From Flat to Round: Screen Printing Glaze Patterns onto Pottery

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Today, I am going to share a ceramic decorating technique that was adapted from another artistic process: screen-printing textiles. Printing onto clay is not a new technique. A browse through the Pottery Making Illustrated back issues or the Ceramic Arts Daily archives, turns up lots of articles on various ways to print on clay. But the following method was a new twist that I hadn’t seen before.

Though she had started out her artistic career as a potter, life’s twists and turns caused Susan Kotulak to shift gears and pursue textile arts. But the clay called her back and she now works actively in both media. It’s no surprise, then, that having this dual focus would eventually lead to the two processes influencing one another. This super cool technique is one of several that she developed for pottery using materials from her textile/surface design work. Hope you are as excited to try it as I am! – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.


 Using Foam to Transfer Pattern onto Pottery

by Susan Kotulak

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By screen-printing the glaze onto the foam, and then quickly pressing my bisqueware down onto it, the pot absorbed the wet glaze. By using my hands under the foam to wrap and press it up against the pot all the way around, I could pattern the entire surface of the pot, with only a single seam. By planning ahead, and selecting patterns that were not overly geometric, I was able to have even the seam disappear.

Foam is capable of stretching around curves without wrinkling or folding, reaching into shallow recesses, and carrying the volume necessary for glaze development. Unlike transfer paper, used with stains and oxides, foam can work with glaze! Transfer paper, which is often recommended for screen-printing onto pottery, can only absorb small amounts of colorants, and so is useful only for concentrated oxides or stains, rather than the volume of coating that glaze development requires. Also, transfer paper can’t conform to a round shape.

Learn Volumetric Image Transfer on Pottery!
Forrest Lesch-Middelton’s unique process solves the problem of how to get screen-printed images onto curvy wheel thrown pots. In his informative video, Volumetric Image Transfer on Potteryhe explains how to make a silk screen, mix the screening medium, what equipment you’ll need to create images and how to successfully screen images onto paper that’s suitable for transferring to the moist clay surface. Depending on whether the decoration is on the inside or outside surface, you’ll learn the different techniques needed to address most any form.

Tips for the Screen Printing Process

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Here are a few tips from my experience:

Almost any glaze can be used, simply by limiting the amount of water added, or taking part of a regular batch and letting it evaporate and thicken. I found that a pudding or mayonnaise consistency is best (see photo). If too watery, the glaze doesn’t go through the screen properly, leaking through too freely into the foam. If the glaze is too dry, the bisque ware does not wick up the glaze from the foam. A very light spray of water on the foam before the screen is printed onto it can help delay the glaze from drying before you can transfer it to the pot.

I found that transfer printing with foam was not suited to extremely fine detail transfers, such as photographs, because the pores of the foam need to be substantial enough to hold enough glaze, and that limits the delicacy of the image to some degree. Almost any foam can work, though each has its pros and cons. Larger, more open pores carry more glaze, but limit detail. Tight, dense foam carries less glaze and may dry out quickly. Thick foam helps achieve more even compression and transfer onto the surface of the pot, but takes longer to dry between uses. A small amount of glaze remains in the screen and foam afterward, and these can be washed out. Any residue inside the foam does not affect subsequent prints.

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If you’d like to try this fun technique, you can buy foam at upholstery supply, fabric and craft stores. A silk-screen with an image based on your black and white art can be made up at many art-supply stores or there are many internet sites from which you can order custom silk screens. You can also buy a blank screen and use paper, tape, or other block-out mechanisms to create your image. Remember you’ll be printing the open areas of the screen, not the taped portion! To print with glaze, you’ll need a 10xx size mesh or larger in your screen so the clay particles can pass through. An inexpensive window squeegee can be used to push the glaze through the screen.

Using foam to screen print onto round pots is actually an easy process and I encourage everyone to try it. This technique could work very well with sculpture too! Happy screening onto your work!

After doing Raku firing for twenty years, Susan Kotulak now also fires her own high-temperature soda kiln, and participates in group anagama firings in her area. Completing the union of her two media, she now shows wood-fired pottery with companion textile display cloths. See more of her work at www.theokidokianagama.com/index.html.

**First published in 2011.
Comments
  • mystery solved! I often wondered how to “transfer” larger imagery via a soft sponge and just needed to wait for someone to stretch the idea a little larger. I bet it will take a little practice, but many thanks for sharing your wonderful idea. I have a studio full of saved pieces of foam, and now they will come in handy vs just taking up more space!

  • Wonderful! It will be interesting to see if it will work on greenware also.
    Thanks for some really useful and exciting information.

  • I have also used this successfully with a majolica technique; a white glaze goes on bisque ware then the foam print is applied on top of that.

  • This is a variation on an industrial process, which I believe is called “tampo-printing”. It’s used whenever words or graphics have to be wrapped onto a 3-dimensional product. The silk-screen wipes ink onto a rotating form made of silicone rubber, and this form “kisses” the product as it passes by on a conveyor, releasing the wet ink onto the item’s surface.

    It works perfectly because the ink doesn’t stick well to the silicone, remaining wet so it can transfer off onto the object. Often the original image is distorted, so it will appear correct (undistorted) when it ends up on a non-flat surface. Potters familiar with silicone rubber should be encouraged to try this…it could yield sharper imagery than cellular foams can produce.

  • In the specialty printing field it is called “pad printing”. Google to see the equipment. It is worth visting and ad specialty store just to watch the golf balls being printed by pressing a squishy cone aginst the ball while it is held motionless.

  • I am so excited to try this. Can’t wait to get into the studio tomorrow! I have been screen printing on slabs of clay and have had so much fun, this is another level of creativity. Thanks for sharing.

  • have always been interested in screen printing but don’t want to work on flat tiles/slabs. Great technique….will try in the near future!

  • Is the foam pad moist or dry? How many applications can you do from the same foam pad at once, or it cleaned and reused for every application?
    Love your results!!

  • Hello, I own a gallery in Pennsylvania and would appreciate knowing how to get in touch with Susan Kotulak. We are having an exhibition of textiles by a British artist and think the combination of work could be interesting. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks Betty Bryden

  • linda técnica estoy interesada en aprender a estampar sobre las vasijas que elaboro

  • Bonjour,

    c’est vraiment tres beau je voudrais savoir ou se procurer les encadrements ou les grilles que vous utiliser pour le motif savoir comment cela s’appelle
    d’avance merci
    cordialement

    Hello,

    it’s really very nice I would like to know or obtain frameworks or grids that you use on the ground know what it’s called
    thank you in advance
    cordially

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