required to get the effects you would want.
The final glazes used on the day are a range designed to simulate the aesthetic movement and interest of mid- and high-fire glazes but at cone 06-05 (998°-031°C).
The surfaces of these glazes vary from gloss to matte with subtle variations and work well over texture where they break to different shades.
So, you may be wondering how I felt by the end of the day. Well, despite the fact that my back was killing me, I learnt a great deal about the Mayco product range. I realise that we only just touched on the potential of these glazes for design development but understanding how they work was enough of a starting point for further experimentation. It had been a really full day, packed with so much information that I was almost bursting.
I am aware that glaze development for many potters is a passion and that they regard ready-made options as cheating. Still, I believe for those who don’t have the time, technical know-how or wherewithal to produce their own glazes, ranges like these give enough choice for experimentation to create something unique.
My abiding feeling about the day was that we are never too experienced to learn something new, and there is great fun to be had in being a student again. Be like a sponge and soak it all up; you never know what will come out again.
I would highly recommend trying one of these courses when they are available again if these products interest you. See the Potclays website for details of future courses and many thanks to Becky and Bre for all their help and advice.
These and many more projects can be found on the Mayco website: maycocolors.com
This feature first appeared in issue 39
For more features, click here