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Published Jan 15, 2024

clay monoprintingI love that printmaking and ceramics mesh so well because I am a big fan of both! From screen printing on clay to lithography on clay, there are lots of ways for artists to get their images onto the ceramic surface.

As Catie Miller demonstrates in today's post, an excerpt from the Pottery Making Illustrated archive, clay monoprinting is a perfect way to transfer hand-drawn designs to round pots. Check out her process and then give it a try for yourself! - Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

Clay Monoprinting—Creating a Design

1 To make multiples of a design, create master tracing templates using markers and newsprint.2 Using a light tablet, place a sheet of newsprint over your template and trace the lines using underglaze in a slip trailer.3 Remember everything that is traced will be transferred in reverse. Be sure to trace any letters backward so they read correctly..

Clay monoprinting allows you to make small-scale production work without the commitment of burning a screen to do silk-screen transfers. The clay monoprinting process begins with a template drawing. Trace the template drawing onto a new piece of newsprint (I use a light table to do this (1)), using a slip-trailing squeeze bottle filled with Amaco Electric Blue Velvet underglaze. I often draw with colors other than the obvious go-to outline color of black because it’s unexpected and removes the association to cartoons.

Each time the template is traced, the result is a hand-drawn transfer with slight variations in line and composition (2). I often trace several transfers with underglaze at a time and store them for later use. I also trace my signature in reverse for the bottom of the mug (3). I leave a flat bottom on the mugs to create an additional place to put a transfer.

Once the underglaze has dried on the newsprint, begin filling in the design with colored slip (4). With the clay monoprinting process, you need to train your brain to think backward and in reverse, so details are painted first and built up in layers, while the background is painted last. Several layers and colors can be added to the newsprint as long as the previous layer has dried to a satin sheen. If the slip is too wet, it will smear as layered and if it’s too dry, it will flake off the paper. I often work on a few transfer designs at a time to balance the drying time (5).

Once all the details are painted and the slip has dried to a skin, apply a layer of white slip over the entire sheet of newsprint to make the background (6).

4 Once the underglaze has dried, use colored slip (white slip with Mason stains) to paint in the design on newsprint.5 Multiple colored slips can be painted on the newsprint. You can also layer colors, working from foreground to background.6 When the colored slips have dried to a satin-sheen, apply the final coat of slip for the background.

Monoprinting - Transferring the Design

Timing is crucial for the transfer to work properly. When the white slip is no longer shiny, it’s ready for the transfer. Hold the mug on the inside and apply the transfer paper from one end. Begin in the center and squeegee out the air bubbles with a soft rubber rib (7). Turn the mug in your hand until the entire transfer is stuck to the mug.

Next, pull off the paper to reveal your design (8). I’m interested in the diversity of the marks left by the clay monoprinting process, including small wrinkles in the paper and areas where the red-clay base peeks through. To ensure the slip is stuck to the clay, take a wooden brayer and roll over the surface to press down any spots that may not be fully adhered (9). Do this same process for the bottom of your mug to include a design and/or a hand-drawn signature (you will have to write the test backwards for it to print properly).9 Gently roll over the image with a pony roller to adhere any parts of the slip design that aren’t fully stuck to the clay.

7 When the slip has dried to a satin-sheen, it’s ready to be applied to the clay form using a rubber rib as a squeegee. 8 As the newsprint is peeled off, the image is revealed. You may need to stop and rerib in places where the slip isn’t sticking. 9 Gently roll over the image with a pony roller to adhere any parts of the slip design that aren’t fully stuck to the clay.

**First published in 2018.