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Underglazes are basically clay-based materials with ceramic stains and metallic oxides added to create a full spectrum of color in your work. They’re the fastest, easiest, and most dependable way for you to add pizzazz to your pottery or sculptures for just an accent or an entire surface treatment. Like many other art materials, underglazes come in a wide variety of forms—liquid, dry, chalks, pens, and pencils—so no matter what your background, a ceramic surface awaits your colorful treatment.
Here’s an excerpt from the Underglaze Users Guide: How to Use Ceramic Underglazes to Add Color and Graphic Interest in Your Pottery Projects:
9 Artists Using Colorful Underglazes
by David L. Gamble
Commercial underglazes are basically clay slips containing colorants, and they’re a great way to add color to your work using a variety of application methods. And since they’re formulated to have low drying shrinkage, they can be applied to bone-dry greenware or to bisque-fired surfaces. In addition to being able to change the surface color of your clay body, underglazes can also be used to change the texture of the body.
When used to add color to surfaces, underglazes have an advantage in that they are composed mostly of clay with very little flux, so they’ll stay put and won’t run, which makes them ideal for detailed decoration. While most underglazes were originally formulated for use at low-fire temperatures, most, maintain their color in the mid-range and some even as high as cone 9 or 10.
Underglazes can be applied by brushing, pouring, dipping, and spraying—anything goes. Each application method has different requirements. If an underglaze is too thick for spraying or using as a wash, just add water to thin it down. If it’s too thin for silk screening or monoprinting, leave the container exposed to air to evaporate some of the liquid.
Underglazes work best with a clear overglaze, although other glazes of varying opacity and color may also be used. I’ve had success with whites and very light-colored glazes, but darker glazes seem to muddy or absorb the color of the underglaze. The overglaze can be anywhere from matt to glossy. You’ll find the clear deepens the value of the colors regardless of application method. If you’re sealing the surface of work that will come in contact with food, be sure to use a food-safe clear glaze that matches your underglaze’s and clay body’s firing range.
Applying an overglaze can be tricky. If you’ve applied underglazes on bisque, you’ll find that they’ll smear when brushing on a clear over- glaze because wet glaze moistens the underglaze. Use a fan brush and float the first coat on without going over the same area twice. Wait for the first coat to dry completely before brushing on a second coat.
I’ve recently used underglazes to create a watercolor effect by thinning them down and painting them onto a semi-white glaze that is layered over another colored glaze underneath. The colored glaze (sometimes gloss, sometimes matt) melts through the white and gives it a richer off-white look. The clay body is a red terra cotta that can handle a number of multiple firings if needed. I’ve been creating pieces from my travel sketches to permanently document places I’ve traveled to in a sketchbook-like manner.
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