hanee birch

First few fired figures in five years

Just a quick update to say that my first firing (since 2009) was a success. Several of the works in my first test-batch were not previously photographed, so I’ve put up new entries for them (these are self-portrait no. 1 and hairpin no. 2).

Unfortunately the color was not quite what I wanted, but I was prepared for that possibility. I was using a raku clay, which I knew from past experience had a high probability of firing pinkish-white. Wishful thinking was that this one would fire more gray, but, sure enough, everything fired pinkish-white, like so:

Patina variations

I went ahead and did two or three patina variations in an attempt to tone down or obliterate the pink, but in the end decided I should just keep it for the material honesty of it.

For counter no. 3 I tinted some clay-slip and applied an even coat of it for a completely different surface and color. Many french terracottas use this approach for the final finishing, but I found it to be tedious and I didn’t like the fact that if it flakes off, you end up with the original, startlingly different, surface.

Finding that experiment a little radical, I did a direct wash of pigment on self-portrait no. 1. The downside here is that it is difficult to control for an even coat (the fired clay sucks up the wash quickly), and I wasn’t looking for an uneven patina — I was looking for something close to the original continuity of the clay before firing. Also, all washes over a white surface will tend towards pastel.

The benefit, on the other hand, relative to slip, is that the color is integral to the surface. It really gets sucked deep into the surface.

With hairpin no. 2 I initially had a neutral clay-slip application but then agressive scrubbed it back off, leaving some patination in the pores and undercut areas. This makes for a fairly traditional textural patina, which looks good as a surface, but I feel it draws attention to surface texture and material rather than the form of the figure.

My prejudices on patination

Although the patination can be an interesting process, they’re really anathema to my principles, since I like almost all my studio time to go into really making something, and as little as possible to go into primping. Patinas definitely fall into the primping category, in my opinion. They also tend to draw attention to the surface of an object by creating artificially high local contrasts.

That said, they are sometimes necessary when you repair an object or when you’re working with a material that has very little materiality of its own (like plaster).

With terracotta, though, it seems pretty extravagant, especially when you have some control over the color of the clay to begin with.

Moving forward with a new clay body

Most usable clay in nature is earthenware, whereas most raku bodies are using stoneware clays. I wont get into the academic differences, but earthenware fires to that familiar range of buff-to-red which most traditional bricks, pottery and sculpture has always had.

Earthenware has been what I prefer, both in terms of color and working properties, but a stock issue at my local clay supplier left me with raku as the best alternative.

Fortunately, over thanksgiving, I was able to drive down to Sheffield, Mass and get the closest to a locally dug earthenware clay that one can find in the northeast, which will fire to a color I am fond of which will be a bit less distracting than pink.

hanee birch