People often ask me to tell them about the process of creating ceramic figures and objects. Here I will talk about my way of working without using specific terms and definitions.
In the past, potters used to dig the clay out of the earth. Today we buy it in packages of 10 kg from different clay producers. They quarry it and process it to produce clays of different characteristics.
I usually work with white clay, rarely with red.
Stage 1: WORK ON THE SCULPTURES I cut a piece of clay and mix it well. I use two basic techniques for sculpting - for some of the elements, I roll slabs of clay with a simple rolling pin. From the slabs, I cut out the various elements - clothing and other parts. I make most of the elements with my hands, pressing, pinching, taking and adding material. This is the most difficult part to describe because the process is very intuitive. I join the pieces together (arms, torso, head, etc.) with the help of a slip of clay and water. However, in order to work on the figure, I have to wait for the clay to evaporate some of the moisture and only then it is possible to work on the details. When I finish the sculpture, I let it dry completely. This stage is called "Greenware" because the clay is unfired. After it has completely dried, which takes about 2 days, I start cleaning the edges, smoothing the surface with a wet sponge, fine removing excess material with a scalpel. This happens in the "Bone dry" stage.
Depending on the size of the clay object, this stage takes half to three days. If my idea is to paint a sculpture with engobes, now is the time before the first firing. Engobes are colored clay slips. Unlike glazes, engobes are matte and pastel in color and I use them when I want to emphasize the texture and the shape of the work. I apply a thin layer on the unfired figure.
Cutting the clay
Stage 2: FIRST FIRING I arrange the sculptures in the kiln very carefully- bone dry greenware is extremely brittle and will break apart very easily. Therefore, it should be handled as little as possible and great care must be taken when loading it into the kiln. Sometimes I also add already glazed work to them to better fill the volume of the kiln and to save time. The firing lasts all night (~8 hours) at 1065 degrees, and in the morning in my studio, it is quite hot. In winter it is wonderful! I can't open the kiln the next morning because the ceramics are still very hot and because of the big difference in temperatures it would crack. I can take the sculptures out in about 2 days. In the meantime, I'm working on new pieces.
Stage 3: GLAZING It is now safe to open the lid, remove all the figures and start glazing the unglazed work. I use glaze to impart color and vibrancy to the sculptures. I apply the glaze with a brush. During baking, a chemical reaction takes place and the glaze components melt and bind to the surface of the ceramic.
The glaze color before firing has nothing to do with the color after firing when it has a glossy, shiny appearance. The pale, barely hinted colors turn into bright and striking colors. Because of this color transformation, the result is often magical!
In addition to glazes, I increasingly use engobes for coloring. I wrote about them in Stage 1.
I put the glazed pieces in the kiln again. I take care that the figures do not touch each other. If this happens, the glaze will stick together when melting.
Stage 4: SECOND FIRING I turn on the kiln at 1060 degrees so that the glaze can melt.
After two days the kiln had cooled down. Then comes a very special moment - to open the lid and see the result of my work. I always look forward to seeing the finished work with great enthusiasm and excitement.
Glazing after the first firing
The kiln is ready for the second firing
Sometimes it is necessary to fire a figure a third time if somewhere the engobe or glaze does not cover well enough.
The whole cycle to make a sculpture from the idea to the final firing takes about 20 days.
I needed to develop patience and perseverance until I finally saw the finished product.
There is another special part of the process that is magical: INSPIRATION and CREATIVITY. They are gifts from the Universe!
It's not about time, rules, schedules, stages.
This is a thought of a Bruce Garrabrandt I love:
“Creativity doesn’t wait for that perfect moment.
It fashions its own perfect moments out of ordinary ones.”