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Published Aug 29, 2022

ceramic stencilCraft foam is a pretty versatile material in the studio. It can be used as a material to work on or to make stamps of any shape. In this archive post, Chandra DeBuse uses craft foam to form her plates and add biomorphic texture to her cups.

In today's post, an excerpt from the Pottery Making Illustrated archive, Senta Achee shares her twist on using craft foam as a sort of ceramic stencil. This helps her bright illustrations come to life on as they integrate with the form of her pots. Enjoy! –Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor

Sketches and Ceramic Stencils

The earliest stage of my process begins outside of the studio. I inspect small moments happening in nature, admire illustrated books of all kinds, and draw sketches while in the garden or on short walks around my neighborhood. These small and distinct observations in the world are used as inspiration and fresh source material.

The first step in creating a new piece starts with making stencils to use while throwing. Start by sketching out a main character in the story. This will be the largest figure on the mug. Once you’re pleased with your design and have considered which part, if any, lends itself to being used as the handle, copy the sketch onto a piece of tracing paper with a pencil (1). Flipping the tracing paper over, use a dull pencil to transfer the sketch onto a piece of craft foam (found at any local craft store), leaving behind a perfect rendition of the original sketch. Cut the outline of the entire body out of the foam using a pair of fine-pointed sewing scissors, creating a negative of the image (2). Be careful to line up each cut so that there are no jagged edges in the outline. It’s important to take your time during this process to make sure that you’re not cutting through pieces that are needed to create future negative spaces, in this case the inside of the snake loops.

Create additional stencils of any supplementary figures so there’s enough imagery to create a dynamic surface. Once finished, label the stencils with a black felt-tipped marker to help distinguish them.

1 Copy the sketched drawing onto tracing paper. Flip the tracing paper and transfer onto craft foam using a dull pencil.2 Use fine-pointed scissors to cut out a negative of the image. Save the smaller pieces that fill any negative spaces.

Collaging and Forming

Set up your collection of finished stencils (3) next to your wheel and throw the body of the mug, making sure the walls are about ⅛ to ¼-inch thick. Smooth the throwing lines and clear the surface of excess slip with a metal rib to minimize the possibility of the stencil slipping or leaving sticky marks behind. Do not cut the cup off the wheel head. To create three-dimensional figures, hold your first and largest stencil against the outside of the form. Next, use your non-dominant hand to press from the inside of the mug along the cut-out image while supporting the stencil and outside wall with your other hand (4). This provides the resistance needed to avoid breaking through the surface. Continue shaping the figure to the desired degree of relief, rotating as needed. When satisfied, remove the stencil.

Next, place smaller, secondary characters and environmental flourishes around the main figure (5). Rely on your intuition to help while working around the narrative that unfolds. These arrangements shape the body of the mug and help direct future painting decisions. Once all of the compositional choices have been made, wipe the inside of the cup with a sponge to remove finger marks while supporting the outside with your free hand. Then re-center the rim and cut the cup off the bat.

Allow the cup to firm up, checking it every 30 minutes or so. Trim the foot and use a finishing sponge to smooth the surface, removing all stencil outlines, sharp edges, and textures from handling (6). It’s now ready for any attachments.

3 Create a library of interesting stencils in advance so you have several to choose from for each piece. Set up a collection of finished and labeled stencils next to the wheel.4 Support the exterior wall while pushing clay into the stencil from the inside.5 Arrange small stencils on the exterior to create details around the larger stencil.6 Run a damp sponge over the exterior surface to smooth rough edges.


Finished photos: Charlie Cummings Gallery.

Finished photos: Charlie Cummings Gallery.

Many thanks to Evan, Erin, and Jan Z.

Senta Achée lives and works in North-Central Florida. When she is not in her studio, she works as a gallery assistant at the Charlie Cummings Gallery in Gainesville, Florida. To see more of her work, visit or @sentaur on Instagram.