Patience, Patience: Using Slips and Stains to Add Detailed Decoration to Bone Dry Ceramic Sculpture

Ceramic artist Scott Ziegler has a lot of patience. He needs it to create his highly detailed ceramic sculpture. Influenced by the time he spent as a toy designer, Scott spends hours and hours building up the color and detail in his work using cone 6 slips and commercial stains.

Today we’ll present an excerpt from an article on his work in the April 2009 issue of Ceramics Monthly that reveals his unconventional slip decorating technique. We’ll also explain how he arrived at this process. – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

Slips, Stains and Patience

Originally, Scott fired his work in gas kilns, soda kilns and salt kilns using traditional cone 9/10 glazes, but because of the inconsistent results these glazes produced, they weren’t practical for the detailed work he was interested in creating. He experimented with a variety of low-fire materials (cone 018-01), including underglazes, glazes and lusters, drawn to them because of the wide range of vivid colors available. The low-fire materials met his expectations, producing consistent results and allowing him to be more precise. He began using them exclusively.

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But in his quest for control over his art, he eventually revisited his glazes. While pleased with the colors, stability and level of detail he was able to achieve, the porous low-fire materials he had been using were attracting fingerprints, smudges and dirt – highly undesirable effects when work is designed to engage the viewer, draw them in and encourage them to interact with it. Ziegler began looking for commercially available, alternative glazes and tested numerous options, but none met his needs. Frustrated with the lack of options, he investigated making his own cone 6 underglazes and glazes. After months of testing, he started using commercial stains mixed with slip. He applied it to his pieces in the same way he had been using the low-fire underglazes and lusters, and was able to achieve the same results with none of the limitations. He was also able to produce a wider range of colors than ever before.

“When my work is bone dry,” he explains, “I use a variety of grades of sandpaper to smooth out imperfections. After it is completely smooth, I begin to lay in my color. I create my own colored slips by adding different percentages of commercial stains to the same porcelain clay body used for my pieces, adding water until they become quite fluid. If I am trying to achieve a translucent effect, these thin layers are mostly water with just a small percentage of colored slip. However, if I am trying for a more opaque surface, I add enough water to the colored slip so I have a fluid brush coat. It’s generally not wise to add wet clay to bone-dry clay, because it will crack off, but since the clay in the slip is really just an agent for binding color onto the surface, I can get away with applying many thin layers.That is the trick, but the process is very time consuming. Each area requires three to four brush coats per color. When all the color has been applied, I’m finally able to bisque fire the piece. For the glaze firing, I add glossy and matte glaze and fire to cone 6.”

**First published in 2009.

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