The Old Mud-Pie Dilemma: Making Ceramic Art and Making Ends Meet

Following Friday’s video on the collaboration between potters Tom Coleman and Frank Boyden, I would be remiss without mentioning another important collaboration of Tom Coleman’s: that is the partnership between him and his wife Elaine. Tom and Elaine are not only partners in life, but also in art, with Tom throwing pots and Elaine incising them with careful and precise decoration.

Looking at their exquisite work, it would be easy to assume that success came easily for them. But they faced the same  conundrum most artists face: how to make a living doing what you love. As chronicled in The Mud-Pie Dilemma, building a successful career in pottery has involved major changes in geography, and in ways, styles and means of living and working. But, despite the difficulties and occasional setbacks, the Colemans stuck with it and made it work. Today, we’ll show you some of the Coleman’s work and talk about their working methods. Plus we’ll throw in a couple of the Coleman’s glaze recipes for good measure. -Jennifer Harnetty, editor.

After studying a piece – in this case a teapot form – and visualizing the decorative design, Elaine draws the design directly onto the clay in pencil. She does not draw it on paper first, and says she enjoys the spontaneity of this process. At left, having finished sketching the decoration in pencil, Elaine, goes to work on the vase with needle-sharp incising tools.
Before she is done, Elaine will go over the design three times to deepen and smooth the lines. At left she cleans up the piece with a sponge. She sometimes spends about two 12-hour days in achieving the finished decoration she wants.

Glaze Recipes
B’s Shino (Cone 9-10 Reduction)
Custer Feldspar 30%
Soda Ash 7
OM #4 25
EPK Kaolin 5
Nepheline Syenite 8
Spodumene 25
Total 100%
is a stiff surface glaze that will carbon trap if it is reduced starting around cone 08. A thin application will produce red to orange where a thicker application will yield white to yellow hues. This glaze will not shift or run at cone 10. Works best on light colored stoneware or porcelain.
Sea Foam Green (Cone 8-10 Reduction or Oxidation)
Custer Feldspar 36%
Gerstley Borate 20
Silica 28
Whiting 11
Dolomite 3
EPK Kaolin 2
Total 100%
Add: Copper Carbonate 3%


This is a brilliant glossy surfaced glaze that has a spotted surface in reduction with small dark crystals where thick. Breaks maroon over lines or thin edges. Best over porcelain or light colored clays. Nice functional ware glaze. Tends to shift with thick application. Recommended application would be to dip or spray.

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