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Published Jan 25, 2023

Relief TextureI have seen many potters use tar paper as a pattern making tool, and have seen stencils used to create colorful designs with underglazes or glazes.

But in today's post, they are used slightly differently. Ben Carter explains how tar paper can be cut into a shape or pattern and then pressed into soft clay creating low relief. He also shows how to use stencils to make low-relief with thick slip.- Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor

Resist Printing Technique

This technique is perfect for making textural pattern on round, leather-hard pieces. I use Tyvek—a woven plastic product often used to make envelopes—to make my stencils for this process. It’s durable, easy to cut, and won’t break down after the initial first uses. Cut shapes and patterns out of the Tyvek material and slightly wet the back of each stencil. Immediately stick them to a leather-hard clay surface. The water should create a slight suction that holds the templates in place. Wipe away any excess water around the templates using a sponge.

Using a large, soft-bristle brush, cover the entire surface with a thick slip. Make the slip from the same recipe as your clay body but do not mix in any grog. Allow the slip and the clay surface to equalize in water content (wait for the surface to lose its sheen) then peel back the edge of template to reveal the resisted pattern. The relief pattern now reads as both texture and image. You can pour a thin slip over the texture to highlight the edge quality if you wish.

Tarpaper Embossing Technique

Use this technique to create subtle relief patterns on objects that are flat or slightly convex. If a deeper relief is desired, you may double up tarpaper or back it with any flexible material. This process is not suitable for delicate work that is fragile and is best used on softer, leather-hard clay.

Relief Texture

Cut a template from tarpaper using an X-Acto blade or scissors. Place the template on the piece and use a soft, rubber brayer to make an impression. Peel back the template to expose the relief print. Again the pattern now reads as both texture and image.

Relief Texture

Benjamin Carter is a studio potter producing hand-built and thrown earthenware ceramics. He received an MFA in ceramics from the University of Florida. His work can be seen online at To learn more about his blog, Tales of a Red Clay Rambler, visit

**First published in 2013.