Rolling, Rolling, Rolling: Making Roulettes to Add Texture and Depth to Your Pottery

Today, ceramic artist Andi Fasimpaur shares a technique for making rolling stamps, or roulettes. These rolling stamps are super fun for making repeat textures on ceramic surfaces. And they are easy to make if you follow Andi’s advice. So roll on, my friends, roll on. –Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

My first experience with rolling texture stamps was in a potter’s coop right after I graduated from high school. At the time, I had no idea what to call these clay tools, and simply referred to them as “rollers.” Later I learned their proper name: roulettes. Early attempts to copy the roulettes failed, but the ability to incorporate continuous bands of repeated texture and pattern remained a desired element of my clay work.

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Everything came together for me while trying to explain to a group of students how to make stamps for texturing slabs. To show them that the design on the stamp had to be the reverse of the design they wanted on the clay, I drew a picture in heavy water color pencil, then pressed very wet clay onto the drawing. I then laid the clay with the transferred picture on the table next to the original drawing, revealing the mirror image transferred to the clay. “Now,” I told the students, “if you carve along the lines left by the pencil, you will make a stamp that will leave that mark on the clay.” Suddenly I realized I could make my roulettes this way.

The Process
Plan your design on graph paper and draw several repetitions to form a short band. Draw a grid over what you consider the design cell; that is, a single repetition of the design motif with the midpoints marked. Note: Since most of my designs are organic or geometric patterns and, as a result, quite flexible, I don’t worry about transferring the design too exactly from paper to cylinder of clay (often making revisions on-the-fly), but you can be more precise if you wish.

<br />The page above from Andi's sketchbook shows a design inspired by a late night special on bees.

The page above from Andi’s sketchbook shows a design inspired by a late night special on bees.

Map the design to the cylinder. Mark off the cylinder into quarters by drawing a “+” on the top, and then draw lines from those marks down the sides to the bottom. Next, mark the midpoints on those quarter lines. Add more guidelines later if you need them. To get the design from paper to the cylinder, use watercolor pencils. Sketch the design using the guidelines you’ve just made. The pigment in the watercolor pencils transfers to the clay, leaving an easy-to-read line. Once the rough sketch is done, smooth the surface to remove any pencil gouges, then refine the design with another pencil of a second color.

Once the design is mapped out in colored pencil, begin carving the design into the slightly soft clay. My favorite tool for carving fine lines in clay is a large porcupine quill, but you can experiment with different tools for different line qualities. When the design is carved, set the cylinder aside and allow it to dry to leatherhard. At this stage, smooth the surface, remove any finger marks or other blemishes that might detract from the finished impression, and go over the carving again to refine it.

<br /> Pairing roulettes can create a variety of complex designs.

Pairing roulettes can create a variety of complex designs.

This is also the stage at which you might want to drill a hole for a handle, if you choose to use one. At the bone-dry stage, again clean and refine the carving, removing any clay crumbs from the carved lines by following the carving with a fine paintbrush dipped in water. When the seals are at this stage, you can safely test them by rolling them in soft clay. Some changes can still be made at this point if you aren’t happy.

CAUTION: Carving bone-dry clay generates quite a bit of dust. Brush the areas you want to refine with water before carving so that you don’t create as much dust.

When the seal is finished, fire it as you would any bisque stamp and care for it in the same way. Using these steps, it is possible to build a diverse library of patterns and textures.

**First published in 2008.
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