Colored clay murrini techniques (similar to neriage or nerikomi) have been around for a long time. And lucky for us, we now have a gigantic range of colors to choose from because of the availability of stains and various oxides, which are easily acquired through ceramics suppliers. Chris Campbell has been working with colored pottery clay for twenty years and, as she puts it, has not “come close to trying everything I want to do…there always seems to be another question, another idea. It’s just so much fun.”
Today Chris joins us to help spread the fun with a simple colored clay murrini project. Even though the project only starts with two different colors of pottery clay, by mixing different proportions of the two colors, and arranging the results in different patterns in a loaf, surprisingly intricate patterns can be developed. – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.
“Basically, I do what I do because there is nothing else that fascinates and challenges me as much as colored porcelain. I’ve been working with it for 20 years and still have not come close to trying everything I want to do … there seems to always be another question, another idea. It’s just so much fun.”
Colored clay murrini techniques have been in use since the times of the Ancient Egyptians. Yet, even with this deep history, very few Western ceramicists try using colored clay other than in single-toned clay slips. They seem to favor glazes that hide the surface of the pot, rather than using techniques that expose the clay. You can find some agate wares and sprigging, but colored clays are not part of many potters “tool kits.”
The Murrini Process
1. Make two doorstop shaped wedges of the different colors and line them up thickest end to thinnest end as shown in this image. You can slice this now squared loaf into as many slices as you want. Fewer slices will result in bolder color changes. If you want softer and more gradual color changes, cut more slices.
2. When you remove the slices you must number each one so you will remember which order they were in. This is the most important step. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP!
3. Knead each slice until the colors are blended to your satisfaction, then set them aside AFTER NUMBERING EACH ONE AGAIN. At this point I would make a small test disc of each color and fire it to be sure I liked the results. You do not want to put all the work into a patterned loaf only to find out the colors are wrong.
4. Roll out each ball of colored clay and cut them to the same width and thickness using a simple cardboard template. You will be using half of the pieces to create a simple striped loaf and saving the other pieces for later.
5. Place the pieces on your worktable in the order you wish to stack them.
6. For this project, I have brushed a thick black slip between each layer to make a thin line between colors
7. This is my multi-hued striped loaf.
8. Now we will be combining layers of this striped loaf with your reserved colored slices to make an attractive patterned loaf. The first thing to do is to cut the striped loaf into even slices using two identical boards or rulers as guidelines for your cutting wire.
9. Place the reserved solid-colored slices and your striped slices on your table in the order you want to use them. The order is strictly up to you.
10. Begin placing the striped slices by measuring and trimming until they match the size of the plain-colored slices. You should note that I have had to cut some in thirds to get the correct size.
11. Alternate the striped slices whimsically with the plain pieces checking to make sure you like the emerging pattern. Use a thin coating of black slip between the layers to create a thin shadow.
12. Tap the finished loaf gently on all sides to ease the slices together. Do not worry about air pockets as you will be able to smooth them out as you use the individual slices.
13. This is my finished stacked loaf. I recommend letting the loaf rest for a day or two before using it to build forms or for decorating.
14. This is a slice off the loaf that I can then use for handbuilding pieces.
It is simple to expand your use of color from boring single tones to the rainbow of hues available through mixing stains into clay. I use Mason Stain colors mixed with Southern Ice Porcelain to create my original designs in very vibrant colors. I mix the Mason stains with just enough water to create a creamy solution. I use my mixer to knead in the stain solution until the color is even throughout the clay body. This can also be done by hand. The finished clay should be soft as cookie dough.