Published Jun 1, 2022
Colored-clay techniques such as agateware are a super fun way to play with pattern on pots. Typically with the agateware technique, two balls of contrasting colored clays are briefly wedged together, then thrown on the wheel, and scraped with a metal rib to reveal a lovely marbled pattern. But Chris Campbell, a well-known practitioner of colored-clay ceramics, wanted more colors and more pattern, so she started experimenting with the colored-clay technique.
In this post, an excerpt from the Pottery Making Illustrated archive, Chris shares two of the colored-clay techniques she discovered and some lessons she learned in the process. – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor
I have been working with colored clay for more than 25 years, staying mainly with handbuilt work because I thought throwing colored clays was all about mixed-color agateware. While this work is interesting, it’s very limiting to someone who loves distinct patterns and images. So, I set out to discover how to throw colored clay without losing the patterns I love so much. I call this process Intentional Color Placement. As usual, the clay had a few lessons to teach me.
Lesson 1: The white/colored clay mixtures need time to rest and mesh so they don’t separate while being thrown. Now I prepare my mixed colored clays the day before and let them sit overnight on a damp towel covered with plastic.
Lesson 2: You cannot cone the clay up and down to center it without over blending the colors. The more centered your ball is before starting, the better the results will be. I solved this by first slapping the clay as close to center as possible with the wheel rotating very slowly, then speeding up the wheel to quickly finish the centering, then throw the form in as few pulls as possible.
Lesson 3: Clean as much slurry as possible off of both the interior and exterior surfaces while the form is still attached to the wheel. Most pottery throwing tools are designed for cleaning a convex surface and don’t do such a great job on the interior of a pot, which is a concave surface. Steel ribs of all shapes do the best job both inside and out.
The Hamburger (1A)
You’ll need two pieces of white clay and one piece of colored clay. Place the colored clay between the two white pieces. You don’t have to put the colored piece exactly in the center. Place the colors or patterns at any level and most of it will stay in that area of the pot, both on the interior and the exterior. Pat the pieces together into a ball shape (1A), and let them rest overnight on a damp cloth covered with plastic.
Center and throw a pot as usual, being cautious to do so in as efficient a manner as possible. After three or four pulls the colors will start to move, but this can be very interesting (1B). Even on the inside, the colors will stay where they’re placed.
The Wrap (2A)
Wrap a sheet of color or patterns over the top, side, or the bottom of a white ball of clay. Try laying the sheet at an angle rather than centered. Don’t use it right away as the color will slide off, instead allow it to sit overnight to rest and the color will then stay attached (2B).
**First published in 2017