The current ceramic art and pottery I create has an abundance of color and depth through layered underglazes and glazes. I was initially influenced heavily by the paintings my father had been making in his studio. The use of bright colors along with an abstract way of applying color were techniques I could use in my own practice. Additionally, I pull from Modern and Pop Art as well as my experience with custom automotive painting, and enjoy using my knowledge of color theory to give a different feel to similar forms.
I throw and alter my forms primarily on the wheel. When the side walls of a mug stiffen up slightly, I gently push out the bottoms. This gives them a rounded bottom, which works well for adding three feet or a single thrown foot ring. I pinch the little feet from small pieces of clay and add lines using a rib. I also pinch the flared handles I add to mugs.
I use a commercial, low-fire red clay from Continental Clay and mix a white slip, which is applied to nearly all of my work. When the clay is past the leather-hard stage and closer to bone dry, I pour slip inside the form, pour out the excess, then dip the exterior and foot of the form into the bucket of slip.
Once the slip-coated piece has become bone dry, I apply Amaco Velvet underglazes (any brand of underglazes will work). Applying these over white slip makes for a brighter underglaze color. I begin by applying a base color or colors, if I’m breaking up the planes with different colors. I apply two to three coats of the base color to make sure it’s opaque and without visible brush strokes (1). The colors that are applied over the base are brushed on with a single, undiluted coat and overlap each other to create different tints, tones, shades, or hues (2). Having a background in color theory can be helpful, but isn’t necessary to have fun and explore new ideas and techniques with color.
Sanding and Refining
After the underglaze application is complete, the pieces are bisque fired to cone 06. Since I apply underglaze to the bottom of the feet when layering, I use a standard sanding block to remove the underglazes from the bottom of the feet after the bisque firing (3). Wear a respirator and work over a bucket filled with some water, so the dust falls into the bucket of water rather than onto the floor. Use the coarse side of the block to get through the underglaze quickly, then use the fine side to make the foot smoother before glazing. Brush off any dust that sticks to the form into the water bucket.
The glaze I use is a recipe I developed and mix myself in the studio. I glaze the interior and exterior of forms with clear glaze. The same clear glaze also serves as a base to add copper, rutile, iron, or black stain to create glazes that work well over the coat of clear (4, 5). I fire the glazed work between cone 1 and cone 3, depending on how much I want the glaze to move on the surface (6). If I’m trying to achieve drips on the surface, I make sure those pieces are placed in the kiln’s hot spots as the temperature varies in both of the electric kilns that I use.
I have been using diamond sanding pads (tooljungle.com) to smooth the feet of finished work for the last couple of years. It’s an extra step that takes some time but is well worth the effort involved. I do this final polishing before applying any gold luster or mother of pearl to the piece in order to avoid scratching or scuffing those added surface elements.
Nathan Bray lives and works from his home studio in Northern Minnesota. He currently makes ceramic art at the cone 3 range using terra cotta, underglazes, glazes, and lusters.