Addition and Subtraction: Slip Trailing and Carving for Raised and Recessed Surface Decoration

Serving bowl, 10 in. (25 cm) in diameter, thrown, carved and dotted porcelain, fired to Cone 10 in reduction, 2007.

There are many reasons for the aesthetic choices artists make. Emily Reason chooses repetitive marks in part because she finds the action of making these decorations meditative. Emily is inspired by Sung Dynasty porcelain and the beautiful North Carolina Mountains that surround her. She tries to make her celadon blues “like the sky,” her greens “like the grass,” and her blacks “rich and velvety, like the night.” To fully integrate the glazes with the form and surface, Emily adds texture through both additive and subtractive methods.

Today I am presenting an excerpt from Studio Ceramics: Advanced Techniques, which explains her slip trailing and carving techniques. We’ll also show you the homemade tool she uses to create the “pleats” on her pots. – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

On the Surface

Teapot, 8 inches (20 cm) in height, thrown and slip-dotted porcelain, fired to cone 10 in reduction.

“Surface design is a process,” states Emily Reason. “Carving and dots are meditative for me because the work is repetitive and gives me a sense of creating order.”

Emily Reason carves and slip trails her surface designs. The textures she creates are enhanced by the use of celadon glazes. She adorns the pot’s surface at the leather-hard stage.

Reason’s homemade carving tool was modeled after a tool used to create carved patterns on Chinese Yaoware pottery. The L-shaped blade, set in a bamboo handle, is used to create a pleated pattern of lines. For Reason, carving lines is a rhythmic motion that achieves even, consistent marks. The corner of the L, carves into the leather-hard clay, making the deepest part of the recessed line. The tool is effective in achieving a line with depth, allowing the glaze to vary as it pools in the deepest part of the line.

Emily Reason's homemade clay carving tool.

The clay carving tool in action.

Detail of Emily's L-shaped clay carving tool.

Slip-trailing bulbs and plastic bottles, such as hair-dye bottles with variously sized tips are used to create a dotted surface. Using her porcelain slurry, Reason sieves the clay to a yogurt consistency to make a thick slip. Dots of slip are squeezed onto the pot’s surface with the bulb, much like decorating a cake. Both the carved lines and sharp tips of the dots are smoothed and softened with a damp sponge.

This post was excerpted from Studio Ceramics: Advanced Techniques, which is available in the Ceramic Arts Network Shop!

To learn more about Emily Reason or see more images of her work, visit 

  • Jeannelou T.

    When i do dots, i can work with bone dry pieces, if i water spritz the piece 5 times at 5 minute intervals.

  • Amy B.

    i love the effect given using dots, cant wait to give it a go! thanks for posting this:)

  • Simone M.

    Muito bom gosto.Modelagem agradável e esmaltes muito belos.Parabéns.A mistuta entre eles dá equilibrio estetico.

  • Acquah G.

    i’m amazed at the extent of creativity; i think tools, technique and “brains” give results that are pleasing.

  • Lorraine B.

    I think whatever tools you use will become something you will be proficient with, so the tools Emily uses may be ok for her, but you might find them difficult.. Try lots of different ones till you find what suits.

  • Patricia S.

    Thanks for the tip, my ‘dots’ always feel sharp, now I know to swipe over them after they are somewhat dry with a wet sponge…great idea. Your pieces are gorgeous!

  • Kate B.

    This is very inspirational – thankyou 🙂

  • Melissa W.

    I’m new at this too… how does this tool’s results differ from the fluting tool (more like a loop)?

  • I am new to ceramics. Because of physical reasons I only work with bisque. I am looking for unique techniques to create different surfaces and glaze results.

    I am mainly doing Teaware. Any ideas? 🙂

  • Emily R.

    I had a very hard time finding steel that was thin, rigid & could be bent at a 90 degree angle. A band saw blade has been working well. You must heat it with a torch to keep it from breaking when you bend it.

  • Marsha P.

    Wonderful carving tool. what is the metal, and where can one get it to make a similar tool? great article.

  • Emily R.

    Dots go on at leather hard as well. The slip trailer leaves a sharp tip, which I swipe over with a damp sponge, once they’ve dried a bit

  • Susan E.

    Are the dots put on when the piece is leather hard also?

  • June L.

    I use an ear syringe to get a similar effect. Have a lot of control with that.

  • Madeleine M.

    We must be twins! very similar to my stuff at other end of the world!

Enter Your Log In Credentials
This setting should only be used on your home or work computer.

Larger version of the image
Send this to a friend