Glynnis Lessing

An Artist’s Blog

You are currently browsing the surface decoration category.

Sgraffito Workshop

We had a delightful sgraffito workshop Sunday, October 11, at Lill.


I started with the basic question of what is slip?

In its simplest form, slip is clay that has had water added to it, possibly pigment and been sieved to make it very smooth. At Lill, we use Grolleg porcelain and Mason stains for colorant.


I talked about application. 

It is key to understand how slip works – a wrong application will just come off your pot. 

Because slip is CLAY, it shrinks.  That means you can not put it on a bone dry pot. Your slip will shrink as it dries and simply flake off. 


Because it is Porcelain, it shrinks at a slightly different rate than stoneware and therefore when you apply it to stoneware, you have to be more careful that it bonds to the surface or again, it will come off- sometimes even after the glaze firing.

Here is an example of Porcelain on porcelain- THICK and I know (because I watched her) that this was put on with a frosting bag onto leather hard porcelain. This is a photo of the bisked piece- it made it through the drying and firing process without coming off:

porcelain on porcelain-thick


So while it is pretty easy and forgiving to put a porcelain slip onto porcelain pots,

I have a couple of tips for applying it to stoneware.


First of all, the more “wet” your stoneware, the better – although the other end of that spectrum is, that your pot will absorb some of the liquid from the slip and could, conceivably, collapse from absorbing too much moisture.

That is the beauty of the slump mold- it can just lie there, bonding while it dries.

freshly slipped slump moldYou can see it’s white slip over stoneware if you look at the edge.

It also helps to put it on thinly

and lastly, it helps to burnish it on to further bond it with the surface of your pot. You can do that when the surface is leather hard.


What I do for application is fairly ideal; I put the slip on my porcelain pots after they are leather hard and I’ve trimmed them.

I then “carve” (or sgraffito) them while they are still leather hard.

This also reduces my chances of breathing in a lot of clay dust as my shavings are still wet. 

Because those shavings dry quickly and then they do become dusty, I then dump them in a little cup or bowl of water to keep them out of my lungs!good way to keep dust down


Now that the pots were ready,  I started in on the fun stuff.

Basic sgraffito is just scratching through slip. that’s what I did for this rabbit (above) and below fired with soda ash waterHere is an example of the same technique (and her inspiration!) by one of the students. This is slip over Terra Cotta.

jean's design (white porc. slip over terra cotta)Isn’t that cool?


Here are two more examples from the shelves of Lill- these are both with a dark slip and white of the porcelain showing through- quite the reverse!

negative sgraffito (black over white, cler glaze)blue over porcelain (clear glaze)


The next type of sgraffito  uses the negative space to make the picture: in this case an octopus.

the bowl with the design roughed in

There are several ways to do this- one is to rough in the basic design without covering the entire pot with slip. This has the advantage of saving time and guiding your design but it can be limiting in that you have to stick with the lines you painted on.

roughed in bowl with octo drawn inAnd then after carving:

final octo carved

If you cover the entire piece with slip, it becomes a blank slate upon which, you can draw anything. If I don’t know what I’m going to draw ahead of time, I will paint the whole thing and look for inspiration in the patterns and textures of the slip when it’s on the pot.

unfinished drawing to be carved out in black field

Layered slip  gives you some interesting lines qualities- in this case I started with white over stoneware.  Once that was bonded and the piece leather-hard, I put on a layer of black, waited for that to stop being shiny and added a layer of aqua.

I drew fish with simple lines.

Here is the tray with layered slip (blue over green over white on stoneware) I did from the last workshop. It is glazed in Celadon.

layered slip  (blue over green over white on stone ware- celadon glaze)

Inlaid slip  is the complete reverse of the technique I used to draw the rabbit. There are several helpful things to know when you are inlaying slip. It is probably more important to make your lines deep than wide since you will be scraping off a thin layer of the pot, a shallow line can disappear.  The drier the slip and the pot, the cleaner the line will appear when you are scraping. This is what a partially scraped inlaid piece looks like (black and a little blue in porcelain)inlaid slip partially scraped away

Here is an example of Jeanne’s. jeanne's inlaid slip after scraping (black in terra cotta)Here is the tray in inlaid for the last workshop. It is glazed in Shaner clear mixed with Temoku.


inlaid slip glazed in shaner clear mixed with Temoku

Here are a couple more examples of (really great) student work!mark's final snake designjeanne's designSeeing this last example reminds me to tell you that:

A.. this technique is great for a delicate and intricate design and 

B. CLAY BURRS- these are the bane of any sgraffito-er’s existence. You must have the patience to let them dry before you try to get them off otherwise they will stick back down onto your pot. Usually they dry pretty quickly as they are so small and sticking up, they get a lot of air around them.

Once they are dry, you can easily knock them off with a brush- another caution: DO NOT use a stiff bristled brush or you will scratch your slip surface. I use a makeup brush. These are idea, soft and easy to find – either in a pharmacy or the garbage on moving day!my basic sgraffito tools

Posted 10 years, 3 months ago at 5:37 am.


Week 4 Slip ‘n’ Surfaces

Week 4 of Slip ‘n’ Surfaces


This week we:

Talked about slip application

Didn’t remember to talk about surface preparation (I will now)

Stencils -newspaper resist

Slip transfer – painting onto newspaper

Eric Jensen method reprised with netting

Foot-of-the-week: thrown on foot & pedestal foot

Lip-of-the-week: added coil

Glaze-of-the-week: Shaner White (with a nod to Coleman’s Apple green)


Despite this being the last class 🙁     I feel like I gave out a lot of information this week and there seemed to be something for everyone.

I started by talking about slip application as I had come upon something while I was doing my own work that I know about but it’s not often addressed.

I had made a platter  and when I applied the slip, the slip was fairly thick. I show the (unfired) platter herethick-slip-application

in contrast to the (bisked) rabbit casserolecasserole-detail-fine-slip

which had  a thinner slip application due to the slip being of a thinner, slightly more watery consistency. It’s easier to do finer work with a thinner layer of slip. If you have to draw your lines and do your carving through a 16th of an inch of slip, it is easier to be more clumsy and also to break off little chunks – pointy tips of leaves, etc. You also tend to get more texture when you are carving through a thicker application of slip. It’s hard to see here as I don’t have a good, in-focus photo of the bird platter. 

I then meant to talk just a little about preparing surfaces for slip- I like to eliminate throwing rings with a metal rib when I am throwing and to smooth away the canvas marks with a soft rubber rib when I am handbuilidng. If you are going to put in a drawing or pattern, you don’t need an uneven surface interfering with your image.

Conversely, sometimes a nice layer of slip can hide flaws in a surface.


I did again my popular “Birches” demo where I lay down strips of newspaperbirches-strips-of-newspaper-laid-down-for-stencil and paint over them with blue. Karin immediately did a wonderful fern stencil.pulling-off-the-fern-leafafter-the-fern-leaf-has-been-pulled-up

Doesn’t that look cool?


I took another porcelain tray that was almost too dry to demonstrate newspaper slip transfer. I painted on the paper and then scratched through the dotsleaves-painted-on-newspaper-for-transfer

 and pressed it onto the surface of the tray. I had little success until I got the tray a bit wetter and the soaked the back of the newspaper sprayed-the-back-of-the-paper-to-release-the-painted-on-slip to encourage the slip to migrate onto the clay surface. Then I did it again with black slip.

finished-transfer-trayActually I did a little more to it so it looks better.

Foot-of-the-week: thrown on foot & pedestal foot

I then reprised the Eric Jensen method but with netting (avocado bag and onion bag) nettingpressed into the slip before the slab is thrown out. Really, I was just trying to make a bowl to throw a foot onto.(also already seen in this blog)  I think it was quite successful.netting-pattern-stretched-out

and then on! to a tiny pedestal foot – I just made a little pinch pot and the foot was a very small ball of clay pressed to make a hemisphere and attached to the pot.pedestal-footpedestal-foot-view

Lip-of-the-week: added coil

For this I made another little pinch pot, rolled a coil and then ran a damp sponge the length of it to smooth it and also to give it more of a “thrown” look.

making-the-rimScored both the edge of the pot and the underside of the coil and pressed it on for a nice finished look.finished-added-rim


Glaze-of-the-week: Shaner White

will actually show quite a bit of detail from slip beneath it but dilute the color- making it almost pastel. I found this out one time when I had a completely senior moment and glazed no less than 9 pots in Shaner White instead of Shaner Clear.

Here is the result:shaner-white-bowlsmind you, I did still wet my pots down to absorb less glaze as I always do for Shaner’s Clear. Sure, my technique is automatic- I just need to get the right bucket!

Not the end of the world.

We also found this piece on the glaze cart and it shows  slip under Shaner White nicely.

shaner-over-oxide-or-slipThis looks like blue and red iron.

But my favorite thing to do is rub it off the raised surfaces and here is the lovely (if I do say so myself) result on B-Clay of Shaner white dipped and rubbed off over Mazerine Blue Slip. inlaid-shaner-white-glaze-vase-thorns-guy-nicol-photinlaid-shaner-white-glaze-vase-berries-guy-nicol-photYou can see that it’s uneven. Also, the photo makes the clay just a bit more orange than it really is. (Nice photos by Guy Nicol)

Here is another piece found on the glaze cart-  Coleman green over carved black slip. as  you can see it is transparent. But also very






Student work,

Here is Terry’s foray into wipe away etching. Note how she had a colored slip over the clay and the wax protected it. terry's-wiped-away-wax-etching-over-colored-slip

Here is Nina’s carved oxide piece all finished:

 I think it turned out nice!ninas-finished-piece-clear-over-black-oxideUnder clear. If you check that last post you can see this pot bisked.

 And last but not least, Nina’s fascinating inlaid slip. the twist is, she inlays it into black slip which was applied early on and burnished. That’s why there are two shades- some is scraped where she was cleaning up the inlay. She used a syringe to inlay the white slip. Good idea, eh? and neat pattern!ninas-white-slip-inlaid-into-black-slip-over-stoneware

So thank you everyone for wonderful contributions and participation. It was really a great class that I looked forward to every week. What a pity it was only 4 weeks!

Posted 10 years, 6 months ago at 6:31 pm.

Add a comment

Week 3 Slip ‘n’ Surfaces

What we did this week:

Inlaid Slip

slip trailing (unsuccessful)

foot-of-the-week: over a rolling pin

lip-of-the-week: stamped  or paddled

glaze-of-the-week: josh green


We had a really good time inlaying slip and everything else was a bit of a wash.

What you need for inlaying slip is either a drawing stylus of some sort- the wooden sticks I like so much, for example. Or a shape or texture to press in. This can be anything from lace, to a cookie cutter to a wheely tool you find at the junk store (thank you so much Nina!!) The latter was SUPER fun to play with and ideal for inlaying slip.


You also need a fairly even surface (no throwing rings for example) on a leather hard pot.

Carve in or press in your design and then  paint slip into the lines in  whatever color you desire. I have already written about this in another blog entry.


Then, and this is key!!, Let your piece get almost bone dry. It can get all the way bone dry but it is very brittle then. I think if you have just a hint of moisture left in the pot, it is a little more resilient and holds up better to the scraping you will be doing.testing-the-slips-dryness

Once the surface is chalky dry you  take a metal rib and scrape off the excess slip in long even strokes. scraping-off-the-excess-slip

IF the surface is too wet, the clay will just close over your lines and your inlaid slip won’t show. It will look “blurry”.

Here is a piece Nina and I did together with that tool.finished-inlay-pattern-from-ninas-cool-tool


I then tried to do slip trailing with what I thought was pretty thick slip but it still ran way too much.  Then I tried to blot it with a newspaper and reapply the excess as a transfer. What followed was a very amusing discussion of rorschark prints. This was one of those cases where you have to learn from the teacher’s mistakes and get the principle of the thing as there is no success from which to take example.



lip-of-the-week: stamped  or paddled

If your lip is sufficiently thick, you can take a stamp or some sort of texture and go around the lip pressing into it.  It gives the lip a texture and compresses it and also, in that it has its own character, it gives it some presence which is sufficient to give a starting and ending to the vessel.



foot-of-the-week: over a rolling pin

This too was an unsuccessful demo- as much due to the shortness of the clay (poor batch of reclaim) as my ineptitude. Once you have the base of the pot established, you tap it down over a dowel or rolling pin. then turn it 90 degrees and do that again-the result being kind of an inset cross and 4 “pods” or legs. I realized after doing it on a bowl that it is so much better on a closed form as it deforms the inside bottom. It worked wonderfully on my little “cow” pitcher. tapping-on-a-braced-dowel


glaze-of-the-week: Josh Green

Although I failed to talk about this wonderful glaze, I had brought an example and certainly I can make up for that lack in my blog.

Josh Green is in some ways a super fussy glaze in that any little drip or overlap will show- it is exactly opposite of Shaner clear in that way but  it also has a great breaking quality and shows off Red Iron (in oxide or slip form) very nicely as you can see in the lid of this inlaid box. inlaid-slip-fish-box

Here I put it over iron oxide which was wiped into the “cracks” in my giant urn. photo before, tall-ewer-with-red-iron-oxide-painted-and-wiped-into-seams

after the-big-urn-glazedbig-urn-detail


What’s wonderful about Josh is that it so often looks like the patina of an old bronze for example and is really my fall back choice  for stoneware when I want to show off a texture or desire  a more matte glaze than Celadon. It is somewhat unpredictable but I find it consistently falls within a range of results, all of which are acceptable outcomes for my pots.

*Josh Blue is less transparent and just not as interesting to me as the green.

Posted 10 years, 7 months ago at 4:55 am.

Add a comment

Week 2 Slip ‘n’ Surfaces

What we did this week: 


wipe away wax etching

line sgraffito

negative space sgraffito

foot-of-the-week: peg legs

lip-of-the-week: tool planed lip

glaze-of-the-week: celadon


We had an added bonus this week as Nina shared her results from a wax etching technique.


(nina’s temoku bottle)

You paint wax in any kind of design on bone dry porcelain  before-wiping-with-wax-applied

You can use B clay too; I don’t recommend stoneware or any grogged clay as wiping those clays raises an unattractive gritty surface.

Once the wax has thoroughly dried, take a quite wet sponge and start wiping the surface as you want to wash and wipe the the top layer of the surface away. The wax will protect the clay under it.after-wiping

You can even do it over colored slip as this person did. wax-etching-over-colored-slip-on-porcelain


What I wanted to demonstrate in this class was the 2 basic types of sgraffito: line drawings where the decoration is the line which is the color of the clay underneathunfired-line-drawings-sgraffito-glynnis

 This is black slip over porcelain

and the opposite of that where one carves away negative space, leaving one’s images out of the colored slip. This latter is the type that I usually, yes I look old- my son took this)

I recommend using wooden sticks instead of needle tools for line drawings as they have a much nicer line quality and don’t raise a burr-even a nice sharpened pencil will do. 

I also use a fluffy makeup brush for clean up (you can see both tools on the left side of the photo); waiting until the little burrs are stiff and dry and then brushing them away with the big soft brush. A stiffer brush could scratch your slip or push the burrs of slip back down onto the surface, re-adhering them.


foot-of-the-week: peg legs

Last week I talked about peg legs but had no images. This week I demo’d them again.

To make sure your legs are all the same size, make your balls of clay all at once and make them uniform.rolling-into-balls-allows-you-to-make-sure-theyre-all-equal Then roll them into legs.rolling-simple-peg-legs

Score both the surface of the pot and also the leg where it’s going to attach. I use water to adhere.


Once the legs are on, you can make sure they are even and won’t rock despite not being able to turn over your wet pot,  by setting a board on top of your upside down form.handy-leveling-technique


lip-of-the-week: tool planed lip. 

One of the options for a lip on a hand built or (less common) a thrown piece is the machined lip.


I demonstrated both these tools as ways of finishing lips on handbuilt pieces.

I like them both although I have much more experience with the Sure Form which you can buy in any hardware store.

The other  (an “edge rounding tool”) gives a much smoother, burnished finish than the Sure Form and also compresses as it goes. I ordered mine for roughly 20$ from Bailey’s Ceramic supply. 

Neither of these should be used on very wet work. They really work best (or at all!) on leather hard pots. And don’t forget! The Sure Form only works in one direction but it corners beautifully.

I don’t have any good photos of the results. I’ll try to rectify that in the future.


glaze-of-the-week: celadon

This is a very dependable fallback glaze. It looks great on stoneware and has a lovely clear green-tinted quality. The big benefit of Celadon is it is clear enough to show your designs but doesn’t look dead on stoneware as Shaner Clear does. It doesn’t absorb iron like the Shaner does and it looks great over blues and greens.

Here it is over the-finished-layered-slip-octopus-under-celadonHere it is over blue and green and white. This is from when I layered 3 slips (first white, then green then blue) on stoneware.

We also had some really cool student work this week that I thought I’d show:

This is Jamie’s inlaid oxide under Celadon piece

Terry’s delightful foray into slip carving (unfired)terrys-slip-carved

And Nina’s discovery that you can “slip carve” with oxide if your pot is too dry to apply slip!sgraffitod-oxide

This is black oxide on porcelain applied and carved bone dry  (don’t inhale the dust!)

Finally, we got back  the demo piece from last week showing what Shino water over white slip on stoneware looks like:white-slip-over-stoneware-with-shino-waterSadly, this is the ONLY photo of it intact as I was traveling home with too many loose pots on the back seat and had to slam on my brakes and even though many ugly pots survived, this one now has a chip out of the rim. 🙁  Note the Shino Glaze on the rim and some orange blushing but I didn’t leave any actual glaze on the inside.

Posted 10 years, 7 months ago at 7:51 pm.

Add a comment

Slip ‘n’Surfaces, Week 1


Hi everyone! Welcome to Slip’n’surfaces; a four week class on surface decoration.

Since I believe that surface decoration must enhance form and form should enhance the surface decoration – in short they must work together and compliment eachother, I decided I wanted to address a couple of key areas of functional pots. I  decided to do: 

Foot-of -the -week


and also a Glaze-of-the-week    

as I have fielded a lot of questions about what glazes look good over and show off various surface decorations.

For my first demonstration I did again, the Eric Jensen Method of throwing out a slab. This is show in my blog entry Handbuilding week 1.

I brought in “sketches”  which are examples of work I did in 1997. I have an ancient web page with photos of the large work on it- to see them, click here.

The Lip-of-the-week was a simply rolled over lip – I don’t have a picture but in handbuilding or throwing you can take a thin lip and roll it over to give an extra thickness and a nice curve to the rim without adding weight to the pot.

The Foot-of -the -week was 3 “pods” – added feet to give some stability and height to an otherwise round bottomed drop dish.mayan-pot-ad-500-pinchpot-tripod-legs-animal-headThis tiny  Mayan pot shows the basic idea.

Glaze-of-the-week was actually  my favorite two glazes for over delicately carved slip and that was Shaner Clear and  Shino water.


Shaner Clear:

For porcelain* I give the pot a good wiping with a  very wet clean sponge so that it soaks up less glaze. I use a sponge so I have more control as to where the water goes (as opposed to just holding it under a faucet) I don’t want to soak a thin rim or it won’t have the ability to absorb any glaze.

Shaner Clear is a very forgiving glaze. Drips, dabs, patches all disappear and smooth out in the firing.

(all the rest of the photos on this blog entry are pots made by me)

Shaner clear thin over black slip

Shaner clear thin over black slip

The reason I thin it is that if it is on too thick it looks milky and makes the slips lighter in color- for example the black looks more like a blue-gray.

*Porcelain tends to absorb glaze more quickly and therefore more glaze than stoneware.

I prefer the shino water instead of Shaner clear over stoneware as clear leaves the stoneware a kind of dead-looking gray. Below you see that gray only in the lines cut through the white slip down to the stoneware underneath. It’s the only photo I could find with clear over stoneware as I dislike it so much.


Shino Water:


Shino water often turns bare stoneware orange. The water leaves no thicker coating and so the texture of slip carving is highly visible. 

okay, right now I can’t find a photo of shino water over slip on stoneware but I have plenty of:

Shino over porcelain 

dsc00019Above is shino water over porcelain with black slip.

or porcelain slip  over stoneware can also go orange :stoneware drop plate with white layer of porcelain slip under black slip oak leaf -shino glazeThat is all for this week!

Posted 10 years, 7 months ago at 6:57 pm.

Add a comment


Birch work  -Slip resist with sgraffito’d details..

Because porcelain tends to slump when it is so horizontal, I use stoneware in a slump mold. (I’ve found various delightful molds at the junk store.)painted-stoneware-in-slump-molds

As soon as I put the slab in the mold, I cover the surface with white slip.


Because I am working with two different clays- stoneware in the mold and porcelain slip- there is a slightly different shrinkage and I want the two clays to bond as much as possible when they are the wettest.


After the piece gets near leather hard, I tear up a bunch of newspaper strips and wet them and the surface of the tray. Wetting them helps them to stick down to the piece. The “frondy” edges of the torn paper also tend to stick more than a cut edge.

After they are down I apply a contrasting slip- in this case blue-


and after letting it set up until it is no longer shiny but long before it dries, I pull up the strips.


Here it is with all the strips pulled up. 


you can see places where the blue slip “snuck” under the paper- I will either draw over it or carefully scrape it off the white.

After that, I go back in with a drawing stick and define at least one edge of the tree  (thanks to Stephanie M. for that suggestion)and make all those little marks that are so distinctive to birches.


This one (above)  is not even dry-certainly not fired or glazed. 

Glazing- I thought I would try a clear glaze on one

(here it is- some small  piece of the kiln stuck to it)

small-birch-tray-clear-glazeand on another, some soda ash water for a matte finish with possible orange flashing. 

long-birch-tray-shino-waterI have tried quite a few finishes on these trays. 

I’m trying to find something that enhances it by turning the carved lines brown (as opposed to the gray of the clear glaze above) but without changing the white of the birches. I’ve not been completely successful.

Here’s what I’ve got so far:

Under Celadon- glossy finish…y’know, I think I painted red iron oxide into the lines on this one and wiped it off.

birch-under-celadonUnder shino and wiped off lightly- matte finishbirch-under-shino-wiped-offunder Rutile Blue and (badly?) wiped off- matte finishbirch-under-rutile-blue-wiped-off


This next one below, took too long and I worried too much. This is shino wiped off and then clear painted on. If those two meet, they look awful together, bubbling, etc. NOTE* upper left corner, you can see where the slip did not bond to the stoneware- it can be a problem- and flaked off. Darn!

birch-shino-wiped-off-and-clear-painted-onbut of all the finishes (and this is just a little too matte) this is probably what I was shooting for.

Posted 10 years, 8 months ago at 5:10 am.

Add a comment

Handbuilding Weeks 5 & 6

Yes, yes I got behind! But at the end there is a bonus of a workshop I did of inlaid slip into Terra Cotta Pavers


Handbuilding Week 5 

Darting  vessels and adding clay into cuts

Okay so I’m really hooked on the brayer as a method of sealing the clay onto itself.  Darting is where you cut a slit or a leaf shape or a triangle out of the piece and close up the gap to change the shape of your pot.

Darted Tall Pitcher

I made a basethe-base-b4-darting

and darted it at the bottom. Where I wanted it wider, I slit it, spread it apart and added a triangle of clay. any time I attached clay to clay, I thinned it so the walls would basically be the same thickness all round.

Here it is, awaiting a triangle of clay to be added.base-after-darting-bottom-and-opening-top

In retrospect, I wouldn’t have darted it down there. I think it made it a lot weaker. Where I wanted it narrower, I cut slits and folded them overlapping. After I got the base attached, I darted in the top part and then added several more tiers. You can see on the right where I’ve made a slice and will thin that and then fold it in to overlap and make the opening narrower.


I just kept adding wide strips of  slightly hardened slabs and finally added a handle. The piece turned out quite tall. 

Then I scored and wet it a bit. To press it together, I used a brayer which gave me a great surface quality.

I supported on the inside and went over the area-to-be-joined with a brayer; pressing it down and bonding it together.

I also used the brayer at a slight angle on either side of the handle.

and Voila! a huge piece!


Darted Bowl

This is a great and simple project. I took a circle and made 4 cutscircle-with-4-cuts

I brayer-ed the edges to make them thinner so they are less likely to have the strength to warp away from the joint and also to have a consistent thinness throughout the bowl.brayer-ing-edges-2b-thin

Then I fold them up and overlapped them.


Added matching feet and there I have a nice serving bowl. The white mark is the slip that I put my signature on.

the feet have the same casual look and construction to match.

the feet have the same casual look and construction to match.






Faceting, slip transfer, sgraffitto


Faceting a vertical vessel

So, you can get springs in all shapes and sizes from, say,  the back of a spiral notebook to the inside of a ball-point pen. It’s a good idea to stretch these out a bit as too tight a coil has too high a profile so the clay gets caught in the narrow spaces between the coils in stead of cutting cleanly through.stretched-spring-wire-springabove is (from bottom to top) a spring that has not been stretched at all, a regular wire (you can also use a cheese cutter )for flat cuts and that same type spring all stretched out and ready to use.

Start by making a very basic vessel. I just shoved the end of this dowel rolling pin into a rectangle- it could be a round shape.beginning-vessel-to-be-faceted

After I opened it a bit,rolling-a-little-to-open-the-vessel

I took the stretched out fine spring that someone got at a resource center and cut in various ways down the thick walls.

beginning-the-faceting-cutAt one point I cut all the way through but I just reattached that and re-cut it shallower.


You can change directions with the wire or let one end curve ‘round to make a dynamic pattern.


I also made little glaze test pots out of the pieces I sliced off.pieces-made-from-cut-off-pieces

Mary Ellen had a really good time with the wire.mary-ellen-facetingmes-result


Student Work

Roya is working on a piece that looks pretty fabulous 


plus look at how great her slip painting turned out- this is blues and greens under Celadon.royas-lovely-painterly-dish

Leah is making an old man jug that has a great expression!leahs-pitcher-in-progressleahs-grandpa-pitcher-faceShe toned down the paps later on.


Transferred Slip Design

Another thing we tried this week was transferring slip.

I threw out a slab of stoneware and then covered it with white slip.

Then, using black slip, I painted a tree on a piece of newspaper and then pressed it onto the slab.slip-transfer-just-b4rubbing-it-onpulling-off-the-newspaper Not all the slip stuck but that gave it a cool texture and look.

I plan to build a house like box with this slab. Remember my shadows of trees on buildings entry? (here)

For my last demo, I gave a quick lesson on sgraffitto since it is the main kind of work I do. I painted the surface with slip, drew an image on it and carved away all the negative space. You can see photos of this on my “How to make a Picture Vase” entry.


After class I taught a Terra Cotta Pavers workshop. They came out so great that I took pictures and thought I’d add that technique to this entry.

Inlaid colored clay

Start with two colors of clay; in this case I wanted to inlay high fire white into Terra cotta. I had students draw life size pictures and then lay thin coils of the white clay over their drawings. This even worked exceptionally well for a 4 year old & mom team.* note if you do words, lay them out in mirror writing or they will be backwards!

After you have your pattern laid out,face-beforeput a fairly thick pad of clay over the coils. These were extra thick as they are meant to be garden pavers (stepping stone type things). Once they are in place, pound the back evenly with your fist or the flat of your hand. You may also use a rolling pin.

Then just flip them over!inlaid-face-afterIt’s hard to make a bad one!



Lastly, I have added “after” photos to several entries as I’ve gotten the pieces back from the glaze kiln. Check out how Inlaid Slip turned out!

Posted 10 years, 8 months ago at 7:40 pm.

Add a comment

Handbuilding Week 4

Discussion of “transparent” Glazes, Slab “Wrapping”, Sprigging 

For Week 4

A discussion of glazes and group glazing

2 pitchers made of overlapping slabs

Sprigging a small pinch pot

We went into the glaze area and looked at the glazes that are and are not going to let slipped surface decorations show through. 

Here is a list of the best ones (in order somewhat ) that will let the slip show through.

1. Shaner Clear – BUT bare stoneware looks gray. Porcelain looks white. *

2. Celadon– anemic on porcelain but almost as good as clear certainly it will tinge your colors green. A fairly forgiving glaze.

3. The Shinos if they are thin- best is Shino water you can also use Soda Ash water. Stoneware goes Orange-y. You can apply it with a brush or a sponge and you can sponge it off.

4.The Josh’s– I prefer Josh Green as it’s lighter and offers a bit more contrast but every drip and double thickness will show. Josh is fussy that way.

5. Shaner White – colors will look a little pastel-ly or washed out under  this.* note that BOTH the Shaner glazes like to “eat” (absorb) iron and if you use red iron, it can disappear completely under a Shaner glaze.

Glazes from the front room: Rutuile Blue – I’ve gotten some nice results from this; and Randy’s Green **which is not food safe.

After this point, The glazes below can let slip show but it will be in a limited capacity and they should be applied thinly:

Aviva Blue and Temoku

We also talked about application. It is possible to thin your glaze coat by rinsing your pot in water briefly just before dipping it- then it absorbs less glaze.


Slab “Wrapping”

This was inspired by a couple of pieces I have that were made by  Robert Yost and I bought at Lill in the mid 1990’s.

robert yost sugar and creamer

I demonstrated by making  a  couple of vessels that involved overlapping slabs

It’s a nice aesthetic touch to thin the edges with a rolling pin or brayer (thanks Jason!)It’s easier to bond them  and they’re less likely to warp up if they are thinner.

using-a-rolling-pin-to-thin-the-edge1Then I took those slabs and just started trying them out until I got a shape I liked. then I attached them to a base and overlapped the thinned out edges.


Now, how to firmly bond these flaps together and keep that “untouched” quality as well as letting the seam show? I used the brayer against the dowel which was on the inside for support. This gave a great surface quality.


after we had a basic container, I decided to fold over the top and enclose the space more.

folded-over-to-enclose-the-form1 I ended up inserting the dowel inside the pot (where my hand wouldn’t fit) and rolling the brayer over it. It was exactly what we needed to maintain surface continuity.

brayer-to-bond-the-clay-dowel-inside-for-support1Then I folded over the back and did it again

dowel-method2This gave us a pot with tremendous attitude and posture. As its personality emerged, I realized it need some feet.

cutting-away-some-of-the-foot2Then after smoothing it some with the brayer, I tapped the foot on an immobilized dowel to emphasize those legs.

tapping-on-a-braced-dowel2Here is how it looks afterwards.

the-result-of-tapping-on-the-dowel2 Now it was time to add a handle. Again, we wanted the handle to be consistent in look and surface quality with the rest of the pot so instead of pulling a handle, I once again used the brayer.


I also wanted to show how to make a hollow handle that would have also suited this method. 

I threw out a slab and really rolled the edges thin. then I simply rolled it up-

beginning-to-roll-a-hollow-handle2and curved it. once it was curved, it was strong enough to withstand the brayer treatment to seal down the edge of the overlap.

gently-curve-it-as-you-close-it2Then  I attached it to a much less successful piece and braced up the handle to dry a little back to back with the other one.

supporting-the-handles-as-they-dry-hollow-handle-on-the-left2I have since modified the pot on the left as I thought it was proportionally ugly.




Sprigging is a traditional surface decoration and it just takes a little practice to get good at it. With a mold it’s a nice way to get a repeating raised pattern. These look good under breaking glazes like Temoku,  Celadon,Josh Green or Shino (there are other too).

I made a couple of very casual sprigging molds last week and they got bisked.

sprigging-molds2They are pretty shallow.

You make a small coil of clay and smear it down into the mold. It’s key to leave a small part fat so you have something to grasp to pull it out.

smear-the-clay-down-into-the-mold-leaving-a-thickness-to-grasp2as soon as it’s pressed in there, pull it up again- the mold will dry it out if you leave it in there and it needs to be flexible to come out in one piece and also to curve to fit the surface of your pot.

pull-it-out-while-its-flexible2once it’s out you can clean it up a little but the back surface should be thin enough to just blend on to the surface of the pot.

this-is-fine2with such fine pieces, you needn’t score- just wet the surface. 

wet-the-surface-and-then-use-a-brush-to-blend-it-onto-the-surface2I’ll try to insert a photo of this piece when it’s finished.


I also wanted to show Leah’s Jug-in-progress- maybe we can watch it as it develops.

She’s made the base out of coils and is going to let it firm up a bit before adding on top of that. It’s quite difficult to make a large coil pot all at one go. The coils at the bottom need to firm up in order to support the weight of the coils above.


and Roya’s really cool vase! Isn’t that a neat idea? and the flowers can be supported in the various openings.

royas-piece2See how she “faked” it to look like there is a ribbon of clay threading out through the vase wall? I see possibilities for a series here as she explores this idea.

Posted 10 years, 9 months ago at 4:56 pm.

Add a comment

Handbuilding Week 3

Extruder, coils, Inlaid slip


For Week 3 I demonstrated:

How to use the Extruder – I made coils for a 

Coil pot- face jug

Inlaying slip- surface decoration of last week’s boxes

Thanks to Roya our photographer this week!

The extruder is a good tool to make long, even coils or even hollow tubes.


One of Lill's 2 extruders

One of Lill's 2 extruders

These can be handy for any project where you need even sized or a large quantity of coils, handles or production of tiles among other things as with all things clay, the possibilities are endless.

I only caution you that because the clay is being processed by a machine, if you do not transform it, it will lose that “touched” quality and also its connection to us humans because of surface quality and scale. It is different than throwing even though that uses a machine and also different from pulling a handle or rolling a coil where the chief “tool” is our hands.


Set up the extruder by choosing a template  (there is a box with many shapes and sizes to choose from)


and, if there are 4 holes,

4-choicesputting a screen over 3 of the openings.


Then bolt the template and screen firmly to the bottom of the extruder. Use to the tool to tighten it or clay will leak out.


Wedge up your clay and make it into a sqare shape by tapping it against the table.

clay-shapped-to-fit-in-barrelPlace it in the barrel of the extruder and position the plunger over it and bear down with a steady pressure.

the-extruder-readyto make a hollow extrusion, you use two parts- a “float” that sits in the middle of your template or jig attach as before and proceed 

extruding-a-hollow-formThe clay is under such pressure that it rejoins on the other side of the float. Here is the end view of the extrusionhollow-extrusion

I made a quantity of plain coil


and we went to make a coil pot.


Start with a base the shape you want your pot to be (in this case round) it helps to work on a turntable (I didn’t- so it is not pictured here)

coil-pot-baseStart your coil at one end, do not attempt to pre-make rings to stack up. They are harder to fitcoil-beginning

It helps the coils adhere to eachother if you score and wet your coils as you go along.scoring-coil

You can smooth just the interior

smoothing-int-wallor just the exterior to bond the coils. of course doing both in and out makes it the strongest.

I’m using a small wooden rib for the smoothing.


I added more coils going inward to narrow the opening


The Jomon people were the first potters. They were fishermen living in what is now Japan.

Here are two links with photos of the pots.



reminded-of-the-jomonI decided to make a traditional face jugmouth-waiting-for-eyes


Here is the finished goofy guy- I gave him a kewpie doll hair do but he needs a handle.



Our surface decoration demo this week was inlaid slip. I used the boxes I made last week. They were quite hard but NOT bone dry. They were still leather hard.

I incised a pattern in the surface with a stick tool.

engraving-patternThen I painted slip into the lines (in this case iron red as I plan to use Josh Green glaze)

applying-slipI let it dry until it was not shiny nor sticky. Then I took a metal rib and scraped off the slip on the surface, leaving only  the slip that was down in the engraved lines.

scraping-off-excess-slipHere is what it looks like finished. I will try to put in a picture of the finished product.

Here it is glazed!


This is Iron Red slip under Josh Green



We also talked about GLAZING

Things to remember when glazing:

Read all the signs

Watch for runny glazes, the samples are coded yellow or red for dangerous runs

Wipe off the bottoms of your pots!

Remember glazes have more potentially toxic ingredients especially when they are dry so do wet clean up with a sponge, wash your hands, no sanding or rubbing dry glazes!

Posted 10 years, 9 months ago at 8:25 pm.

Add a comment

Week 1 Handbuilding



Drop plates and the “Eric Jensen Method” of throwing slabs.


For week 1 of Handbuilding, I demonstrated :

Throwing a slab,

Making a drop plate

The Eric Jenson method of putting slip on a slab

Double pinch pot method (please see class 1 of my First Time potter blog)

Making a slab into a cylinder

Putting feet on a slump- molded form


BIG thanks to Leah for taking these pictures! 


Throwing a slab is not as easy as it looks but just takes a little practice.

Wedge your clay in a spiral wedge

spiral wedging

and then flatten it to about an inch and a half.

last-roll-10How the pre-thrown piece of clay should basically look

Then throw it down on the table but as you throw it, try to drag the back edge so it catches on the canvas and stretches as it tried to slide across the surface.

just before I throw it down on the table

Pick up the piece from a different side so the piece is rotated and throw it again. Take care not to hit the leading edge of the slab down first or it will just wrinkle up.rotating the piece

continue doing this until your slab is the desired thickness. I don’t recommend making the clay too thin or it will be too weak to build with.

last-roll-03Then smooth the surface and eliminate the cracks and canvas texture by gently “wiping” the surface with a rib.

Using a soft red rib to smooth the surface


Eric Jensen did a demonstration of his technique years ago at the old Lill Street when he still had a studio there.

Prepare the clay as above but stop when it is at the inch and a half stage.

At this point apply slipapplying white slip

and then gently apply a single thickness of newspaper to it to absorb the moisture of the slip. We are trying to “dry out” the slip so that it is less plastic than the clay body underneath it.


When you see the moisture has soaked the newspaper sheet, careful peel it off and apply a new one. Some slip may come away stuck to the paper.

Keep applying paper until your slip is no longer shiny and you can touch it without it adhering to your finger.

the dried slip on the clay before the slab is thrown


You may then add a second color slip or make lines in the slip.

adding a second color of slip


Then throw it out as you would a regular slab 

mid throw-stretching it out right side up


you can not flip it over. you must keep the slip side up.

here is the final result:

ready to be made into a plate

the final product with celadon glaze

here is another series:Pulling off the first piece of newspaper- note how some slip is stuck to itwhite slip dripped on toplines are cut through the slip layer using a small spiked wheelthe slab is thrown out

the final result sitting in a junk store oval moldclose up 

close upnote how the slip has cracked. This is because when we dried it, it became less plastic. When we stretched the slab it cracked rather than stretching.

Once it is stretched out, you get a wonderful distressed surface that you can leave plain or add further decoration to.

final result-with-josh green over (it sagged)



These are all drop plates.

examples of drop plates

Basically you put a slab of clay over or into a drop mold–It is easiest to transfer the slab by carrying it on a piece of newspaper.

carrying the slab on a piece of newspaper

If your mold is nonporous, the clay will stick to it if you don’t put newspaper or plastic over the mold

a mold prepared with newspaper

 — and then drop the mold so the clay sinks down into it without you having to press it in. If you must press it in, use the softest, largest part of your hand- the heel of your hand.

gently pushing the clay down into the mold

So many things can be used as drop plate molds. Trays from the junk store, Styrofoam with a hold cut in it- after I put the clay on, I cut out the leaf shape,

cutting a leaf shape on a simple styrofoam mold

or even make your own mold with coils of clay on a board as I did for this piece. 

coils are set onto a round board to make a mold.the piece sitting on newspaper on the mold made with coils of clay



This is one of my student’s pieces – I think it looks great!

M.E.'s piece with Red Iron slip under some white

Posted 10 years, 10 months ago at 7:27 pm.

Add a comment