Welcome to my second installment of Ceramics and Pottery: Facts and Fancies. In Part 1, I gave a general overview of the scope of the Ceramics and Pottery Category. From raw material to building and finishing, ceramics is a wondrous medium, as rewarding as it is challenging. In this installment, I will explore the processes of ceramics in greater depth, taking you into the studios and shops of some of Etsy’s most talented ceramics artists to see how they decorate and finish their work.
The term decoration refers to the finishing and embellishment of an object, meant to increase its beauty. The approaches to decoration are as widely varying as the individuals who do it. Standard methods are adopted, personalized and expanded upon. Methods can be combined in new ways, and new processes are invented in attempts to get just the right look.
A common method of decoration employs the use of colored slip, clay that has been mixed with water and ceramic pigments — either metallic oxides or special stains. This slip allows for colored designs that occur below the surface of the glaze. Reminiscent of the paper snowflakes of childhood, Eleanor Hedriks of studioelan cuts stencils from folded paper. The paper is laid out on a plate. Colored slip is carefully applied, the paper acting to protect part of the surface from the slip. After a little bit of drying, the paper is removed to reveal her design. (See more of this process on her blog.)
In a method called sgraffito, Jeff Martin applies black slip to white porcelain forms and then carves his dark yet whimsical drawings through the slip and into the clay beneath. The contrasting colors allow for a boldly graphic decoration. (Find out more about this artist on his blog.)
The opposite of sgraffito, Monica Bodnar employs a method called slip inlay. A drawing is carved into the clay when it is leather hard, a stage of dryness in which the clay will hold its shape but is not yet completely hardened. The piece is bisque fired, or fired at a low temperature to the point where it will absorb moisture but not turn back into a malleable (or plastic) material. Colored slip is wiped into the carved lines and then the surface is cleaned off before glazing. Liquid latex is used to protect the areas that are meant to be left clean. (Learn more about this artist’s process on her blog).
Using a method known as slip trailing, chARiTyelise uses a small hand-held squirt bottle fitted with a needle tip to apply a colored slip design of small dots to the surface of her Down Under Rectangular Tray. The pattern appears in both vivid color choices and a tactile dotted texture.
Choosing the slip trailing method strictly for the texure of it, Kristen Kieffer of KiefferCeramics trails white porcelain slip onto her white porcelain pots. This process is combined with her use of texture stamps. In her blog she discusses, “I work with dozens of stamps I both design and make. I also embellish with slip trailing, liquid slip squeezed through a trailer, like small scale cake decorating. Both of these methods of patterning allow for the glaze to break and accent the patterns, further enhancing the piece as a whole.” As shown below, Kieffer’s glazes highlight the patterns and imagery that has been stamped into and squirted onto the underlying surface.
In a similar fashion, my own pots employ a clear colored glaze, designed to highlight the surface decoration. Each pot is cut apart and reassembled, resulting in a pattern drawn through, not on, the pot. The lines created by the seams are accentuated with pooling glaze, causing them to appear darker.
Using texture alone as a decorative element, Seaurchin presses tools into the clay and leaves the surface unglazed, showcasing the beauty of the material itself. In her profile, she explains, “I do not fight with the clay to make neat edges and smooth, even surfaces, preferring instead to leave the tool marks, the raw edges and the natural texture of the clay.”
In making her stunning fruit bowls, isabelleabramson employs piercing and cutouts as an effective and functional decoration. The holes that permeate the bowls allow for moisture and gases to escape from the fruit while lending an exquisite, ethereal quality to the piece.
Perhaps some of the most humorous and witty of the decoration techniques found on Etsy involve overglaze decoration – enamels, lusters, or decals applied to glazed and fired work, which is then fired again to a much lower temperature so that they can fuse with the glaze beneath.
In her outrageous “Vandalized Vintage” line, trixiedelicious adds her quirky, sometimes blunt reinterpretations to old vintage dinnerware.
In her store Foldedpigs, Meredith Host gives restaurant china a macabre twist involving cockroaches, jolly rogers, and anatomical hearts and brains. (You can find out more about Meredith on her website.)
Keith Phillips of KHPhillips discusses his decal process on his blog, “I picked up some great vintage pages torn from an old French encyclopedia right here on Etsy. They had some nifty illustrations on them, which I scanned in and manipulated a little bit and used them to embellish this mug. I print on decal paper with a laser printer, slide them onto glazed ware and fire.”
The laser toner melts into the glaze, yielding a permanent and functional decoration. When applied to his hand thrown and wood fired pottery, the work is given an antique, almost Victorian ornamentation.
A constant explorer, Keith has delved into other image making equipment, such as CraftRobo Stencils and Gocco print transfers.
Using real 23K gold luster, Re Jin Lee of Baileydoesntbark hand-paints her minimal four seasons designs on white glazed plates and cups for an elegant and luxurious result.
When purchasing items with onglaze decoration, it is important to read the description and the profile. Some items are intended for function, such as khphillips‘, while others are meant purely for decorative purposes, such as trixiedelicious. Luster is made for use, but cannot go into the microwave, as it will cause miniature lightning bolts to occur inside the microwave!
Thank you for joining me on this tour through some of the many incredible objects found on Etsy. I would like to stress that even with all of the pieces and sellers shown here, I have barely scratched the surface. If you find this interesting, I encourage you to set out on your own Etsy treasure hunt, through the Ceramics and Pottery Category.
The National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts, NCECA — A community of more than 4,000 ceramic artists in the United States.
DigitalFires Ceramic Library — An encyclopedic guide to the ceramic process, including a glossary of terms, material, and articles on the technical side of glaze chemistry.
Artaxis.org — An evolving independent network of artists, includes several Etsy sellers and a variety of other contemporary ceramic artists who define the field (sculpture and pottery) today.
AccessCeramics — “A growing collection of contemporary ceramics images by recognized artists enhancing ceramics education worldwide,” operated by Lewis and Clark College, Portland, OR. Features many large images and a very user-friendly interface.
Read Part 1 of Ceramics and Pottery, if you missed it. Big thank you to Jeff for sharing his expertise!