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Subscriber Extra: How to Build Complex Surfaces with Multiple Firings

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Yoshiro Ikeda was internationally recognized for his ceramic art. Possibly the most recognizable feature of his art was his surface treatment. Yoshiro’s multiple glaze applications and multiple electric kiln firings can result in richly textured exterior surfaces. Yoshiro believed that students of all levels of experience benefit from working closely with their instructors. His unique methods, which evolved from experiences as a student and a teacher, can help you enhance the surface of your own work.



Yoshiro had developed a process for making ceramic art that allowed him to leave his work and respond to the unpredictable demands and responsibilities of a studio professor. His students could attest to the small space he occupied when working and the simplicity of his artistic tools. His workspace typically consisted of a chair, a bag of clay, a handful of tools, and a plastic bucket that he used as a work surface. In addition, he worked in relatively short blocks of time (as did many of his students). 

He had forgone the use of spray booths and dipping glazes and instead used brushes to apply multiple layers of glazes, including his signature Crackle White glaze. This glaze had been formulated to separate into irregularly shaped beads, revealing the clay body below the glaze. The crackle glaze emphasizes textures and patterns unique to the surface treatment of his pieces. Instead of having to wait many days for the results of a reduction firing, Yoshiro used the electric kiln to fire his pieces multiple times.

Yoshiro built most of his sculptures and teapots using Soldate clay, and bisque fired to cone 06. He then marks out compositional elements with a pencil.

After the surface design was drawn, Yoshiro applied his Crackle White glaze using a hake brush to the sections where there 
were no markings.

After the initial glaze application, Yoshiro drew a pin tool through the glaze to create expressive cut lines. He then fired the piece to cone 02 in an electric kiln.

After the first glaze firing, Yoshiro brushed his Black Glaze over the fired piece, filling deep crevices where the clay body was visible. After approximately 20 minutes, Yoshiro wipesd away the Black Glaze, leaving it in the recessed areas. Yoshiro then fired the piece to cone 03. Because the high-fired clay was fired to a low temperature, it did not completely vitrify and was therefore able to absorb subsequent glaze.

Where the crackle glaze ends and the unglazed surfaces began, Yoshiro applied a line of Matte Copper Blue Glaze with a brush and fired the piece again to cone 03. Firing in between applications allowed Yoshiro to see the results of the glazing before proceeding to the next glaze application and firing.

Yoshiro then brushed Yellow Ochre and Iron Glaze onto the unglazed top of the piece and fired to cone 03. When he wanted to achieve a more mottled effect, he used a thick application of this glaze. Thinner applications resulted in a light brown shiny surface. Yoshiro would sometimes reapply glaze and re-fired pieces to achieve the desired results.

Yoshiro achieved painterly decorative effects with low-fire glazes (cone 03 and below) colored with oxides and stains.

As an alternative firing method, once the Crackled White Glaze had been fired, Yoshiro could shorten the multi-step process by brushing on all glazes in layers before doing a single, final firing, but this did not allow the control he desired.

Yoshiro was the head of the ceramics department at Kansas State University. He passed away December 23, 2014. He had served as an instructor, visiting artist, and juror, and had received numerous national and international awards during his 30 years of work as a ceramic artist. Yoshiro earned an undergraduate and graduate degree in the United States, but also was trained in the traditions and philosophy of Japanese ceramics. An aspect of the Japanese tradition that shaped Yoshiro’s early work was the typical bisque firing, followed by a single glaze firing in a reduction atmosphere—eliminating those pieces that were not of exceptional quality. Although Yoshiro continued to hold himself to high standards, his methods for obtaining those standards included a multi-step process that involved reworking pieces that he might have destroyed as a less experienced artist. It is notable that Yoshiro’s change in philosophy was born largely of necessity. He wanted the rich soft glaze surfaces found in the Japanese tradition, yet due to time constraints, he felt a need to shorten the time it took to achieve those surface effects. It was Yoshiro’s goal to achieve complex rich surfaces through multiple firings the electric kiln.

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