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Published Jul 1, 2022

The pottery of Lauren Karle is influenced by the beautiful garments of the indigenous cultures of Guatemala, where she lived for 2 ½ years. The pots reference these garments both in the way they are constructed (cut, altered, darted, "stitched" together) and in their decoration.

In today’s post, a time-lapsed excerpt from her video Sewing Clay: Slab Building and Slip-Transferred Patterns, Lauren Karle shows how to print on clay using laser toner transfers. The great thing about these clay transfers is you can make them totally personal by using patterns that are unique to you. Enjoy! - Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor


Decorating the Surface

On the surfaces of my pots I capture some of the qualities of the huipiles, which have a multitude of different patterns that work together visually. By situating regular slip-transferred patterns next to painterly marks, I emulate the contrast of the tight weave of fabric and hand-sewn decoration. I combine the earthenware hues of pre-Colombian vessels with bright colors of contemporary Latin America.

It is essential to layer the surface of a cup while the slab is still flat and wet. There are infinite opportunities to experiment with the order and quantity of layers, but I usually start with a low-fire white slip with the goal of making the underglaze or wash brighter.

Coat the sides, base, and handle while they are flat. Start with a white low-fire slip so what is put on top becomes brighter. Apply an underglaze or wash over as a solid background color. With quick brush strokes, apply a deflocculated slip over the laser ink pattern. The plastic quality of laser-printer ink will resist deflocculated slip—making it stick to the white paper and pull back from the ink.

The underglaze or wash can be applied as a solid background color, a gradient, or a series of painterly strokes. I always consider the pot and how color will flatten or enhance the form, highlight seams, or create an illusion of depth.

Once the background is no longer shiny, I apply a pattern through slip transfer, a simple and gratifying technique that I learned from Charlie Cummings. First, I create a black-and-white pattern on the computer by altering a picture in Photoshop, creating a pattern by hand and scanning it, or finding an existing pattern.

Then I print the inverse of the pattern using a laser printer on regular printer paper. An ink-jet printer will not work, since ink does not have the resistive properties of toner. Slip sticks only to the white areas of the image, which are the parts that will transfer.

All the pieces and parts of the cup are prepped, dry, and ready to assemble. When the slip on the pattern is leather hard it is ready to transfer onto the prepared background. Press the paper smoothly onto the clay and brush enough water on the back to barely saturate the laser ink.

I deflocculate the colored slip to brush on the pattern using one drop of Darvan 7 per cup of slip. Sodium silicate also works. Deflocculating the slip keeps the color intense but negatively charges the clay particles so that they slide over each other, making the slip flow more easily with less water content.

In sweeping strokes, I brush the deflocculated slip over the pattern. The slip sticks to the white paper and pulls back from the laser toner. If the slip bridges from one white section to another over the toner, I just touch it gently with a finger and it immediately recedes.

I cut several sizes from the patterned paper, to match the size of each of my slabs, and coat them with colored slip. When the slip on the pattern is leather hard, I lay it face down on a prepared background. If the slip is still shiny, it will smear and blur; if it is too dry, it may flake off the page. I press it smoothly onto the clay and brush a little water onto the back. The water causes the paper to lie flat and helps the slip release onto the slab. The perfect amount of water will barely saturate the laser ink, so you can see the pattern through the back of the paper. I use a rib to compress and smooth the back of the paper, then peel a corner back to check how well the pattern is transferring.

Use a rib to compress and smooth the back of the paper to help the slip transfer onto the slab. Peel a corner back to check how well the pattern is transferring. Brush more water on the back or continue to rub if necessary. The clarity of the transferred pattern depends on the balance of these techniques.

I brush more water on the back or rub the paper if necessary. How clearly the pattern transfers and where depends on the balance of these techniques. I continue to check it until it has transferred to my satisfaction and I can remove the whole paper. It is possible to print patterns on top of patterns, rotate, flip, block out sections, paint over parts, and experiment endlessly with layers.

To see more of Lauren Karle’s work check out

**First published in 2014.