Tag Archives | scritching

Tick, tick, tick

By now I think everyone is probably tired of posts about ticking! I know that I’m going to be just as happy not to see any more #11 blades for a while, once this guy is finished.

And part of why he is taking so long is that ticking is the kind of work that must be done in small sessions. It really is impossible to do that kind of repetitive work for long before your mind goes on autopilot. Once in autopilot, the texture becomes too regular, too symmetrically patterned. To keep the work looking like a hair coat and not just lines representing hairs, it takes frequent breaks. (“Step away from the little speckled pony. Just step away!”)

That’s why I often set up some experimental pieces. They help lure me away from too much mindless ticking. My current experiment deals with overlapping colors. It’s a long-standing puzzle for those of us that underglaze earthenware pieces. If color must be applied by airbrush (and underglazes must), and the sprayed areas are too fragile to mask, how do you get crisp delineations between the colors?

One of my earliest discoveries was that certain kinds of underglaze fired with a sheen. If I used this type of pigment for the background of a plaque, I could spray over it with the regular underglaze that I use and wipe off any excess.

That’s what I’ve done here with this plaque. The sheen is visible on the green background, while the mane (done in normal underglaze) is matte to the point of being chalky. I couldn’t use the same type of underglaze that is on the background, though, because I want to go back in to the mane with some hand-painting. The same sheen that makes it possible to wipe off the overspray would make it impossible to paint that kind of detail.

But I would like to be able to wipe the mane clean. I plan to make the mare rose gray, so I’m going to get some overspray on that brown mane. Chances are the grays are going to be pale enough that they will just sink below the dark brown, especially if I wipe off the heaviest areas. Still it is impossible to get it all off, even on the slicker bone china surface. You can see this with the light gray residue left on the ends of the mane tendrils on the bone china Lirico above. With him, those mane ends are black so those lighter areas won’t be visible when the horse is done. They will sink below the darker color. But this plaque is earthenware, which is more porous. More residue will be left behind, and it could tint my mane more gray. That wouldn’t be terrible, but I would like to try to keep it a true brown.

My experiment, then, is to see if I can detail and glaze the mane, then go back and finish the rest of the horse. One of the things I learned while I was in Boise recently was that my regular pigments don’t have to fire as hot as I thought. The temperature I thought I needed for underglaze is too high for actual glaze, so applying it had to wait until the very end. If I could fire underglaze and glaze at the same temperature, I might be able to “seal” finished areas in glaze and then move on to other areas.

I’m not sure it will work, and I probably shouldn’t use my nice medallion triptych from Sarah to test out the theory! But it’s easy to fall into the trap of valuing bisques overmuch and sticking with “safe” colors and techniques, so I’m going to see if it works.

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More Lirico roaning

This guy has sat on my workbench for a while now, waiting for me to return from Idaho and then to finish with the lottery horses. I had to leave him raw because I hadn’t finished roaning him. Underglaze cannot be etched after it is fired. Before firing it’s soft and chalk-like, which makes etching the horse easy. It also makes damaging the finish even easier! Leaving a horse to sit for over a month – and a Lirico no less – is living a bit more dangerously than I like.

Bone china is a little different, though, in that damaged raw underglaze can simply be washed away. Still, the idea of all those hours spent roaning running down the sink with the tap water was almost more unnerving. So I was happy to finally get back to ticking this guy today.

It’s also allowing me to return to experimenting with a puzzle that I have worked on for some time now. What I want is to get in glaze the soft-focus roaning effects that are so easily achieved with cold paint. With cold paint it is possible to lay down transparent layers of white or near-white, so that in the best finish work the roaning is subtle and looks to be part of the coat, rather than scratched off or painted on. Underglaze cannot work this way, since paler colors “sink” below the darker colors after the final glaze is fired. We use this to our advantage when we tint the entire end of the muzzle pink, knowing that any overspray will sink below the dark skinned areas. But when it comes to light-on-dark roaning, it’s a big limitation.

In some of my more recent roaned pieces, like the fall lottery piece Quinn, I started experimenting with scuffing the surface of the underglaze. One of the limitations of etching is that the “hairs” we create are really out of scale. Only using really sharp blades (I go through hundreds upon hundreds of them) and a really light touch helps, as does remembering that the goal is a roaned texture, not actual hair patterns. I still struggle with keeping it soft – with hiding the tool behind the technique – but I think I’m getting closer.

This is the area I worked on this afternoon. Right now about half his back is done and I’m particularly pleased with the texture. After the horse is fully ticked and fired, my plan is to go back again with a darker tint in hopes of setting some of the ticking back into the coat much like I do now with dapples on greys. I can experiment with it once this is all fired, since I can wash it off if it doesn’t work and not bother this layer of work.

But right now, with most of one side still left to tick, the results from that experiment seem a long way off!

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