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Published Sep 15, 2017

One of my favorite things about ceramics is that there seem to be endless ways to decorate clay surfaces. In this post, Laura Kukkee demonstrates a couple of those.

First she shows us how to slip trail and brush different colored slips to make very thin slabs that can then be cut up and affixed to the work using an applique technique. Then, she shows us a variation on this technique in which she uses silk screens to make the applique pieces. She also shares her slip and clay body recipe.- Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor

It is often taught that artists must strive to be wholly original. We must envision something great and new and then apply it to our art, thus astounding all who happen by the work we've made. This is a tall order to say the least. Many a great idea has fallen by the way side because the artist is unsure of how to execute the desired result. Often, it is the subtle change in a technique that can lead to impressive results. One example of that type of change is in the work of artist Laura Kukkee.

Laura, a native of Toronto, Canada, did her undergraduate studies with Bruce Cochrane at The Sheridan School of Crafts and Design in Oakville, Ontario, and developed this technique in the craft studios at Harbour Front Centre in Toronto. Utilizing slips and underglazes in the decoration of clay has been happening for thousands of years. From the Ancient Greeks and Chinese to the 17th century country English potter, the use of colored slip has been an important part of the decorative arsenal of nearly every clay artist.

Notes on Slip

Slip, as defined by Vince Pitelka in his book Clay: A Studio Handbook, is clay suspended in water, usually the consistency of thick cream. It may be colored and used to decorate surfaces, or may be cast into plaster molds to create ceramic forms. For her artwork, Laura uses slip the consistency of a thick cream, as well as a slip that is substantially thinner. Note: Commercial underglazes can also be easily substituted for the slips. She uses different proportions of water and a small amount of Darvan #7 to get the “flow” of the slip she desires. It’s a good idea to test all slips and underglazes before using them on your own work.

Slip Trailed Appliqué

What you’ll need: ball syringe, newsprint, spray bottle, and plaster slab (optional). Laura sets the plaster on two pieces of wood to keep slab well ventilated, thus discouraging mold. You will also need the colored slips or underglazes of your choice.

Wet a piece of newsprint using a spray bottle so that it is damp but not soaked. Smooth the paper out onto the plaster slab, so you don’t get ridges— smoothing helps the paper absorb water (figure 1).

Fig 1 Fig 2

Remember, whatever color you use first is going to be the outline of the pattern you’re making. You’re building color and pattern from the top layer down with the background color applied last, which is the opposite direction one normally works. For this demo, I’m using black slip, though I have often used other colors. It’s a good idea to mix and sieve slip thoroughly beforehand to blend all the materials.

Fig 3 Fig 4

Dip the syringe in the slip and fill it (figure 2). To get the bulb flowing, try practicing on an extra sheet of paper before beginning (figure 3). Slip trail pattern or image of your choice onto paper. Pick the paper up by the edges carefully and hold it up to light so you can see your pattern better (figure 4). Set the paper aside and allow slip to dry until the sheen goes away, then start laying color in and around the pattern (figure 5).

I like to apply bands of color together behind the pattern. Set aside the paper and let dry until sheen disappears (figure 6).

Fig 5 Fig 6

Again, once sheen is gone, cover the colored slip with a white slip made of the same ingredients as your clay body, with roughly 3% Darvan #7 added to the mixture. Make sure the slip is really flowing. Set aside and allow to dry until the sheen goes away or you’re ready to use. I often apply up to four applications of white slip depending on how thick I want the slab to be. Usually though, one application is enough (figure 7).

Take the slip-trailed sheet and cover with paper, then smooth (figure 8). Flip the slab over, keeping the new sheet of paper in place. Spray the paper with water until damp. Flatten the paper so that water spreads evenly. Begin peeling the corner of the paper, being careful not to rip the clay sheet (figure 9). This will reveal the slip-trailed pattern (figure 10).

Fig 7 Fig 8

Take another piece of paper and place it over the pattern. Make sure to smooth it out, as this helps remove moisture (figure 11). Flip the slab over and remove the paper and now you’re ready to cut shapes to apply to your pot, based upon your design (figure 12).

Remove excess clay from around the shapes and gently peel up one of your shapes. Brush slip onto the white side of the piece using the same white slip. Because of the Darvan #7, there is no need to score (figure 13). Gently press the piece onto the pot or sculpture you’ve made. The pot should be soft leatherhard (figure 14).

Fig 9 Fig 10 Fig 11

Fig 12Fig 13Fig 14

Sheridan Studio Colored SlipCone 6–10     Clay BodyCone 6
Grolleg Kaolin45.8%     6 Tile Clay50 lb.
Kona F4 Feldspar24.6     EPK Kaolin25
Pyrophyllite8.2     Kentucky OM4 Ball Clay25
Bentonite5.1     G200 Feldspar45
Silica16.3     Ferro Frit 312410
 100.0%     Silica45
Plus 15% stain of your choice.      Whiting4
       Bentonite (soak overnight)3
       Plus 2 handfuls of Epsom salts 

Silk Screening Appliqué

Items you need: squeegee, spatula, metal rib, small pitcher, brushes, a pointed tool, and various colored slips. Prepare paper the same way as in the previous examples.

Position the silk screen on top of the prepared paper (figure 1). Pour a bead of black slip on the screen at one end only (figure2). Squeegee slip across the screen with steady, even pressure (figure 3).

Fig 1 Fig 2 Fig 3

Use a metal rib to remove excess slip from the silk screen (figure 4). Carefully remove the paper from the silk screen to avoid tearing the pattern (figure 5). After the pattern is screened onto the paper, let it dry until the gloss is gone (figure 6).

Fig 4 Fig 5 Fig 6

Apply colored slip over the design and allow to dry (figure 7). After the slip loses its sheen, cover the entire sheet with white slip and set aside to dry (figure 8). Flip and add fresh newspaper. When this process is completed, begin to cut out the shapes (figure 9)

Fig 7 Fig 8 Fig 9

Once the excess clay is removed, gently peel up the cut out shapes (figure 10). Paint white slip onto the white side of the shape and apply it to the pot (figure 11).

Fig 10 Fig 11 Finished Cups

**First published in 2017.