Playing with glazes

Summer is well and truly upon us, loving this sunshine am I right? The current sessions of the adult ceramics classes are all drawing to a close for a 2 month summer break and it is so good to see all the glazed pieces, artworks really, coming out of the kiln these past few weeks.

In the image below you can see not only some very pretty little pots made on the wheel but also some painted tiles, a fabulous use of the limited colour palette of the glazes.

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In the image below one of the students made a very large serving platter and then glazed it twice. The first glazing was very bright contrasting colours which looked very jarring together, and then the student pulled it all together in the second glazing by going over it all with a semi-transparent blue glaze. Lovely!

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This image below really shows off the diversity of tile work that is coming out of these classes – sgraffito (upper left, middle left), mishima (upper right), glaze painting (middle center, middle right, and lower left), and melted glass (lower right).

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Another student is experimenting (below) with textures and splashes on flat forms.

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One of our very popular discoveries, illustrated below, is that some glazes in combination create lovely flowing colours. They do run quite a bit however, so more testing of this recipe is required to get it so that we can ensure they don’t run right down to the kiln shelf! Beautiful colours.

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James Hayes

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RAKU : COMFORT – EASE – PLEASURE

In May the Adult Ceramics Class students had the opportunity to create a unique ceramic piece using the relatively rare and inaccessible raku firing process, an ancient Japanese ceramics technique. The pots to be fired were made during the month leading up to the event, bisqued and glazed the week before in preparation. Facilitator and tutor James Hayes organised a Sunday afternoon event, bringing together students from 3 classes, which culminated in fire and smoke, chat, laughter, good food, and of course raku fired pots!

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The process involved in raku firing hands over a large portion of control to the random elements of fire and smoke. To truly appreciate raku pottery the potter (and indeed the collector or aficionado) is looking for the happy accident that produces a pattern or contrast not possible in the traditional highly controlled environment of an electric kiln. Raku pots are for the most part decorative in nature as the resulting pots and finishes are very fragile and not food safe. In Japan the process is used to create cups for the traditional tea ceremony, and the ultimate goal is the pursuit of beauty in imperfection and that the vessel is quite visibly hand made.

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The students were given a broad understanding of what to expect and aspire to, and images and videos were pursued as research. The students were encouraged to create simple hand built pots with broad blank surfaces upon which the raku process could work its magic.

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The pots were loaded into the purpose built, gas fired raku kiln and very quickly (2 hours) brought up to a glowing red temperature – approximately 1,000 degrees C. The pots are lifted out of the kiln glowing hot, and during a brief few minutes the students applied varies combustible materials to the surface of the glaze. This included feathers, hair and sugar, all of which ignite on contact with the hot ceramic vessel. The pots are then quickly lifted into a “smoker” container, a metal bin with more combustible materials such as paper and wood chips, covered and left to smoke for 10 to 20 minutes.

Overall we were delighted with the results! No 2 pots look alike, as the random nature of the process takes over to create truly distinctive glaze finishes.

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St Patrick’s Day WIN!

I am very pleased to announce that Signal Arts has won an award for the St Patrick’s Day 2018 parade in our category of “Art & Entertainment”.

After many hours of hard work by the various Signal staff artists the St Patrick’s Day float was ready for assembly on the day. During a very early start the rather unassuming pieces all came together to form a whole…

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The other main ingredient for the parade was the costumes!

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We made our way up to the appointed holding area at the appointed time and then waited and waited in the shivering cold for the parade to begin.

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We were eager to begin as performing in the parade helped us to warm up again – did I mention it was cold that day? We did have loads of fun …

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The children particularly enjoyed our Viking roars and often wanted to hit our shields or roar with us!

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We really got into the spirit despite the cold (yes, it was cold) and it really helped make the day a fun experience.

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Signal Arts will be receiving its award at a ceremony in the Bray Town Hall the evening of March 27th, an award that will be proudly on display in the gallery alongside other awards Signal has collected over the years. Well done everyone!

James Hayes

Snowmageddon

Signal Arts Centre is closed while the status red weather warning is in effect. I hope you are all safe and sound, and warmly bundled up at home.

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The wind is picking up, the temperature is dropping, and the footpaths are treacherous!

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It is picturesque none the less seeing “blankets” and “pillows” of snow around the place. I personally will be relieved when it is gone.

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A little teaser of our St Patrick’s Day float, safely stowed away on the back stage.

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Since I had walked down to Signal before we got the news of the closure,  I went ahead with my plan to put on a bisque firing for the adult ceramics class.

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I have a bit of time to work on the blog as I have to wait until the kiln gets up to temp before I put in the bung, probably by about 3pm.

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A rare sight of Bray seafront with ice and snow. Here’s looking forward to spring proper!

James Hayes – p.s. I added share on social media links and a like feature to the blog earlier in the week. In testing we had difficulty with adding comments, so that is next on the to do list. Give it a go and let us know what you think of the blog 🙂

Glaze fired work

As always I am excited to open the kiln after a glaze firing, it feels like Christmas even if I don’t have any work in the kiln myself! I did have a few “tester” pieces, and here is a before-after view so you can see how much the glaze changes during the firing. The tile is testing how the individual colours react when laid over white glaze as compared to when they are on the bisque fired clay surface – they spread quite a LOT into the white glaze. The terracotta bowl is showing how different the colours look on terracotta as opposed to grey clay of the tile – they take on a deeper tone, some really glow whereas others are so much darker that some of the colour is lost. It also shows how the glazes “run” on a vertical surface – not very much but some more than others. My next test I think will be something similar but mixing different colours on the vertical surface, especially white as the glazes really run on the white tile!

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Another before and after shot showing a loaded kiln shelf. All the “marbled” pieces had transparent glaze on them to give that impermeable finish – I will show the marbling technique in another blog post so stay tuned! 🙂

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What I was REALLY looking forward to from this firing was the ceramic tiles painted by artist Lorraine Whelan. She had done a tester tile before Christmas to see how the colours would look on these commercial tiles (left over from tiling a bathroom) and when she was happy with the results she proceeded to use the glazes to paint floral images. Here is one emerging from the kiln, looks excellent!

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Laid out on the table with the other finished pieces.

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A closer look. I am really impressed with how well these turned out, I am sure that Lorraine is delighted as well. Can’t wait to see more paintings!

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James Hayes

Happy New Year 2018!

The start of a new year has heralded the start of a new ceramics class at Signal – Tuesday afternoons – and it is already fully subscribed! There are three classes running, if you are interested in the classes do call and ask to be put on the waiting list as places do become available from time to time. Also it was from the waiting list that we were able to create the third weekly class.

Yesterday the students were particularly prolific so I just had to share this photo of their work. They were taking turns working on the wheels (two available) practicing throwing techniques and the quality is improving in leaps and bounds. Not pictured is the many practice pots that were recycled back into the bags of clay – I always tell my students that practice is the most important aspect and that they shouldn’t get precious about any one particular pot. I encourage them to work the clay to destruction just to learn the limits of the medium, something I learned from my teachers at art school.

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With all this work being created I have to make space on the shelves, so I have been loading the kiln with glazed pieces ready for their final firing.

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I have been making some glaze testers to include in the glaze firing. This is to show how the glazes we have in stock will look on the grey clay and the terracotta, how the colours look when they are on bare clay or overlapping the white glaze. With the terracotta bowl I am hoping we will get an indication as to which glazes have a tendency to run more than others. Interesting and unexpected effects can crop up from the combination of glazes, so I will continue with the experiments.

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James Hayes

Christmas Craft Fair 2017!

The Christmas Craft Fair is up and running! This wonderful selection of handcrafted items is on display and for sale right up to and including Christmas Eve. The range of items is incredible, clothing and decorations, tasty tidbits and candle holders, artist books and paintings and prints, cards, hats, tea cozies, stockings and stocking stuffers!

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As my particular interests are in sculpture and ceramics, I cannot help but notice the diverse and beautiful items of ceramics on sale at very reasonable prices. Terracotta gingerbread men…

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… wonderfully thin and colourful porcelain decorations …

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… signs of the Zodiac to hang on your tree …

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… glass and ceramic artworks for the wall (by a Signal ceramics student) …

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… and even artist prints bound with ceramic covers! (Lorraine Whelan limited edition prints)

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Some students and former Signal teacher Gill Mac have small sculptural items for sale – I especially love the sheep and the reindeer!

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Long time Signal artist and Board member Michelle Fullam has wonderful sculptural tea lights in both figurative and cup forms. There are also a selection of colouful ceramic buttons by Lorraine Whelan.

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… and that is just the ceramic work! All in all there is a huge range of items to choose from, all reasonably priced both for the budget conscious and for those willing to splash out on that extra special present. Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and all the best for the New Year 2018!

James Hayes