hal mc whinnie on wed 12 jul 00
ON LINE CERAMIC GLAZE COURSE
LESSON THREE PART TWO
COLOR AND SURFACE EFFECTS CONTINUED
NOTE I WISH TO CONCLUDE THIS LESSON WITH A RATHER LONG INTRODUCTION TO THE
USE OF COLOR IN GLAZES WHICH WILL SET A FRAME OF REFERENCE FOR MUCH THAT
WILL FOLLOW IN THIS SERIES OF LESSONS.
THIS MATERIALS HAS BEEN TAKEN FROM CHAPTER ONE OF MY GLAZMAKING BOOK WHICH
WILL BE AVAILABLE AS A BOOK PRINTED ON DEMAND LATER THIS YEAR.
The painter Joseph Albers, first at the Bauhaus in the 1920's and later at
Yale University taught that color in painting is a consequence of the
interactions of colors at the surface level of the canvas as seen by the
viewer. Albers, coming as he did form the frame of reference of design
theory at the Bauhaus, had his conceptual roots fixed in the concepts of
perception and the perception of color as it was being established in
studies by Gestalt psychologists.
Albers demonstrated that color effects are dependent, not upon what we know
about a color, but upon how and what we perceive in a color, including the
very strong psychological associations, which the viewer brings to his
perceptions of color and the color field. The element of color, in Albers'
view, becomes a function of the viewer as well as a function of the thing
perceived. In this view, any color will be perceived as either lighter or
darker, more intense or less so, expending upon the context in which it is
In addition to psychological and cultural approaches to color in general,
work in ceramics has the added associations with practical functions and
particularly those associated with eating and with drinking. Certain colors
as well as specific chemicals used to create the colors and surface effects
are not employed on functional dinnerware because of psychological
associations with colors and textures and with the health hazards involved
in the usage of certain chemicals, such as barium or lead.
Colors on functional ware have until recently been limited to the earth
colors and to those colors in the pastel ranges possibly as a consequence of
the dominant aesthetic task of Bauhaus trained or influenced artists and
craftsman working in the 1960's who preferred subdued color effects which
would enhance the natural qualities of the clay used in the fired ceramic
ware. Likewise texture and other surface effects are limited by these same
functional concerns. Otto Natzler's crater or lava glazes, for example, do
not function well on dinner plates or for drinking cups no matter how
aesthetically pleasing the color and surface textures might be for the eye.
painters have spent their lifetimes in working out the aesthetics of color;
they have lived in their works for the colors. The element of color has
haunted them and their collective artistic efforts. They have built a
universe of color interactions, but not those colors to be found upon the
shelves of a paint store! The basic point which I wish to make by this
digression from the world of crafts into that of the painter, is that the
achievement of a color sense are a consequence of long and hard work at the
easel. There are no easy answers. What may seem to be a spontaneous result
on the surface is a consequence of that labor and long experience. So too
the potter must also wrestle and struggle with color in the ceramic glaze in
a similar way and this takes time and great effort.
The work of Artigas we shall find in him and in his methods of glaze making
a model which I would argue stands fir the involvement in and study of color
in glazes very much as Rothko has become a model of color explorations for
the contemporary painters.
If the ceramic student will begin to think of his color effects as layers of
color glazes which are perceived as light rather then as coats of paint to
be fired in the kiln, then he will begin to grasp some of the mystery of
color in ceramics that has marked the very essence of the art of clay; there
is where the wonder lies!
A Washington potter, Mary Nyburg has learned this lesson well. In a show she
exhibited her ceramic baskets and bowls that were done in porcelain clay.
They are wondrous things; with the thinness of the clay, the light
penetrates through the layers of the glaze onto the porcelain surface.
Potters like Nyburg, who work in porcelain, have learned the lesson about
color as light more then those who work in stoneware.
This may be a reason why the great glaze making cultures and traditions also
used porcelain clays for their ware. By working with such thin and luminous
surfaces one learns quickly to think about and make use of, color as light.
A beautiful copper-red Chinese vase of the Sung dynasty is not a consequence
of a layer of red paint or red color upon a clay surface or form but it is
the result of a subtle wonderment of red, pink, and even blue-green light
interacting together. It is easier for artists in porcelain to understand
this basic concept then maybe the stoneware or the raku potter. Many
stoneware potters, since they do not deal with such obvious light effects,
tend to treat their surfaces as opaque. Yet, I believe that the lesson must
also be learned for the stoneware potter as well since it is basic to the
whole phenomena of color in clay no matter what kind of clay body is used or
Harvey Sadow has achieved the very epitome of color and light effects in his
raku-fired work. He called one of his shows," From other suns and guiding
lights" and demonstrated more then my words can convey, the very essence of
what I have been trying to describe.
The textures and colors of his raku surfaces are a fusion of light and
color. of texture and form, of function and decorative treatment that we all
have admired in the great potters of our time; Leach, Cardew, Hamada, and
Some of the basic colorist working in clay today has achieved their best
results in the medium of raku. It seems that the artist who devotes himself
to raku becomes involved with the color transformations achieved in the
reduction of the ware to achieve its' smoky black surface. Raku is a medium
which seems to require the artist to function somewhat like the painter and
to establish a very personal relationship with those sensuous surfaces of
the ware that are a result of the process.
The raku process, like Harvey Sadow has demonstrated, requires intimate
one-to-one relationships between the artist and his work. It depends upon a
sensuous pursuit of the effects of color.
The Seattle based artists and craftsman, Margaret Ford, one told me that in
her opinion there were fundamentally two kinds of ceramic artists, clay
people and fire people; in her view she was a clay person and I was a fire
person. For the clay person the glaze store is sufficient and what has
turned them on in the ceramic processes is the development of the forms and
the clay images whereas for the fire person, the glaze store is not enough
but the glaze making studio complete will hundreds of jars of colors and
chemicals is where the action is.
Don Montana too is another of the artists who has learned this essential
lesson very well. His recent fantasy porcelain pieces, his teapots, are
brilliant color essays of transparent glazes, luster overglazes, and the use
of ceramic decals. His surfaces are radiant and some of the best examples of
an approach to color which rival the best work of the ancients. I am not one
who believes that the only potter is a dead potter, rather I believe that
given a firm set of principles to guide one's work, some of our very talent
potters have excelled those from the great historical periods of ceramics.
Colored light as created by layers of colored glaze or glass and modulated
by the very fire of the kiln itself; then the secret of color lies within
those chemical interactions that the fire induces into the work. Some
intuitive understanding or feeling for his this is achieved, how the glaze
lattice forms, how the crystal formations are formed for the final effects
of the glaze; are essential to the potter's art.
The different glaze chemicals, which are employed in the many glazes that
have been developed, come from these distinct crystal structures or
lattices. It is the differences in those structures, which create the
differences in the light that passes from layer to layer and eventually
creates the color effect of the glaze and the final pot itself.
This process of course become very complex when we consider the clay itself
as the ground upon which our little color drama is to be played. This drama,
this dance, is all the further orchestrated by the surface of the glaze
whether transparent or opaque, gloss or Matt, light or dark. These then are
the basic variables creating color for the glaze.