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Question about alternative finishes for ceramics & acceptance by ceramic artists


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I'm a painter and a ceramic artist/sculptor. I don't build any functional ware at all, everything is built with slab and is sculptural in nature. Even if it's a vase or vessel, it's not meant to be anything other than art.  I like to use alternative finishes for my pieces. After bisque firing, I use paint with a permanent varnish, silver/gold leafing, various waxes, porcelain paints and glass paints (which are heated to 350º to make them permanent).  Sometimes I combine 2 or 3 of these.  I've sold a lot of my works and usually nobody cares what I've used to finish them.

However...

I get a lot of subtle flack for not just using glazes - but only from other ceramic artists, never galleries or other arts organizations. At one point, I tried to sell some things in a co-op on consignment. The ceramics committee there rejected all of the pieces because they weren't glazed (as in high-fire glazes) even though some of them had low-fire velvet glazes and obviously none of them were functional wares (no vases or vessels because they already had several potters with same). I asked why, they said that they wouldn't accept pieces that were painted. (When I say painted, these are usually solid colors or blended colors or techniques, not pictorial or decorative paintings.)  It struck me as very odd to have a group of creative people being so closed-minded about alternative finishes on ceramics.

So, was this just a close-minded group in a small town and the wider world is accepting? Are alternative finishes a big no-no in the ceramic world at large? It really is very enjoyable to me to use these various finishes for so many reasons and I can't help but wonder what the big deal is. 

Anyone care to comment on this?

 

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I remember the days of sculptor professors frowning on a ceramics student in his class.  Even when no clay was involved he didn't think ceramic students belonged in the class.  I was the best student

Personally I would qualify a painted ceramic, as a ceramic sculpture, just obviously not utilitarian.  With that said, I personally finish all my work with a glaze, underglaze or oxide stain, and

I spend 3 weeks on a piece and use ceramic decoration.  I also make 20 mugs in a day.  Some are art, some are functional.  A lot never make it out of my studio.  A lot get the end of a hammer.  I've h

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Only thing I can really think of is maybe the lack of permenance?  Paint on ceramics hasn't fared well historically.

Or maybe that it's so easy to spot and looks painted?  Not sure.  

Seems like something that would be encouraged in the art world, but I'm not part of the art world.  

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7 hours ago, liambesaw said:

Or maybe that it's so easy to spot and looks painted?

 

That may be it in their eyes, however my finishes are just as glossy as glaze in many cases, other than the wax, which has a duller sheen. As far as permanence, the paint goes well into the clay body as I usually am using a very wet paint that is absorbed into it immediately. In a lot of cases, I sand the paint layer down to get an interesting "worn" effect and then put a layer of wax over that which only absorbs into the sanded portions. Here's an example of what I'm talking about, the darker portions of blue are the wax, the lighter are where the paint is heavier:

thewomansm.jpg

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25 minutes ago, itsALLart said:

That may be it in their eyes, however my finishes are just as glossy as glaze in many cases, other than the wax, which has a duller sheen. As far as permanence, the paint goes well into the clay body as I usually am using a very wet paint that is absorbed into it immediately. In a lot of cases,

Those look great however, they are not glazed. Ceramic artist use underglaze as paints and glaze with satin or gloss clears to get similar effects that will last literally thousands of years. So the difficulty using very high temperature stuff to get a look takes  considerable skill. Maybe like a good reproduction of a painting, looks great but one method came directly  from the artist usually with great effort and precision. The reproduction, looks great but likely has less perceived value.

Permanence is a thing also, pottery done well simply last forever. Some of the first things discovered in archeological digs would be remnants of pottery. Pottery done well has an enduring quality unmatched by most anything else.

Your decorated work looks great! For the above reasons though some folks may not appreciate it fully.

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Could it have been a matter of terminology? Did you describe your works as “ceramics”? Because in that case, the painted surfaces would make me react “err hmmm, it’s not ceramics.” If you describe your work as “mixed media” it wouldn’t register to me as being wrong in any way. 

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My senior year in ceramics my professor had me make small sculptures with two or  three people in them that would promote a type of feeling in the viewer.   Half way through the semester I got some formula's for washes from my professor and tested them.   At my senior show my professor took me aside and and said great work but your sculptures aren't really ceramics.   He told me it was the paint wash I had used on them.   I reminded him of the wash testing I had done for these sculptures.  I told him I had put a little wax on them I didn't know of a clear glaze that would work on such fine details.  He  was in agreement that glaze would have ruined them and since they  that had a fired wash on them they were ceramics.  One of the washes was a blue that looked  similar to the finish of the pot you posted.   You might look into washes.     Denice

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Have a look at Beth Cavener Stitcher's ceramic sculptures. (one below) She uses some terra sig and stained vitreous slips but also uses Martha Stewart’s Interior Latex house paint on her pieces. Under her materials description of the piece below  "stoneware, paint". To me this is ceramics, just because it has a cold finish doesn't take away from that.

"The Question that Devours"

01_TheQuestionThatDevours_2012_beth_cavener.jpg

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2 hours ago, GEP said:

Could it have been a matter of terminology? Did you describe your works as “ceramics”? Because in that case, the painted surfaces would make me react “err hmmm, it’s not ceramics.” If you describe your work as “mixed media” it wouldn’t register to me as being wrong in any way. 

If the materials of any work is divided among many types, I'd say "mixed media". However, 99.9% of the piece is clay, therefore to me that means it's "ceramics", a very thin layer of something else that coats it isn't really enough for me to say "mixed media" on my work.  That's how I chose to define them, but others may not agree with this thinking.

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3 minutes ago, itsALLart said:

Yes, I have seen her work! It's pretty amazing stuff and nobody seems to have a problem with her terminology. :-)

Notice that her terminology does not include the word “ceramics.” 

You could follow her example and call your work “stoneware, paint”.

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3 hours ago, Bill Kielb said:

Those look great however, they are not glazed. Ceramic artist use underglaze as paints and glaze with satin or gloss clears to get similar effects that will last literally thousands of years. So the difficulty using very high temperature stuff to get a look takes  considerable skill. Maybe like a good reproduction of a painting, looks great but one method came directly  from the artist usually with great effort and precision. The reproduction, looks great but likely has less perceived value.

Permanence is a thing also, pottery done well simply last forever. Some of the first things discovered in archeological digs would be remnants of pottery. Pottery done well has an enduring quality unmatched by most anything else.

Your decorated work looks great! For the above reasons though some folks may not appreciate it fully.

In many cases, they actually are glazed with velvet underglazes.   As to perceived value, my works sell for the same basic price structure that fired glaze pieces do, so I'm not sure what you're getting at here. 

As to permanence, it's hard to see how a piece that's finished with paint or wax is going to fare any worse than a glazed piece if it's not broken and not buried. I'm not sure how much I truly care about my work surviving being unearthed a few thousand years from now. That's definitely not the approach I use when I create something and I doubt it is with many artists.  It seems like something to use as a strong argument against doing anything other than glazes, however.

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I think any time you’re dealing with a gallery, whether their focus is fine art or fine craft, you’re going to be dealing with curators that have biases that are, frankly, arbitrary. The curators may or may not be using a consciously defined or well informed set of criteria to decide who and what they want in their shows or stables that they represent. I mean that first part. Some of them do define it well, some of them don’t. There are places where if your work has even a faint whiff of ceramic process, you won’t be taken seriously as an artist, and you will be sneered at as a lesser life form. On the other side of the coin, you’re also going to encounter ceramic purists who have some pretty firm ideas about what constitutes ceramics and what doesn’t. I’ve seen people deride Cavener Stitcher for her use of non traditional materials, despite her work being amazing. It’s a matter of deciding whether or not you value the opinion being offered, and whether you think it’s a valid criticism or not. If the gallery or jury that you were applying to doesn’t understand the value of what you’re doing, they won’t be able to represent you properly in any case.

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Posted (edited)

At the end of the day, I make work that I have no reservations about.  And the co-op gallery in question was the only gallery (in over 30 years of being in galleries) that has ever rejected work  of mine out of hand. It was actually too far away from where I lived anyway, so I let it slide. 

My question here was more "in general" about attitudes toward alternative finishes. I see already that there are various viewpoints, some of which I agree with, others... well.  :-) 

The world of ceramics is always changing and there are many new, exciting and interesting ways to use and finish ceramics as art, so some of the more "purist" types may drag their feet when it comes to progression.  It's always surprising when a group of people that normally is creative and open minded takes a stance against any type of new approach.  But I have also found divides between oil and acrylic artists, modern and traditional artists, production potters vs. one-of-a-kind ceramacists, and more. I guess that's just how we humans are wired! :-)

ETA: Glazes are made from silica, metal oxides, sodium, potassium,  calcium, alumina... they aren't clay at all.  Should we perhaps call all ceramics "mixed media" ?  :-)

Edited by itsALLart
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2 hours ago, itsALLart said:

ETA: Glazes are made from silica, metal oxides, sodium, potassium,  calcium, alumina... they aren't clay at all.  Should we perhaps call all ceramics "mixed media" ?  :-)

Those are all ceramic materials :)

Edited by liambesaw
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16 hours ago, itsALLart said:

I get a lot of subtle flack for not just using glazes - but only from other ceramic artists,...

I'm going to make a guess as to why this is. My hunch would be potters who stick to strictly fired on surface treatments be they glaze, oxide or stain washes, terra sig, slips etc have more work and testing involved versus using non fired cold products such as paints, shoe polish, waxes etc. Paints etc are what you see is what you get, not so with fired on treatments. Those shop and gallery owners who haven't much or any experience with how much testing and trial and error is involved with fired on surface treatments probably don't know how difficult and time consuming it can be to achieve the desired results. There is also more room for failure from work that needs more than one firing.

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Min said:

how difficult and time consuming it can be to achieve the desired results.

I wish you knew how many times I've sanded and sand-blasted off or used solvents/alcohol to get various cold finishes off that didn't work out right.  A lot of experimenting and trial and error there too, we don't just paint over the mistakes.   I just got done spending an hour re-doing a finish that didn't take to the burnished clay like I thought it would. A disaster at first, but we all have disasters. Mine I guess I can take back off. Glaze? Hmm, not so much. :-)

Edited by itsALLart
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2 hours ago, shawnhar said:

Don't let the bastards get you down.

Oh, no worries. I've been creating and selling works like this for 10 years now.  Since I'm new here I wanted to get some opinions and "read the room".  From what I can see this forum is mostly pot throwers and very traditional (not that there's anything wrong with that). I think sculptors and slab builders are sort of a ceramics anomaly in the grand scheme. I like being an anomaly. :-)

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Just now, Min said:

made their own molds

I've done that for resin casting! It's so process-heavy and error-laden.  Very difficult stuff, same with foundry work. It's one of the reasons I wanted a less "surprise" more controllable finish on things. Little did I know how many surprises were waiting anyway. Ha!

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54 minutes ago, itsALLart said:

I wish you knew how many times I've sanded and sand-blasted off or used solvents/alcohol to get various cold finishes off that didn't work out right.  A lot of experimenting and trial and error there too, we don't just paint over the mistakes. 

It seems a perception thing really so convincing some that it isn’t easier than creating the same look using traditional ceramics materials is going to be an uphill battle in many cases with plenty of points and counterpoints. Your work looks good, you choose to express your art in that manner -all good actually, in my view.

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4 hours ago, Bill Kielb said:

creating the same look

I think this is where there may be a bit of misunderstanding.  Like many other cold-finish adherents, I really am not trying to "create the same look". I could easily buy standard glazes and fire my works a 2nd time in the traditional manner.  Instead, I'm trying to do something totally different, something unique and new. We've all seen what glazes can do but we haven't seen all that alternative finishes can do. That's what excites me and keeps me in the game.

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I think a lot of us here make pots for sure, and so a large number of the technical questions are answered with function and certain traditions in mind. But if you can make a sound glaze, you can break the heck out of a sound glaze. 

Just because I make pots doesn’t mean I think everyone else needs to. 

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