Does crazing drive you crazy?

I received an inquiry on etsy that demanded a full explanation. Perhaps its one you’ve had as well….


Great looking mug. I have a few questions.
Will it be done if different colors?
Can it be made with or without the cracks?

crazy mug

Hi Nolan,
Thanks for appreciating my mug!

The shape is one I plan to continue experimenting with, so I imagine that eventually I will have mugs like this in different colors. None right now though! For some reason I thought that the other glazes I am currently using would not accentuate the shape as much. Sometimes as an artist you have to try to imagine what things will look like if done differently. I don’t always get it right, but I’ve learned to trust my instincts a fair amount and to experiment fearlessly when in doubt.

The cracks are perhaps something you are seeing as a ‘flaw’? Since you ask if it can be made without them that’s what I’m guessing. And I would have to say that IF those cracks were wide enough to feel or to permit the entry of microorganisms then that would certainly be a possibility. The technical term for what happened is that the glaze ‘crazed’. And potters worry about things like this all the time. Here’s a post on a Clayart thread that responds to this issue:

Vince Pitelka on wed 2 jul 08

Lili Krakowski wrote:
“Crazing is considered dangerous or risky for food connected wares because
nasty bacteria may lurk in those teensy cracks….etc.”

Dear Lili –
You wrote “may” above, and I cannot categorically say that it could never
happen, but there is also no evidence that it ever has. People have been
preparing food in and eating food out of crazed vessels for almost two
millennium, and to my knowledge no one has ever identified a case where
bacteria growing in the craze cracks caused people to get sick. As I said
in my post to Kim, it seems that it just doesn’t happen.

I know that your opinions on such matters always stress extra safety, and
that is generally a very good thing, but in this case, if we stop eating
food from crazed vessels, we will stop eating food from a good percentage of
the glazed ceramic vessels out there. Remember that all salt-glazed wares
are crazed, and people have been drinking and eating food out of those
vessels throughout the modern studio pottery era with no noticeable
undesirable effect on the users.
– Vince

Vince Pitelka
Appalachian Center for Craft
Tennessee Tech University;


For a broader discussion of this you can go HERE.

Notice, however, that the crazes are on the exterior non-foodbearing surface of the pot. So, even if crazing might possibly be a health concern, in this case it would be extremely unlikely.

The other sense that this might count as a flaw is that it just looks weird. An aesthetic flaw. On this pot the crazes look pronounced because they happen in a glossy translucent glaze with a light shinning directly on it. Light is simply refractable when passing through transparent objects like a glaze, glass, or liquid. These crazes are like miniature prisms. The lines would not have shown up nearly as well (if at all) if the glaze had been opaque or matte (And many, many, many matte opaque glazes also have crazing, though we tend not to notice it….). And it won’t look nearly as obvious without light shining directly on it….

But what one person considers an aesthetic flaw others often consider quite beautiful. There is no right or wrong, simply different ways of appreciating things. Like one person adoring Chinese food, and another preferring Ethiopian. Is ‘spicy’ a good thing or a bad? How sweet is too sweet? It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and in a sense I would have to agree with that. The deeper truth is that beauty surrounds us and that we only ever see a partial glimpse of it. We see the world the way we see it. Which doesn’t stop others from seeing it differently. The trick is to see as many of the possibilities as we can.

“What else is beauty besides what I already know?” Its this question that drives artists onward, spurs us to use our imagination, and keeps our curiosity alive. If art is a matter of exploring the world’s possibility, then it is our job to turn over almost any conceivable stone, and look in as many shadowed and forgotten corners as possible. Art isn’t just about teaching us what we already know. Its about expanding the possibilities and exploration. And by sharing these visions we hope to bring our audience along with us on the adventure….. “How else is it possible to see the world?”, we ask…

And, within limits, the ‘imperfections’ often are the really interesting things. They are the parts of the world that have been neglected, are considered broken, and are often misunderstood. Ambiguity over clarity. Doubt over certainty. The journey over the destination…. These are the unfinished and unwashed of our impeccable and unimpeachable ideals. And yet, ‘imperfect’ is the attraction of handmade over mass produced. ‘Imperfect’ is the tell tale human mark on the universe. The idiosyncrasy and wobble of our humanity. And any art that aspires to teach us something new will often embrace this wild uncertainty to see where it leads. If perfection is an ideal, then in some important sense the imperfect is our reality.

‘Imperfect’ simply tells a story. But its a story that needs to be worked for, teased out with gentle understanding. Its price is suffering contradiction and confusion rather than the simple certainties of our convictions. And we are often charmed by our comforting illusions. The story that imperfection has to tell is often too difficult for us. Its not often obvious because the obviousness of the world usually has a much different story to tell. Which is why we need to also learn to look beyond the truths that manifestly stare us in the face. We need to learn to see the world with nuance and subtlety. We sometimes need lessons in ambiguity. In the famous words of Gandalf, “All that is gold does not glitter”, and we diminish the world by expecting otherwise….

Personally, I think the crazing adds further interest to the pot. What I am aiming for in my pots is a sense of depth. You can see other evidence of this in the areas where the glaze is thicker and looks more like molasses, and also where the specks of crystals float on the surface. I am just interested in the complexity that draws a viewer in, and which has a story to tell. “How was this done? What does this mean?”…..

It is the hope of every artist to educate their audience, to be permitted to show or demonstrate what things matter to them and why they care. Sometimes just looking at a work of art it isn’t always clear, or can be misinterpreted. So I thank you for giving me the opportunity to possibly add further insight to how you look at my pots and perhaps pottery in general.

Thanks for contacting me! Sorry if my response was long, but I think these are interesting topics and imagine that you wouldn’t have asked if you were not also interested.




Peace all!

Make beauty real!


About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
This entry was posted in Art, Arts advocacy, Arts education, Beauty, Ceramics, Creativity, Ephemera, Imagination, metacognition, Pottery and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Does crazing drive you crazy?

  1. Ross Munro says:

    What a lovel answer to what others might find an irritation!

  2. Brandon Phillips says:

    When I was on clayart I had to take Lili to task a couple times on the issue of glazes. It pisses me off when people say stuff is dangerous and have no evidence to back it up. Pete Pinnell did a study though and crazed glazes can reduce the strength (modulus of rupture) by 50% or more. I use ash glazes so the likelihood of a glaze not crazing is nil. I have one wholesale account that refuses to buy crazed work insisting that it will leak…because it happened once 20 years ago (couldn’t have been a microscopic fracture???) Anyways, nice to hear your tactful and informative response on this matter!


  3. When I see crazing I feel the pressure is off the glaze and the pot is happy, Tension is gone and hot tea can now flow into the vessel. If it duntes off the pot then its not crazing and is trash but minor crazing is a good thing which shows the stress is gone now or equalized.
    This was from our clay and body class at Humboldt in the 70s.

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