Sunday, August 8, 2010

How to Make Egyptian Paste

Perhaps I should have called this post something else, like My Egyptian Paste Results, My Egyptain Paste Experiment, because this is me trying out Mitsy's tutorial from back in April, entitled How to Make Egyptian Paste? By the way, Mitsy, of ArtMind, posts a wealth of tutorials and how to's on her blog. I imagine her workspace divided into two sections: her studio on one side and a laboratory for experimentation, its documentation and its diffusion to everyone who wants to try new processes and media on the other!

I love ceramics and all things Egyptian, especially the lovely turquoise objects made from a self-glazing low-fire clay body. You know, the beads, small dishes and shabti dolls you see in museums. So here's how it went for me:

I prepared some dishes I had made by putting a coat of bat wash on the inside bottom so that my objects wouldn't stick.

I then prepared my first recipe: It's Sylvia Hyman's recipe, and it's the first one Mitsy tries in her tutorial too. She has listed all the ingredients and amounts in her post. I was able to get everything from my ceramic supplier. The copper Carbonate was very expensive and only sold in large quantities, and Mitsy was nice enough to send me a small amount in the mail. Don't forget to wear a mask, goggles and gloves since breathing in these ingredients is TOXIC.

I mixed my ingredients in a plastic bag, and then added water.

The resulting clay was a little too wet (too much water) but I let it set a bit on my work table and then worked it around in my hands to get it dry enough to shape but not so dry it would crack.

I made lots of beads and lined them up on a bat washed tray.

Some of the clay I rolled out into discs and printed with lace to get an interesting texture.

I cut a few crescent moons from the textured discs.

I loaded a second dish with beads and the moons and put a few beads on a wire from ceramic stilts.

The next day, I tried a second recipe. This one is not in Mitsy's tutorial, so I'll give it here:
36 gm feldspar
35 gm quarts
12 gm kaolin (China Clay)
2 gm bentonite
6 gm Natriumcarbonate
6 gm Natriumbicarbonate
2-3 gm copper carbonate

This second recipe was easier to work with, kept its shape better but dried out faster, so I had to work faster.

Using a tiny cookie cutter, I cut out fish shapes and loaded them on to the two other dishes.

I fired to 980°C.

This is what I found this morning. Look at the blue, lovely and shiny.

However, the bat wash stuck where the bead was in contact with it.

The beads on the wire were completely stuck to the metal. I can't get them off. But I do love the color and the way the glaze pooled at the bottom.

On the other hand, the flat objects, moons and fish did not stick to the bat washed dishes. When I took them from the kiln, they seemed to be stuck, but as they cooled, they came right off.

All of the objects made with the first recipe turned out the same blue.

However, for the fish, the colors go from dark turquoise to a much lighter one. Perhaps I didn't mix my dry ingredients thoroughly.

The second recipe (the fish) is slightly darker than the first (the moon). I added one extra gram (4 grams total) of copper carbonate to the mix, so I guess that made the difference.

I really enjoyed working with Egyptain paste from start to finish, and when I make more I think I'll go with the second recipe, and stick to 3 gm copper carbonate. If I want to make beads, I'll have to get the stilts with metal points for firing. The beads would have been pretty enough to use in a necklace!


  1. Hey Laura, I think it all turned out fab! The first recipe does stick a lot doesn't it? It is nearly impossible to get the beads of the wire.
    I took a hammer and smashed 'em - sad for the beads but the wire can be used again! ;)
    I love your fish and I'm chuffed to see that they turned out so well! Well done - I'm so glad you enjoyed the process - although it's lengthy the result is stunning! :)
    I see that they look much nicer then mine - how much 70°C difference can make! :)

  2. Thanks Mitsy! Yes, I was very careful of the temperature because you talked about it in your post. I'll definitely be working with this clay again, it's time-consuming but satisfying!

  3. Hi Laura,
    Thanks for commenting on Anitra's blog. Your results are interesting - tell me did you fire the beads straight away after making them or did you let them dry for a few days?
    I may be able to help with the sticking - I have had to tweak and tweak my recipes to get them to a suitable temp to prevent them sticking.
    Here's hoping for more results
    cheers Kriket

  4. wow! this whole process is pretty in more ways than one. the photos are really great & i loved reading all the steps. it seems like forever since i worked with real clay- i miss it. the lace texture was a really nice touch & that cookie cutter is too CUTE!!! thanks for the lovely post:)

  5. Wow! Wow! Wow! Beautiful work. Thanks for sharing so much detailed info and so many photos. It's rare to get a truly behind-the-scenes look at an artist's process. My daughters and I are inspired for our next art project. Thanks for sharing your talent.