Achieving Reduction Like Look with Cone 6 Oxidation!

Tea bowls, wheel thrown, faceted, sprayed with multiple glazes, cone 6 Oxidation.

A few years ago I was showing my work at my favorite art show, the Texas Clay Festival. As people walked into my booth and handled my pots, the single most common question asked was, “How are you firing your work? This is cone 10 reduction, right?” Triumphantly I informed them, “This is actually cone 6 electric!” And suddenly I had all their attention.  I realized that many of them were hobby potters who, like me, were infatuated with the look of atmospheric firing but only had access to an electric kiln.

When I began my clay journey at Callanwolde Arts Center, a lovely cone 10 studio in Atlanta Georgia, I did not realize at that time, that, by the end of five years, I will not only be hooked to making pots but also to the rich, dark surfaces of reduction firing, which really appealed to my aesthetic. A move to Texas in 2003 and the challenge of setting up my studio with only a cone 6 electric kiln made that altogether apparent. I lusted after the dark, rich and varied surface yielded by atmospheric firing while my electric kiln consistently yielding flat uniform look. It was downright frustrating!
Right around that time I came across an article by Richard Busch in Ceramics Monthly which talked about how to get a wood fired look from an electric kiln. That article became a beacon of hope. It showed me that marvelous results could be achieved with an electric kiln if one was ready to experiment. With renewed hope, I decided to take up the challenge and try to create a look with my electric kiln without compromising on my aesthetic.
I spent the next few years experimenting with various clay bodies, glazes and surface treatment. It was a rocky road peppered with a lot more failures and few successes. As my results progressed from absolutely disgusting to somewhat acceptable, my resolve to stick with the electric kiln strengthened. At the end of three years of experimentation I had begun to achieve results I was happy with.

It has been a long journey but a rather fulfilling one as I have learnt a lot in the process. And while my work continues to evolve and the process continually gets tweaked, I know one thing for sure; I have found a new respect for my electric kiln and its potential.

Wheel thrown, brushed with white slip, sgraffito, sprayed with multiple glazes, fired to cone 6 oxidation

The Process:

I work with a dark clay body (no. 266, from standard Ceramics) which fires black at cone 6. Not being a glaze whiz, I mostly work with recipes that I found off the internet, sometimes modifying them just a bit to get the desired effect. Glazes are sprayed on the pot with a sprayer. A pot might have a single glaze or multiple glazes sprayed on, depending on the desired effect. I do not spray the glazes uniformly around the pot. Instead I pick areas that will be highlighted by a certain glaze and then I spray a few coats, starting with broad strokes then concentrating more of the glaze in progressively smaller areas. The idea is to have an area of strong color, slowly feathering the glaze, leaving some areas deliberately unglazed so that the rich earthy color of the black clay can show through. This color as well as surface variation coupled with black color of the clay body, works to create an illusion of atmospheric firing.

Nutmeg and Pinnell’s weathered bronze glazes sprayed in and near the carved design and then feathered at the edge of the carving. Dark color results from the unglazed areas showing through, the result: an illusion of atmospheric firing.

Look out for more posts about, spraying glazes, my homemade spray booth, glazes recipes and other experiments!

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