Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Brushing up in Freo

The quiet murmering, well gasping perhaps, among the clay folk here is that it is really, REALLY hard to get much claywork done in this record breaking heat in Australia.  At least for those of us in Perth, we are not sitting on our verandah of an evening watching the smoke and flames of rapid and deadly bushfires on the far horizon.  But make no mistake - we are sweltering.  Normally I pay no heed to the forecast as I cannot do much about it, but now I just want to know when it will END?  Tomorrow will be down from 36 to 26 - worthy of an airpunch YESSSSSS!  Anyhow all this blither and preamble is just to indicate that this is a quiet time and getting little done claywise is quite understandable.

But today I feel I kicked the ennui and fatigue a little bit on the butt, I got some  clay processed at home and got down to my Freo studio to get some work started.  I signed up for six weeks of classes in painting on clay at La Majolica in Fremantle.  Cate Cosi from La Majolica gave a painting demo at POTober last year and we were mesmerised, it just isn't the kind of thing you get to learn unless you seek it out.  Classes are offered for mornings and evenings.  I have always been in awe of the colour and glow of Majolica since I first learnt of it in London at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) when Beryl Sedgwick taught an A-Level course in Ceramics.  I doubt I will be much good at freehand loose painting onto ware but I want to rise to the challenge.  I guess I had better find my brushes and paints and get some practice in.  I also have Linda Arbuckle's DVD so I will watch that again and see if I can develop some new ideas.  Come to think of it I also have some books by the late but great Matthias Ostermann on the subject.  The time has come!  See Ya!  

Wednesday, August 30, 2017


As a kid I’d buy a ‘Lucky Dip’ bag from the corner shop and score a bag of sherbet with a licorice stick in it, some loose wrapped lollies, a balloon and a plastic junk toy and best of all a temporary tattoo.  I’d dip the small printed piece of paper in water, place it on my arm and slide away the paper backing leaving in place the thin plastic sheet with printed image to look like an unconvincing tattoo of a robot or some such.  Mum hated this, she felt tatts were vulgar.  This was in a time when they weren’t seen much, well not on little girls in suburban Dublin.  They washed off.  Now I see tatts as body art on others and not all are good but some tatts are immensely meaningful and talismanic and stunning.  I have none.

Why am I telling you this?  

As a way to explain about Laser Decals for ceramics. I’ve got printed work in the Burt Street Gallery, Cottesloe W.A. and my students are asking how I make them.  
Tune out if you want, it's my blog, my words, my style.  
Share if you want, that’d be very nice, thank you.

Laser what?

Decal describes a decorative sticker applied to a surface such as wall decals, vinyl car decals and in my work - ceramic decals.  Formula One cars? That’s not paint jobs, that’s adhesive decals. Think of your granny’s china cups with printed roses, think of promotional mugs or glasses touting Guinness, Bud Light, Starbucks. They started out plain then decals were applied and refired. Handpainting pots on a large scale is uncommon due to economy of time and scale. Machine or screen printed decals became the solution. Technology kicked in and artists pushed out.

Until fairly recently tertiary ceramics students in Western Australia and, I’d imagine, other parts of my country, were taught all processes to create onglaze decals. This involved preparing decal paper, onglaze china paint/enamel ink with a medium, a silkscreen from their own images, printing the image on the paper, sealing it with covercoat varnish, and the solvent based clean up involved and finally to apply and fire the work.

Now industrial decal printers are accessible to do small runs to order as do some superb smaller businesses with digitally printed onglaze decals such as in Australia and in Canada and whom I believe are in the USA.  It’s simple to buy ‘open stock’ decals online too. Google is your friend. Baileys Decals in the UK or Bel Decal in the USA are two sources. When I require professional services to make decals I use Decal Specialists in Melbourne for my  historical commissions in Western Australia. I’m a ceramist who teaches ceramics skills and Print on Clay techniques. 

Applying a digital decal to a tile to to replace damaged ones in Joan Campbell's installation in at Bather's Beach, Fremantle, W.A.

Drawings: Emma VinkovicCeramics: Elaine BradleyBowl on left had decal applied print side down on glazed vessel hence is a clearer print.

Laser decals applied to unglazed porcelain, fired to ^10
I’ve come to be known for the use of IRON OXIDE LASER DECALS on my work – very different to the colourful onglaze china paint type.  Laser decal preparation is uncomplicated and accessible. The use and firing temps required differ to traditional decals. Laser decals fire to one colour only – shades of rusty sepia brown, but ceramists the world over are finding ways to utilise this into in oxidation, reduction, wood and soda firings. The sepia quality lends to a certain vintage look when desired. They work beautifully on and between glass too. 

How did it all begin?

Anecdotally, a potter burning some photocopied pages on which there was black text observed the print remained intact but brown on the grey ashes of the sheets, concluding there was iron in the toner composition. This led to experiments with stopping photocopiers half way through their printing processes – where the text or image is printed in toner powder onto a page then halted from the following stage of being compressed via hot rollers in the machine. The powdery page is removed carefully and ideally a slab of clay would be laid down on top of the printed page to capture all that unfixed toner powder, then flipped over and the paper removed revealing the transferred print.  Once the clay is formed by a potter into it’s final state – say a plate, then fired, the blackness burns out the in the kiln leaving instead the printed impression in a rusty brown colour – iron oxide – at bisque temp unfused.  Word was out and potters all over the world were eying, accessing and possibly ruining photocopiers everwhere, to try this print on technique on their work.  But that was a messy business and in my experience when people knew what you were experimenting with they denied you access to their printers – the rotters. Modern photocopiers and laser printers don’t let you halt them halfway through the process now.  Pfft!

We learnt that glazing over the print and firing usually lost most of the image as the scant layer of oxide got consumed by the glaze, but leaving that area unglazed at glaze temps worked well.  To get the print on a glazed surface worked better but finding the sweet spot temperature wise took trial and error - something potters excel at.

I learnt of this well over a decade ago via now defunct chat rooms like  Most potters are curious and generous with information. Then I learnt more via Paul Scott (UK), one of the first contemporary artists to write on the subject, when he came to Australian National University in Canberra. 

Ceramics lecturers in US grad schools back as far back as 2003 were quick to experiment and share what they found with their students, who continued spreading the process.  This led to printing on temporary tattoo paper aka ‘laser decal paper’ – a stiff paper with a substrate of water soluble gum and fine layer of plastic on it.  Print on this with a laser printer which has iron oxide in its toner (this is the KEY and HP laser printers usually have it), trim the image, waterslide it into position, squeegee the air and water out from behind it, dry and fire. 

Unlike other types, tonal images work brilliantly with laser decals and again unlike with normal on-glaze decals - overlapping the imagery without losing any of the print is possible. 

Later in my ceramics studies Professor Suzanne Wolfe of Univ. Hawaii visited ANU and laser decals were a topic.  We worked out that watersliding the image onto a glazed surface was easy and fired well but applying the decal upside down to the surface gained a crisper print.  See image for comparison above.  

So here are my top tips:
  1. Try to use your own imagery, text or photos - be aware of copyright issues.
  2. Remove separating sheets if any. 
  3. Print ONTO the shiny side of the decal paper, this is a very fine layer of plasticy film, and the print is laid down on that in black.
  4. Feed one laser decal sheet at a time into printer.
  5. Trim around the image/text, with a margin of about 5mm.
  6. Place it in a bowl of water, it curls up, then uncurls as the water seeps into the white backing paper. The thin layer of gum between the white sheet and the shiny layer begins to release the plasticy layer.
  7. Lay this on your glazed surface, and slide the shiny part off the paper and onto the shiny glazed surface that’s - what they mean by 'waterslide'. Hold the decal in place with one finger while the other hand slides the backing paper slowly from under it.  Pat and squeegee from the centre outwards to remove any water or air bubbles. 
  8. Dry well before firing.
  9. If applying to a glazed surface - fire to between Cone 04 and 03, you are guessing the melting point of the glaze for which the print to fuse to the surface.
  10. If applying to bare unglazed clay – I work on smooth porcelain, fire to Cone 9 for the oxide to truly fuse to the clay surface.
  11. If you can apply the decal face down to the work you'll get a better print than face up.  Mirroring and flipping images may be required.
  12. Vent the kiln, leave the lid or door ajar as the plastic substrate burns out, its probably toxic. Stay away till the firing is done.  Ensure the kiln area is well ventilated and has an extractor hood switched on.
  13. Test your decal - once out of the kiln, wipe across an edge of the image with a wet fingertip - if it blurs, the image hasn't fused to the glaze - refire 10 degrees hotter.
  14. If you are combining print techniques on a piece with multiple firings- remember to do the laser decals first, then the on glaze later at the lower temperature they require  

Testing a print to see if it has fused to the surface.


In Australia Clear laser decal paper is sold in from Decal Specialist, Melbourne in A4 format
In Western Australia The Potters Market in O’Connor carries it - usually US Letter format. 
In USA Bel Decal USA sell it in US Letter form but only in large quantities.  You need Code L8100C Clear Laser Decal Waterslide Paper
I can sell individual sheets on request
I can print individual sheets of your designs has sellers offering laser decal printing services

Some potters who use laser decals well in their work follow.  Show me your work and links and I might edit this later to include you on the list.  
Elaine Bradley Ceramic Artist

Sit back and relax while you enjoy the sunny and wonderful potter Marian Williams video on iron oxide laser decals

You can access the generosity of potters using decals through sharing their knowledge in these great articles

I've wasted so much time trying to get the text here looking uniform. I'm going to stop trying.  
Was that post informative?  I'm looking forward to your comments.  


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

“Giving up is the only sure way to fail.” - Gena Showalter

I haven't blogged in years, I don't know if I ever will and I reserve the right to do so whenever it suits me.  I've often been surprised by the number of people in Perth who've said they've read my blog.    On the other hand I've copped some snide comments from unexpected quarters about my blogging as if to imply that I'm a bit full of myself to have the temerity to express myself on the THE INTERNET.  I'm reminded of a quote attributed to comedian Billy Connolly regarding 'begrudgers', you may know it.
Life is busy, I make, I teach, I run a family.  Jeez I wish those floors would clean themselves.  What seems to have eclipsed blogging for me when it started feeling like an obligation, was social media, Instagram, Facebook so on.  I love sharing pics of work by my students as they often fail to see their own progress and are hard on themselves. A consequence is that they show the photos to their family and friends and the response is always affirming.  Every week someone comes to class excited about something they've seen on say Pinterest and want to crack the secret of how it was made - what clay, what techniques and what tools they'd need.  So if you are on Facebook or Instagram you may see that someone at Perth Studio Potters classes is laying the foundations of some good clay skills - and if you see a photo of them with their work I hope you will LIKE it.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

La Maiolica - making a mug of myself in a colourful manner

On tidying up files and considering doing a blog posting I found a lot of old drafts that had never been completed.  This one, while poking fun at my own ineptitude (brush skills don't come to you without a lot of repetition) hit a bit of a sad note.  You see Gigi Cosi of La Maiolica in Fremantle passed away suddenly in October and I suppose nothing there will ever be the same now.  I consider myself lucky to have attended classes with his wife Cate there as it was a technique I always wanted to become familiar with.  The odd thing is that the two mugs I decorated in that class are the favourites of my sons, is it because of the shape or because of the jolly but not fabulous decoration displaying my developing skills?  I think it is because they are familiar and comfortable for a good old hot chocolate.

This week at La Maiolica class the design below is what we were to copy (loosely) 
 and this is what I managed (carefully hiding the total mess on the other side).
 Then we did a goat design like this ... note the carefully broken up areas and banding, the beautifully placed motifs and fine lines - yes well mine worked out not much like this example.  

Check out maybe if you are a potter/blogger you might like to link into the Mud Colony.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

What’s going on?  Heaps darl! – for everyone but me, or so it seems.  I am rendered almost useless by a lingering shoulder injury, I can handle that but the fact it has prevented my making new work in the past year is eating me up.  I got a commission of porcelain replica ammonite fossils sorted easily but it wasn’t anyway challenging.

Note: the highlighted text below indicates there is a link to follow if you click on the text.

Teaching newcomers to throw on Saturday mornings is such fun, (I am very careful with my shoulder) I have a wheel throwing class at CIT and by week two they were producing what I call ‘round stuff’.  They’re whooshing past wedging and centering challenges, rapidly into making actual pots and are so proud of them.  Giving up a Saturday morning for clay shows their dedication.  Week two - round things! I can’t say I was that on target at the beginning of my own clay career.  I credit Greg Daly and Janet DeBoos at ANU for teaching me the common errors we make when throwing and how to avoid them. I’m told my way of teaching is very technical. I observe what they are doing and guide around whatever hiccup is preventing their success.  Next week we will cover trimming and maybe a little joining.  I’d love to see them take off with making pots to join together.  CIT is a brilliant venue for classes in clay.  All the while we work alongside Warwick Palmateer as artist in residence in the CIT studio making very large pots for a future exhibition.  It is truly inspiring. 

My Monday evening class at Perth Studio Potters are a lovely group and voracious for information.  I’ve been squeezing in some mini tutorials on some surface treatments and print techniques.  It is much easier to do with a small class.  I’m kicking myself to be missing Bernard Kerr’s upcoming Morphology workshop at PSP Cottesloe on 29th & 30th March which I’m sure will be hugely rewarding for the lucky participants.  

Tonight I go to a CAAWA (Ceramic Arts Association of WA) study group talk given by CJ Jilek.  I’ve blogged about CJ, she is just lovely and her imagination and capability makes me want to never stop trying stuff out.  I can’t wait for her talk, then tomorrow night there’s a lecture by Award Winning Danish ceramist Helle Lund Hansen at the absolutely wonderful school The Clay House in North Fremantle (where CJ Jilek and Tony Wise are currently Artists in Residence. 

CAAWA's POTober 2014 is well and truly on the cards and has a very cool lineup.  I still haven't caught up enough to write up the one two years ago.  This is a teaser, I’ll tell you more next time.

But what got me back blogging and blithering was looking at Andrea Vinkovic's blog today.  WOW! My way of doing clay work is not remotely technical compared with the precision planning and execution of a large work by Andrea.  Her current work is remarkable in the mathematics and precision needed to create a Geodesic Dome in clay.  Subscribe to her blog to follow this amazing journey, she positively thrives on such a challenge and documents it in detail on  I adore all the processes involved in clay, models, moulds, slips, glazes, firing etc okay not the pug milling so much – but her work is all of that  - on steroids.

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