I build pots to function as a canvas for my glazing. I pinch and coil my pots because this process is organic, slow, and methodical. Pinching leaves evidence of touch in the clay, providing a subtle texture to interact with the glazes. The glaze is brushed onto the pots so the surfaces take on a painterly quality. This is by no means a quick process, but rather a labor of love.
I approach my glazing process with a focused interest in depth of surface; I think of the surface in layers, similar to encaustic. I see the surfaces as a Color Field painting converged with Ben-Day dots commonly found in Pop Art. The vessels are layered with commercially available underglazes, glazes, and lusters. I’m interested in the combinations of these materials and their resulting emotive qualities. In some areas, there are four or five layers of glaze, concealing underlying colors in places and revealing them in others. I strive to make beautiful, colorful, and happy artwork to function well and bring joy to everyday objects.
All glazing takes place after bisque firing the pieces to cone 05 for durability purposes. I think of the clay body as the first layer in the painting, like a gesso-covered canvas. The second layer is the underglaze, which I tape off and paint with various colors depending on the particular composition. Next, I move on to glazing a pattern, followed by a cone 6 firing. The composition is finished with overglaze metallics such as gold, white gold, and sometimes additional lusters. Lusters are fired to a much lower temperature, typically cone 018.
Dots Galore Pattern
For the Dots Galore pattern, start with a block of orange or blue underglaze, typically at the bottom of the piece. Apply a base glaze to the rest of the piece. Then meticulously add a red-dot glaze pattern in rows, starting from the top of the piece (1). This layer is the most important because it establishes the groundwork for all the other dots that will be layered on top. This first layer of glazed dots is also the most time consuming. After all the red base dots have been applied, go over each red dot with a white glaze, leaving a ring of the red around the outside (2). This red ring pops once the piece is fired. The white glaze allows the top dot color to be visible when the pot is finished. If you put the final color directly on the red without the white barrier, the red eats up the pigment and the colors are very muted.
After the white layer has been applied, the real fun begins because the design comes to life when the final colored dots are applied. Add the dots in rows or random patterns with purples, greens, and yellows, according to your preference (3).
For the dot application, the choice of brush is very important and the amount of glaze on the brush is critical. Use a brush that’s slightly rounded, but not totally round. The dots cannot be rushed because it takes a second for the glaze to come off the brush and for the right dot shape to form on the surface before you can move on to the next dot. Use the same brush for the red layer of dots and the white layer of dots and simply adjust the pressure applied to the brush, lessening the pressure for the white dot so it’s smaller. Switch to a smaller brush for the final glaze color. The luster brush that’s used for the final gold luster dots is the smallest brush used in this technique (4).
While glazing, you can use a heat gun to quickly dry areas so that the glaze doesn’t accidentally smudge. If you accidentally smudge an area, dry it with the heat gun and use an X-Acto knife to scrape any smudges off the pot.
Funky Pattern Glazing
When glazing the Funky pattern, start by blocking off a chunk of the pot with underglaze, similar to the Dots Galore pattern. Then add the base glaze to the rest of the exterior. At this point, you can be much freer in this style and the remaining glaze work. Before adding glaze to this base, sketch out the design with a regular no. 2 pencil, which will burn out in the kiln. For the Funky pattern, I draw on elements reminiscent of flowers, butterflies, polka dots, and graffiti. By sketching first with the pencil, you can be sure that the elements all make compositional sense. The main difference between this Funky pattern and the Dots Galore pattern is that the design dictates where the second and third layers go; they do not overlap the whole design.
Use a thicker brush to lay down the pattern of your glaze design (5). Then use a variety of brushes in varying thicknesses to complete the remaining designs on top (6). Add polka-dot and line patterns to create interesting designs. The more glaze added, the more the pattern moves in the kiln (7). Don’t add so much that it runs and gets blurry, but rather just enough that the glaze flows a bit in the kiln and the colors blend together. This pattern is much looser and more intuitive than the regularity of the dots.
I love the look of the pots before they go into the kiln. The layers of glaze are just waiting to get hot and blend together to create a lush, fun, and colorful pattern (8). While these techniques are time consuming—the more time invested, the more fun it is to open the kiln. Happy glazing!
Melissa Mytty is currently working as a studio artist in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, where she and her husband are raising their two young daughters. She has an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Follow her on Instagram @melissamytty and at melissamyttyshop.com or melissamytty.com.