Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Pottery and the colour Blue

Royal Blue

The History of Blue and White Pottery

Blue is one of the colours of the rainbow and it has become associated with many things over time. Perhaps the connections with the sky and the seas are the most strong. However it also been used to denote cold, loyalty, truth and conservatism. In past eras the blue coloured pigments for clothing were scarce and expensive leading to the colour being related to wealth and royalty eg Royal Blue. It is a colour that is not available as a natural ceramic pigment but needs cobalt ore to be refined to produce the highly intense blue colour. In the early days the ore was roasted and then further melted with a a glass to produce the early pigments of Zaffre and Smalt.

The origins of blue colour in pottery are a little confusing.
Ming Vase
The Egyptians are known to have been making blue coloured pottery since before 400AD but it was the Chinese cobalt blue and white pottery from the the Tang Dynasty onwards that led to a huge interest in blue and white in Western Europe. The introduction of tea to England escalated the interest in pottery tea sets especially blue and white.

Cobalt has been the source of pigments for English blue and white pottery since the eighteen century and these were the pigments used to make the famous Spode patterns of Willow and Indian tree. Since that time blue and white has never disappeared from our lives.

Blue and white in the 21st Century

Now old designs such as Burleigh compete with more contemporary blue patterns in our High St. Denby Imperial blue has stood the test of time being unique in colour, texture and appearance. Similarly, the English style of Burleigh ware created by the unique hand made tissue printing technique continues to attract buyers from around the world. New patterns like Blue Hydrangea from hand made producer Peregrine pottery continue to gain interest from those looking to buy English style with a modern look.

Blue Hydrangea from Peregrine Pottery
Burleigh ware
Denby Imperial Blue

The Pigments

Although modern blue ceramic pigments started with Zaffre and Smalt, their development has continued and modern day pigments provide high intensity with the ability to meet specific colour tones or firing temperatures. Whilst the use of the basic cobalt oxide in glazes is still common for craft or studio glazes looking for a low cost, the use of cobalt silicates and cobalt aluminate pigments has flourished. They extend the inter-mixable nature in glaze or coloured decoration and often provide improved dispersion characteristics. Some examples of the colour tones available using the different pigment types can be seen in the table below.
(NB Web colours are never an exact match for ceramic tones)

Colour name
Colour pigment
Colour shade
Matte Blue
Cobalt aluminate

Mazarine Blue
Cobalt Silicate

Royal Blue
Cobalt zinc silicate

Willow Blue

Cobalt alumino-silicate

Flow Blue
Na-Ca-Cobalt silicate

Where next for Blue and White?

Whatever your interest blue continues to feature in pottery decoration across the world. I predict this fashion is unlikely to change soon. I would love to hear whether you agree and your thoughts on blue and white and why its appeal continues so strongly?

More information and other technical articles on pottery and ceramics can be found at my website The Potters Friend.

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