Thursday, 14 September 2017

Let’s talk about glazes…

 I love the science, mystery and complexity of glazes, and occasionally I teach the ‘Understanding Glazes” course. Some of the students that come to the course are disappointed at the lack of straight answers and quick fixes, and others get mesmerized by the unlimited possibilities. Mostly, I teach Glaze technology as a cooking class. And it makes sense. There are limited number of ingredients, some of them local, you mix them together in various proportions and heat them to the various temperatures. The “mystery and magic” of transformation of raw ingredients into the glassy surfaces comes from unfamiliarity. Most of us can name at least 5 different foods made from eggs, fat, water and wheat flour in different ratios. (pancakes, bread, pasta, dumplings, profiteroles, omelette, scrambled eggs, egg sandwich, pastry, basic mayonnaise, custard……). What happens if I expand it to “any flour” instead of “wheat flour”? What if we allow “additives” (spices, sweeteners, flavours)?
Yes, very soon we can say that the possibilities are almost limitless.
So, why don’t we see the “magic” in making an omelette the same way we do when we mix glazes?
For most of us it is about familiarity. If we were exposed to glaze materials as often and from as young age as we are to cooking, we would be just as comfortable with mixing a glaze as we are with scrambling eggs for breakfast.
There is another thing, and that is that we (humans) prefer simple answers, even to the complex questions.
We have so much going on in our lives…most of the time we can’t really cope even with the full scope of the sensory input available (smells, sounds, visual stimuli, movement…) let alone more complex matters (relationships, complex problem solving…) so our brains shut down the flood gates in front of the complexity and only open the little doors: just give me the simple answer I can trust and don’t have to think too much about it.
Yet, on the other hand, we (humans) fully accept and understand that some questions don’t have simple answers.
And that brings me to the new idea. The next step from the “cooking class” in understanding glazes is the “psychology class”.
It is a big jump, but bear with me for a while.
Psychology, in simplified terms, is mostly about the relationships. It is also something that although only a few of us study, most of us are familiar enough with to understand that there are no simple answers to some (in terms of psychology, I dare say most) questions.
How do I find the perfect partner?
(most of the mature adults will only smile )
How do I make the grey speckle glaze that looks like this:….?
(the answer is the same as to the question above: you won’t know until you test it)

And here are two images which prompted this philosophical tirade:

The glazes on the images are the same, applied in the same manner, fired on the same kiln shelf. The only difference is the clay body. Both are white stoneware.
One variable that we don’t even take in serious consideration most of the time, as long as it is the same general type…