Published Apr 26, 2023
Have you ever wanted to draw imagery on a vessel or sculpture, but been frustrated by the fact that the surface isn’t a flat piece of paper? Today, Paul Andrew Wandless shares his simple paper-slip-transfer technique, which can eliminate this frustration. It also can add a nice print-like quality to your work. Give it a try in your studio! - Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor
I’m always drawing images, patterns and designs at the same time I’m working on a sculpture, vessel or clay print. When appropriate, I incorporate these images and designs into my work. I love to put what’s on the pages of my sketchbook on the surfaces of my clay and also have this occur naturally during the process of making the work. Paper transfers, which can be complex or simple, single or multi-colored, planned or spontaneous, allow this to happen. Paper transfers are very versatile and can be used on flat, curved and/or irregular surfaces. The ability to make a line drawing and then apply it to a cylinder, bowl, sculpture or tile, which are usually more difficult to draw on directly, is what makes this process exciting to me. With paper transfers, one important thing to keep in mind is that the image or design will be reversed during this process.
No special items are needed for this process and I typically use this as a way to transfer a simple outline drawing or design. Once you get a feel for transferring a line drawing you can explore and experiment from there to suit the needs of your work. Materials needed are drawing paper, commercial underglaze or slip, a slip trailer or brush, scissors and a spray bottle.
In this demo, I’ll transfer a sketch onto a small platter I threw with some colored slip already applied onto the surface. I transfer directly onto the greenware when the surface is no longer damp to the touch, but just a little tacky.
Drawing the Image
After making a few practice lines, I draw an image (that will be reversed during transfer) directly on the paper with a slip trailer and let it dry for a few minutes (figure 1). You can also draw the image with a pencil first then draw over top of it with the slip. The black underglaze I’m using is from the Amaco LUG series, but any underglaze or slip will work. Just be sure to use a slip that will be the appropriate cone for whatever temperature you’re ultimately going to fire the piece. Once the slip is dry, cut around the image leaving a small border. Make a little “pull-tab” anywhere on the perimeter so it is easy to remove the paper. Once I figure out exactly where I want the image (figure 2), I give the clay surface a light spritz of water and place the drawing face down (figure 3). The light spritz of water on the clay wets the underglaze when it comes in contact and helps it adhere to the clay and release from the paper. If you try this transfer process on a surface that is still wet, there is no need to spritz it with water first.
Transferring the Image
Gently, but firmly, rub the paper to transfer the image onto the clay surface below. Using the pull-tab, peel back the paper and see if the color is transferring fully. If it isn’t, fold it back down, spritz the back of the paper lightly with water and rub the transfer again. Check the image again and repeat as needed. The spritz of water on the paper soaks it a little and releases the image better, but be careful not to overdo it with the spritzing. Once you have the quality of line desired, pull the paper fully away and you’re all done! (figure 4).
It will take a few transfers to get a feel for how much water to use to end up with the kind of line quality desired for your work. Sometimes, I purposely use a little extra water because I want the lines to bleed or use a minimal amount of water because I want a broken or “aged’ look to the image. As always, different clay bodies, underglazes, slips and papers all work a little differently so use this demo as a guide for what you normally work with in your studio. Keep in mind this isn’t always a super-crisp image and some loss of color or broken lines are normal at first. After a little practice though, you will find this a quick, effective and fun way of transferring an image onto greenware.
Paul Andrew Wandless is a studio artist, workshop presenter, visiting assistant professor, author and Potters Council Member. To see images of his work, visit his website www.studio3artcompany.com.