Layering Commercial Underglazes and Silk Screened Images to Create Contemporary but Rustic Ceramics

Inspired by 16th-century French potter Bernard Palissy, whose creations swam, slithered and crawled with creatures from nature, John McCuistion uses modern ceramic tools to create platters that evoke the same rustic flavor as Palissy’s did hundreds of years ago. John layers commercial underglazes and silk-screened images and then uses a unique washing technique to create his rich surfaces. In today’s newsletter, John explains how he creates his naturalistic platters. I plan to do some experimenting with this technique. Hopefully, you will too! – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.

Homage to Palissy

I create a slip-cast platter using low-fire clay. After it is thoroughly dry, I wipe the surface with a wet cloth, chamois or sponge. This creates a texture that traps color residues during the washing of the underglaze. It is worth noting that even lightly wiped surfaces can yield dramatic results. I dry the work thoroughly before starting to decorate.

After bisque firing, I cover the front side of the platter with one coat of underglaze (usually black). I then fill the piece with water and agitate as if panning for gold. The underglaze will settle into the abraded areas and highlight the texture. My choice of underglaze is Duncan Concepts.

The piece is decorated using silk-screen images and allowed to dry. Underglazes are applied over the images—as many as three coats are required per color and I use up to five colors (though there is no limit). Thorough drying is required between each coat of color and the piece must be completely dry prior to washing.

The platter is then completely filled with water, and washed, scraped and wiped to reveal the desired results. After drying additional color is applied to the surface and the piece is touched up as needed. The rim and back require three coats of underglaze, drying between each coat and finishing with three coats of clear glaze front and back. It is important to thoroughly dry the underglaze before applying the finish coats of clear glaze. The finished, dried piece is then fired to Cone 04 with a 15-minute soak in an electric kiln. I allow the kiln to cool for two days before opening.

  • Corinda O.

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