Day of the Dead Nicho, 12 in. (30 cm) earthenware with assorted underglazes.

Day of the Dead Nicho, 12 in. (30 cm) earthenware with assorted underglazes.

Nichos are Latin American folk art objects traditionally used to honor a patron saint or deceased loved one. Often they are made with mixed media, but they can also be made out of clay.

 

Lately, potter Tracy Gamble has been working on a series of ceramic Nichos and discovered that commercial sprig molds are perfect for embellishing them. In today’s post, Bill Jones explains Tracy’s process.

 

I particularly thought of all the teachers out there when I saw this project, not only because it is accessible and fun, but because of how nicely it could combine with a social studies or history lesson. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.

 

 

 

 

 


Fig. 1 Using a sprigs from a Day of the Dead mold from Amaco, Tracy adds details and texture.

Fig. 1 Using a sprig from a Day of the Dead mold from Amaco, Tracy adds details and texture.

 

Sprig molds provide a way to quickly add detailed design elements to a piece without sculpting each piece from scratch. And because the clay is still quite malleable when they’re applied, each element takes on a unique quality as it’s handled.

 

Tracy Gamble is currently working on a series of ‘nichos’. Nichos have their origins in Latin America and originally served as shrines, protection, or devotional objects. Traditionally, they held images of the Virgin Mary but contemporary subject matter is more non-traditional and can range from secular content to the humorous.

 

After bisque firing, Tracy applies glaze to a Mimbres-themed nicho.

After bisque firing, Tracy applies glaze to a Mimbres-themed nicho.

 

Nichos are traditionally made from easy-to-find materials such as tin, wood or even cigar boxes decorated with ornate borders, sequins, glitter, chain, rope, paper mache and bric-a-brac.

 

Tracy recognized the potential of capturing these qualities in clay and looked to using sprig molds to achieve the right amount of ornateness she sought. Sprig molds can be made from bisqued clay but are typically made from plaster with several designs grouped on a single mold. For content, you can find most anything from whimsical animals, leaves and decorative elements, to more sophisticated cultural motifs. Most ceramic supply companies sell sprig molds made by a handful of manufacturers, such as Amaco, Creative Paradise, and Mayco.

 

Mimbres Nicho, 9 in (23 cm) earthenware, white opaque matte glaze and a single coat of gloss black painted on top.

Using sprig molds is simple. Take a ball or coil of clay, depending on the overall shape you’re going to create, and press it into the mold. Immediately scrape off any excess with a rubber rib.

 

Note: Do not use metal ribs with plaster molds as they may scrape plaster off the mold and into your clay.

 

Allow the clay to remain in the mold for a few minutes as the surface water is absorbed by the plaster, then use a needle tool to carefully lift it out. Score and slip the sprig to your piece.

 

While Tracy has chosen the nicho to try out different motifs and themes, you can also consider taking one motif and using it across many forms. As you can tell, there are no limits to the possibilities of decorating with sprigs.

 

 

 

 

For more handbuilding inspiration, be sure to download your free copy of
Five Great Handbuilding Techniques: Variations on Classic Techniques for
Making Contemporary Handbuilt Pottery
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