Published Apr 1, 2022
A couple years ago, I bought some rice paper transfers from a supplier at a conference. They are super fun to play around with and very easy to use, but as with anything commercially made, they are not unique to me.
So I loved this article from the Pottery Making Illustrated archive vault (subscribers can see the pdf of the issue in which it appeared here!) about making custom rice paper transfers. Read on to get the scoop! - Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor
Printing your images onto paper allows you to do a large run of images all at once, then to store them indefinitely between sheets of wax paper for future use. I prefer to print onto a Japanese rice paper called Shuji Gami as I like the weight and strength of the paper. It’s available from Hollander’s Decorative Paper and Bookbinding Supplies, www.hollanders.com. There are a variety of rice papers available but it’s best to use thin sheets; paper that’s thick is not useful for this process.
Although this demonstration shows printing an image in black, you can use any color, limited only by your firing process, and the stains and underglazes you have. You can print several colors, one on top of another to get multi-colored images. You can get the entire range of colors, but pastel colors are lost in a reduction firing process, with the exception of the new encapsulated stains. In addition to use in oxidation firing, both the Mason Stain 6600 and Duncan EZ Stroke Black 012 can be high fired in reduction atmospheres.
The Magic Formula
For the ceramic ink mixture, you’ll need Karo syrup, Mason Stain 6600 Black (or any color you choose) Duncan EZ Stroke Underglaze Black 012 (or a color coordinated Duncan EZ Stroke underglaze if mixing another color), and CMC gum solution thinned to a light cream consistency. If you use any other underglazes, choose ones with a low clay content. Put one tablespoon of Karo Syrup into your container, and add two teaspoons of Mason Stain. Mix thoroughly, then add a teaspoon of Duncan EZ Stroke 012 Black. Finally, add a tablespoon of CMC gum solution, and mix thoroughly.
Your mixture should be a consistency that will pass through the silkscreen without puddling or gumming up. If it puddles through the screen, it’s too thin, so add a bit more Karo syrup. If it doesn’t pass through your screen easily, thin it out by adding more CMC gum or EZ Stroke.
In addition to the ink, you’ll need an exposed silkscreen with the image you wish to print, which you can have printed onto a screen at a commercial silkscreen company or an art supply store. To make a silkscreen yourself, follow instructions from May 7, 2008 Ceramic Arts Daily, “Making Custom Silkscreens for Ceramics." You can also make screens without having access to a printmaking studio using PhotoEZ screens, see the May/June 2009 issue of PMI, Tips From the Pros: Sun Screen. Once you have your mixed ink and silkscreen, affix a sheet of rice paper to your work table with tape. Place your screen on top of the rice paper with the recessed side of the frame facing up. With a spoon, run a thick line of your mixture across one end of the screen. Take a squeegee at a 45° angle and using firm pressure, pull the mixture across the screen with one smooth stroke (figure 1). This pressure causes the mixture to print onto the paper.
Allow the image to dry before using it. I usually print multiple sheets when I’m screening, and when dry, I cut them up and store them between sheets of wax paper for future use.
For printing you will need a leather hard slab, sculpture or vessel, your transfer, underglaze or slip, some water, and a small sponge. Brush a thick coat of underglaze onto your clay (figure 2). While the underglaze is still damp, place the rice paper transfer face down on it and rub the back gently (figure 3). Let the image dry for a few minutes, then peel the paper away carefully to reveal your transferred image (figure 4). If the slab is drier, or you are working on top of bisque ware you will need to dampen the back of the transfer either by gently patting it with water or using a damp sponge. Be careful as too much water will cause the image to become blurry. Correct transfer technique should result in a crisp image.
If you apply your transfer onto leather hard clay, then bisque fire it, you can normally glaze it by any method you typically use from brushing to pouring. However, these images can be fragile until they are covered with a glaze. If you have a high proportion of stain to underglaze, it can rub off of your bisque, even if it is fired on. In order to avoid smearing on bisque, I recommend dipping a round sponge in glaze and patting it gently over the image. This will seal in your picture without dragging it across your pot.
Author’s note: This magic printing mixture has evolved by experimentation and I want to acknowledge the following New York based ceramic artists who have all contributed parts to it: Liz Biddle, Matt Nolen, and Helayne Friedland. Kate Missett teaches at City University of New York, and Greenwich House Pottery and is the Artworks Program Director at the West Side YMCA in Manhattan. She has an MFA from Pratt Institute and has been combining ceramics and photography for many years. Her work is represented by Barnstone Gallery, in Phoenixville Pennsylvania. For more information, go to www.katemissett.com.