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Lesson 1 b

Maiolica Materials and Tools

Gael Stirler


Pigments and Glaze Colors

I use a variety of Duncan Concepts ceramic paints to paint most of the designs. Here is a list of colors and time periods when they were used.

I found that powdered cobalt oxide mixed with a little water and a drop of Gum Arabic works best for the thin dark blue lines. I call this mixture Zaffer after a blue color mentioned in historical writings. It comes from the same root word as "saphire". It makes great lines but isn't good for backgrounds or filled areas since it is only a stain and not a glaze. Duncan Envisions Cobalt or Navy Glazes work best for filled-in and dark blue backgrounds. Duncan Concepts are premixed glazes that are relatively inexpensive, come in a wide range of colors, and are all food safe.

Here is a list of pigments that I use regularly

  1. Stains and Powdered Oxide
    • Cobalt Oxide (Makes deep blue when mixed with water and gum arabic.)
    • Mason Stain Best Black (mixes with water to create nice black for painting lines. Mix 1 to 1 with clear glaze for larger areas.
  2. Duncan Concepts (comes in bottles)
    • Deep Tangerine (bright juicy orange color)
    • Deep Scarlett (tomato red)
    • Bright Saffron (very bright yellow)
    • Deep Butternut (golden ochre color)
    • Bright Jade (mint ice cream color)
    • Deep Spruce (dependable dark bottle green)
  3. Duncan Envisions (comes in a jar instead of a bottle. These are the colors I recommend most highly)
    • IN1075 Cobalt Glaze (very dark intense blue verging on purple, pale lavender in raw state)
    • IN1116 Emerald Bay (very dark reliable green color that looks kelly green in the raw state)
    • IN1077 Navy Blue (dark blue after firing, light blue in raw state)
    • IN1073 Strawberry (for best red-orange color use three or four coats, pink in raw state)
    • IN1053 Harvest (bright yellow after firing, pale yellow in raw state)
    • IN1056 Aqua Fresca (bright turquoise after firing, pale blue in raw state)
    • IN1781 Pumpkin Orange (very pretty orange when fired, pale orange in raw)
    • IN1012 Orchid (semitransparent purple when fired, pale pink in raw state)
  4. Glazes
    • IN252 Duncan Satin Opaque White (Has a light blue tint that makes it easy on the eyes when glazing, very white after firing.)
    • GL612 Duncan Diamond Glaze (Looks dark pink in raw stage but fires clear, contains a small but safe amount of lead. Intensifies the colors underneath when you use one coat. Can make lines blurry if applied too thickly.)

Historical information on colors used and their time periods

Early Moorish Maiolica:

  • Manganese -- Used for outlines and fill. Manganese looks purple sometimes and brownish-black other times. (I mix Duncan Cocoa with Mason Best black for a fair approximation.)
  • Green from Copper Oxide-- Used for fill. (It was a turquoise blue-green that varied unpredictably in shade and hue from aqua to wine bottle green. Difficult to control.)
15th Century:
  • Blue from cobalt oxide (Called Zaffre (saphhire) in Italy, it turned a deep intense lapis blue color after firing, but was inky black before firing. You can buy this in powder form at professional ceramic stores.)
  • Yellow from antimony (Antimony is a poisonous heavy metal so use a substitiute like Duncan Envisions Harvest or Baroque Gold.)
  • Yellows and orange from iron rust (Iron oxide is a fine powder that mixes easily with water and glazes, but it is hard to control the shade you will get after firing. Substitiute prepared glazes in ochre yellows and pumpkin orange colors.)
Late 15th century:
  • Tawny brown (Duncan Envisions Cocoa. For fleshtones mix Baroque Gold or Harvest with Strawberry)
  • A wider range of stable greens were made by mixing tin white, yellow, brown or orange into copper green or cobalt blue.
16th Century:
  • Black from a mixture of manganese, cobalt, and copper oxides
  • Bright red was made in the workshops in Gubbio, Italy but required special firing. Red is not a common glaze color in historic maiolica. (This red was still a little weak by modern standards. It was not a fire engine or cherry red but more of a deep tomato red.) These workshops also made luster glazes in ruby (made form gold) and yellow (made from silver).
  • Impasto White for white on white work (bianco sopre bianco) and highlights. (Sopre Bianco was usually done over an off-white or tawny base coat.)
  • A lighter ultramarine blue was added to the pallette from about 1550 (This is easy to achieve by thinning the cobalt oxide to a wash with water. You can also mix a dot of cobalt with a dime size blob of Opaque White Satin Glaze to make a light blue. It will look light grey until fired.)
  • Aqua and turqouise from copper (Duncan Envisions Carribean or Aqua Fresca, or Turquoise, for a greener shade use Sea Mist)
  • Outlining was done primarily with blue (Cobalt Oxide) until the middle of 16th century when brownish black was used especially in Istoriato or historical paintings. Rust colored reds were also used to do outlining.


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Unless otherwise noted all art is the work of Gael Stirler.
AKA Mistress Dairine mor o' hUigin, OL

This page was last updated Monday, 16-Mar-2009 15:36:19 CDT