Tips for Using Underglaze, Oxide, and Glaze Pens to Draw on Clay


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I love pots with pattern and imagery and have done a lot with screen printing on clay and paper stencils in my work. Lately I have thought about experimenting with the variety of oxide pens, underglaze pens, and glaze pens that are on the market so I could draw some of my own designs on my work. 

In today’s blog post, I am going to share an excerpt from the Pottery Making Illustrated archives, which includes tips for working with a couple of these handy tools. This article helped me figure out which type of underglaze pen I would need for the look I am after. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.


Drawing is having a bit of renaissance in ceramics these days. Artists are drawing on everything from functional ware and sculpture to tile. And there is an endless variety of ways to get the line onto the pot including some relatively new ceramic drawing tools that dispense underglaze, oxides, or glaze similar to a traditional pen. These pens are fast and easy for general mark making and also give more control and make less mess than a brush.

Every issue of Pottery Making Illustrated contains useful information on tools, glazes, supplies, and equipment…plus, a magazine can handle a little clay dust, so you can take it into the studio without worry!

Two Types of Underglaze Pens Tested

Minnesota Clay Co. USA offers the Potter’s Pen while Spectrum Glazes offers the Underglaze Pen. The Potter’s Pen features a pressure-activated valve that “doses” underglaze onto your ceramic surface and feels similar to drawing with a marker once you get the hang of it. The underglaze pens make a 1 mm line, but wider lines can be made by drawing more slowly or by increasing the pressure on the pen body. The pen works great for text and pattern making, including repetitions of polka dots and contour shading lines. The pen can fill in larger areas or with a little practice can be used to make delicate lines. As it is underglaze, it won’t flux in the firing, so signatures or marks made on tests tiles can be put on the back (or bottom) without a problem.

The underglaze that is dispensed looks and feels like the jar version with a matte finish and can be covered with a clear glaze if a shiny finish is desired. All 19 colors are non-toxic and stable to cone 9, except the rose pen, which is stable to cone 4.

The Spectrum Underglaze Pens, MultiPens, and Oxide Pens (contain copper oxide, cobalt oxide, etc., suspended in water with added frits to improve flow) come in soft-sided bottles rather than pen-shaped applicators. These squeezable pens/bottles are easier on your hand during long glazing sessions but take time to get used to as a drawing instrument. All the tips are removable for cleaning and each Spectrum pen has a plastic cap that prevents clogging. Smaller interchangeable metal tips can be swapped out and used for making finer lines.


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The MultiPens contain a low-temperature enamel and work well on bisque ware. They do not adhere well to smooth surfaces. MultiPens are lead free, dinnerware and dishwasher-safe, and can be intermixed to create new colors.

TIPS FOR USING UNDERGLAZE PENS

  1. Shake the pen vigorously before starting.
  2. Hold the pen in the middle, press the spring-loaded tip (on Minnesota Clay Co. pen) to the surface of your piece, and gently squeeze the middle to draw a line or make a dot. Consistent pressure must be applied in order to achieve a fine, smooth line.
  3. This can be hard on your hand over time.
  4. The longer you hold the pen in one place the more liquid will continue to come out, making your line thicker or your dot wider.
  5. To stop the flow, reduce pressure on both the tip and the sides of the pen body.
  6. If the pen becomes difficult to work with, try cleaning the tip.
  7. Remove the cap and hold the pen upright with the tip up (so it will not spill). Remove the tip and rinse it under water while depressing until the tip rolls freely. Replace the tip (and cap) back on the pen body.
  8. For both pen types, if the liquid seems too thick, add a little water to thin the underglaze.

Thank you to Minnesota Clay Co. and to Spectrum Glazes for providing materials to test. To find more information go to: www.minnesotaclayusa.com and www.spectrumglazes.com.

**First published in February 2011
Comments
  • As an artist I have found using a variety of brush sizes (and bristle shapes) on pottery needs prastise. What a joy to use the pens.I would have a great time experimenting and then using the pens would add to my creativity.

  • I decorate on leather-hard ware so cannot use these at all. They need to be pushed hard on to the surface. Traditional slip-trailing or drawing with a Chinese paintbrush are my solutions.

  • I ordered

    richard Zakin’s Collection: Mastering the Craft and Electric Kiln Ceramics (CA97 & CA98) several weeks ago (no date on receipt) but have not yet received it. Order #CP972867-1

    Please help.

    Sylvia

  • I got some long-tailed brushes at a booth at NCECA when it was in Louisville, KY. If you ever have a chance to attend NCECA, do so-it was fabulous. The presentations, the sales booths-I saw things I have never been exposed to in any of the ceramics magazines.
    IF IT EVER COMES TO THE MIDWEST AGAIN, I will certainly attend (I live near Kansas City).

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