I had been making maiolica for about 5 years before I took this class. I taught myself from studying historic pieces in books and at museums. I have no formal art training beyond beyond basic high school art classes. I do not know Italian. I took Spanish in high school, a long, long time ago. The school had one instructor, Nicola Boccini, who spoke English and he was able to translate for me. I think I would have gotten a lot more out of the experience if I had known at least some Italian, but I still learned a lot and thought the experience was worthwhile.
The instructors at the school categorized me as intermediate to advanced. I worked on two pieces during the two days I was at the school. The first piece was a Peacock design and the second piece was portrait tile. I spent most of the first day and part of the second day painting the Peacock design.
The materials were so different from what I was used to that I often felt like a beginner. I usually use Hobby Colorobbia Bisque Stroke underglazes. At the school I was using Colorobbia powdered pigments diluted with water.
I also had to get used to a special type of paint brush. Seeing the paint brush was one of my first light bulb moments. The paint brushes used in Deruta are truly unique. I nicknamed them "mullet brushes". The brush has hairs in two distinct lengths so that it looks like a fine liner brush was inserted into a fatter round brush. The fat part of the brush acts as a reservoir for the pigment and feeds it to the thinner liner part in the middle. A fine outline can be achieved with a number 6 or 8 brush. This special brush is also the cause of the fill patterns seen in the backgrounds of historical maiolica. The pigment is applied in parallel strokes that results in the "magic marker" fill pattern. A single load of the brushes naturally create the graduated shading of a skyline. The brushes were a challenge to me. I kept forgetting to hold the brush up and paint with only the tip. I had to clean up many blobs created by the fatter portion of the brush coming into contact with the white base glaze. The school provided me with a student set of the special paint brushes. Dick Blick sells similar brushes described using the term "reservoir".
I painted with the pieces upright leaning against a wooden easel. I had to prop my hand with the paint brush with my other hand and avoid touching the powdery decorated surface. I was able to purchase a small easel at the ceramic shop in Deruta. The upright position affects the absorption of the pigment. It also improves the painter's posture and helps the neck and shoulder muscles.
Images From Class
During the two days I was taken on two educational tours. I got to visit the factory located on the floor above the school. During this tour I got to watch a potter trimming pots, workers loading the large kiln, and painters working on a variety of painted plates and bowls. I also got to tour a factory that produces unpainted bisque wares. I was very impressed with the speed and quality of the pottery created by their production potters. I also got to visit the ceramic store in Deruta which sells books, brushes and pottery tools. The ceramic shop is called Mondo Ceramica. They had an employee who spoke English. They ship ceramic supplies to the United States.
I would recommend this school to anyone who would like to learn more about Italian ceramics. I would suggest some basic Italian instruction for anybody who would like to take a class. I have traveled to other countries where I didn't know the language and I think central Italy was the most challenging. My husband and I stayed in a hotel in the larger nearby town of Perugia. We did not find many people who would claim to know any English. We were able to survive with dictionaries, Internet translation websites and my basic Spanish and my husband's basic German.
For More Information
- School websites: http://www.schoolofceramics.org/ or http://www.lifeinitaly.com
- An article about the school was published in the October 2004 issue of Ceramics Monthly.
- For links to other schools and research opportunities also try the Italian site Ceramics Online at http://www.ceramics-online.it/