2-D to 3-D: Using Image Transfer and Mishima Techniques to Make Drawings on Pottery

Jazz up your pots with Mishima Drawings!

mishima techniquesIf 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.


mishima techniques

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.

mishima techniques

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.

mishima techniques

Remove the template to reveal the transferred tracing image. Use the transferred image as a guide for drawing deeper lines into the surface.

mishima techniques

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.

mishima techniques

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.

mishima techniques

Drawing Tools

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.

mishima techniques

Adding Color

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

mishima techniques

See images of Molly Hatch’s finished work at www.mollyhatch.com.

 **First published in 2012
  • Brenda H.

    Molly does not mention when the colorant is added to the Englobe recipe… nor does she suggest how much colorant (Mason stain) to add. I assume that it is correct to mix 1:1 the englobe recipe (after colorant is added) with the mixing medium. Could anyone clarify if this is correct? I would be so appreciative.

  • Haylie E.

    Saralyn, I think she forgot to mention that it needs to be an all natural sponge, not the cheap ones you see at the store. The cheap ones will get rid of your lines while the natural ones won’t smear. Also, you have to wait until the clay is at the really hard side of the leather hard stage, like almost bone dry. It took me FOREVER to figure that out haha XD hope that helps!

  • Corinda O.

    No, this technique is from Korea, though they use coloured slip instead of washes, in the incised lines.

  • Corinda O.

    Saralyn, try scraping when close to bone day – no scratch marks. Anything left can be sanded after bisque firing.

  • Corinda O.

    Am, you said you found the mixing medium – care to share? Is it just glycerine?

  • Greg R.

    Or adding more of the cmc gum. What I have seen with iron oxide washing is that it will soak into the body some; what about spritzing slightly, a little before applying the black wash? That could make the top layer less hospitable, while the carving would retain under sponging due to surface tension.

  • Greg R.

    This looks pretty interesting! On the streaking, my first thought is that a mixing medium that sets harder would help a lot. What I might try? Gum arabic, watered down elmers glue, watered down water based spar varnish.

  • Gwenn T.

    I, too, would like to know what kind of laminating paper you use. The things I do (not clay) with my laminator turn out stiff.

  • John B.

    I believe the technique is actually from Japan originally. Great work Molly! Wow!

  • Saralyn L.

    I have seen the finished pieces from Molly herself and still can’t do it without smearing, so I must be doing something wrong and wonder what it is so that I can master this beautiful technique. I also have read many articles in regard to the mishma technique, but still can’t master this one aspect. I will try anything to get it.

  • Subscriber T.

    Read people – just below the recipe for engobe and slip is a link to finished pieces – whats wrong with just clicking on that link to see the finished pieces!!! Come on – it’s not that difficult.

  • Janet B.

    Not seeing a finished piece really leaves me wondering about the technique. I got all the instructions, but Ihave no idea what the finished peice is supposed to look like.

  • Zandrea D.

    I would also like to know how to get the clean wipe. I participated in a Julia Galloway workshop and still can’t get the technique down. Silicon mudtools work the best,but it smears the design. When laminating, is it really just contact paper? I would think it would be softer for more detail rather than machine laminted. Thanks.

  • Saralyn L.

    After attending your mishma workshop a few years ago in Indy, I have tried several times to get the clean surface that you showed, without success. I seem to get smearing of the engobe over the top, coming out of the carved seams, no matter how long I let it all dry. I have tried both a wet and dry sponge and I can’t get things clean. Scraping works, but get scratch marks. What am I doing wrong?? Thanks, your work is just beautiful and I love going over your old and new designs.

  • What kind of stain/slip are you using on the greenware?

  • Found the mixxing medium. Ut still needinformation on laminated transfer paper.

  • Thanks CAD again!! This year I am researching printing and drawing techniques and you have provided SO many articles on this lately, its like your reading my mind about what I’d like to explore- wonderful!
    For those not happy that a finished image is not in the article- just visit the artists link for lots of images.

  • What is laminated transfer paper and mixing medium? Love the work.

  • And WHEN will you learn to give us an image of a finished piece? So often you don’t do this, and it’s always disappointing!

  • What is a “mixing medium”? Not sure I’ve ever heard that term in a ceramic context. Is it the same as a painter would use, for mixing/thinning paints?

  • Great!! This is a window to Mishma Technique and I would love to follow the tips by Molly

  • Salle E.


  • Just to double check – once you apply the stain, you wait a day or two till the piece is dry and then remove it, or do it once the stain has dried?

  • Michel P.

    This is so clever and the end results are stunning bringing the ancient techniques of Korea into the modern era!

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