All hands on clay
Carefully selected by the Atelier Soleil for its lightness and purity, the natural clay is worked by hand only, according to three traditional methods.
Embossing. Flat pieces are shaped by embossing: a thin layer of clay is applied on a potter’s wheel and molded by hand, after which some festoons can be added.
Throwing. This technique is required for vases and pitchers. Placed squarely on a wheel, a lump of clay is quickly transformed by the potter’s hands. Handles or other festoons are later added, using liquid clay called “barbotine” as glue.
Molding. Some shapes are much too intricate to be embossed or thrown, so the faience maker has to mold them (Atelier Soleil creates its own original molds). Made of plaster, molds are filled with liquid clay (“barbotine”) and then left to dry.
Faience in fusion
Faience is fired twice: once to cook the dried clay, or “biscuit”; then, when it has been glazed and painted, to vitrify it through heat fusion for a smooth, glasslike finish.
Firing of the biscuit. Once shaped and dried, clay pieces are fired in the kiln at 1,020 degrees Celsius. The clay hardens into a “biscuit”, which is later dipped by hand into a glaze bath using special pincers.
Firing of the glaze. The decorated (or plain white glazed) biscuit is ready for a second firing at 960 degrees Celsius, fusion temperature of the glaze. So as not to fuse with each other, pieces stand apart, with plates balanced on three small wedges that leave distinctive marks underneath.
Mastering the alchemy
The decorator always draws freehand, on “raw” glaze, according to models created by the Atelier Soleil, and sometimes on customer request. The “paint” consists of different metallic oxides mixed in with water. They determine the final colors: copper for green, iron for yellow, manganese for brown and black, cobalt for blue, etc.
But it is a delicate alchemy: oxides are applied with thin brushes and the powdery glaze absorbs them instantly. The decorator’s hand must always be steady for the slightest mistake would translate into a blotch and ruin the piece!