Learning About Glaze!

Making a glaze for ceramics has a lot of similarities to baking. It's just a recipe. A list of ingredients that when put together, and introduced to a certain amount of heat, will actually change. They will interact with one another to create something completely different. The main difference between baking and ceramics is that I actually understand where most of the ingredients in baking come from. Flour comes from wheat, eggs come from chicken. In glaze, the ingredients are bit more far fetched. They are raw materials that come from the Earth, like silica, and calcium carbonate. I personally don't have a lot of knowledge in chemistry or geology so it's taken me a long time to just have a basic understanding.

Needless to say that I'm pretty pumped about the glaze on these bowls that I have made for the month of September. Just look at them! SIGH! and those drips!

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Anyway I was thinking I should start at the beginning, with my first test tiles. So these pictures below are of the first glaze I ever made from scratch in my home studio. It was Tony Hansen's 20 X 5 base glaze, a widely known glaze recipe, that was a huge stepping off point for me.

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After that first test, I was hooked. Even when I was at work, I would habitually spend my free time on google researching recipes. Piecing bits of information together, and trying to make sense of these strange, new-found materials.


The thing that I was still struggling with though, was that I didn't understand why those five ingredients made a glaze. I felt like I was trying to make a three layer cake, and I didn't even know what flour was. I needed to have a better understanding of the ingredients and the science behind how it worked. I should probably warn everyone that I am a rookie, and am still learning. This is just my basic understanding of a very complex world of glaze. So here is a quick summary about what glaze is, and how it works.


Glaze is a layer of a vitreous (glass like) substance that is fused to a ceramic piece through firing to add color, style, and waterproofing to a piece. The basic idea of creating a glaze is to melt the glass former (silica) onto a pot. Unfortunately silica melts at around 3100 F, which is just a bit too hot for the average kiln firing. So to bring down the melting point, flux (oxides) is added, since it has a lower melting point. The problem is that once the melting point has been lowered to a workable temperature (around 2300F), everything starts melting off of the piece. So to control the melting, a refractory (Kaolin or aluminium) is added to stop that flow. Finding the balance between these three ingredients is the groundwork for developing glaze recipes.

There you have it, a very simplified version of a basic glaze recipe includes: a glass former, a refractory, and a flux. Trust me, it gets way more complicated and intricate. The thing that I found most tricky is that raw materials are made up of so many things. Some materials can be both refractory and a glass former, or be a mixture of three completely different things. It's such a vast world of raw materials. They all have different characteristics, and they all react differently to one another. It’s confusing, but that is actually my favorite part. Getting to know these materials is new and exciting.

I feel like I could keep talking about everything! Like the actual process of mixing ingredients, test tiles, kiln firings. But I will leave that for another day.

Designing a Piece for Plating

In the world of food there is this moment called plating. A pinnacle point. It is the culmination of all the stress and multi-tasking it takes to finish a culinary work of art. Watch any reality T.V. cooking show and you will see the chaos, the frazzle, that all leads up until that moment where the chef chooses the perfect plate to showcase their work of art. This juncture is what I want to dive into, the joining of ceramics and food. This image below is what this month's ceramic dish was designed for. 

A fleeting moment that captures the intimate relationship ceramics has with food. Something that can be dated back to around 9000 or 10,000 BC. when the first functional pottery vessels were made and used for storing food and water. Ceramics of course has evolved from basic vessels into many different types of complicated glazed forms, and shapes throughout many different countries. Almost all of which have a deep history with food within their culture.  South korea has Onnggi jars made to ferment kimchi, China has tea pots made from their signature white porcelain, and Africa has Tangines that they use for cooking stews. This is only scratching the surface of ceramic vessels throughout history that were made for food. Along with the history of ceramic vessels I thought it would be nice to give a brief history of fine dining.

I came across a wonderful article in Bon Appetite that was super relevant, so I thought I could give a quick summary. Let's hop forward a few years to France, and learn about where the phrase "plating" originated.

Engraving from Le Patissier Royal Parisien by Careme

Engraving from Le Patissier Royal Parisien by Careme

The history of plating begins with a man named Marie-Antoine Careme who was born in 1784-1833. He was pretty much the first celebrity chef of his time. He used his love for architecture as inspiration for his pastry creations, and presented dishes in the shapes of famous monuments as you can see up above. He was even believed to invent the Croquembouche (which is something I having been wanting to make since I was little, so I was really excited to learn about this tidbit). Careme's grand food presentations were really only seen by the wealthy, and it wasn't until Auguste Escoffier (the man pictured below) came around that an appreciation for food presentation was introduced to the public.

Auguste Escoffier 

Auguste Escoffier 

Menon, La nouvelle cuisine (1742) 

Menon, La nouvelle cuisine (1742) 

In Escoffier's time food was still mainly prepared in separate buildings over wood or charcoal stoves, and then carried to a dining hall where they would be served. He helped invent devices and methods to move the food preparation into the same building. Which eventually lead to smaller plates, and gave the diners the option to choose what they wanted off of a menu.

Voila! fine dining was created. 

Auguste Escoffier menu Gouttelette® premium giclee print on paper 

Auguste Escoffier menu Gouttelette® premium giclee print on paper 

This was basically the catalyst, for not only the business of fine dining, but the transition into A Nouveille Cuisine. A modern style of cooking lead by a man named Fernand Point that avoids rich, heavy foods and emphasizes the freshness of the ingredients along with the presentation of the dishes. This way of cooking and serving has turned food into an art form. From there the creative works of chefs began to sculpt the way we eat, what we eat, and the plates we eat off of. 

Thanks to the culture shift of fine dining, both food and the plate it sits on can be considered pieces of art, and for a short period of time they compliment each other in the final presentation or plating. The art of food is ephemeral. It captures the eyes of hungry diners, but since it is meant to be consumed it only lasts in the few minutes it takes to be eaten. 

Ceramics on the other hand is one of the most lasting and permanent pieces of art someone can work with. It lasts long after the food is eaten and possibly past the life of the person who made it in the first place.

I may sound like a hopeless romantic, but I consider the plating of food to be a wonderfully magical moment; when two entirely different pieces of art come together to shine at the same time. Completely different histories and lifespans, but in that moment they come together in some type of beautiful serendipity.

This is why a basic understanding about the relationship between food and ceramics is so important. Having the foresight to know what the functional ceramic piece will be used for can not only help with the design, but it can also compliment the final plating.

Works Cited:

Park, Michael Y. "A History of How Food Is Plated, from Medieval Bread Bowls to Noma." Bon Appetit.              Bon Appetit, 23 Feb. 2016. Web. 2 May 2017.






Making a Double Walled Form

Double walled is simply a form with two walls that shares one bottom. I created a lovely diagram below to show the difference between the two. Now it might seem that making a double walled object on the wheel is more complicated than a single walled object, but, just like anything, it takes practice. Don't be intimidated. I have a whole bunch of great pics below if anyone out there wants to give it a go.






Getting those pictures however has been such a struggle. Even though I know how important it is to document the ceramic process, taking pictures in the kitchen is just so much easier than in the studio. Constantly getting interrupted and taken out of the mind set of throwing is a bit jarring for me. So until I get around to purchasing a tripod and a wireless camera remote the process involves a lot of stop and go. Sit down, start throwing, stop, get up, wash my hands, grab the camera, take a photo, get back on the wheel. Repeat.

I know it's totally worth it, I just have to remember to make it a priority.  I definitely don't want this blog to just be about food. Now that I have wonderful process shots of a pretty complex form for everyone to use it will hopefully give me the motivation to keep on documenting more of the studio.

Now, besides the extra time it takes to pull two walls I personally thought the most difficult part of making a Bundt pan was creating the ridges. Nobody wants uneven, wonky ridges on their Bundt cake. Clean ridges, is what makes the cake so appealing, and it's what invites icing to be poured over it. However, I discovered that the wet clay has to dry a bit before adding the ridges. Otherwise the form will start to wibble, wobble, and then collapse right in front of you. At this point there is no going back, I recommend letting it sit for a few hours or take a heat gun to it.  

Being able to actually pull the cake out of the pan, is also incredibly important. That means that there can be no undercuts. An undercut is a term that means to cut under or beneath, and leave a portion overhanging. Imagine trying to pull a cake out of these two diagrams up above. A cake is going to get caught on the lip of that second example, and is definitely not going to come out of there without being destroyed first.

Let's recap!

First, when designing your pan make sure there are no undercuts. Once you get on the wheel don't get discouraged with the double walls. It's ceramics so I can assure you that you will fail, but just keep trying. Once you have the form down make sure to let the clay dry before adding the ridges. Other than that have fun, and if there are any hobby potters out there please send me pics of your ceramic Bundt pans. I would love to see them!

Making lidded honey pots

I always have this vision of what I want my house to look like. If I could have it my way I would live a comfy, artsy, cottage, surrounded by sunflowers. Actually if I could somehow pluck the teacher's cottage out of Roald Dahl's Matilda it would be perfect. There would be big fuzzy bees, and I wouldn't have to work, I would spend my time tending to my garden, harvesting honey, eating, and making art all day. However this hasn't happened yet, so in the mean time I like to make things to fill my future cottage. This honey pot is one of them, designed with happy and cozy in mind.

The process of making a honey pot is pretty simple, it's the lids that complicate things. At least it does for me. They take a lot of measuring and a bit of finesse. I unfortunately still have a lot to learn, and even more finesse to acquire. The things that can go wrong when making a lid far out weigh the things that can go right. If the rim isn't wide enough, the lid will fall through when you fire it. Or if the lid is too big, it will get stuck as it shrinks in the kiln. Even if a pot has survived a bisque firing, there is still the risk of the glaze gluing the lid to the pot.

The process of making the lids was a mixture of hand-building and throwing, I started by rolling out some clay, and using a needle tool to cut out the right size circles needed. For the knob on top of the lid I rolled up a small ball of clay and formed the shape on the wheel. After a bit of trimming afterwards the lid should fit snuggly in the rim of the pot, like it does below.

Hole Punch Happy

My favorite part of out of doing this blog is this one moment, right after I decide what I want to bake. Where I start designing what I want to create. I can set intentions for my ceramic piece; what do I want it to say, what do I want it to feel like, or what mood do I want it to create. It's been hard for me to find a voice in my ceramic work, a medium, that I only recently discovered. Trying to find a style people can recognize, when there is still so much that I have to learn is near impossible. However the process of creating something especially for a certain type of food, lets me focus on the task at hand. I can experiment, challenge forms, and discover what type of designs i'm drawn towards.

This bowls for example were thought-out, sketched, and colored on paper before I ever set down to make them. I also made a list of words that I wanted to be the focus of the piece: happy, light-hearted, and quirky were my favorites (these words have been a running theme throughout the rest of my work as well) . After my plan was complete I set out to portray those words in the building process.


The form is simple, with a wide, welcoming rim. The foot was meant to stand out, something bigger than I thought it needed to be. It definitely enhanced the quirkiness, kind of like a gangly teenager. Next is the holes, they are the epitome of light-hearted! They not only make the bowl lighter, but they make it fun, since there is not really a consistent pattern. The addition of bright happy glazes, makes these berry bowls a joy to wash fruit in.

Making a wheel-thrown juicer

To start I would like to introduce everyone to my wheel. He is a Skutt kick-wheel, that I bought a year after my very first throwing class, which at the time was the biggest purchase I had ever made. I considered him an investment, and still firmly believe it. Over the past three years we have become very well acquainted. I know his quirks, and he probably has learned some of mine. Somedays we see eye to eye, while other days we have very different opinions on what type of forms we should be making. Most of the time we can agree to disagree, and work together to get the job done. 

He may look a bit disheveled that's mainly my fault, I usually deep clean the studio on Thursdays; it's Wednesday. Just imagine all the clay is sweat, my wheel is a very hard worker. 

Understanding how to use a wheel takes practice, and actually creating something on the wheel takes years of practice.  At least creating something of value, that's done correctly, and with a certain amount of skill.  Anyone can sit down and throw something on the wheel, but it takes a bit more knowledge, and hard work to understand the difference between a good pot, and.... errrr well, just a pot.

The juicers I have made for my next baking post took quite a bit of trial and error.  It is thrown from one ball of clay that I pulled up twice.  Once on the end making the bowl shape, and then once more in the center creating the dome. 

Then you let them dry to the leather hard stage so you can trim the bottoms. Attaching the coils to make ridges is the last part of the building process. 

After they are bone dry they are bisque fired, and then glaze fired after that. The ceramic process is long tedious, and usually worth it at the end. I don't want to dive too much into bisque and glaze just yet, but here is the finished product.