Continuing with our current theme, Ceramic Breakage, here’s a story with a happier ending. Ceramic stuff breaks all the time. Not only can it crack at every stage of construction, but, as we know, it retains permanent vulnerability to hard knocks and gravity. Spend more than a few months around clay and you will certainly get the opportunity to try your hand at putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. It pays to have a few slick repair chops in your toolbelt, but you get them from experience. I’ll describe the moves I used to repair the top of an incinerator sculpture I made in 2009.
Here’s the piece in a former time of wholeness.
I made it in three separate pieces for easier firing and shipping. They interlocked slightly for display. The kind man who owns it and I have stayed in touch and not long ago he wrote me that it got bumped and the top bit the dust. Could he commission me to make a new one? I accepted the challenge but said I would love to try to repair the original too. Here are the steps I took, hoping they would work out.
First off, with the parts in hand, I needed to assess the damages. You can see the five broken pieces up top. I refit them “dry” a bunch of times in order to understand how they interlocked. I was also considering my gluing options. Crazy? Super? White? Gel?
They re-fit crisply, but every seam was at a different angle side-to-side and front-to-back, which made it trickier to know where to start. I decided to use E6000 (sparingly so it would not squoosh out between the joins!) because it would fill any gaps and give me time to wiggle fit. I also chose a two-step reassembly process. Two pieces were re-attached to the larger body and the remaining two to each other. Wait 24 hours… and put it all together, hoping for perfect alignment. Wait another 24 hours… So far, so good.
Even fully re-glued, we can see that cracks were still visible and there were a few places where the surface flaked away completely upon impact. The problem morphed from re-assembly to patching and camouflage.
There are mind-boggling options out there for crack patching. I wanted an unfussy one which would tuck in small pockets, smooth easily and let me color it after it set up. I chose ProPoxy20, a two-part epoxy putty which mixes easily and dries quickly. It also can be sanded and painted. Perfect. I kneaded up a small slice and got to work as there is about a 10-minute soft and pliable window before it begins to stiffen and get more crumbly.
And lastly, in order to disguise the gray ProPoxy20 patches, I called upon my drawing and painting skills and my knowledge of “cold finishes.” PITT Pens are India Ink-based so they stain open clay and epoxy very nicely with their tiny brush points. I used an assortment of grays/ochres/browns to try to match and blend back into the undamaged surface. To fool the eyes even more, I got out my Prismacolor Colored Pencils and made random strokes to mix, match, scramble, divert and disguise. Looks like I won’t have to make a new top for this piece after all.
–Liz Crain, who KNOWS where those cracks are and still doesn’t see them now. More than meets the eye, indeed.