Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ceramic Decal Printer

MudFire recently launched MudFire Labs, a creative play-space for exploring crossover between ceramics, printmaking, technology, and production. Our first big project was a technology evaluation and purchase for a a ceramic decal printer. In this post we'll talk a bit about the technology, the costs, and what the printer is capable of.

But first, take a look at this...over 940 glaze tests we fired last night...

The best part was NOT mixing 940 glaze tests. I found a 14 page Pantone color chart on the web, and imported it into Photoshop and divided into tiles. Then hit print. Awesome!

Technically these tests are overglazes. They were fired on top of commercial porcelain tile with white glaze. The printer prints ceramic pigments. There are four colors in the printer, it is a standard CMYK four color laser printer with special toner. You print using a special Photoshop color profile onto decal paper, prepare the decal paper with a covercoat & flux/glaze, apply the decals to pots that have already been through a glaze firing, and then fire the pots to 1500 F or about Cone 011.

The system includes the ceramic toners, the modified laser printer, decal paper, covercoat, and flux. Industry uses the phrase flux, but it is really a fritted glaze that melts the ceramic toner into the glaze on the work.

Several years ago, purchasing and outfitting a printer system like this cost $30,000 and there was only one vendor in the US that offered a solution. Due to advances in technology and a more competitive market with multiple vendors, you can now purchase a system for under $10,000 with an affordable maintenance contract to protect against unexpected expenses.

MudFire evaluated different options, ranging from a very established pioneer in the field, to hiring a consultant to modify a printer, to outsourcing our decal printing, to a relatively new company in Phoenix called Digital Ceramic Technologies, or DCT. We went with the DCT system. Their website is

Many of you may remember Andy Brayman's service which seems no longer to be active. Janet at has picked up where he left off. We had the good fortune to meet Janet during our evaluation and at our DCT training session in Phoenix. If you need someone to print labels for you, don't hesitate to call her. She has I think four printers in-house running full time and was planning on buying another from DCT.

The founders of DCT, Mark and Joel, were early users of another vendor's products, and they started DCT to provide a very customer-focused, high quality, lower cost solution. We think they've achieved that. Visiting their training class in Phoenix was an amazing experience and we were so excited to get back and unpack our system and get printing. They've come up with a simple solution that prints well, having developed their own toners, papers, and coatings that work extremely well together for great color.

We're surprised at how few clay studios have this sort of technology available. I think with DCT out there, that is going to change quickly. If you'd like to read more about my personal vision for how and why I'll be using the printer in my work, check out my personal blog entry. Here's a peak at the first actual pots out of the kiln with color decals.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Featured Artist - Martha Grover

Martha Grover's process involves an unusual combination of various glazing and assembling techniques, resulting in the whimsical, functional forms she describers as "reminiscent of images orchids, flowing dresses, and the body." Thrown and altered porcelain forms are combined with slabs, with most seams left decoratively exposed. The work is fired to cone 04, and then finished with a layered glaze process that involves both pouring and spraying.  The snowy, seashell like patterns on Grover's surfaces are achieved by layering a colored, opaque glaze over a clear base coat.  Ultimately the finished piece is fired to cone 11 in an electric kiln.

Martha learned to throw from a high school teacher, but it was while she was studying architecture in college that she discovered the field of ceramics. "I was lucky to have a great teacher and I fell in love with throwing, but not one told me you could actually go to school for that.  I come from a science-driven family of engineers,  and I have always been interested in the arts, so the logical decision was to major in architecture.  But the ceramics studio was right next to the architecture department.  I never looked back.  By the time I completed by BA, I knew my passion was clay."  

Since then, Martha's work has been published in Clay Times, Ceramics Monthly, 500 Pitchers, 500 Vases, and 500 Platters and Chargers.  She has been honored on the cover of Ceramics Monthly as a winner of the 2010 Ceramics Monthly Emerging Artist Competition and is currently working at the Archie Bray Foundation, where she has received the Taunt Fellowship.  "When I took the Myers Briggs, my personality tested on the borderline between introvert and extrovert, and I think my pots have a similar quality.  Outrageous but quiet.  A little frilly, but still functional.  And there are details that you don't see at first, that you discover through interaction."

Her pots have a striking, special-occasion quality to them, meant to encourage the user to pause and fully experience interacting with the ceramic vessel.  "In our lives, we often move past the objects surrounding us at a very quick pace.  My goal is to create an undeniable presence, one that acts as an invitation to explore the work thoroughly, taking time to know all of its many facets.  Only through sustained interaction we can truly know and appreciate someone or something."

Tell us something unusual about yourself.
I have an Airedale named Harvey.  I got him as a puppy just after I finished undergrad in 2002.  As anyone who has a terrier can attest, they have their quirks, challenges, and very entertaining characteristics.  I affectionately refer to Harvey as the “Monster.”  As a puppy, he looked (and still sort of does) like a Sesame Street Muppet—curly brown hair and mouth hinged open wide with a little pink tongue inside.  At 10, he still acts like a crazy puppy, in manner and discipline.  I thought that after a few years he might calm down, but no, he is still just as energetic as ever.  

His name is from the Jimmy Stewart movie “Harvey.”  In the film, Harvey is a 6’ 3.5” tall, invisible rabbit, and a pooka: a benign but mischievous creature from Celtic mythology.  And mischievous my Harvey has turned out to be!  Airedales talk, constantly.  He loves to make noises—grunts, groans, squeaks—he tells me all kinds of stories about his day when I get home from the studio.  

Harvey also tries to sleep on my pillow, whether I am using it or not!  He is a constant source of amusement, and frequent frustration—the kind where you can’t help but laugh and shake your head at the same time.

What is your typical day to day like?
I usually start the day by getting into the studio at 9 AM.  I begin with a cup of tea while checking email, responding to inquiries, and other paperwork that goes along with being an artist.  Then I spend 30 to 60 minutes at the wheel throwing parts for the pieces that I will assemble later in the afternoon.  My throwing time varies depending on the volume verses complexity of the pots I am working on that day.  
Once all the parts are thrown and starting to set up, I do any necessary altering and slab preparation for assembly in the afternoon.  By the time I’m done prepping everything, it’s time for lunch.  After lunch, I move into hand building for the afternoon.  I spend the rest of the afternoon assembling the thrown parts and slabs into finished pieces.  Around 4 PM I will throw another batch of pots to use the following day or sometimes later that evening depending on how busy the season is.  At 5 PM, I take a break to go home and walk the dog and have dinner.  A few nights each week, I will go back to the studio after dinner and finish a few more pots.  I am usually in the studio six days a week, seven during the holidays or when a big show is coming up.  

Interspersed with my regular production schedule, usually while pots are drying, is packing work to ship, taking slide photos, and the usual re-checking of mail at least two more times during the day, then another cup of tea and taking care of recycling clay (I try to make this a continual process so it doesn’t become overwhelming).   

How much of your own ceramic pieces do you use in your own home?  Other people’s?

I have a great collection of pots at home—more than can reasonably fit in the cupboards and on the shelves!  I love using handmade work.  I use a few of my own pots at home, but mainly the house is filled with other people’s work.  I already spend 8 to 12 hours a day with my pots, and there is something so enjoyable in using another potter’s work—it is almost like having a conversation with them.  If it is a pot made by an artist that I know, then the experience is also a walk down memory lane—a time to think of them and their work and general thoughts about handmade objects.  For me, the use of a pot strengthens so many connections, between me and the vessel, me and the maker.  The use of other pots also encourages me to think critically about my work—the decisions that I make with each piece.  It’s an ongoing dialog.   

If you collect pottery, do you tend to collect deep from one artist or style, or broadly across many artists and looks?
I collect broadly from lots of artists—mostly pots but some sculptural work.  My collection has benefited greatly from my time at different residency programs and working in different galleries.  I like to collect and use other people’s pots because it is very instructive to me as a maker.  I learn about form, weight, contours, and style through use.  I like to have pots in styles that contrast from my own.  Other artists make decisions in their pots that often differ from my own, and I may not fully appreciate those decisions until I actually use their pots.  

What is your favorite food to eat out of your own pots? 
While it’s not necessarily my favorite food—I love too many to pick—my favorite pot that I made and use most frequently at home is a small pitcher/creamer.  It is a light textured green, with a longish spout.  I fill it with homemade maple syrup every weekend for Saturday brunch.  My dad and grandmother make the syrup on the family farm in Maine every year.  I love it on pancakes, waffles, or French toast.  The little pitcher pours perfectly—not a single drop of the precious syrup drips down the front!  The handle is just the right size for one finger.  One of my favorite features was quite unplanned.  I store the syrup in pint-sized mason jars, and at the end of brunch, I can tip the pitcher upside down on the jar to drain.  The spout and top lip of the pitcher are shaped in such a way that it rests perfectly on the mason jar, so that it can be left to pour out any last remaining drops to save for the next time.

Where does your inspiration come from?
The simple/short answer – flowers, dance, old movie costumes, and antiques. 
All of these played influential roles in my childhood, and thus are the forms that my hands long to make.  My parents’ house is filled to the brim with antiques.  Old china, furniture, paintings, dishes, candlesticks, and silverware filled my visual realm as a child.  I was raised in the woods of Western Maine.  My family grows most of their own vegetables.  Along with the food, they grow just as many or more flowers.  I was constantly in the flower beds as a child, looking at the intricate details of the blossoms.  I also studied ballet from the age of 3 until 18.  And my sister and I were, and still are, fascinated by old movies, especially the lavish movie musicals of the 50s and 60s.  

All of the ornateness of the antiques; the delicate edges and details of the flower blossoms; the lift, shape, and movement of the dancers; the grace and style of the old movie stars; and the handmade/homegrown mentality of my parents have shaped what my work is today.  

Do you ever get potters’ block? How do you get out of your creative ruts?
I don’t think that I do, but I know there are times when I make fewer new forms.  For me, new creativity comes in bursts.  A few times each year I get really excited about a new form or variation in my work.  The rest of the time I just try to focus on making the established forms that people enjoy.  The life of a potter is filled with repetition, and I think this helps me in some ways with not getting “potter’s block.”  There are always more mugs and bowls to be made, which gets me through periods of less creativity.  

This past spring I was very inspired to make a new form – Tulipieres.  I had wanted to make a large-scale vase form for quite a while and was having cracking issues when I attempted to make them as one piece.  It suddenly dawned on me that I could make them in smaller parts that would stack – the layers could then be fired separately and reassembled out of the kiln.  It made firing and glazing easier, and the stacked vase has the added benefit of being more versatile to fit various sized flower arrangements depending on the situation and space.  The technical problem in a way ended up being the creative boost to make an exciting new form.

I have had many other instances where a simple conversation sparks a new idea.  The latest was a chat about the abundance of cupcake shops.  This lead to the thought, “Maybe I should make cupcake stands,” then “What about cake stands?”  This was followed by some internet and book research of what others have made and then experimentation in the studio.

Being creative and coming up with a new form in my style can be a challenge, but I enjoy the process, and if I ever get stumped, I try to bring it back to my core goal of functionality and my personal aesthetic influences.  

View Martha's solo exhibition at MudFire Gallery online and in person from January 27 - February 19, 2012.

Also check out these "how-to" articles published by Ceramic Arts Daily:
Seamless Transitions: How to Spray Layers of Glazes to Softly Blend Glaze Colors

Treasure for Treasures:  Lidded Box Form


Monday, January 16, 2012

Great Glazes - Malcolm Davis Shino

As far as I know, every pottery teacher has had that charming moment when a new student joyously announces they've just found out that Malcolm Davis is an actual person, not just the name of their favorite, confounding, elusive glaze.

And what an amazing actual person he was!  Most everyone in the clay community is aware that we lost a great teacher, spirit and voice this month. The Washington Post wrote this obituary  chronicling some of the highlights of Malcolm's life and career.

Part of the rich legacy Malcolm leaves behind, of course, includes his eponymous glaze.  Malcolm Davis Shino is traditionally fired to cone 10... but we've been firing it to cone 6 (unaltered) for many years with wonderful results.

Here's the recipe to try - fired in reduction, of course, cone 6 or 10 or anything in between... and quite possibly even lower.  All the pieces pictured below were fired to cone 6 in medium reduction in our car kiln.

Malcolm Davis Shino
Soda Ash 16.3
OM-4   13
EPK 17
F-4 Soda Feldspar 9.3
Neph Sy 38.6
Red Art 5.7

Below are 40 different things to try with shino.  Part of this list was originally published in Studio Potter magazine in 2003.  People have been experimenting and adding to it ever since. 

1. Rather than mix each batch fresh, add 1/2 batch when old batch is 1/2 gone;
2. Use wax resist or shellack to cover parts of a pot;
3. Use plastic wrap to cover parts of a pot;
4. Place glazed ware in dry sawdust, perforated bags, bubble-wrap, textured paper, or packing peanuts to influence patterning caused by drying;
5. Stack glazed pots to dry;
6. Dry glazed pots touching one another or crowded together;
7. Dry with coils of wet clay, shells, etc. on flat surfaces;
8. Apply wax with foam stamps, splatter on with fingers, trail with slip trailer;
9. Splatter water on surface of glazed pots with fingers or tooth brush;
10. Spray soda ash solution on glazed pots;
11. Sprinkle wood ash (or mix of wood ash and soda ash) on freshly-glazed pot;
12. Dry open pots upside down;
13. Dry pots in front of heater or fan or repeatedly mist/spritz with water;
14. Bury in wood chips;
15. For luster, brush/spray high-iron glaze over;
16. Try saggars – or build up around pots with hard bricks/broken shelves;
17. Add some common salt/kosher salt/rock salt;
18. Substitute different feldspars, kaolins, spodumenes, ball clays;
19. Re-fire to biscuit temperature in electric kiln (cone 06);
20. Vary the percentage of soda ash (from 0% to 20%);
21. Substitute amblygonite for ceramic-grade spodumene; it has lower thermal expansion and higher  phosphorus content;

22. Soak biscuit in soda ash solution;
23. Test over iron and iron/manganese washes;
24. Fire test tile dipped in copper-red right next to Shino pot; spritz copper-red glaze over glazed pots before firing; or try adding copper carbonate to the Shino glaze;
25. Dampen/spritz areas of biscuit with water or damp sponge before glazing;
26. Aim heat gun or hair dryer across ware board of freshly glazed Shino pots;
27. Spray hair spray over glazed pot;
28. Use thin wash of temmoku glaze or a gunmetal glaze (containing manganese) over a Shino-glazed pot;
29. Try spraying Shino glaze, varying placement, overlap, vary density;
30. Apply soda ash or wood directly on pot after glazing; spray first with spray adhesive if pot is too dry for ash to stick;
31. Spatter iron oxide wash over freshly-glazed pot with toothbrush;
32. Try thin washes of ocher, manganese or copper carbonate;
33. Sgraffito – scratch through pattern on shino glaze.
34. Place your pot in the freezer for an hour before glazing
35. Stuff plastic wrap inside your vessel for a few days while the glaze is drying and salt crystals are forming
36. Use blue masking tape or damp strips of newspaper on top of a freshly glazed pot to influence drying irregularity.  Remove tape before firing :- )
37. Use underglazes to paint designs on bisque before glazing
38. Rub black underglaze or red iron oxide wash into textures of your clay before glazing
39. Apply the glaze thinly over recently washed bisque, then re-dip/re-spray two or three days later
40. Mix two different shinos together in a spray bottle container and spray your bisque.  Try a 50/50 blend to start.
41. Use your finger to run lines and patterns through the salt crystals that form on the surface of a dry glazed pot.

Please leave a comment if there's something else you'd recommend trying!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Featured Artist - Adrina Richard

Neither rain nor sleet nor snow has kept Adrina Richard out of the studio for the last 8 years.  (And very only occasionally has she been delayed by lack of coffee.)  An expert handbuilder with an eye for contemporary style and geometry, she is one of the most approachable, generous artists we've had the pleasure of meeting.  It's not at all infrequent that you'll find her leading an informal how-to in the studio, sharing glaze information, or just demonstrating the latest of her new tools to a group of curious studio members.  A relative newcomer to the 30,000 year-old clay scene, Adrina has been juried into some very prestigious shows (The American Craft Council, Perspectives and Fired Works for starters) and exhibits at several galleries in the Southeast (including MudFire Gallery).  Not bad for an ex-con.... read on!

Tell us something unusual about yourself. 
I was arrested during the civil rights era in Atlanta.  The inside of the Atlanta city jail in the 60’s was not pretty and the food was terrible.  Here's a photo of me and fellow convict, rep. John Lewis.

Describe the moment you fell in love with clay.  Have you ever cheated on it?   
I don’t remember the exact moment I fell in love with clay but it was soon after I started working with it.  The possibilities overwhelmed me, and still do.  There are so many ways to express oneself in clay that I have found myself taking workshops in methods I probably won’t ever pursue, but they are so fascinating I just must explore them.  I have taken over 50 workshops to date.  However, I have some serious talks with myself about staying focused and not straying too far.  The danger is always there to be scattered and thereby accomplish little.  I’ve only “lusted in my heart” about jewelry.  It’s up to you to determine if that is really cheating.

Who has been the most influential instructor in your life, and what was the most important thing you learned from him or her?  
I’d say that the most influential instructor, to date is Annette Gates.  Taking her workshop a few years ago and admiring her work has greatly influenced my work.  She taught me some techniques which really helped me develop my body of work. 

How much of your own pottery do you use in your own home?  Other people’s?  
We use all ceramic pieces at home, both my own and from our collection.  I love to take pieces from the wall and other places and serve food in them.  I have replaced all glasses with tumblers and cups made of clay.  We enjoy naming the artists as we put food and drink on the table.  I think about their work and admire it as I use it.

If you collect pottery, do you tend to collect deep from one artist or style, or broadly across many artists and looks?
There are soooo many wonderful ceramic artists out there.  I do have multiple pieces by some artists but collect broadly.  The variation is amazing.  And, of course, some if it is decorative as well as functional.  I really cannot limit myself to one style of anything, including furniture in my house.  It’s really a mix.
Where does your inspiration come from?  

 In looking at my work I’d say Asian art is definitely an influence.  I must have been Chinese in a past life.  Or, that Mongol DNA got dropped in the Caucasus.

Does the change of seasons affect your pottery?  Your methods?
I sweat more in the summer.

Do you ever get potters’ block?
Since I hand build a lot, I like to throw pots to break the routine.  I also try making weird shapes to see if they have possibilities.  I call those prototypes.  And, as my fellow potter, Ginger says,  If they work, then they are the first of a series.
Where would you like to be in ten years? 
Alive and making pots!

Visit Adrina's artist page at MudFire Gallery and check out her sexy pots!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Oh, the Places You'll Go at Burning Man!

Hello World!

We're excited to start sharing project ideas, member profiles, studio news, art finds and more on our fancy new MudFire blog. Let's kick off oith one of the funnest and most inspiring videos I've watched in a while. Your MudFire founders have been involved with the Burning Man community since 1997 and have been there and to regional burns countless times. Perhaps in a way this is where MudFire began as we pondered art, work, living consciously, how to foster community, and our next steps in this short sweet life. It is fitting indeed to launch the blog on this note and kind of amazing it only took us ten years of MudFire to get around to blogging!