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Published May 8, 2024

Emily Price uses illustrations on the surfaces of her work "to intensify the connection between maker and user and to further elevate the experience of using the piece." I loved Emily's process of creating an image library to draw from when she is adding the illustrations. 

In this post, an excerpt from the Pottery Making Illustrated archive, Emily explains how she uses her image library and a transfer process to put the images onto her work. Then she uses underglazes to bring the images to life. Great techniques, great pots! –Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor 

Creating an Image Library

My process starts by creating a library of themed images that I can use to convey a narrative. Having several images of slightly different sizes and shapes allows me more compositional options when I go to apply them. I struggle with drawing directly on my pieces, so I work out my drawings on paper and then make transfer templates with transparent vellum (1). The image is drawn in dark lines onto the vellum with very soft graphite. This way I can see the image through the vellum when I place it against the piece image side down.

1 Use your image library to determine image placement.2 Transfer pencil drawings to the bone-dry clay surface by tracing with a stylus tool.

Knowing what kind of story I want to tell and what type of images I’m going to use helps direct the making of the form. Using fine porcelain, I focus on creating forms that are friendly to use and sturdy, yet elegant. Smooth surfaces, gentle curves, and soft angles allow images to flow over the surface. Incorporating complimentary embellishments, like a lotus leaf for a thumb stop on a mug with a koi pond-themed illustration, can help to connect the image to the form.

Transferred and Painted Illustration

Once the piece is thrown or built and any additions such as handles are attached, allow it to dry slowly and completely. The illustration process is hard on the forms and they will crack if you embellish them before they are no longer cool to the touch, indicating that they are bone dry. It’s also easier to keep yourself from marring the surface of the porcelain when handling the piece if it’s bone dry.

Place the vellum template against the form, image side down, and determine the layout of the illustration. Once you’ve decided where they will go, tack the templates in place with blue painter’s tape (2), then trace over the image from the back side with a stylus tool, leaving a pencil-line image of the drawing on the surface. The graphite can be removed easily with a damp sponge if an unwanted mark is made and burns off completely in the kiln, making this an easy way to get a clean transfer of a drawing onto the surface.

3 Apply underglazes to bone-dry porcelain following the lines in the transfer drawings.4 Dilute the underglazes with water and apply them in layers of varied thickness.

I use Amaco Velvet underglazes to paint my illustrations. I have done a lot of testing diluting them like watercolors, and applying them in thin wash layers to create more dynamic images and color transitions (3, 4). I also use the Amaco Semi-Moist underglazes to broaden my color palette. These materials respond differently with different clay bodies, glazes, and firing environments, so it’s important to do a lot of testing with your materials to determine how to create the effects you desire (5). For example, I found that the pink shades from the bottle burn out in my firing conditions, but I’ve successfully mixed several shades of pink that survive the firing using the various red and white Velvet underglazes. When painting the images, I try to avoid crossing over my pencil lines. I don’t want to obscure the lines that are guiding my painting and I find that I get better adhesion of the underglaze if the pencil lines are left unpainted.

5 Start with an opaque base layer, then apply layers of diluted washes over top.6 Paint wax resist over and around the images creating 1/8–1/4-inch-wide halos.
Emily Price is a full-time clinical pharmacist working in pediatric critical care. She makes ceramics as a way of searching for grounding and balance. You can find her on Instagram @fivebyefive.