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Reactive Glazes

In ceramics, reactive glazes have variegated surfaces that are a product of more melt fluidity and the presence of opacifiers, crystallizers and phase changers.

Details

Variegated, or mottled, glazes are those that do not have a homogeneous solid color or character (i.e. like a ceramic sink or toilet bowl). They are often called 'reactive glazes'. They contain higher percentages of fluxes and additions intended to produce one or more variegation mechanisms. Variations in color and texture are highly prized by many ceramists. A variety of mechanisms are used to create the variegation. These include crystal growth, addition of speckling agents, phase separation, layering, and opacity variations (occurring with thickness variations) and multilayering.

Related Information

Rutile blue reactive glazes do not refire well

Rutile blue glazes are difficult, blistering and pinholing are very common. You must get it right on the first firing or pinholes and blisters will often invade on the second. The melt fluidity increases, it runs and creates thicker sections in which the bubbles just percolate and just do not heal well during cooling (even if it is slow). When finishing leather hard or dried ware do not disturb thrown surfaces any more than necessary. Make sure that ware is dry before the glaze firing. Do not put the glaze on too thick. Limit the melt fluidity (so it does not pool too thickly in any section). Do not fire too high.

Variegation and phase separation with about 5% rutile

The glaze is a dolomite matte fired to cone 10R. High fire reduction is among the best processes to exploit the variegating magic of rutile.

Variegating effect of sprayed-on layer of 100% titanium dioxide

The referred to surface is the outside of this large bowl. The base glaze (inside and out) is GA6-D Alberta Slip glaze fired at cone 6 on a buff stoneware. The thinness of the rutile needs to be controlled carefully, the only practical method to apply it is by spraying. The dramatical effect is a real testament to the variegating power of TiO2. An advantage of this technique is the source: Titanium dioxide instead of sourcing TiO2 from the often troublesome rutile.

Cone 6 black with a second layer of oatmeal glaze

The underglaze is G1214M cone 6 black (adds 5% Mason 6666 black stain). Overglaze left: GR6-H Ravenscrag Oatmeal. Overglaze right: GA6-F Alberta Slip oatmeal. Both produce a very pleasant silky matte texture (the right being the best). Both layers are fairly thin. In production it would be best to spray the second layer, keeping it as thin as possible. It is also necessary to adjust the ratio of raw to calcined Alberta or Ravenscrag Slips to establish a balance between drying hardness but not too much drying shrinkage (and resultant cracking).

Layering glazes to get variegation

Example of the variegation produced by layering a white glaze of stiffer melt (a matte) over a darker glaze of more fluid melt (a glossy). This was fired at cone 6. The body is a stoneware and the glazes employ calcium carbonate to encourage bubbling during melting, each bubble reveals the color and texture of the underlying glaze layer. It is also possible to get this effect using the same base glaze (stained different colors).

Ravenscrag Cone 6 Floating Blue on buff stoneware

The clay is Plainsman M340. Unlike Alberta Slip floating blue, this version does contain a little cobalt to help guarantee the blue color.

Cone 10R variegation and crystal magic

This is an example of crystallization in a high MgO matte. MgO normally stiffens the glaze melt forming non-crystal mattes but at cone 10R many cool things happen with metal oxides, even at low percentages. Dolomite and talc are the key MgO sources.

Boron blue in low fire transparent glazes

This high boron cone 04 glaze is generating calcium-borate crystals during cool down (called boron-blue). This is a common problem and a reason to control the boron levels in transparent glazes; use just enough to melt it well. If a more melt fluidity is needed, decrease the percentage of CaO. For opaque glazes, this effect can actually enable the use of less opacifier.

An example of variegation on a tile surface that occurred when using raw manganese dioxide (likely due to gassing)

Variegation gone too far!

This is Ravenscrag Slip Oatmeal over a 5% Mason 6666 stained glossy clear at cone 6. You have to be careful not to get the overglaze on too thick, I did a complete dip using dipping tongs, maybe 2 seconds. Have to get it thinner so a quick upside-down plunge glazing only the outside is the the best way I think. You may have to use a calcined:raw mix of Ravenscrag for this double layer effect to work without cracking on drying.

Cone 10 Reduction firing is the home of the most magic oxide in ceramics: iron

It is a powerful glaze flux, variegator and crystalizer, a colorant of many characters in bodies and glazes and a specking agent like no other. And it is safe and cheap!

How can you make Ravenscrag Floating Blue dance more?

Here it is fired to cone 8 where the melt obviously has much more fluidity! The photo does not do justice to the variegation and crystallization happening on this surface. Of course it is running alot more, so caution will be needed.

The rutile mechanism in glazes

2, 3, 4, 5% rutile added to an 80:20 mix of Alberta Slip:Frit 3134 at cone 6. This variegating mechanism of rutile is well-known among potters. Rutile can be added to many glazes to variegate existing color and opacification. If more rutile is added the surface turns an ugly yellow in a mass of titanium crystals.

Why does this glaze variegate like this?

This is a cone 10R copper red. First, it is thick. "Thick" brings it own issues (like running, blisters, crazing). But look what is under the surface. Bubbles. They are coming out of that body (it is not vitreous, still maturing and generating them in the process). The bubbles are bringing patches of the yellow glass below into the red above. Normally bubbles are a problem, but in this decorative glaze, as long as everything goes well, they are a friend.

In pursuit of a reactive cone 6 base that I can live with

These GLFL tests and GBMF tests for melt-flow compare 6 unconventionally fluxed glazes with a traditional cone 6 moderately boron fluxed (+soda/calcia/magnesia) base (far left Plainsman G2926B). The objective is to achieve higher melt fluidity for a more brilliant surface and for more reactive response with colorant and variegator additions (with awareness of downsides of this). Classified by most active fluxes they are: G3814 - Moderate zinc, no boron G2938 - High-soda+lithia+strontium G3808 - High boron+soda (Gerstley Borate based) G3808A - 3808 chemistry sourced from frits G3813 - Boron+zinc+lithia G3806B - Soda+zinc+strontium+boron (mixed oxide effect) This series of tests was done to choose a recipe, that while more fluid, will have a minimum of the problems associated with such (e.g. crazing, blistering, excessive running, susceptibility to leaching). As a final step the recipe will be adjusted as needed. We eventually chose G3806B and further modified it to reduce the thermal expansion.

A super glassy ultra-clear brilliantly glossy cone 6 clear base glaze? Yes!

I am comparing 6 well known cone 6 fluid melt base glazes and have found some surprising things. The top row are 10 gram GBMF test balls of each melted down onto a tile to demonstrate melt fluidity and bubble populations. Second, third, fourth rows show them on porcelain, buff, brown stonewares. The first column is a typical cone 6 boron-fluxed clear. The others add strontium, lithium and zinc or super-size the boron. They have more glassy smooth surfaces, less bubbles and would should give brilliant colors and reactive visual effects. The cost? They settle, crack, dust, gel, run during firing, craze or risk leaching. In the end I will pick one or two, fix the issues and provide instructions.

Toilet bowl glaze vs. variegated glaze (at cone 6)

Most artists and potters want some sort of visual variegation in their glazes. The mug on the right demonstrates several types. Opacity variation with thickness: The outer blue varies (breaks) to brown on the edges of contours where the glaze layer is thinner. Phase changes: The rutile blue color swirls within because of phase changes within the glass (zones of differing chemistry). Crystallization: The inside glaze is normally a clear amber transparent, but because these were slow cooling in the firing, iron in the glass has crystallized on the surface. Clay color: The mugs are made from a brown clay, the iron within it is bleeding into the blue and amplifying color change on thin sections.

Incredible Titanium Dioxide in a calcium matte

The glaze is G1214Z cone 6 base calcium matte. 5% titanium dioxide has been added. This Plainsman M390 tile was fired at cone 6 using the PLC6DS firing schedule. Titanium can create reactive glazes, like rutile, even with matte surfaces (provided the glaze has good melt fluidity). Calcium mattes host crystallization and work particularly well. Because titanium dioxide does not contain iron oxide lighter colors and better blues are possible than with rutile. Like rutile, the effects are dependent on the cooling rate of the firing, faster cools produce less reactivity.

Links

Glossary Phase Separation
Phase separation is a phenomenon that occurs in transparent ceramic glazes. Discontinuities in the internal glass matrix affect clarity and color.
Glossary Base Glaze
Understanding your transparent glaze and learning how to adjust its melt fluidity, thermal expansion, color response, etc is a base on which to build all your other glazes.
Glossary Matte Glaze
Random material mixes that melt well overwhelmingly want to be glossy, creating a matte glaze that is also functional is not an easy task.
Recipes GA6-C - Alberta Slip Rutile Blue Cone 6
Plainsman Cone 6 Alberta Slip based glaze the fires bright blue but with zero cobalt.
Recipes GR6-M - Ravenscrag Cone 6 Floating Blue
Plainsman Cone 6 Ravenscrag Slip based version of the popular floating blue recipe. It can be found among others at http://ravenscrag.com.
Articles Variegating Glazes
This is an overview of the various mechanisms you can employ to make glazes dance with color, crystals, highlights, speckles, rivulets, etc.
Materials Rutile
Properties Glaze Variegation

By Tony Hansen


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