Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Science of Art. Or welcoming back my inner nerd.

I was a math and science nerd in high school. I was the one who got all A’s, joined the honor society and actually liked algebra, chemistry and physics. Ok, I hated Latin, but then, doesn’t everybody? I had one brief shining non-nerd moment as the high school basketball star’s girlfriend, then my family moved across the country and that was that.

Then I rebelled. I refused to take anymore nerd classes and took art instead. My inner artist came out to play. She never stopped. I’ve spent years studying art, making art, showing and selling art. But a few weeks ago, my artist had a problem. She called for help and got advice from more experience clay artists but didn’t find the answer.

That’s when she called her inner nerd to solve the mystery of the bumpy bowls.

Enter the nerd. Theory: It was either the wrong clear glaze with the under glaze or it was a firing problem with the kiln too hot or too cool.

The experiment: All pieces in the most recent batch of wheel thrown pieces were noted, numbered and charted. The group was divided into three to test three different glazes. Then pieces from each glaze group were fired at two different temperatures, cone 6 and cone 5. The groups were unloaded and the nerd neatly noted each and every piece for glaze consistency, color changes, and clay changes.

Nerd glaze conclusions: Black, purple, green, yellow and orange underglazes react more consistently with zinc free clear but some do change. A new chocolate brown was discovered with the regular clears. Reds stay red regardless of the clear used. The best overall coverage and smoothest feel was the zinc free clear. Jet black underglaze did not accept any of the clear glazes consistently.

Nerd firing conclusions: Cone 5 or 6 firings did not affect the color changes in any of the clear glazes. Several pieces fired with solid satin black and red did not fire all the way at cone 5. Stay at cone 6 for best over all results.

The mystery of the bumpy bowls still perplexed the nerd. Neither theory had proved to be the solution.

That's when the artist remembered something about a few throwing sessions months ago. The nerd listened as the artist explained feeling hard bits while pulling up the clay. Something that had never happened before but as the bowls and mug was thrown, pressure compressed the bits and they seemed to go away. So the artist kept throwing. No bumps appeared at greenware or bisqueware stages, so the artist shrugged it off as nothing. The nerd got excited.

Nerd clay conclusions: Bumps appeared this time in only two pieces and both were fired at cone 6. After hearing about the hard bits and throwing sessions by the artist, the nerd took out all the pieces with bumps. Adding up the weights of all bumpy pieces equaled 25 pound bag of clay. It was a bad bag of clay.

This experiment was over. The mystery of the bumpy bowls was solved.

My inner artist was proud to know what happened and why. But my inner nerd isn't satisfied with the glaze results and wants to do more tests. My inner artist sighs, shakes her head and just wants to go back to throwing. My inner nerd wants the artist to keep better track of clay changes in the future.

I see a bright future ahead for both of them. The experiment gave the artist a way to make a beautiful brown and the nerd problem to solve. The conclusions made the artist happy knowing she didn’t make the bumps and the nerd figured out how to prevent the problem.

My conclusion: The nerd and the artist may look like opposites but when they play on the same team, the combination of science and art is beautiful.

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