Drawing on Pottery

I’m working my way towards a load of pots to fire in early February.  I need white pots for my Valley Art show, and also to build inventory for summer shows.  I’ve been working with Georgie’s Crystal Springs porcelain – a nice throwing clay.  I have had some losses in handbuilt pots; I’ll have to be more careful if I want to continue to use it…  Drawing texture onto the surface is heavenly  – crisp lines and a nice soft finish.

I decided to make a blog post about how I put imagery on my pots during a recent conversation with another potter.  “You just stamp the whole surface, right? Jeez…  how I wish that I could. I do use some stamps from time to time, as part of a design, but to cover the entire surface of a pot with stamps just isn’t possible even if I wanted to do such a thing.  For the clay to be tender enough to  give a clear stamp image, it must be quite soft, and, you have to have your hand or a tool inside the pot to prevent the wall from being deformed by the pressure.  Work that is thin enough to be pleasant to use is pretty much demolished by all-over stamping.  I speak from experience.

1 Trim the edge

Here’s the lid of a casserole I want to decorate.  I don’t say carve, because that implies a dimensionality to the activity that isn’t there.  I really am just doing a sort of relief drawing – drawing off the top of my head.  I do have some set pieces in my “design vocabulary” – the magnolia/dogwood floral stuff, and a variety of geometric riffs that come easily to my hand.  Doodling.

2 Bending the arcI use  a heavy plastic arc guide if I want to duplicate arcs or curved forms on my pot.  I also use a compass, but this is right for what I have in mind.  You can see that the lid is sitting on a banding wheel, that makes adding certain types of lines very easy.  I have added some edge detail that will look nice where the lid fits down into its’ seat.

3 Lines on TopThe most important part of the design – lines that divides the space – are in place.  I don’t require high accuracy in line placement, allowing a little irregularity makes tedious work bearable and ads a liveliness to the design.  The clay needs to be leatherhard…  it’s consistency completely determines the line quality. I often getting the pots all ready, and bag them for several days until the stage of dryness is just right.

6 Cotton CompleteThis is a new pattern that I think of as “algodon”, cotton.  I make the dots with the green felt-pen body at the top of the image.

8 Brushing the CrumbLater!  I have defined the cotton boll form with back-texture, added a border, and filled spaces.  You can also see that I am using a nice little soft brush to finish my drawing,  There are always crumbs and fine burrs, removing them makes the surface of the pot more beautiful.  The salt will dissolve the finest of them.  The green porcelain is a lovely surface…  I can’t wait to see the fired pots.

9 Finished TopWhen to stop decorating?  Now that’s the $64 question.  When I am decorating my pots, I am creating an imaginary universe that is the object in my hands.  I am it’s Deity, and what I say goes!  Yes, at this time I am terminally afflicted with Horror Vacuii, fear of the unadorned space.  And yes, there really is such a thing…..  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horror_vacui, have a look if you don’t believe me.

10 Bottom DetailNot even the bottom is safe from my tool.  I feel a great affection for the people who buy my pots, voting YES! to all this insanity with their money.  I like to think of him/her, cleaning up after a family feast.  Although my pots are tough; fine in dishwasher and microwave, lots of dishes are still washed by hand.  She/He washes out the inside, and then turns the pot over to finish the washup.  The image pleases, my pot is part of their domestic universe.

11 Finished CasseroleAll done.  I couldn’t leave that knob alone…..

12 Carving ToolPotters, wanna play?  The tool is the Kemper WS, wire stylus.


8 thoughts on “Drawing on Pottery

  1. Nancy Yturriaga

    Wonderful to see this process unfold—and the horror vacuii being rightfully put in its place! There is the extreme pleasure of creating, going with the flow—and allowing the piece to form itself,\.

  2. penny

    I’ve spent my morning with coffee, reading your posts. I think you’re very inspiring and informative and I appreciate your posts! Thank you!

  3. Brenda

    LOVE this, I have a porcelain kiln and have been debating the material, I got it years ago, it works but seriously I have young children and was a teacher for the last 10 years, no time for things of my own, but now decided it was time to quit…be with the kids and maybe do something like this…would love your input recommendations for starter porcelain bodies and glazes and or tricks you have learned 😉

    1. justging Post author

      Hi Brenda,

      Sorry I missed your question sent so long ago! What type of kiln do you have available? I have a very specialized and unusual salt kiln; expensive to build and requiring a rural location because of the clouds of steam and some nasty vapor produced when firing. You can get beautiful results from carving and texturing clay at any temperature… My work is unglazed because the salt kiln supplies the gloss to the work… I do paint the colored work with locally applied slips; eg. gold for the flowers, green for the leaves. As for picking a porcelain, that depends on where you live. There is a regionally supply of many good clays, national distribution of others. I believe that the clay I used for the pieces in the blog post was Georgie’s Ceramic and Clay **Crystal Springs** cone 10. For glazes, any transparent “pooling” glaze will enhance a textured surface. Thanks for reading the blog, Ginger

    1. justging Post author

      Hello, Kathy,
      All my pottery, including the white porcelain pieces shows in my blog, are fired in a salt kiln. They have no glaze; the salt vapor produces a thin glaze which allows all detail to be seen. I use a liner glaze on the inside.
      I think you could get a similar effect on white porcelain by spraying a thin clear or white glaze appropriate to the firing temperature. I have even made white earthenware work with extensive texture and sprayed it with a clear glaze with nice results. IT’s hard for me to get a dipped glaze suitable thin and even. Thanks for writing! and for reading my blog… Ginger

  4. Meta

    Enjoyed very much your comments on incising/carving in clay. I enjoy doing this same thing myself and have had problems with finding a glaze that does not obliterate the decoration. The new Celedon glazes have solved this problem. I also use a thin white glaze dipped in and out.

    1. justging Post author

      Hi Meta… the salt sheen is a perfect finish if a carver has access to a salt kiln. My first work was also incised, and I used a thin celadon glaze to finish it. The white work featured in the piece had a brief existence – I found that the clay I used yielded about a 40% loss from warping, so I only fired one load of it. My customers were not receptive to it as well. I have some of the best pieces from that epoch in my kitchen, and I enjoy them very much. Thanks for reading my blog! Ginger


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