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Brant Palley on Oxides and Stains and More

25 May 2024 10:59 AM | Cirrelda Snider-Bryan (Administrator)

Summer of 2022, Brant Palley and Cirrelda Snider were asked to co-teach one of the NM Connections workshops at our NMPCA Ghost Ranch weekend, “Using Stains and Oxides in Clay.” Alas, he needed major surgery, so was unable to participate. Cirrelda interviewed him to get info for the stains and oxides handout, and he wrote his own bio to be included. Here the handout format has been removed, and the interview that actually happened is presented. Brant is happy to have this information shared to a wider audience than the participants at that past Ghost Ranch retreat. 

The Slip Trail (TST): Brant, please tell us about yourself.

Brant Palley: Owner of New Mexico Clay since 1985. Ceramic artist graduated Otis Art Institute 1979 (LA). Clay body designer, Webmaster of, kiln expert, and, head floor sweeper. Started with Art at a young age as my Dad taught at UNM in the 50’s and they collected Indian Art including some fantastic Acoma pottery that I have seen every day. We were dragged to museums in Europe and saw a lot of art.  In high school I had a great pottery teacher, and then at UC Irvine when super bored with psychology classes, started taking pottery and painting. Went to Otis Art Institute in downtown Los Angeles where, in the decade before, ceramics school was begun by Peter Voulkos in the 1950s and was part of art movements like the Craft-to-Art movement, also known as the American Clay RevolutionMove to NM 1985. “Ceramic King” then “NM Clay” on Girard now for 38 years. Brant worked at his uncle’s art gallery Reese Palley’s where they sold figures from Boehm and Cybus,  Brant was responsible for shipping and handling and delivering fragile porcelains.

Brant at his desk at New Mexico Clay.

TST: Tell what you know about oxides. Tell us about adding oxides to slips.

Brant: Oxides are elements, all elements have different properties, like melting point, cobalt and titanium are very refractory, where iron and copper are not.

TST: And adding oxides to water? 

Brant: Will not reliably stick to clay body as stains. Oxides are refractive [melt at higher temps.]

TST: Then what about firing oxides? 

Brant: Each are different. 

TST: Clay Bodies - all? 

Brant: Generally, oxides are not as sensitive as stains, but may change color in the presence of other fluxes like sodium and boron. Changing composition of clay body affects the oxide’s performance.

TST: Safety important when using oxides? 

Brant: Each are different. 

TST: Here’s another tangent about oxides — have you seen trends in usage? 

Brant: Usage is down except iron wash, more products available for potters makes glaze-making less necessary. Only the “geeky” want to be making own glazes now.

For example: Iron oxide -- different ones melt at different temperatures vs cobalt oxide – refractory higher melting point.

TST: Now we turn to stains. What about adding stains to slips? 

Brant: Should be body stains, if stain rule is #1 on Mason Chart. For example, 6000 Shell Pink used as body stain comes out white … needs Ca carbonate [Calcium carbonate].

TST: Adding stains to water? 

Brant: Will not reliably stick as stains are refractive.

TST: Firing? 

Brant: See rules 2-4 on Mason Color Chart

TST: Clay Bodies - all? 

Brant: Same as slips. [Pure white is recommended.]

TST: Safety? 

Brant: Don’t inhale, yes to gloves if mixing.

Brant checking out an old container of stain in the back room of New Mexico Clay.

TST: History of Stains - any personal anecdotes? 

Brant: Early experiences with crystal glazes; the high soda-zinc glazes change some colors dramatically, Nickle blue anyone?

TST: Use of stains rose w/ Duncan Cover Coat in the 70s? Or earlier? 

Brant: Stains were made for the tile industry, not potters. We just get the sloppy seconds…

TST: Was Duncan the first to use Mason Stains for a glaze “line”? 

Brant: Yes. … Duncan, then Mayco, Laguna’s Moroccan Sand, then everyone popped out. Only the geeky are making their own glazes nowadays. NM Clay was top seller of Duncan. We used to sell to 80 other stores, now to 2. Duncan had a room full of ball mills (vs. blenders). 

Mason Color photo of ball mills,

“Mason Color Works was founded in 1842 as Bleak Place Color Works in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England by James and Mary Skerratt Mason. Mary was a well-known color chemist who developed many of the inorganic pigments which are still used in the whiteware industry today.” Son “F.Q.” moved in 1902 to East Liverpool, Ohio, “Pottery Capitol of the World.” Read more at website

Mason Color Factory photo,

Reds in glaze color were difficult to come by. 

More from Brant: The Environ-vent was invented for Lead based red glazes because of their need for good oxygen in firing.  

From digitalfire:

“Encapsulated stains were introduced by Cerdec-Degussa (also called inclusion stains) are a special class of man-made pigments that enable bright and difficult-to-achieve colors in ceramic glazes (especially reds and oranges). Encapsulated stains are made by special processes that 'coat' the individual particles (i.e. cadmium) with silica or zirconium. In this way they can be suspended in a melt with minimal dissolution of the harmful metals into the glass. These stains are very expensive, must be used in larger amounts, and come with lengthy safety data sheets and must be used according to instructions. Like regular stains, they are intended to be incorporated into engobe or glaze recipes, not used as a straight powder. These are a recent development in glaze technology, and, many companies that hesitated to use them in the past now use encapsulated stains in their biggest-selling products.”

Cover-Coats were unceremoniously dropped by Mayco. Other underglaze brands include Amaco Velvets, Amaco LUG’s, Coyote, Spectrum and Mayco’s Foundations.


Tips on Using the Mason Color Chart*

Charts were given to all participants of the 2022 workshop, courtesy of Mason Color Works!!

•Reference numbers under color swatches

6000 Crimsons                     6400 Yellows

6100 Browns                        6500 Grays

6200 Greens                         6600 Blacks

6300 Blues / Violets

•Numbers under color name refer to 

% of stain / % of Opacifier (Zn:zinc base glaze)

“Body Stains” need reference numbers 1, 3, 6.

•Inside flap list includes oxide combinations.

•Mason Color Works:

•On NM Clay website:

•Archived Formulas for colors not available

Mason reduced number of pigments from 160-100.

 6000 Shell Pink used as body stain comes out white … needs Ca carbonate.

MS6020 Pink Manganese Alumina oxides are Al & Mn, and its reference numbers are: 1,3. 

Mason stains are made to be combined!

We call ourselves the NMPCA!