As I continue to incorporate more imagery into the surfaces of my work, I have often considered taking a whirl at the majolica technique but haven’t yet done it. Majolica, also referred to as maiolica, is a wonderful way to create imagery on your work. In this technique, earthenware, generally terracotta, is coated with opaque white glaze (traditionally a lead glaze made opaque white with the addition of tin oxide; now there are lead-free options) and then colored overglaze decoration is applied.
In today’s post, an excerpt from the May/June issue of Pottery Making Illustrated, Jake Allee shares what he learned when he recently delved into the majolica technique. He also shares a majolica base glaze recipe. I really like the advice he gives on experimenting in your work. This may be just the impetus I needed to start some majolica experiments myself. - Jennifer Harnetty, editor.
I’ve recently been experimenting with translating my drawings onto ceramic objects using the majolica technique. The direct nature of applying color through this brush technique has a nice appeal because the fired result looks pretty close to way it was applied. In an effort to get some of my advanced students to expand their experience with different firing ranges, I’ve been introducing majolica as a way to explore what the character and color palette of this technique has to offer.
For the type of imagery I’m trying to achieve, I’ve found that simple, refined forms with smooth surfaces are best, but thinking outside of the box might lead you beyond the conventional interpretation of this technique. Consider the variety of textures you can create, combined with alternatives to applying stains using nontraditional techniques. Spattering with a toothbrush, spraying with a squirt bottle, or dabbing with a crumpled rag might be just the beginning.
|Get scores of ideas for great ceramic surfaces in Surface Decoration: Finishing Techniques!
Applying the Base Glaze
The majolica technique begins with applying an opaque white glaze over your bisque-fired clay. I mix my own clay, but also use APS Red from New Mexico Clay. Any cone 04 redware clay that works with your glaze base is suitable.
Linda Arbuckle’s majolica glaze base works great (see recipe below), but pay attention to the thickness of the glaze when applying it. If it’s too thick, it tends to crawl, and if applied too thin it will cause the surface to be dry. For best results, use tongs to dip pieces to avoid getting finger marks, which become very evident when applying the stains. Any drips can be smoothed out with your finger tip after the glaze completely dries on the bisque piece.
If you don’t want to mix your own glaze, many commercial low-fire white glazes will work just as well.
To prepare the colors, I mix Gerstley borate with commercial stains from Standard Ceramics Supply, including but not limited to K-44 Royal Purple Glaze Stain, and #496 Christmas Red glaze stain. The Gerstley borate help the stains to flux and adding 20% Gerstley borate works great for most stains although I use 50% for black stain and 40% for chrome green. I measure ingredients by volume using a plastic tablespoon and always run a couple of test tiles through a glaze firing before committing to mixing large amounts.Commercially available stain mixes, such as AMACO’s Gloss Decorating Color series (GDC) and Duncan’s Concepts Underglazes are listed as suitable for use with majolica. Linda Arbuckle mentions that some AMACO Velvet underglazes also work, and many other underglazes may as well.
Note: Be sure to test any product you plan to use before committing to it fully, to be sure that it gives the desired results with your clay and glaze, and under your firing conditions.
For this technique, I’ve been using several sizes of bamboo brushes and small watercolor brushes, one that’s long and thin, called an ex liner (or “rigger” brush as it’s used by water color artists to paint the detailed rigging on sailboat images) and another called a script liner also used for fine lines and details. You may wish to consider different marks made by brushes such as the flats and fans. Pay attention to possibilities in the types of mark each type of brush can make, and develop your skill with brushes using India ink on paper before committing to the ceramic material.
I’ve been playing with decorating plates lately because they have a nice flat surface that can be treated like a canvas or piece of paper. My watercolor training in school has proved quite effective in approaching composition as well as color. A landscape style composition is a great place to start.
My first attempts at multi-colored brush decoration turned out pretty disastrous. After looking at what I liked in many different historical styles, I discovered I was using too many colors. Much of the historical work that appealed to me had a stripped down color scheme and relied on white background to create contrast. Even the math-based Della-Robbia compositions of Italy generally used blue, yellow, and green. Thinking about the color wheel and applying design concepts created the solution for me. I decided to go back to square one and use complimentary and analogous combinations with the addition of black for emphasis. Gradations in wash were used for variation within this limited palette.
Here are a few tips for designing and executing your composition:
|Jake Allee is an assistant professor of art at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, Colorado. To see his work or for questions, visit www.jakeallee.com.|
|For more great ceramic decorating techniques, be sure to download your free copy of Three Great Pottery Decorating Techniques: A Guide to Sgraffito, How to Make and Use Terra Sigillata, and Creating and Coloring Highly Textured Surfaces.|
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