If you’re drawn to drawing on clay surfaces, but haven’t quite mastered the ability to get your two-dimensional ideas onto your three-dimensional forms, this post is for you. During her undergraduate years at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, potter Molly Hatch mostly focused on drawing. Then in her final year, she learned how to combine drawing and printmaking skills for surface decoration on pottery, and the rest, as they say, is history. Molly went on to earn her MFA in ceramics.
In today’s post, Molly explains how she uses image transfer and Mishima techniques to create her drawings in clay. Plus she shares her slip and engobe recipes. – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.
Mishima is a traditional Korean slip-inlay technique. The Korean pots you see with mishima decoration typically use several colors of slip in the same piece. I basically use the same black slip recipe for all of my mishima drawing. I always reference a pattern when I am drawing on my pots and sometimes I use a template to transfer a detail of the pattern.
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In this case, I am using the template to transfer the bird in the pattern onto the cup surface. I make my templates by laminating my own drawing of a found pattern. This is helpful if you are trying to make multiples, but still requires a lot of drawing and interpretation because you are drawing on a three-dimensional surface.
A laminated paper template of your drawing can help maintain consistency in a design when transferring images to a set. All of my mishima is done when the pots are a dry-leather hard. Usually they are ready to draw on just after trimming is finished.
Gently wrap the laminated pattern around the cup and use a quill or dull-tipped pencil to trace the image, taking care to position the image exactly where you would like it to be on the cup.
Remove the template to reveal the transferred tracing image. Use the transferred image as a guide for drawing deeper lines into the surface.
After going over the tracing, finish off the rest of the drawing freehand, using the template as a visual reference. You do not need to draw very deeply into the surface for mishima to work. I often feel as though I am just scratching into the surface of the clay.
Apply a layer of stain over the drawing using a wide brush. Once the pot has dried back to the dry leather-hard state and any sheen on the slip has gone, wipe away excess slip from the surface of the pot using a clean sponge. You need to clean the sponge often during this process to avoid streaks on the surface of the pot.
There are many tools you can use to incise the surface of the pot for mishima. I have gone through stages of preferring particular tools. Pencil-style X-Acto knives, commercial stylus carving tools (sold in ceramic supply stores), African porcupine quills (available at Santa Fe Clay) amongst others. My current drawing tool of choice is a calligraphy pen with exchangeable metal tips. It is the same kind of pen that you dip in ink and would use to do traditional calligraphy; I just use it on clay instead.
Pictured here (from left to right): X-acto knife for drawing into the leather-hard clay; African porcupine quill (I got mine from Santa Fe Clay) for drawing and transferring images into the leather hard clay (different line quality); $1.00 Chinese brush for brushing on the slip after I have drawn into the leather hard clay; Extra soft men’s shaving brush for brushing away the crumbs of clay (I got mine at a flea market because really nice ones are really expensive!); natural sponge: for wiping away the slip after I have brushed it onto the pot.
On many of my pots, I add color accents to the mishima pattern through painting. I do all of my painting after the pot has been bisque fired and before I do any glazing. For the color, I use a cone 04 vitreous engobe that I mix myself, but commercial underglazes also work well. If you use an engobe, combine it in a 1:1 ratio with mixing-medium using a palette knife until it is well mixed. The mixing-medium helps make the engobe more brushable and thins it out so that you can build up color in layers, similar to painting on canvas. This layering makes for more solid colors with less visible brush strokes. The engobe recipe that I use tends to flux a bit at cone six but it can still be used to fill in the line drawings on the bottoms of pots. After I finish adding the color, I use a clear glaze over everything then fire the work in oxidation to a hot cone six.
Slip and Engobe Recipes
See images of Molly Hatch’s finished work at www.mollyhatch.com.