Monday, March 18, 2013

Techniques for recreating Maiolica (Tin Glazed Ware)

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I was asked recently how I do my maiolica. I need to preface as I've been doing maiolica on and off since I started playing in clay, but with all this time, I am by all means no expert.
Maiolica is the Italian name for tin glazed pottery. It was supposedly named after the island of Mallorca, which is where much of these pots originally were traded. The idea of tin glazing when it was being developed around 9th century was to replicate porcelain, especially the very popular Chinese blue-on-white ware. Porcelain is not an easily found clay throughout Europe and the middle east pre-1600.  

Piccolopasso wrote a book which described the period techniques of Italian maiolica in the 16th century. As with many glazes of the time, lead was a flux (helped the glazes melt at certain temperatures) and tin was used as a opacifier.

The idea of tin glazing is taking a bisqued clay surface (usually either gray or red earthenware was used) and covering it with a white base glaze. Colorants are used to decorate the white pot, then fired together. The white (blanco layer) and underglazes meld together to form a unified, smooth surface. There was also the technique of using a clear across the decorated piece.

Tin glazing is a very specific technique. In the middle east, there were techniques that they did in order to get a white base and decorate, however most of that didn't use tin glazing. Much of that was either using Fritware (which is a porcelain like clay body, only closer to feldspar, thus it's name) or a white slip as the base (slip is a watered down clay to a milkshake consistency).

There are numerous books and videos on this very popular technique.  Modernly, there are numerous ways to achieve the tin glazed look. The first, and most obvious is use a tin glaze and then use stains for the colors. There are many recipes online for good "maiolica" glazes as well as how to use the stains/colorants. 

Here is a link to Linda Arbuckle's Maiolica base glaze which fires at cone 04.

And another with colorant information:
If you can't mix your own glazes, there are numerous glaze companies that make "maiolica" specific glazes and underglazes/colorant/paints that are compatible. Duncan makes a white base glaze that works fine. They have a few available. Contact Duncan for over glaze compatibility. Their EZ line (ez stroke) works well for the colored sections and it does work with the Arbuckle base.  Duncan IN1653 Downright White is a reasonable base.

Colorobbia  (and Italian glaze company) has a Maiolica White and an entire line of compatible underglazes (Bellissino line).  Aamaco has an entire line specifically for tin glazing (check out their majolica gloss glazes... They have Decorating Color sets that all work together).

My experience has mostly been with my own mixed maiolica base glaze which is similar to the Arbuckle base. I've used Duncan bases in the past as well, either a white base like the Downright White and EZ paints or I used the Duncan concepts (Artic white 101 as base and the rest of that line to decorate, then a clear across everything to seal. All Duncan.

The underglaze route with the clear is something I've seen the majority of historical potters do. They are very reliable and I've used them for over 15 years doing many different techniques. There are many ways and resources for this technique. It's always best to do test tiles and experiment first with any new glaze to make sure you understand how they work before you commit it to a full piece.

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