Mugshots

As much as I love making tiles, it’s nice to take a break from it and make other things.

Over the years, I’ve been making clay stamps. Most are tessellating shapes – some are simple shapes, some more complex shapes, some are figurative, and others are abstract. I love the way they look pressed into clay. I’ve made vessels from the stamped slabs in the past but haven’t really spent much time or energy on these projects. A few weeks ago, I decided it was time to make some stamped mugs that I really like.

Since I have about 10 bags of porcelain that’s too hard for tile making but fine for rolling out slabs, I decided to use it for the mugs. I rolled out about a dozen big sheets of porcelain and stamped out my patterns. I then cut and assembled the mugs. I knew from previous attempts that there would be some warping and cracking along the way. I did everything I could think of to minimize this including drying them slowly and waxing the most fragile parts but nothing worked. Eleven of the twelve mugs completely split down the side. It was amazing (and annoying) how consistent the problem was.

I decided to literally bag the porcelain and try a more forgiving clay – stoneware with grog. I chose this clay because it is specifically geared to sculpting. I assumed it would be considerably stronger and more plastic than porcelain and it is. The first few cylinders I built were so stable that I decided to put them on the potters wheel and alter the shape. I could never do that with porcelain.

While I love working with the stoneware, I do have one major reservation. Unlike the smooth white porcelain surface, stoneware is a dull putty color. Most of my glazes are translucent celadons and they look muted on stoneware. As you can see in the side-by-side monkey photos above, the porcelain monkey is jade green but the stoneware monkey is a dark yellowish green. I guess both have their merits but I prefer the jade green.

I could try some new glazes that might work well with the stoneware but one of the things I like best about the stamped clay is the way celadons pool into the recesses of the texture when dipped into the glaze. I decided that maybe if I spray the stoneware with a thin layer of white underglaze, like gesso, it will provide the white surface needed to get the colors I’m looking for. Unfortunately, the white Amaco underglaze I’ve been using for years is completely sold out everywhere (supply chain issues). I decided to use this Speedball underglaze as a back-up. It looks off-white in the jar and has an odd pudding-like consistency but when thinned with water, it sprays pretty well.

It will take a few more days for everything to dry before I can fire these mugs. I’ll have a better idea once they’re fired if the underglaze coverage is good. If I need to add more underglaze I can probably apply it to the bisqueware as well. Hopefully, I’ll have some nice photos of glazed mugs in a week or two.

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