Playing around with lead

Glazes that are more or less useless in functional ceramics can do wonderful things for sculptural clay pieces. With this in mind, I’m game for trying some pretty strange things. This isn’t uncommon in the clay world anyway, where my college professors encouraged us with stories of their own experimentation. The one I remember in particular was a pizza being used to glaze a work. Of course, they warned us not to try these things in the university’s kilns.

I fired some glazed works this weekend with a few odds and ends as tests. One of these tests was simply a fishing sinker on a bisqued tile. Such sinkers, as I recall from my fishing days, are made of lead.

The one I used wasn’t as new as the picture above. It had been used and was slightly corroded.

The red in the lower left is iron oxide, as a label on the tile. Some of it leached into the lead on that edge, but I don’t think it changed the color or consistency of the glaze — though I could be wrong. It ran like crazy, which makes sense for a flux material. What was more surprising is how much of it there is on the tile, and subsequently the kiln shelf. The length of the sinker was about 5/8 of an inch long. The tile is roughly 3 1/2 inches square.

I don’t know if or how this would ever make it into my work, but it’s good to know anyway.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

4 Responses to Playing around with lead

  1. Julie says:

    I like it! A lot! Experimentation is wonderful. Electric kiln? Have you ever tried a penny? I’ve heard the zinc in them can grown into crystals.

  2. pNielsen says:

    I don’t remember if I’ve done pennies. Doesn’t the copper turn everything pink if it gets into the soft brick though? That’s part of what’s kept me from incorporating copper tubing into my work. I did, in college, try a 1964 dime. 1964 was the last year, IIRC, dimes were all silver. It melted all over the kiln shelf and taught me a good lesson about community studio life :p

    I do mess around with a variety of gemstones in the kiln. Rubies and sapphires do well; jade turns yellow; herkimer cracks and comes out looking like a prism. Flourite and lapis don’t make it through a firing. I have diamonds in the studio I haven’t tried, bought cheaply on Ebay. They aren’t jeweler quality, but they work for me!

  3. Arnold says:

    The arts use a lot of materials that can pose dangers to artists, especially after long-term exposure. Are there any health and safety concerns working with these metals?

  4. pNielsen says:

    Lead, sure, but not really in the form of sinkers (unless you’re chewing on them). For ceramacists the most significant danger comes when working with dry raw materials (ie lead frit, or chrome or manganese). What you can end up with if you aren’t careful is a heavy metal poisoning.

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