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Addition and Subtraction: Slip Trailing and Carving for Raised and Recessed Surface Decoration

Posted By Katey Schultz On May 12, 2010 @ 10:00 am In Carving Tools,Daily,Features | 15 Comments

Serving bowl, 10 in. (25 cm) in diameter, thrown, carved and dotted porcelain, fired to Cone 10 in reduction, 2007, $160.

There are many reasons for the aesthetic choices artists make. Emily Reason chooses repetitive marks in part because she finds the action of making these decorations meditative. Emily is inspired by Sung Dynasty porcelain and the beautiful North Carolina Mountains that surround her. She tries to make her celadon blues “like the sky,” her greens “like the grass,” and her blacks “rich and velvety, like the night.” To fully integrate the glazes with the form and surface, Emily adds texture through both additive and subtractive methods. Today I am presenting an explanation of her slip trailing and carving techniques. We’ll also show you the homemade tool she uses to create the “pleats” on her pots. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.



Teapot, 8 inches (20 cm) in height, thrown and slip-dotted porcelain, fired to cone 10 in reduction.

On the Surface


“Surface design is a process,” states Emily Reason. “Carving and dots are meditative for me because the work is repetitive and gives me a sense of creating order.”


Emily Reason carves and slip trails her surface designs. The textures she creates are enhanced by the use of celadon glazes. She adorns the pot’s surface at the leather-hard stage.


Reason’s homemade carving tool was modeled after a tool used to create carved patterns on Chinese Yaoware pottery. The L-shaped blade, set in a bamboo handle, is used to create a pleated pattern of lines. For Reason, carving lines is a rhythmic motion that achieves even, consistent marks. The corner of the L, carves into the leather-hard clay, making the deepest part of the recessed line. The tool is effective in achieving a line with depth, allowing the glaze to vary as it pools in the deepest part of the line.


Emily Reason's homemade clay carving tool. Click to enlarge.

Emily Reason's homemade clay carving tool. Click to enlarge.

The clay carving tool in action. Click to enlarge.

The clay carving tool in action. Click to enlarge.

Detail of Emily's L-shaped clay carving tool. Click to enlarge

Detail of Emily's L-shaped clay carving tool. Click to enlarge

*above photos by Ben Walters.

Slip-trailing bulbs and plastic bottles, such as hair-dye bottles with variously sized tips are used to create a dotted surface. Using her porcelain slurry, Reason sieves the clay to a yogurt consistency to make a thick slip. Dots of slip are squeezed onto the pot’s surface with the bulb, much like decorating a cake. Both the carved lines and sharp tips of the dots are smoothed and softened with a damp sponge.


This post was excerpted from Studio Ceramics: Advanced Techniques, which is available in the Ceramic Arts Daily Bookstore!

To learn more about Emily Reason or see more images of her work, visit www.emilyreason.com.

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