Published Jun 17, 2020
I love the surfaces of Jason Bige Burnett's pots. They remind me of the Sunday newspaper cartoon transfers I (and probably a lot of you out there) used to do with Silly Putty® as a child. Interestingly enough, Jason uses a transfer technique involving newspaper (but not Silly Putty®) to make some of the marks on his surfaces.
In today's post, an excerpt from the Pottery Making Illustrated archive, Jason shares this super fun technique. Enjoy! - Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor
My childhood interest in television cartoons influenced my current ceramic forms and surfaces. The bright colors, graphic patterns, and illustrative qualities recapture and celebrate my fascination with whimsical domestic representation. I’m inspired by the stylized hand-drawn utilitarian objects like a coffee mug in a cartoon character’s hand or the mixing bowl displayed on the shelf in their kitchen. I hope to continue that sense of wonder through real physical objects.
The combination of commercial stained slips and newsprint paper create a stick-and-peel process. By applying underglazes and slips saturated with bold colors onto newsprint and then transferring the drawn images to a slipped clay object, I can achieve an animated surface. Playtime doesn’t end there; I continue by introducing stamps, stains, and stickers to further enhance the ceramic surface until the desired effect is fully achieved.
Creating Newsprint Transfers
The process I’m using is equivalent to making a monoprint in traditional printmaking Instead of drawing on a metal plate and transferring the image to paper, I’m drawing on newspaper, then transferring to clay. As with all monoprints, keep in mind that the image you create will be reversed. Text must be backwards and layers of color must be applied foreground to background (figure 1).
Whether it be stripes, shapes, illustrations, or a color field, start with an idea of how you would like to approach the surfaces of your piece before you start. Apply your pattern or drawing to strips or blocks of newsprint varying the colors of slip using brushes, slip trailers, and sponge stamps. Use caution as the paper causes the slip to dry - if it dries too much it may chip off. Use a spray bottle to keep the image damp but don’t spray too much water, which could puddle and smear the slip. The local newspaper works well but I prefer using newsprint pads from any art supply store. The thickness and tooth of this paper is durable and tough enough to hold and transfer slip.
Slip it and Stick it
After you’ve completed the newsprint image, wait for the slip or underglaze to become leather hard and then apply a slip coat over the drawing. Lightly dab the first coat of slip on (figure 2), wait for this coat to become leather hard and then brush on a second coat. A hair dryer assists in getting the slipped newsprint to leather-hard. If the slip has a glossy shine then it’s too wet to continue.
The slip application works best on leather-hard clay. Using a hake brush, apply a moderate coat of slip to the surface of your piece. This layer of slip shouldn’t be too thin or too thick and the slip should be the consistency of heavy whipping cream. This slip coat creates a tactile surface perfect for pressing newsprint into and absorbs transferred slip and imagery well.
When the slip-coated clay piece and the slip decoration on the newsprint are both at leather hard, you are ready to print. There is a narrow window of time here where the surface of your object and the newspaper are perfect for application. If one or the other is too wet when applied, the result could be sloppy and undesirable. If the image and/or object are too dry then this affects the quality of adhesion during the transfer process. When the slip on the object softens and all the slip on the paper has lost its sheen, you’re ready to transfer the image.
Carefully pick up your piece of newsprint and slowly bring it towards the object. You’ll see the image through the newsprint and that assists with placement. Once any part of the newsprint transfer touches the object, gently press the rest of the newsprint onto the surface (figure 3). Note that air pockets result on curved surfaces. These are addressed after the pressing. Softly press the newsprint transfer onto the surface with your hands, working over the general area. The trapped air pockets can be removed by piercing them with a needle tool or a small X-Acto blade. If the air pockets are not taken care of, they can cause defects or misprintings of the transfer.
Now that the newsprint has been applied to the object, there’s a layer of moisture trapped between the object and the paper. Within the first minute or two the clay object begins absorbing that moisture.
Using a soft rib, press the newsprint down, applying more pressure than before. Between thirty seconds and two minutes is about the time when you’ll notice the newsprint drying out again. Now take a slightly harder rib and, with more force than before, rub the newsprint one last time into the clay. Rubbing too hard could smudge the slip underneath or tear through the paper. Practice and experience with this method is the best way to find your limits.
Grab a corner or take the edge of the newsprint and slowly begin to peel away (figure 4). It’s important to do this slowly so you’ll catch the spots that did not adhere to the surface. Just place it back down gently and with the medium-soft rib, massage the spot down into the surface. Repeat if necessary. Not addressing the spots creates potential reservoirs for stain and glazes later. Now that your image is transferred, handle the piece carefully. Applying slip onto leather-hard clay will make the clay soft and malleable again. I suggest waiting until your piece becomes firm and the surface slip isn’t sticky to the touch before applying anything else to the surface.
To learn more about Jason Bige Burnett or see more images of his work, please visit http://jasonbigeburnett.com.