Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I ReDo that Taboo with Voodoo

Maury is so happy! He's done more firing in the last few days than both he and Big Al have done in the last few years combined!

As mentioned in the previous post, that Taboo came out of his final glaze fire with his pinking completely cooked out. This is common with reds (and to a lesser degree oranges and yellows), which tend to fade during the fire, especially if insufficient fresh air is supplied. This is why we like to keep at least half of our peep holes open (or all of them) if we have red–laden pieces baking away. Even so, reds are notoriously unstable and so pinking should be applied rather liberally to have any hope of adequate intensity after the fire. I've yet to figure out just how much that is though, and somehow manage to screw up on the side of the spectrum of "not enough" with hairpulling regularity. Such was the case with that Taboo.

Here he is, right out of the final glaze fire with all his carefully shaded pinking gone gone gone. BAH!

Creating art—especially in the learning stages—isn't all joy and rainbows and brilliant strokes of genius. There's actually quite a bit of bumbling around, accidents (both good and bad), total surprises (again, both good and bad), lots of pondering, and at times frustration and disappointment. It's messy. And sometimes you get mad. Indeed, sometimes you need to get mad since it can be the battering ram needed to bust down barriers to advancement, or said another way, to drown out that little voice of failure. Crafting art can be like boot camp at times it seems, and if that was the case here then that Taboo was the target I just couldn't hit. I needed a howitzer.

That's to say I needed a bigger toolbox. Cue in overglazes. I'd been wanting to play with this stuff for some time, using the nifty starter kit Lynn provided at the last Mudhenge. But it wasn't until Karen's handpainting demo that things really clicked into place for me because the techniques she demonstrated were similar to my ol' coldpainting methods. So with that Taboo defiantly staring me in the face, fatally flawed and excruciatingly irritating, there's no time like the present, is there? What do they say about necessity and invention? How does that saying go about getting mad and getting even? All clich├ęs aside, that provocation really got the gears going, greased by my inherent stubbornness.

So with dubious abilities and blind enthusiasm, I just dove in, using pigments from the kits both Lynn and Karen so generously provided. Totally reckless. That shouldn't come as a surprise, though. As you may know by now, I'm not one to cautiously test the creative waters with a toe, properly outfitted with the appropriate gear and fully trained, to then carefully wade into the waters with one eye affixed on the shore. Nope. I get a running start and cannonball! BANZAI! *Splash* I'm lucky if I remember to take off my shoes.

Some of the materials enlisted to fix this puppy. That's a plastic palette and in the tins and tall glass bottles are the dry overglaze pigments. There are various mediums you can use to emulsify the pigmentsdepending on what you want to achieve and how you prefer the consistencybut here I'm using the glycerine Lynn provided in her kit (you can find it in the cakemaking or soapmaking isles in an arts and crafts store like Michaels). You mix the pigments directly into the medium (in this case glycerine) to the consistency you want. In my case, I aimed for the consistency of heavy cream and applied it with brushes.

To distill all that messy, "on the fly" learning into one coherent impression then: it was true love even before my bristles touched that shiny surface! Here was a fired media that combined with underglaze to produce results that not only matched my aims, but did so in a way more agreeable to my madnessinduced way of creating. So let me share some interesting things I discovered along the way so farand expect more as I wallow deeper in this marriage as I'm sure plenty more revelations are waiting! 

So first off, let's discuss some of the pigments I was using, those provided by Lynn and Karen

These are the colors I used on this guy. Lots of horsey colors are possible even with this limited palette, and the options are infinite with the addition of new pigments. Really, I suspect I'll be duplicating the massive coldpaint collection I have with overglaze pigments!

So here are some of the loosey goosey aspects of overglaze pigments:
  • You can utilize complementary colors to deepen, darken or enrich your target color without having to kill it with black. That means you can use blues, purples, greens, violets and such to amplify your palette.
  • Likewise, you can use pure brights to intensify highlights rather than relying on underlying white. So bright reds, oranges, yellows and the like can be used to punch up colors without the "pastel" effect of white.
  • You can custom mix your own colors from the large array of standard colors.
  • You can custom mix the consistency of your overglaze pigments through all the various mediums you can use. For instance, glycerine imparts the feel of oils thinned for glazing, or a thick watercolor feel. Conversely, fat oil creates a thicker, traditional oil paint feel. There's also lavendar oil, clove oil and many more mediums to suit just about anyone's preferences. I even successfully tried honey! 
  • You can use overglaze pigments in their glossy form (as–is), or turn them into a satin finish or further still into a true matte finish with zinc oxide, a matting agent available in powder form. You do this by grinding together the oxide in with the pigments in a (dedicated) mortal and pestle, varying the ratio depending on the effect you want. Then mix with your chosen medium and voila! You can then use the glossy versions on eyes, and the satin versions on hooves and nostrils for an array of appealing realistic effects.
  • Don't like what you just painted? No problem! Just wash it off with water and start again! Overglaze only becomes permanent when it's fired, so feel free to make as many changes you want before that happens.
  • You don't have to paint white markings or patterns! Amen! That tedious chore dreaded in cold–painting is totally circumvented in china painting only because your underlying (glazed) bisque provides the white background, so you simply wipe off the pigment from an area you wish to remain white.
  • You don't need an airbrush to china paint as brushes, sponges, or any assortment of typical cold–painting paraphernalia can be used instead. Keep in mind you'll have to adapt their use a bit, but that's to be expected with any media. That isn't to say an airbrush isn't an immensely handy tool in the glazing studio, however. I find that airbrushing on underglazes to block in areas with smooth, even gradients works better (and faster) than trying to do so with overglazes.
  • You never use water with overglazes, but only your chosen medium(s), thinning with glycerine when necessary.
  • You can keep your overglaze pigments and custom mixes in powder form in a suitably sturdy and tight–lidded container, or you can mix them with your chosen medium and store them thusly that way, too. You can even keep them on your palette (like many oil painters do) given that your palette is air–tight and covered to prevent debris and dust from contaminating the pigments. Gunk in your pigments makes painting a glossy surface rather tricky, and since overglazes fire at much lower temperatures (usually between Cone 016-018), not everything you'd expect to fire out actually will. 
  • Rather than waiting hours or days for your piece to cool down to apply additional layers with underglazing, you can more rapidly apply successive coats in overglazing only because of the lower temps involved. For example, after your kiln shuts off let it drop to about 1000˚F, then you can pop and prop the lid on the lowest "tooth." Then when it drops to 400˚F–500˚F, you can pop the lid fully for even faster cooling. For someone as creatively impatient as I am, this is a big plus! (I work in acrylics and color pencils for a reason!) But as always, exercise your good judgement here, as each piece and each kiln have their own tolerances and parameters.
  • Overglaze pigments fire pretty much WYSIWYG"what you see is what you get." On top of that, how you applied them also is pretty much WYSIWYG (with some exceptions, which I'll share as I discover them). This is in sharp contrast to underglaze where you have to paint "blind," and because chemicals combine and change during the fire, colors may be altered quite a bit away from what you'd expect. For someone who prefers a high degree of control and predictability—like me—WYSIWYG is always very appealing.
  • So far, I've found I get better results if I apply thin layers or washes rather than thick, gunky layers. Overglazes definitely have body, so if you glop it on it will result in a bump or ridge. If that's the desired effect, great! But if not, you can sand it off with a bit of elbow grease (and carefully with wetted wet/dry sandpaper in ultra–fine grit and with dust precautions), refire it, and then redo that feature in thinner layers.

Here we go! My very first interlude with overglazes on my own!

To crunch it all down to one idea thenif you're familiar with oils, watercolors, or inks, these overglaze pigments aren't too far afield in terms of feel and workability. But a few critical words of caution regardless:
  • Many overglaze pigments contain poisons and are highly toxic. So I recommend reading data sheets and sticking with the lead–free and cadmiumfree pigments, no matter how appealing a color may be.
  • Exercise common sense and caution with silica–based fine powders and chemical pigments or mediums.
  • As for mediums, you may come across references to motor oil or other such materials. Just remember that whatever you put into your pigments will be fired at over 1000˚F in your kiln, so safety issues with vapors and flammable materials are important, especially if your kiln resides in your house or garage. 
  • Use dedicated tools and containers for all your overglazing materials since these pigments are totally unlike those used for underglazing or coldpainting.
  • Above all, do your homework and exercise appropriate precautions to stay safe! We want you around to happily glaze for a very long time.

As for the pigments in general, Reusche is a dominant supplier (and made in the US to boot), and having used such pigments provided in Lynn's and Karen's kits, I can say unequivocally that they're wonderful. But here's the hiccup: Reusche sells its pigments only in bulk, which is both very expensive and rather impractical for our purposes. So if you want to sample of bunch of different colors out of curiosity, an eyepopping bill with be the unfortunate result. ACK! Nonetheless, check out Reusche's china painting catalog to get an idea of all the enticing colors availableand that's just one supplier!

Here he is during his final fire with overglaze! In theory, this should be it!

And there are many other suppliers! Better still, many of them offer Reusche pigments in smaller (affordable) quantities, or who may have their own custom colors created for purchase. Check out Ann Cline (recommended by both Karen and Lynn), Kathy Peterson's shopping pages, China Painting Today's store, Maryland China, Rynne China, and Colorific Porcelain, just to name a few. Pigments are typically sold in powder form by the dram. It's hard to say how far a dram would last, though, since we each would work differently and each piece has different needs. But I do hope to have a better handle on "dramability" as soon as I gain experience with a larger body of overglazed work. But I can say at this point that a little bit generally goes a long way!

Regardless, Karen reiterated to two important points to look for while choosing from all those lovely pigments: (1) are they lead–free and cadmiumfree?, and (2) do they all fire at about the same temperature range? Using pigments that demand rather different Cone temps can really complicate matters, so focusing on pigments that are both safe and compatible allows us to concentrate on creating rather than (avoidable) aggravations. Smart advice! With those two tips in my head, I can't wait to go pigment shopping! 

And hey, here's a tip: I'd initially mixed Persian Red and True White, with a tad of Brown (to richen it a bit), to create that coveted pinking tone, only this time in overglaze. But to my dismay, that dang Persian Red kept firing away, even at Cone 022! What was particularly interesting was that it seemed True White was the instigator of this vanishing act as those parts where Persian Red was used almost purely tended to stick better than those areas where True White dominated the blend. So after five attempts at trying to get Persian Red to stay, I got pugnacious and simply switched to another reddish color replacement in my White and Brown mix: Ebony Brown. Bingo! I got a nice pink that finally stuck around! Now on a piece of this tiny scale, you really only need an indication of pink here and there, so I still have to see if this pinking mix would be convincing on a larger piece where bigger swaths of color will be needed. Something to discover! Fun!

And ta–da! I did it! Say hello to GoTime Buster! I bet you can guess where his name came from! Pining for pink ushered in a whole new era for the studio, and I can't wait to really take the bit between my teeth and run with it! Feeling a bit like Buster!

And now to backtrack a bit, back to 2010I found it incredibly exciting that the blues, purples, reds, yellows, and oranges I'd used for underglazing ol' Buster also worked! This opens up even more possibilities since it suggests that our color mixes for underglazes may have more options beyond blacks for darkening and using the underlying white bisque for highlighting. Even more curious, those bright reds (and yellows and oranges) retained their potency a lot better than the reddish brownshmmm. Lots to experiment with in that department now as well!

So hey, here's the deal: if I can do all this, you definitely can, too! Having said that, though, clearly I'm a total neophyte right now. Not even a baby yet, really. Heck, I'm barely a zygote! But it's so inspiring to be literally looking out over a vast expanse of unknown territory, full of promise and peril, and surely with tall tales waiting to be lived and told! So come along with me and we'll chart it together, and here's a terrific resource to get you started! If you're serious about overglazing, too, becoming a member is a great idea because that opens up their archives rich in wisdom and insights.

In the meantime then, pop on over to Buster's album for more images, and also check out his 5day auction on eBay! I still can't believe I actually pulled this off, but it wasn't done alone! With the help and guidance of the wonderful mudhens, I made it up and over my 1,000 foot wall with nary a sweatso thank you gals! So much! You always seem to make the impossible not so impossible after all!

"Let your curiosity be greater than your fear." — Pema Chodron

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