Tag Archives | Inspire

Handling backgrounds

These two Inspire tiles show the two different approaches to handling backgrounds: painting the horse first, and painting the background first.

The first approach is perhaps the easiest, since it involves finishing the horse in exactly the same way ceramic horses are done. The tile in the picture just has the base coloring applied. He’ll eventually be a darkly dappled buckskin, so the tile will go through several more layers (and firings) before the clear glaze is applied. With each step, the background will be masked during spraying and then removed for firing. After all the detailing is done, clear glaze will be applied to the horse and fired. At that point there is a completely finished, glossy horse on a bare bisque background.

At that point, the art glaze can be applied to the background using an ordinary paint brush. Since the horse has a hard gloss finish, it is easy to clean any excess art glaze from the horse. That’s really the only trick to this approach. The art glaze must not overlap the clear glaze or it will bleed onto the horse during firing. It’s also a good idea not to apply it too thick close up against the edge of the horse.

The second approach is to paint the background first in Concepts. Because this type of underglaze is hard and semi-glossy after bisque firing, it can be masked over. Ordinary underglazes are so fragile, even after they are fired, that removing latex from them causes scuffing and chipping. They are also porous, so the latex bonds strongly and is often very difficult to remove. Concepts and the other brands do vary, but every one that I have used does hold up well enough to masking. Some colors fire glossy enough that it’s even possible to remove overspray without masking, because it wipes off with a damp sponge.

With background-first tiles, the clear glaze is not added until the entire tile is done. When it is applied, it is added to the entire tile. The areas covered by Concepts don’t usually require a lot of glaze, but they do need some to be truly sealed.

It is also possible to combine all three approaches. The Celtic Pony in the blog header was done this way. His bridle was done with airbrushed Concepts, which were then bisque fired. After that, he was painting just as any other realistically colored horse. Because the Concepts used were quite glossy, and because they were very dark (light colors sink below darker ones in underglaze), I didn’t bother to mask it. I just airbrushed the colors of the face and then wiped away anything on the bridle. After that was bisque fired, I added clear glaze to the entire pony and ran it through a glaze firing. Then the green art glaze was added to the background and the medallion was sent through its second and final glaze firing.

Both systems seem to work equally well, though each does have a drawback. Art glazes are really unpredictable, so it’s possible to get a background too dark or too light or just plain unattractive with the color of the horse. Concepts, on the other hand, give a lot more control over the final look, but the finish is extremely fragile until it is fired so handling it without scuffing some off the edges is a pain. For the most part, it really depends on which look you prefer.

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Removing underglaze

One thing I worry about when blogging is that after three years, I often forget whether or not I have already posted about something. For every post I make, I usually have two or three that I meant to post, so it’s hard to keep track of which ones were written and which ones I only thought about writing! Maybe there is a reason I am so fond of this “flair” from Facebook: maybe I am closer to making those “new friends” than I think!

So with apologies in case I have previously passed this tip along, I wanted to include it before I got back to using Concepts and art glazes. It’s a pretty important detail, so it really deserves its own post anyway.

The post from a few days ago showed how Concepts interact with latex masking. It’s an important thing because almost all underglazes are airbrushed. It’s almost impossible to create an even tone with them any other way because they streak. Raw (that is, unfired) underglaze also looks opaque long before it really is, so the streaking isn’t visible until after the piece has gone through it’s final gloss fire. At that point, everything is permanent.

Masking is used to protect those areas that need to stay white. Because earthenware bisque is porous, it is almost impossible to completely remove color after it has been applied to the surface. The only drawback is that none of the most common forms of masking – liquid latex, wax, tape and foil – give a very precise line. They are not suited to fine detail. For that reason, the final edges are usually etched with a blade or other sharp tool.

With some underglaze colors, this works really well. Others are more resistant, or leave a more pronounced stain. For that reason, it’s often a good idea to apply a barrier between the underglaze and the bisque.

I have found the best choice for this is the Duncan Cover Coat “Arctic White” (CC 101). It fires to about the same color as white earthenware, so it doesn’t really effect the final color. It does etch off really easily, though.

There is more information about why lighter colors do not change darker colors in this older post.)

That’s why it makes a useful mask for the last few millimeters of a pattern. The larger areas of the pattern (or in the case of my current tiles, the background) are masked with liquid latex, but the area closest to the final border is thin layer of Arctic White. Unlike the rest of the underglaze, I apply it with a small brush. It’s also a little more flexible than the latex because I can decide to leave an area (ie., not etch it off) and it will fire normally. Were it latex, traditional underglaze would flake off.

A similar approach is taken with patterns that have a lot of body roaning. For situations like that, the Arctic White is airbrushed in a light coat before the other colors are added. Doing this makes the body color more fragile and prone to scuffing, but with roaned horses that is usually pretty easy to correct or at least camouflage.

Here is the Inspire tile from the previous post (the one with the bright green background). I painted the inside edge of the horse with Arctic White, then applied the liquid latex. The second tile, which isn’t pictured yet, will have the horse painted first so the outside edge was painted white and the mask was applied to the background.

I’ll explain the two different approaches (“background first” and “horse first”) in the next post.

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