Finding my potter’s feet

It was last spring that I decided to make my own glazes and before spring arrives again, I want to reflect on what I have found in the invisible cosmos of glaze chemistry, where surface is perfectly synchronized with what is underneath it. I will also share my journey with colour and briefly explore the uncertain place that drawings occupy on my pots.


It simply amazes me that everything in glaze-making turns around neutralizing the melt of silica, the main glassformer.  This challenged me to find and understand the ingredients that make up glazes of various textures.

My experiments started out with the simplest of glazes, a mixture of feldspar and whiting. The result was a satin smooth surface with fine cracks. By adding calcium borate frit, the fine cracks disappeared and more gloss came out. Talc made it fat and buttery and by playing with the clay content and increasing the level of zinc oxide even crystals formed. These adjustments snow balled into a continuous balancing of cause and effect between that which is below and that which is above, between the unseen and seen.

Crystalline Matte tests

Crystalline Matte tests


The relationship that exists between visible light and transition metals drew me into the deep world of small scale nano particles, where I believe all colour is born.

It surprised me that the electrons of transition metals behaved unlike that of any other elements, because of their unique ability to absorb certain wavelengths of the visible light. This absorption manifests as energy which then propel electrons to higher energy d-orbitals. Unnecessary energy is at the same time reflected and it is this very act that makes colour visible to the human eye. It means that visible red is not red absorbed. I find it fascinating that we can’t see absorbed colours and wonder whether it is because our minds simply can’t bear the complexity of seeing an infinite number of individual colours all at the same time?

Always weighing the seen with the unseen, the glazemaker is very familiar with the workings of red iron oxide, a transition metal oxide, which turns umber brown if fired to 1260 degrees Celsius. (When a painter mixes all the colours on the colour wheel together and excludes red – you get umber brown.) Isn’t it a tragedy that excruciating fire is needed to reveal the true colours of red?

My favourite potter, Edmund de Waal said, ‘it’s about subjecting yourself to this refining fire, this process of change, this alchemical thing. It’s about being in the fire and something different is happening.’


Different happenings based on your choice of glaze ingredients have so much metaphorical content that I often feel drawings are superfluous, but one more time, I want to put it all together. I love the ancient buncheong pottery of the 15th and 16th century in Korea. These potters incised designs on relatively coarse gray clay bodies, which they then painted with white slip and covered in a green-tinted semi-translucent glaze. 5] They freely pushed the limits of form by occasionally joining together the forms of animals, like the dragon and the fish on ordinary household wares.

I challenged myself to make a  dassie-bear teapot, I wanted to see whether an ancient form could carry the weight of a post modern re-interpretation of Millet’s sower and Soutine’s town landscapes. By also juxtaposing glossy, satin matte and stony glazes in my drawings, it resulted in a multitude of influences synchronized in the present. It has an unsettling feel about it as you try and scratch for meaning and as soon as you find some, you seem to loose it again under the many influences. It feels like the twist of Africa.


But still, I wonder did my drawings deliver anything? Could a multitude of glaze layers have produced the same effect? I just don’t know. I’ll have to try and see.


  1. Bloomfield,L 2014. The handbook of glaze recipes. 1st ed. London: Bloomsbury Publishing plc
  2. Taylor, B.,Doody, K 2014. Glaze. first edition. London: Quarto Publishing plc.
  3. Transition metal complexes and colour. 2000. Western Oregon University. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 31 May 2016].
  4. Edmund de Waal’s muse music – Handel – Messiah – But Who May Abide The Day Of His Coming. 2011. Phaidon. [ONLINE] available at
  5. Joseon Buncheong Ware: Between Celadon and Porcelain. 2016. The Metmuseum. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 June 2016]

About Charleen Brunke

Ceramic Artist
This entry was posted in Ceramic tests and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s