I love color. We moved into a new (to us) house last summer, but with a hectic year of fulltime work, a husband in graduate school, and trying to keep up with an energetic toddler boy, I’ve only recently been able to replace the neutral-painted walls with some color! And now, finally, it feels like home.
Sarah Jaeger is also a fan of color. She says her goal is to make work that functions well, and adds some joy and a sense of festivity to someone’s meal. I think she’s nailed it. In today’s post, an excerpt from the cover article of the latest Pottery Making Illustrated, Emily Donahoe explains Sarah’s glazing process and shares a couple of her glaze recipes. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.
Sarah works atop the New York Times Arts and Travel sections—after she’s read the articles, of course. She wears latex gloves to protect her hands from the abrasiveness of the glaze. After waxing the foot of the bisque-fired bowl with paraffin, she uses tongs to dip the bowl into a clear glaze, allowing it to dry for a few moments. She then begins the first step in decorating.
“This is another one of my secret tools: it’s a No. 2 pencil,” says Sarah. She draws a simple leaf pattern inside the bowl as a guide (figure 1), and then uses a paintbrush to fill in the patterns with a wash of rutile and Gerstley borate. Sarah applies the wash in a thin layer for a translucent, cloudy effect.
As she works, Sarah explains that her decorations have evolved out of hand repetition and “responding to the curve of the pot.” “A lot of my glaze decorations started out as very geometric patterns and over the years evolved into more botanical patterns. The longer I did it . . . the more organic the lines and the forms and those decorative motifs became,” says Sarah. “I like patterns that are pretty organized and pretty symmetrical but then, when the pot gets fired everything kind of softens and relaxes. There’s a kind of nice contradiction there.”
The next two glazes are applied in thick, dense lines. The first is Reeve Green, mixed very thick to give the bowl some texture (figure 2). Sarah applies the glaze using a Clairol color applicator bottles, which she gets at a beauty supply store. She then uses the same technique with an orange-red glaze, which is made from the same base glaze as Reeve Green, but with red inclusion stain added (figure 3).
On the outside of the bowl, Sarah uses the same elements in a different arrangement; she decorates the bowl all the way down to the underside of the foot, filling in the spots between leaves with simple waves and crosshatches.
“It’s a three-dimensional pot,” says Sarah. “I think it matters to pay attention to all of it.” Plus,” she adds, “when people wash dishes, they love that the undersides are decorated. One time this guy in California emailed me a photo of bowls in the dishwasher.”
Wax and Wash
Wax resist is an old technique, but Sarah finds that she uses it a little bit differently than most potters. “One thing that caused me to keep playing with this technique is that I really love surfaces that have a sense of depth,” says Sarah. “It confuses that figure-ground relationship—and for some reason that confusion really interests me.”
Sarah uses a color-tinted wax to go over the decorations on the bowl with a Japanese-style brush (figure 4). This type of wax helps her to see what she’s done and also brushes on more easily than paraffin wax.
“The wax will repel anything that goes on over it,” explains Sarah. “So I will paint with wax on all the parts of this that I want to remain what they are now.”
Sarah’s final step is to brush a cobalt sulfate wash over the entire bowl (figure 5). Note: Cobalt sulfate, like all soluble salts, is easily absorbed into the skin. It is important to wear latex gloves when working with this, or any other soluble salt colorant.
“The form of cobalt sulfate that I use, because it’s water-soluble, you get a really soft line. Just like when a watercolor goes on paper and it kind of bleeds into the paper, as the water of the cobalt sulfate wash evaporates, the cobalt bleeds into the glaze, so the line quality is really soft.”
As she finishes up the pot, Sarah reflects on the paradox of spending so much time discussing technique—and so much time decorating a single pot. “At the end, you don’t want the person who is using the pot to think about technique at all. You don’t want it to look like it was a lot of work; you just want it to look like itself.”
|Sarah Jaeger lives and works in Helena, Montana. To see more of her work, visit www.sarahjaeger.com.|