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Tips on Finishing Ceramics for Outside Use: Article or Project

Ceramists have always been in love with decorating their yards and gardens with their ceramic creations. From the fad of ducks, geese and bunnies from 40 years ago to the gnomes, fairies, insects and other critters of today, the choices are endless. Some last and others don’t. There are a few tips that may help in extending the outdoor life and protect the items you want to display.

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When choosing how to paint your project, it is a good idea to consider your climate. For example, if your winters are subjected to long periods of cold and freezing, or extremely high summer heat. You can both glaze or stain pieces for outside use - below are some points to consider when you are deciding how to finish your garden items.

1. It is advised to glaze the inside of your piece and even consider glazing the bottom even if you are going to stain the outside. Why? Moisture finds a way to seep into the bisque, usually from the ground up and through the inside of the items. This can happen in both sunny and shady places in your yard.

2. Consider sitting your items on several pebbles or a couple of bricks in order to raise it above the ‘ground’ surface and create a venting. This will allow for air to circulate under the piece and not sit in moisture, which would increase the risk of moisture getting into the bisque.

3. Glazes are the most durable for outside use (including underglazes and other fired finishes). If you do not glaze the insides, your glazes will most likely crack and chip off from the moisture built up from the inside.

4. If you are using non-fire stains/paints, choose your paints wisely. Use a good grade of paint, specifically those designed to bond onto ceramic. There are some on the market that claim to be longer lasting and designed for outside use. Beware, even these have a ‘life’ time and won’t last for extremely long periods.

5. Keep in mind placement. Do you have critters running about your yard – dogs, cats, squirrels, etc. Place your items securely and somewhat protected so if they are knocked over they wont break.

6. If you have extremely cold/freezing weather in your area, you should look at bringing them in during the winter months so they won’t freeze – specifically pots and bowls which will fill with rain, ice and snow then freeze and crack from expansion. If you do have pots, bowls or other containers, be sure to provide good drainage regardless of how mild your winters are.

7. Non-fired finishes should be ‘set’ with a spray fixative. There are many on the market. Multiple thin layers should be applied creating a heavy application – matte or glossy is a matter of preference. There are several ceramic products on the market or you can use something like Rustoleum or Varnish; however, I have found some non-ceramic sprays tend to turn yellowish.

8. Non-fired finishes will probably fade over time when subjected to a lot of sunlight - regardless of the spray finish. There are some companies that claim theirs won’t fade, but I have yet to see one that doesn’t.

9. Over time, non-fired finishes can fade; but you can always repaint them. You can fire off the remaining color or use a stiff brush to remove any loose paints and repaint. Before repainting, scrub the item clean with a stiff brush, soap and water. Let it dry thoroughly before applying paint.

Photo credit: Joseph Hovermale (see his project - Garden Snail in Ceramic Techniques and Projects.


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Tips on Finishing Ceramics for Outside Use

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