Glazing for Success: 12 Tips to Help You Master Pottery Glazing

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I have to admit, glazing is not my favorite part of the ceramic process. It’s probably because of its potential to make or break a good pot (and believe me, I have “broken” quite a few with poor glaze application). I tend to be a bit of a sloppy glazer and I sometimes rush through it a little more quickly than I should.

Denver, Colorado ceramic artist Annie Chrietzberg is the polar opposite of me in the glaze room: methodical and precise. I know my glazing outcomes could be greatly improved if I followed just a couple of Annie’s tips. Hopefully you will benefit from Annie’s advice too! – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.

 


12 Tips for Ceramic Glazing Success

by Annie Chrietzberg

For complex forms consisting of thrown and textured elements, I use a combination of pouring, dipping and brushing to get the color where I want it. Dipping is the easiest way to ensure an even application, and pouring, with a little practice, is the next. Brushing takes more practice, time and attention, and I only use it when the first two methods are not options for a tricky place on a pot. The two troublemakers involved with glaze application are water and gravity. When a bisque pot becomes too saturated with water, it won’t accept glaze correctly, so use the least amount of water possible when glazing, including when you are making corrections. And as for gravity, I doubt there’s anyone who hasn’t experienced the wayward drip of one glaze marring the perfect application of the previous glaze.


This article was excerpted from the Tips from the Pros department of a back issue of Pottery Making Illustrated.


• Keep bisqueware clean. Lotions, or even the oils from your hands, can create resist spots where glaze adheres unevenly or not at all. Throughout all phases of the glazing process, including loading and unloading the kiln, handle bisqueware with a clean pair of disposable gloves. If you think your bisqueware has been compromised — splashed with something, covered with grime, or maybe handled by a visitor — bisque it again rather than risk a crawling glaze.

• Remove all dust before glazing including bisque dust, studio dust and even household or street dust. Use an air compressor for foolproof results, but work outside or in a well-ventilated area away from your primary workspace, as bisque dust is extremely abrasive to your lungs.

• Use silicon carbide paper to remove any rough spots you missed before bisque firing. Place your work on a piece of foam to prevent chipping. After sanding, wipe with a damp sponge to remove all traces of sanding dust. Use a damp sponge instead of rinsing, which should be kept to a minimum. Wring the sponge thoroughly and rotate it so each area is only used once. I tend to use half a dozen or so of those orange round synthetic sponges during any given glazing session.

• Glazes must be well mixed. I use an electric drill with a Jiffy Mixer attached. If there is dry glaze caked on the sides of the bucket, sieve the glaze, then return it to a clean bucket.

• Glaze all the interiors of your pots first by pouring the glaze in, then rolling it around for complete coverage. For complex pieces requiring a number of glazing steps, glaze the insides the day before to give you a drier surface to work with, especially for brushing.

• When removing unwanted glaze, scrape off as much of it as you can with a dental tool or a similar small metal scraper to keep a sharp line. A damp sponge removes the remaining glaze with a few strokes, keeping water usage to a minimum.

• Use a stiff brush to help clean glaze drips out of texture.

• For dipping glazes, select an appropriately sized container for the work at hand. I have lots of different sizes of shallow bowls that are perfect for dipping the sides of my pieces. Wide shallow bowls allow me to see what I’m doing, so I even use them for smaller things that fit into the glaze bucket.

• When you can’t dip or pour, it’s time for brushing. Watch your bisque as you brush—glaze is shiny and wet when first applied, then becomes matt as the bisque absorbs the water. If you recoat too soon over a damp coat, you’ll move the foundation layer rather than imparting a second coat. Consider gravity when brushing and hold the pot both to encourage the glaze to go where you want it to and to keep it from running where you don’t want it.

• If a drip flows onto a previously glazed surface, stop, set the pot down and wait. Resist the urge to wipe the drip with a sponge. Let the drip dry, then carefully scrape it off with a dental tool or metal rib. Use a small compact brush to wipe away glaze in areas you can’t reach with a sponge.

• Don’t brush glaze from the big glaze bucket. Pour a small amount into a cup, then briskly stir it occasionally to ensure that it stays properly mixed. Keep a large, damp sponge nearby to keep the brush handle clean. Stray drips often start with a handle full of glaze.

• If you’re glazing pots that don’t have a defined foot, push them across a piece of 220-grit silicon carbide sandpaper. The sandpaper removes some of the glaze from the contact areas, indicating where you need to wipe off the remaining glaze.

To see more images of Annie Chrietzberg’s work, visit her website www.earthtoannie.com.

 

Comments
  • Annie’s work is so inspiring. I look at it every time I get into a slump and I am fired up to go again.
    I love everything she does and am so grateful that she is so generous with her talent.
    Hugs to her!
    Jeannette Jennings

  • I am thrilled to have found this web site. I applaud all the generous potters that give their time and ideas and knowledge to this sight for all of us to explore and create and improve our talents. Kudos! Jules.
    PS I need some feedback on firing a tiny raku kiln to bisque a bunch of flat small pieces. I am thinking it might be less expensive to fire w gas than to fire an electric kiln for just a dozen little items. Any suggestions ? The interior of my new little kiln is 10x 12 x? I can change the debth of the kiln. Great burner, primary and secondary air , adjustable updraft damper. Any idea how long a firing to cone 04 might take? Thanks. Jules

  • Hey there – Annie here. Just to let you know – I no longer live in Denver, CO. I’ve since relocated to Dallas, TX. You can find my workshop schedule on my website http://www.earthtoannie.com

  • Maybe I am an old foggie, or overly cautious, but I would never hold a bisque piece by the handle! Nor did I teach the thousands of HS students to hold their work by a handle, or even by the spout of a teapot or pitcher.

  • Great advice! Now I have to get all my habits rearranged, but I think that it is easy to spend a lot of time designing and throwing and firing a piece only to “mis-glaze” it an have what would have been something to be proud of turn into something that is either average or ruined. Thanks for the post!

  • Hey Emerson,

    Busted! You make a good point, and I teach my students the same thing – not to pick things up by their handles until they are glaze fired. I am at a point in my career where my handles do stay on the pots, even so, I don’t hold my pieces by the handles when I am pouring glaze into and out of them. Here in the article, I am only holding the piece by the handle while using the air compressor to blow the bisque dust off and to stabilize it when sanding.

    happy glazing,

    Annie

  • I was fortunate enough to have just taken a glaze testing class from Annie. She is very inspiring and her suggestions for glazing were (and will continue to be) helpful for years to come. Thank you Annie for sharing your knowledge with us.

  • Some good practice here, but I never let any students use dry methods for cleaning back glaze. All cleaning of any kind has to be done using wet methods! Absolutely gotta be WET!
    If there’s no defined foot, sit it on a surface and hold a pencil down flat on the table and turn the bisqued piece round against the point of the pencil to run a line round to glaze up to.
    A thin sponge stapled onto a board and kept wet and washed, is good for cleaning the base of a pot or form by simply twisting it on the sponge to clean the base.

  • Hi Trudie,

    That’s a good safety precaution if the students don’t have good particulate-filtering & well-fitting masks, and the glazing area doesn’t have ventilation. People should be wearing masks through the whole glazing process including thoroughly cleaning up the bucket room, wiping down all surfaces & wet mopping the floor. Even after that there will still be dust in the air that needs to be vented & filtered out.

    wear your masks, people!

    love to your lungs,

    Annie

  • Thank you for the great tips Annie.
    What about waxing to keep glaze off the foot? I hate using it and would love to give it up – is sponging as reliable?

  • I mix my own glazes & am not sure all the time if I have enough of a material so I purchased metal & glass bowls to put material in before mixing together. Saves time & material.

    PS. Dollar stores are goldmines.

  • Geoffrey,

    Like everyone else, I was taught to wax the bottoms of my pots before glazing, but I abandoned that messy and troublesome step a long time ago. I find I can get the glaze removal precision that I want through scraping (while wearing a dust mask!) and then wiping the remaining glaze off with a clean & well wrung out sponge.
    As far as reliability – glaze is either on the bottom of the pot or it isn’t. Even when you use wax, you still have to wipe off the glaze that beads on it.

    wax off,

    Annie

  • I like your tips Annie. I was taught to leave the bottoms of my pieces unglazed. For the past two years I have been glazing the bottoms and my pieces look much more finished. I should add that all my work is strictly decorative and made of extremely thin walled porcelain.

  • Dr David,

    I glaze the bottoms of my pieces, too. The bottoms are made from a deeply textured slabs, and I wipe the glaze off of the high spots, leaving glaze in the nadirs. I place each pot on a ‘cookie,’ which is a thin bisqued disk, and I’ve recently started to put kiln wash on my cookies. This saves my shelves from mishaps and reduces the plucking experienced with tight white stoneware claybodies.

    glaze on,

    Annie

  • This is in reply to Jules, who asked a question about doing a bisque firing in a raku kiln. I would think the raku kiln will get way too hot too fast and the green ware will explode.

    Gary

  • Great tips, which I’ll post near my glaze buckets.
    But instead of disposal gloves, why not washable cotton gloves? The landfills are filling up with those awful things.

  • Heather, I’m wondering if the cotton gloves protect the hands. As a happy medium, I use the non-disposable heavy yellow gloves which are even tough enough to throw with. I use them in the winter when my hands get chapped. They last a loong time.

  • Hi Heather & Karen,

    One of the reasons I use disposable gloves is that some glaze ingredients are toxic, and some of those can be absorbed through the skin. You can check the MSDS sheets to find out the toxicity of ingredients and the routes by which they enter the body. If you use gloves over and over, they will become saturated with whatever it is you are trying to protect yourself from. I also need the dexterity that the thin disposable gloves provide, there’s no way I could do what I need to do in the glaze room with heavier gloves. Cotton gloves don’t provide a suitable barrier for glazing, and would absorb and deposit dust while handling bisque, they would get wet, etc.

    best,

    Annie

  • I’ve been posting some glazing tips on my facebook page the past couple of days. Feel free to make me your friend on the facebook!

  • I am new to pottery and am finding lots of information here. I was wondering why you have to dry foot vs stilting as is customary in low fire. Also do you have to put a piece of bisque under a glazed piece to keep it from sticking to the shelf? I like that idea but not sure if the disc has to cover the entire bottom of the piece or if you can just use a size that will support it without it tilting? Thanks for your help.

  • This information is very informative new to pottery and want to learn it all!!

  • thanks, I haven’t used glaze on my handbuilt sculpture in at least 25 years, but thinking of working on the wheel again. Helpful to get tips before I indulge .

  • I would also add that both the wetness of the bisque piece and how watery the glaze is also have a huge effect. If you have a thick glaze and try to put it on a dry bisque piece, it will tend to clump on in a thick layer with only a very thin layer at the surface really bonding well. I prefer to have a damp sponged bisque piece and (partucularly when brushing on) a thin glaze where I can apply more than one layer of glaze to get the thickness right and coverage by brushing in multiple directions.

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