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Floating Blue

A popular cone 6 glaze that employed Gerstley Borate, it was very troublesome to use and to fire. Much work has been done to create alternative recipes.

Related Information

Adding spodumene to this floating blue tones down the white patches

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GA6-C (left) and GA6-E (right) at cone 6 oxidation. The E version adds 4% spodumene onto the 4% rutile in the C (the base is 80% Alberta Slip and 20% frit 3134). The spodumene eliminate the overly whitish areas that can appear. This glaze requires the "Slow Cool (Reactive Glazes)" firing schedule. It looks the best on dark bodies.

The classic cone 6 floating blue? No, it is Alberta Slip blue.

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And it contains no cobalt! Fairly close in appearance to the classic cone 6 Floating Blue recipe used across North America, this is a variation of the Alberta Slip Rutile Blue glaze (except this adds 1% tin oxide, 1% black copper oxide and 2% ceramic rutile, it is GA6-C1). Because of the melt fluidity, it thins on the edges of contours and breaks to the color of the underlying body. It looks best on dark bodies, but if thick it is OK on light ones also.

Better melting gives Ravenscrag Floating Blue more zip!

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GR6-M Ravenscrag cone 6 Floating Blue (center) on Plainsman M340, a buff burning body. On the left is a version having 80:20 Ravenscrag:Frit 3134 (no extra 10% Frit 3124). On the right is GR6-M on porcelain (where the floating effect has been largely lost). It appears the effect benefits from the iron it finds (albeit not much) in the stoneware body.

A much better Cone 6 Floating Blue

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GR6-M Ravenscrag Cone 6 Floating Blue on Plainsman M340 buff stoneware. This glaze also has this variegated visual character on porcelain. Because it has the GR6 base recipe (more information at ravenscrag.com), the slurry has very good working properties in the studio, it is a pleasure to use. This is an excellent showcase for the variegating mechanism of rutile.

Cone 6 rutile floating blue effect lost. Then regained.

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Left: What GA6-C Alberta Slip rutile blue used to look like. Middle: When it started firing wrong, the color was almost completely lost. Right: The rutile effect is back with a vengeance! What was the problem? We were adjusting firing schedules over time to find ways to reduce pinholing in other glazes and bodies. Our focus was slowing the final stages of firing and soaking there. In those efforts the key firing phase that creates the effect was lost: it happens on the way down from cone 6. This glaze needs a drop-and-soak firing (e.g. cooling 270F from cone 6, soaking, then 150F/hr drop to 1400F).

Ravenscrag Floating Blue on Polar Ice and M370 at Cone 6

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These are from the same firing, glazed at the same time and are the same thickness. The floating blue effect is a fragile mechanism and affected even by the small color difference in these bodies. The small amount of extra iron in the M370 affects the glaze character more than expected.

How can you make Ravenscrag Floating Blue dance more?

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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.

Ravenscrag cone 6 floating blue thinner and thicker applications

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The body is red-burning Plainsman M390. The firing was dropped and soaked at 2100F for 30 minutes and then dropped at 300F/hr to 1400F. This really helps to produce a dazzling defect-free surface in the GR6-M glaze. These are, of course, mix-your-own recipes and the pieces were dipped to get even coverage.

Alberta Slip floating blue glaze on a black engobe

Clay is Plainsman M340. C6DHSC firing schedule. Engobe is L3954B. By Tony Hansen.

Ravenscrag Cone 6 Floating Blue on porcelain and a red stoneware

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The insides are GA6-A Alberta Slip cone 6 base. Outsides are Ravenscrag Floating Blue GR6-M. The firing was soaked at cone 6, dropped 100F, soaked again for half and hour then cooled at 108F/hr until 1400F. The speckles on the porcelain blue glaze are due to agglomerated cobalt oxide (done by mixing cobalt with a little bentonite, drying and pulverizing it into approx 20 mesh size and then adding that to the glaze slurry).

A black engobe transforms the floating blue glaze over it

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M340 stoneware fired to cone 6 (drop-and-hold schedule). The L3954B engobe fires deep black (it has 10% Mason 6600 black stain instead of the normal 10% Zircopax). It was applied inside and partway down the outside (a much less messy process than using a black clay body). They were bisque fired and glazed inside using the base GA6A Alberta Slip amber clear (using Frit 3195). The outside glaze is Alberta Slip Rutile Blue (you are seeing it on the bare buff body near the bottoms and over the black clay surface on the uppers). To learn more about how to make the engobe and start making black pots click "Product Data Sheets" at PlainsmanClays.com and go to the section on Medium Temperature.

Close-up of Floating Blue on cone 6 dark/buff burning bodies

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Originally popularized by James Chappell in the book The Potter's Complete Book of Clay and Glazes. It is loved and hated. Why? The high Gerstley Borate content makes it finicky. But the magic ingredient is not the GB, it is the rutile, Rutile makes the cobalt and iron dance. This recipe actually produces a number of different mechanisms of variegation. Color and opacity vary with thickness. Small rivulets of more fluid glass flow around more viscous phases producing micro-areas of differing colors and opacities. Titanium crystals sparkle and calcium-borate creates opalescence. Bubbles of escaping gases (from GB) have created pooling. Small black speckles from unground or agglomerated particles of iron are also present. Surprise! This is actually Ravenscrag Floating blue. All the visuals, none of the headaches.

Ravencrag Slip vs Alberta Slip floating blues at cone 6 oxidation

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Two floating blue mugs

Usable, reliable, non-crazing floating blue glazes are difficult to achieve at cone 6. Not these, they pass all the tests yet fire like the original classic G2826R floating blue from David Shaner. Both have been applied at moderate thickness on Plainsman M325 (using a slurry of about 1.43-1.45 specific gravity, higher values end up getting them on too thick). The Ravenscrag version (left) highlights contours better (the edges are black because of the black engobe underneath). It also produces the blue color whether or not the kiln is slow-cooled (although drop-and-hold PLC6DS schedule usually fires more blue). The Alberta Slip version has zero cobalt so it is less expensive to make (but it does require the C6DHSC slow-cool firing schedule). It produces a deeper color over the L3954F black engobe on these pieces. Both of these produce a wide range of effects with different thicknesses, bodies and firing schedules.

PC-20 floating blue with two alternatives you can make yourself

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Three mugs with floating blue glazes

These are GA6-C Alberta Slip floating blue (left), AMACO Potter's Choice PC-20 Blue Rutile (center), GR6-M Ravenscrag floating blue (right). The clay is M390. The firing is cone 6, the schedule is C6DHSC (drop-and-hold, slow cool). All of these recipes are descendants and improvements of the 50-year-old original G2826R floating blue. The inside glaze on these mugs is GA6-B. The two on the left develop the blue color because of the slow cool, the one on the right works on fast-cool because it contains cobalt (although it will fire somewhat more mottled). Remember, these work best on dark-burning bodies.

A fritted source of MgO has sabotaged the visual character of this glaze

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This is G2917 Ravenscrag floating blue and G2917A. The latter was also supposed to be floating blue. Both are descendants of the original G2826R floating blue, preserving its chemistry but sourcing it from more user-friendly materials. The glaze on the right takes the mechanisms of the other two and compromises the chemistry in the direction of lowering the thermal expansion (to reduce crazing). The use of high-MgO frit 3249 is part of the strategy (instead of sourcing it from talc or dolomite). But this has completely killed the visual! The solution will be to return to the use of talc to source the MgO.

Ravenscrag floating blue color affected by cooling speed

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Two floating blue mugs

Ravenscrag Slip really shines in its ability to produce a good floating blue glaze at cone 6, this is the GR6-M recipe. The speed of cooling in the kiln affects the appearance. The mug on the left was cooled faster, using our drop-and-soak PLC6DS firing schedule. The other one was slow-cooled using the C6DHSC schedule. The latter schedule is preferable for these because the G3914A black has a much smoother surface. The blue could be recovered by adding more cobalt.

G2917 Ravenscrag floating blue as a dipping and brushing glaze at cone 6

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Dipping and brushed glaze on two mugs

The dipping glaze version of G2917 was used on the left, we make that by the bucket and it drains and dries in seconds after dipping bisque ware. We also make a brushing glaze version in our studio (it is not sold). That was used on the outside of the mug on the right. Of course, it is much slower to apply but there are some advantages. First, it was easy to control the thickness to maximize the variegation this glaze gives with thin and thick, revealing the throwing lines better. And where thicker application was needed (e.g. at the rim) it was easier to achieve that. Near the foot ring, it has been applied in a thinner layer. And the brush strokes do impart a more handmade look that is also nice.

Amaco PC-20 vs Ravenscrag Floating blue

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Ravenscrag Floating blue vs PC-20

G2917, which I mixed as a brushing glaze, is on the right. This is not sold in jars, I make my own labels as part of the demonstration that it is possible to make your own brushing glazes (ink-jetted onto regular paper, cut 62mm wide (2 7/16") and held securely on with 2 7/8" transparent packing tape). This glaze is less runny but lacks some of the floating white colouration. But that can be achieved using Alberta Slip floating blue L4655, it employs titanium instead of rutile (and relies on the rutile/iron mechanism for the blue color).

Titanium instead of rutile for floating blue

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Floating blue using titanium dioxide

Rutile blue glazes are actually titanium blues (because rutile mineral is an impure source of TiO2 and Fe2O3). The iron and titanium in the rutile react to form the floating blue effect. The GA6-C recipe has always relied on a 4% rutile addition. Its GA6-A base recipe contains significant iron (because of the 80% Alberta Slip), so could titanium oxide deliver the same floating blue effect? Yes. These mugs are M390 clay. The top left one is the standard GA6-C (with rutile) fired using the C6DHSC slow-cool firing schedule (the bottom left normal cool PLC6DS schedule produces little color). But the ones on the right switch the 4% rutile for titanium dioxide (the L4655 recipe). The top right was fired using the slow cool, the bottom right was the normal cool schedule. Titanium is a much more consistent and reliable material than rutile. If it can produce an excellent blue color is produced even without a slow cool (lower right) then it is a better long-range choice.

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