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Published Jun 13, 2022

One of the best things about handmade functional pottery is its tactile nature—we hold and use the things we make, and we strive to make them feel good in our hands. Adding surface texture can add to this tactility. And there are all kinds of ways we can add texture.

In today's post, an excerpt from the May/June 2022 issue of Pottery Making Illustrated, Michael Lemke explains how he adds surface texture and interest by slip-dotting his pots. - Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor

Dotted Surface Decoration

I like to use a slip trailer to trail the dots. I use this texturing to mimic the surface of a sea urchin shell by observing a real specimen that my daughter brought home from a family vacation. The tactile quality of the slip-trailed, urchin-like dots also helps a person who may be holding the pitcher to feel the process. 

Before slip trailing the dots, I draw dotted lines on the surface as a guide to follow. I do this with a tracing wheel found at most sewing stores. Making sure the flocculated slip used for trailing is a perfect consistency takes some time.

I make slip from scraps of my throwing clay body. I dry the scraps, then slake them down with water. In a blender, I mix the slaked clay to the consistency of plain yogurt and add Epsom solution (4 cups of hot water to 60 grams of Epsom salt) to thicken it—one tablespoon of the solution to 4 cups of slip works well. 

1 Fill a slip trailer with liquid clay slip, then test the flow of the applicator on a table. 2 Carefully apply slip dots to the surface of the piece, following the lines that were drawn with the tracing wheel.

Fill a slip trailer with liquid clay slip (I use a Xiem slip applicator). Before trailing any dots on the actual form, test the flow of the applicator on a table (1). Use this as a way to determine how much pressure you will need to create small dots and fat dots. Then, carefully apply the slip dots in various sizes to the surface of the piece following the lines you drew earlier (2, 3). When the piece is finished (4), I dry it slowly under a piece of light fabric for a day or two before allowing it to dry completely. 

Once the piece is bone dry, I use a damp sponge to soften any sharp edges; this is particularly important, as the dots can become very sharp after firing if they are not smoothed a bit. 

3 Continue to add dots in various sizes along the lines and in between the lines to create motion along the pot. 4 Allow the finished form to dry slowly under a piece of light fabric before fully uncovering it.

Michael Lemke is an artist and educator in northern Colorado. He is a professor at the University of Northern Colorado and maintains a studio at the Clay Center of Northern Colorado where he also teaches adult classes. To learn more, find him on Instagram @michaellemkeceramics