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Decorating ceramics is one of the most rewarding aspects of working in clay. It’s the time when you can add color and life to a bare clay surface that can show off your creative talents. There are scores of decorating techniques available and here are five successful techniques that are sure to add that extra flair to your work that will make it a masterpiece. Five Great Pottery Decorating Techniques: A How-to Guide for Decorating Ceramic Surfaces explains the ins and outs of these ever-popular ceramic decorating techniques!
Here’s an excerpt from Five Great Pottery Decorating Techniques: A How-to Guide for Decorating Ceramic Surfaces:
Decorating with Slip and Sgraffito
by Kristen Pavelka
I slip my pots when they look dry but have a small bit of moisture in them. This allows for a relatively even coating of slip, yet it dries a bit slower giving me time to complete my sgraffito before the slip starts to chip when scratched. Because the slip dries quickly, I have to work fast to complete my design, so I plan the patterns ahead of time in a sketchbook or by drawing with a soft pencil on the unslipped plate itself. Once I’ve decided on a pattern, I can begin slipping. Holding the plate vertically, I pour the white slip onto the middle of the plate using a large ladle, turning the piece clockwise until the entire face is covered (figure 1). Keep the plate vertical until the slip drips have firmed, then rest the plate on the tabletop and allow the slip to dry for a few minutes until you can touch it without a fingerprint remaining, but while it still feels cold and damp.
Lightly draw a grid on the piece using a soft pencil, like a 2B. Breaking up the space symmetrically on a circular form is a quick and easy way to understand the space. I sometimes draw my pattern on the piece to double check the placement of key elements, but usually I draw directly with my sgraffito tool using just the grid as an aid for placing the design.
My sgraffito tool had a previous life as a dentistry tool and is thicker and duller than a standard needle tool. A long nail with a dull point is a good substitute. The line created is thicker than an X-Acto blade or needle tool and can give a similar line quality as a standard-sized pencil lead. Medium pressure is exerted with the tool tip so that it scratches through the white slip and just barely digs into the red underlying clay (figure 2). I brush a stiff yet soft-bristled brush across the surface of the plate once the design is carved to clean up the edges of the incised lines as well to rid the surface of the slip crumbs (figure 3).
Finally, a Scotch Brite pad is lightly rubbed along the rim to help expose the red earthenware beneath. This final touch helps create a little more depth to the surface once it has gone through the glaze firing. Note: For all three of the above steps that create crumbles or fine powder, wear a mask and work over a bucket of water to minimize the amount of dust entering the air and to make clean-up easier.
Glazing by Numbers
I bisque fire to cone 01, then, to prepare the piece for glazing, give it a good shower under running water to clean any leftover sgraffito dust from the surface. Leave the piece to dry overnight. The first glaze application is much like a paint-by-number painting. Often using two tones of the same color, I’ll load up a small brush with the darker tone and fill in the “pod” shapes. Little pressure is used when painting as the glaze should flow from the brush onto the bisque, eliminating brush strokes (figure 4). I fill the sgraffito lines with this first glaze, which helps eliminate pinholes in the glaze-fired impression. This first layer of glaze is left to dry several hours to overnight.
The second, lighter tone of glaze is then poured on the plate in a similar fashion to the white slip—rotating a vertically held plate clockwise while pouring the glaze in the middle of the piece (figure 5). This second coat is left to dry.
The final glazes are now ready to be applied to the dots using a small soft brush or a fingertip. I can usually see a light indentation of the sgraffito dot through the poured glaze to use as a guide for dot placement. If I am unable to determine where to place my dot within the design, I some- times guess and other times fire the piece and then apply the dots to the fired glaze and refire. The final dots are made up of a lighter-toned large dot with a smaller dark toned dot on top.
The dry, glazed piece is fired to cone 04, held at that temperature for 15 minutes and then fired down to cone 010 before being turned off. This schedule helps to produce a nice satiny finish to the glaze surface.
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