Bigger brushes can be trimmed so that they can hold a lot of material and produce long, fluid strokes.

When I first attempted adding decoration onto my ceramic forms, the task was daunting. I was interested in translating some of my drawings and patterning to my clay, hopefully with reasonable similarity. I had drawn with pens that had reservoir tips to allow for longer, more fluid strokes but the brushes I had at the time seemed clumsy. As with many clay questions, the answer resided in traditional practice.

2–5 David Swensen using an altered bamboo brush to create line work on one of his ceramic forms.

I had seen some examples of brush bristle stacking and traditional brushes with longer and stiffer interior fibers than the exterior hairs on video documentation of cobalt painting in China. After checking the local stores for similar brushes and not really finding what I was after, I turned to fairly inexpensive bamboo brushes purchased from my ceramic supply store.

6 David Swensen’s cup. The black lines on the cup were painted on using a brush that he cut and altered.

I had been happy with the brushes’ ability to flood, or to fill larger areas, but their finer articulations were clumsy. Off to the barbershop to make some alterations! I took a brush, wet the bristles and used scissors to reproduce the haircut I had seen on the finer brushes. At first this felt impulsive, but I was in a hurry to try it out and the results left me very happy. I was not only able to lead longer and more delicate lines, but also still apply pressure for steady transitioning to a fatter line quality. Now, equipped with the right tool, it was a matter of balancing the consistency of the stains with technique, and practice, practice, practice!

the author David Swenson received his BFA from Alfred University before relocating to the Twin Cities in Minnesota in 2009 when he received a Fogelberg Studio Fellowship at Northern Clay Center. Follow @swenwares on Instagram to see more of his work.