Custom Clay Stamps for the 21st Century

There are a lot of ways to make custom clay stamps. From the homemade bisque stamp to the less common but no less complicated polymer clay stamp, potters have many choices on how to make stamps.

Cate Brus-Austin experimented with a variety of clay stamp making techniques, but was not getting the the crisp quality of line she was looking for. Then a friend mentioned having access to a 3D printer. Cate and her friend printed a variety of clay stamp shapes on the printer and one became her Holy Grail of pattern making! In this post from the March/April 2018 issue of Pottery Making Illustrated, Cate shares how she uses this stamp to make beautiful patterns on her work. –Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.


Making and Using Custom 3D Printed Clay Stamps

Making Clay Stamps

Seeking the perfect blend of pattern and ease of application, I have tried an assortment of stamps over the years: carved bisque stamps, metal stamps, and wooden stamps. All of them left something to be desired, I felt they did not produce clean edges or were too stiff to use. While discussing this issue with a friend, she mentioned she had access to a 3D printer. The possibilities for design suddenly felt endless and I could more easily incorporate my vision and personality into my stamps. We found a site (www.thingiverse.com) that offered hundreds of pre-designed 3D patterns, plugged one in and printed my first stamps. We made a handful of simple shapes, which I played with for a while, with the majority sitting idle in a box on my work table. That is, all but one. This stamp has become my holy grail of pattern application, the stamp I now use on almost all of my pieces. In the past couple of years I have modified and re-designed its shape to better fit my needs and to add variety to my patterns. Today I use various sizes of this stamp, the positive and negative shapes, as well as elongated versions (1). 

No 3D printer? Try Kyla Toomey’s techniques! Plus save 20%!

There is something really special about using a tool you made on your work. Even the simplest of tools made with your own hands make marks that are uniquely yours. Kyla Toomey found that making simple tools enabled her to create a distinctive body of work that is unmistakably hers. If you are interested in making pots that are unmistakably your own, Kyla’s video is packed with ideas and information to help you do that!

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1 A collection of my favorite and most used stamps.

2 Begin to add a stamped pattern to the pot, using the largest stamp and starting at the rim.

3 Create the second row of stamps on the pot and fill in the next layer below the first row of stamps.

Using the Clay Stamps

I prefer to stamp when the clay is leather hard. The stamps, which are made of plastic, tended to stick to the clay when I tried using them at wetter stages, warping the piece too much. If the clay is too firm, I’ve found that I get cracking along the stamp’s seams and at the lip rim.

Starting at the lip rim, I begin with my largest stamp, pressing half of the stamp firmly into the clay until the depth of the stamp is flush with the clay’s surface (2). Moving around the rim, I line up the edges of each stamp until I’m ¾ the way around. From here I mock stamp the clay, leaving the smallest trace of pattern behind until I reach the very first stamp impression I made. I do this so that I can make any adjustments to my spacing so as to have the most uniform coverage, leaving no gaps that interrupt my pattern. This becomes easier with practice.

4 Add layers of depth with similar stamps of different sizes to create the desired layered effect.

5 Move down the pot for the final row of stamps after adding an additional layer to the previous rows.

6 Use the stamps as a guide for spacing, press in with your thumbs and out with your index fingers to create a scalloped rim.

After completing this first round of stamping, I have the beginnings of the pattern set. Moving to the next smallest stamp, I press it into the center of the first larger stamp’s impression (3). I continue this cycle using gradually smaller stamps all the way around completing 3–5 levels of depth with progressively smaller stamps (4), depending on the thickness or my intention for the pot.

I then move on to the second portion of my stamping process. I choose the stamp that will best fit in between the two half stamps at the rim. I continue stamping all around the pot, choosing multiple sizes as I continue down the pot (5). Depending on the size of the pot, I will continue this second cycle of stamping for 3 or 4 levels. For this pot I completed three. When I’m satisfied with my stamping patterns and am pleased with the overall piece, I stamp my signature on the foot and add one additional signature stamp to the inside of the foot.

Finishing

Now I clean up any rough edges and smooth away any unwanted textures made by the stamps. I also create a scalloped rim at this time. The stamps I use make the template for the peaks and valleys of the scalloped rim (6). This extra step seems to truly complete the pot and blends in well with the stamping pattern to create an aesthetic I enjoy composing. To enhance the sense of depth of the stamps, I place my index fingers at the largest stamp indentations and place my thumbs at the center of the smallest stamp indentation. I then push into the pot’s center with my thumbs and outward, toward myself, with my index fingers. I repeat this at each stamp placement along the rim. To add more dimension and depth to the deepest stamps, I also push in gently from the outside with my thumbs. Finally, I look down at the rim of my pot and make minor adjustments to assure the pot is as symmetrical as possible.

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