PPP: Creating Unique Art With Commercial Glazes
“Commercial glazes are somewhat expensive, and if you’re only using two or three glazes and you know the recipes, you might as well make them yourself. But if you are interested in using a wide selection of colors, and if those colors contain lead, barium or cadmium—elements that you don’t want in your studio in a powder form—you should consider using commercial glazes. Many of them are so much better than anything you could make,” Causey said.
Causey should know. The 34-year-old artist has worked with clays and glazes since he was a teenager. In fact, he first began selling unglazed animal sculptures when he was in fifth grade. Causey spent the next couple of decades perfecting his craft, discovering commercial glazes along the way. His experiences and influences have led to a unique form of art—art that capitalizes on the effects that can be achieved with various glazes.
From Homemade to Commercial GlazesCausey began throwing pieces on an electric wheel when he was 13 years old, and it was then that he started making his own glazes. At the age of 16, he began an apprenticeship with Rob Reedy, an instructor at Itawamba College in Fulton, Miss., who also used his own glazes and who taught Causey a great deal about the glaze making process.
“The way I was taught about glazes at the beginning was that it was basically like baking a cake—you take so much of this and so much of that and mix it together,” Causey said. “Rob knew all the properties of making glazes. He knew what frits and fluxes and all the suspending agents did, and what different metals could do, and he explained all that to me a little at a time along the way. I never did have an in-depth glaze class, but I slowly learned glaze chemistry.”
When Reedy became an instructor at The Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, Fla., Causey accompanied him and completed his bachelor of fine arts degree. For Causey, making his own glazes became a necessary task to achieve the desired results on his pottery. But then one day, while still in school, he participated in a workshop in which artists Steven and Susan Keminify talked about how they used commercial underglazes to produce their unique Raku work. Causey was overwhelmed by the possibilities.
“I had been mixing glazes forever, and all of the sudden they had these glazes in these jars. I was amazed by the colors. ‘I can use these!’ I thought. It wasn’t something I had considered before,” Causey said.
Perfecting the ProcessCausey began to experiment with this newfound medium. He bought a number of different colors and brands, and tested them on his pottery.
“I used them on everything in every way—and often in unorthodox ways,” Causey said. “For instance, I would do things like lay down a layer of glaze and then put an underglaze on top of it, creating some really neat ‘dry’ effects with glass underneath crackle. I did tons of trial and error testing.”
But while Causey was able to find the glaze colors and consistencies he was looking for, mixing different glazes on the same piece of ware proved frustrating.
“There was a lot of glaze incompatibility, where a certain glaze didn’t work next to another glaze or in a certain atmosphere,” said Causey. “I wanted to use complementary colors next to each other, but unusual interactions sometimes occurred. For instance, when red and green were applied next to each other and fired normally, the green would turn black and the red would fade away altogether.”
Rather than accept that he couldn’t use different glazes next to each other on the same piece, Causey developed a different approach. He began breaking his pottery into different pieces, glazing and firing those pieces separately, and then reassembling them into the original design. Causey had found his niche.
“This process works well and allows me to use lustres and overglazes in a more selective manner,” Causey said.
To break his pieces, Causey first bisque fires them to the right temperature—Cone 05-1⁄2—so that they are neither too hard, which would cause the piece to shatter, nor too soft, which would create holes in the pottery. He then takes the bisque-fired pottery and breaks it into anywhere from 10 to 40 different pieces, depending on the design. Next, he uses masking tape to reassemble the broken ware, and using a pencil, writes in which colors he wants to use on which pieces. His experience with glazes allows him to “see” what the final piece will look like before the glazes are ever applied.
“When you’re doing composition for a piece of artwork, you don’t need the color itself—you just need to know the color. You need to know the glaze weight, and how it’s going to affect the color next to it,” Causey said. “Mozart was able to play music even after he went deaf—it’s the same thing with color. You get to a point where you don’t have to see it to know what it is. You’ve worked with it for so long, that you know what the result is going to be.”
Once the final color scheme has been determined, Causey painstakingly brushes the various glazes on each separate piece, taking care to keep the edges completely clean. “I can’t dip or spray, because glaze will get into the cracks. If that happens, then the pieces won’t fit back together,” Causey said.
Each glazed piece is carefully fired to prevent warping, and the finished pieces are then reassembled into the final design using epoxy. The entire process is difficult and time-consuming, requiring at least a full week to break, glaze and reconstruct.
“The type of work I do would never really work for production because you end up with a problem every single time you fire,” Causey said. “There’s always going to be something. It’s the exception when I can go out there and make a piece and it all goes perfectly the first time around. Let’s say I’m working on a frog composed of 13 separate parts. For every single piece, the glaze has to turn out right, and then the luster firing has to turn out right. Every single time, I have to get not just a single piece to work, but a whole group of pieces to work so that I can successfully achieve the final design.”
While Causey originally began this technique with platters and vessels, he was eager to get away from the potter’s wheel, so he returned to what he had done as a child—sculpting animals. Because of increasing demand as well as time constraints, he recently began having his original animals cast. He can now produce a series of each animal, allowing him to try limitless combinations of colors and designs. “Because of the way each piece is broken and glazed, no two pieces ever look the same,” Causey said.
Partnering with SuppliersAnyone who has seen a recent brochure from Duncan Enterprises has probably noticed that it is replete with photographs of Causey’s artwork. Over the past several years, Causey and Duncan have formed a strategic partnership that has turned out to be beneficial to both parties. While Causey benefits from Duncan’s technical expertise and the quality of its glazes, Duncan gains from Causey’s popularity as an artist and his knowledge of the industry.
“I’ve used a number of different glazes throughout my career, and many of them work well in a number of applications. But for consistency, especially in the reds and oranges, Duncan just had it,” Causey said. “I started noticing that my studio over the years just became filled with Duncan glazes, and I had very few other types. Duncan has also helped me with a number of technical issues.”
When Causey showed Duncan how he was using its glazes, the company asked him to attend the NCECA 2001 (National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts) conference with the company in March, and Causey agreed.
“I stayed at Duncan’s booth and I talked to all the students and teachers and artists that were walking around. And the people from Duncan said, ‘Scott, not only do you do great stuff with our glazes—you know our glazes, and you know how to talk to these people.’ And it’s because I’m one of them,” Causey said. “For me, it’s fun, because I see Duncan’s market, and I know where it’s moving. So I can help them in that way.”
Causey is also working closely with other suppliers, such as Skutt and Paragon, both to refine his own pieces and to help them enhance their reputations among artists and small potters.
“I enjoy working with these companies because I think that they’re often underappreciated by consumers,” Causey said. “But these companies spend all of their time trying to make something good, and I think I can help get that message out there.”
Achieving FameCausey’s work has been exhibited throughout the U.S. and is included in a number of major collections. His work was recently purchased for the permanent collection of the Polk Museum of Art in Lakeland, Fla. He sells about five to six pieces per month to galleries and through trade shows, and there is a high demand for his work. According to Causey, commercial glazes have contributed a great deal to his success.
“There are a lot of ceramic artists out there doing some really great things, and they’re doing them with commercial glazes,” he said.
For More InformationFor more information about Scott Causey’s work, contact him at 2626 Monterey St., Sarasota, FL 34231; (941) 924-6747; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit http://www.scott.causey.com.
For more information about glazes, contact Duncan Enterprises, 5673 E. Shields Ave., Fresno, CA 93727; (559) 291-4444; fax (559) 291-9444; or visit http://www.duncanceramics.com.