The Figure in Clay: Ceramic Sculptor Debra Fritts Gives a Sneak Peek of Potters Council Workshop

Debra Fritts discusses her decorating techniques for her figurative ceramic sculptures, such as the one above.

Roswell, Georgia, ceramic artist Debra Fritts is on board to present her figurative ceramic sculpture techniques at the upcoming Potters Council workshop “Surface, Form and Substance,” which takes place September 19-20 in Indianapolis, Indiana. At the workshop, Debra will demonstrate her handbuilding technique, which combines modeling, pinching and coiling for small figurative ceramic sculptures. After small sculptures are constructed, surface decoration will be discussed and attendees will have the hands-on opportunity to experiment with slips, underglazes, impressions and mark-making to start a surface on wet clay. Today, Debra has offered a glimpse into the surface decoration techniques she will go over at the workshop. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.

The Work

1 Debra Fritts’ Heart, 10 in. (25 cm) in height, ceramics, fired to cone 5, 2017.

As time and experience embraces me as a sculptor in clay, I feel free of art trends and fashionable art. My expression is basic yet intrigues me daily to continue this exploration of clay and the female figure. Working intuitively from pounds of wet clay, ideas develop and stories appear. These stories dwell on the mysteries and joys of life’s necessities. The search continues until I reach the core: the spiritual level of the sculpture. Then the work can speak. Sometimes combining found objects with the sculpture enhance the visual composition and gives a reference to the past. My new work-titled “I Thirst” has been inspired by the severe drought in my state Georgia and my concern on the effects of the lack of water.

The Process

Each ceramic sculpture is hand built, mainly using thick coils, and fired in my kiln three to seven times depending on the color and surface I am trying to achieve. I approach the color on the clay as a painter. My palette is a combination of oxides, slips, underglazes and glazes. I mix, I paint, I fire, and I never know exactly the end results.

In the first photo, construction has been completed and the sculpture has been setting up for a day to the air during the day, covered loosely at night. Then, a heavy layer of slip is applied on the area desired. I am sensitive to the beauty of the red clay and I don’t cover the whole piece with slip. I give the slip a few hours to dry. Then I start mixing ceramic underglazes to apply color on the slip. I have a mixture of yellow, white, peach, brown and blue. Sometimes I mix on a palette and sometimes I use the wet-on-wet technique (like in watercolor painting ), mixing the wet underglazes directly on the piece. This is usually one heavy layer.

3 Women Praying by Debra Fritts. Debra sculpts in terra cotta clay and bisque fires to cone 02. She covers the piece with black stain then underglazes are applied, wiped, scraped, and fired to cone 04. She continues with final glaze additions and fires to cone 05.

Etching through the slip and the underglaze, as shown in the second photo, usually starts a few hours after the underglaze has been applied. I use a needle tool and mark through the slip and underglaze. The eye area is important to etch since small lines are necessary. I have more control with the needle tool and like seeing the red clay as my dark lines. To me, this brings unity to the piece.

At this point, I want to make all the lines I feel are important. A symbol I use on some of my work is a circle around the eye. These types of marks add interest to the piece, but should be quiet – not too demanding.
The large piece in the kiln image at left measures 64 inches tall x 24 inches wide and 20 inches deep. I am using a cone 6 red clay body that is very coarse. This piece was first fired to cone 2. It shows the piece with red iron oxide and Gerstley borate wash, slip and underglazes after the second firing at cone 05. I do not feel the piece is completed and will refire, adding more surface treatments, which can include oxides, underglazes and glaze.



To see more images of Debra Fritts’ work, visit


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