Making lusterware adds yet another element of hazard to a process where many things can go wrong. After throwing and turning the pot, spraying it with colour, (impossible to control with any certainty)- firing it once (where it can warp or occasionally crack), we apply glaze- not too thin or thick- clean the glaze off to the right depth otherwise it can run and spoil the foot or damage the kiln shelves. Having got thus far, we then apply one or more lustre pigments of our own. Designs are often improvised on the pot and can be wiped out if we are dissatisfied – only time is lost. Then the kiln pack- should this pot go here or there? Every decision makes a difference, and many pots end up in places which might not be optimal, but in they must go.
So to the third firing which will make or mar each pot. We must decide during the firing whether to prolong it by one minute or by two. Of course, we keep records, but any change- say of an old pyrometer for a newer one, can yield results for which there are no precedents. Then the kiln opening- there are disappointments as well as delights, and we make choices and take more notes.
In Spain I was lucky enough to watch Alberto Mora Benavent, a third generation lustre potter, fire his kiln. It was all done in a thoroughly professional manner- a large gas kiln, automatically programmed and controlled. The pots came out in a similarly predictable fashion. Alberto uses a white tin glaze on which he can a paint blue designs, and the lustre fires a warm bright gold. He has a family to support and earns awards from the locality and from entering ceramic competitions in Spain. He works in a tradition, but also makes modern designs using the same techniques. Missing from all this expertise was a sense of adventure and risk. I suppose the truth is every potter working today seeks something different, and I conclude that taking risks and experimenting- with colour, with designs, with silver, gives a field of trouble wide enough for a lifetime, and this ‘chasing the rainbow’ makes our work a source of continuing interest.
East Dean. 8th September 2023