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Published Nov 5, 2012

After pursuing multiple careers that stifled her creative voice, Janice Strawder decided to go back to school for ceramics. While in school, she met Linda Arbuckle, who generously shared her vast majolica knowledge. From then on she was a convert. 

Enamored with the majolica technique for its simple lines and deliberate, repetitive brushstrokes, Janice has been honing the technique ever since. In today's post, an excerpt from the November/December 2012 issue of Pottery Making Illustrated, Janice shares her majolica knowledge, just as Linda did for her. - Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor

Layout and Decorating

For each decorating session, I start with fresh, diluted food coloring, and a liner brush. As I assess the form, I begin to lay out simple geometric divisions that literally describe the form. For example, the cake plate is obviously round. Using a throwing or banding wheel, I lay out various circumferences of circular bands. Next I lay out a square that is inscribed by the edge of the cake plate (figure 3) and equally spaced lines radiating from the center.

Within this grid work I have the freedom to create any number of detailed designs (figure 4). A shift in color, scale, and image shape, keeps the work in an ever-developing growth mode. The economy of repeating a design idea leads not only to better production efficiency, but also allows for more certainty and confidence evidenced in the line quality and fluidity of design.


Technical Notes

How to reduce pinholes in the glaze firing: Use high-quality, “clean” clay with as few organic impurities as possible. I recommend red earthenware with fine grog, bisque fired to cone 05.

Bisque fire slowly to allow organics and sulphur in the clay body to burn out. This helps create a smoother majolica glaze firing.

For trimmed areas, run a rubber rib over the clay to smooth it out and bring the finer particles to the surface.

Wipe down the surface of the pot with a damp sponge just before applying glaze. This helps break the surface tension and allow the glaze to flow more easily across the pot surface rather than grabbing/sticking.

Keep good kiln firing notes. Fire with cones (even with computer kilns) to ensure accurate results. Tips when working with majolica:

Glaze only what you intend to decorate over the next few days. This keeps the glaze semi-moist instead of dry and powdery, which can be difficult for brushwork.

Fettle (scrape) off any glaze drips or obvious glaze overlaps for a smooth, consistent surface. Remove any resulting chips or dust and always work in a well-ventilated area and wear a dust mask during this task.


Overglaze should be the consistency of watercolors for a smooth application. If the overglaze is too watery, the fired colors are dull and weak. Too thick (especially with commercial colors) and it can cause glazes to crawl during the firing.

Use good quality bamboo or watercolor brushes. Brushes should bounce, hold pigment well, and deliver a continuous stream of color to the glaze surface.

Removing overglaze color from the raw glaze surface is possible but can be difficult. Scrape gently with a metal rib, removing only the overglaze layer, then smooth out the majolica layer.

Keep your brushes in good shape by washing then damp drying them with a paper towel, and laying them over the edge of a table to dry. Don’t store wet brushes brush-end-up in a cup. The dampness of the bristles wicks back into the heel of the handle, causing it to deteriorate.

Janice Strawder received her MFA in Ceramics from Louisiana State University, and her BFA from Wichita State University., and was a resident artist at the Florida Gulf Coast Art Center, and at The Clay Studio, where she continues to teach. She worked as a curator and projects coordinator, and most recently opened Manayunk Pottery in Philadelphia where she continues to produce her own work, offer classes, and is developing a line of “Manayunk Pottery.”