A Piece of Cake: Clay Applique Decoration on Functional Pottery

Kari Radasch applies the decorative flowers on this plate as a baker would apply fondant to a cake. Yummy!

Kari Radasch applies the decorative flowers on this plate as a baker would apply fondant to a cake. Yummy!

I enjoy watching the Food Network show The Ace of Cakes. I suppose, this is partially because watching the cast work on cakes is not too different from watching a skilled ceramic artist work. The other reason is that I am just a huge fan of cakes. In fact, if I am flipping through the stations and catch just a glimpse of The Ace of Cakes, my mouth instantaneously waters and my stomach growls.

Kari Radasch’s work produces a similar reaction. After all, with their white slip and pastel applique decoration, her pots resemble iced cakes and I sort of want to take a bite out of them. But I don’t just love them because of the “mmmmmm…cake” factor. Rather, quite simply, they are lovely, well-executed pots. It just so happens that Kari’s process also relates to cake decorating. She works with her appliqué decoration in a similar way that a baker works with fondant. She explains this process today and shares her clay body, slip and glaze recipes. So, sit back, grab yourself a piece of cake (because you are probably hungry by now), and read on. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.

Clay Fondant

I began working with applique as a decorative technique because I was focused on hand cutting one-of-a-kind decorative tile for the floor of a small entryway on the side of our house. It very quickly took on a life of its own. I began by rolling 1/4-inch slabs and cutting out garden-inspired tile motifs. After amassing boards and boards of tile, I was able to see these objects clearly and understand on a much grander scale how they could be incorporated into my changing work. I loved the sharp edges, the planar nature and linear quality, and that they were at once both two-dimensional and three-dimensional. It seemed like an interesting contradiction to affix these flat “stickers” to a round pot.

Transferring this technique to dishes was straightforward, minus a few minor technical issues. The first was to change the thickness of the applique slab. I needed to go from tile to fondant. This was an easy shift as many years ago I had spent time working in a Berkeley studio that produced thinly rolled, delicate porcelain ornaments. However, once I started slicing the thinly rolled slabs I noticed that the edges were prone to tearing. This left me with shabby edges, and slip or glaze would not break nicely over them. My solution was to shelve my handmade clay and use a commercially produced body to roll my appliqué slabs. This clay has been de-aired, which yields less tearing and has significantly more plasticity, allowing me to roll beautiful slabs and cut perfect stickers. Currently, I use whatever non-grogged earthenware I can find. I have not had any problems with fixing two different clay bodies together-though I always test before making work with a new clay.

The actual decorating process reminds me of drawing. I have my dish and my pre-leather hard appliqué slab ready. I analyze the dish and make decisions about the most dynamic way to engage the space. These decisions are general, vague, gut-feelings, not hard and fast rules. From here I cut a series of shapes and motifs and start by placing them on the dish. I work them like a two-dimensional design problem moving the appliqué here and there. When I feel comfortable with a solution I start attaching: slipping, scoring, and sticking. Finally I let the work dry. (a bit slowly at first) If I am going to have any problems with the appliqué popping off it will be during this stage of the drying. Once the pots are bone dry, I then dunk and pour the dishes in a bath of white slip that has the consistency of 2% milk. After the pots are bisqued, I brush the entire pot in a clear glaze and sponge off the applique. The application of color is made using the same clear base glaze with the addition of Mason Stains. I float a variety of thick frosting-like glazes on the raised surfaces and then glaze fire to cone 03.


Kari’s Clay, Slip and Glaze Recipes

Radasch Redware
Cone 03
Raw Material Percentage
Red Art 50
Gold Art 20
Fire Clay 15
Talc 10
Silica 5
Total 100%
1 tbsp. Barium Carbonate to prevent scumming. Grog to taste.

Pete Pinnell’s White Slip
Raw Material Percentage
OM4 Ball Clay 40
Talc 40
Silica 10
Nepheliine Syenite 10
Total 100
  • For thin dunking slip, use 15% zircopax.
  • For thick brushing slip use 7% zircopax.
  • Wait 24 hours before fine tuning because the nepheline syenite and sodium creates a slight deflocculation.
 
Mere Kari Clear Glaze
Cone 03
 
Raw Material Percentage
Frit 3124 59
Pemco Frit 626 14
Nepheline Syenite 11
Silica 10
EPK Kaolin 6
Total 100%
Add:
Veegum T 1.6%
CMC Gum 0.6
Mason Stains 7-15
Meredith Brickell and I revised this glaze, which was known as SWO originally from the Val Cushing Glaze Book.

 

To learn more about Kari Radasch, visit www.kariradasch.com. If you’d like to purchase her work, visit her Etsy site.

Comments
  • Absolutely beautiful work. Unfortunately, in the UK I can’t source many of the ingredients named as they are, so it takes a lot of time to find possible alternatives. But I’m getting there and if my plates end up even half as good as yours Kari, I will be very pleased.

  • Beautiful techniques Kari. Thanks so much for sharing. I love making cakes too and applying flat slabs to thrown plates and vases. I love the idea of adding mason stains to the clear glaze. I have just a few questions.
    1.) I was going to ask about how you get your glazes to “float” over each other. But I notice your special clear formula has CMC gum in it. Is that why you can “float” them on? My brush-on glaze-over-glaze attempts are kinda puckish but I don’t often think of using gum. I think the Mayco underglazes that I’ve used before flow on pretty well and have gum in them to make them brush on.
    2.) Are your hand drawn decals in color?
    3.) Do you use your handmade clay for construction of your base piece and then apply the appliques made from commercial earthenware?
    Thanks so much Kari and Jennifer and team for publishing this great article.

  • One more question Kari. I notice you do not bisque your pieces but glaze them when they are greenware. Did I get that right from the article? Do you lose work because the water from the glazing causes stresses. Sometimes I’ve had stuff just self destruct when I’ve tried dipping greenware. Also for some reason for me the surface comes out more grainy. Maybe it’s because I fire to cone 6?

  • Very inspiring! Thank you for the break today! Love the Flicker pix too! Back to the studio I go!

  • emilie, read it again. she puts the slip covering on greenware. and the glaze after bisque firing.

  • Lovely pots! I am going to try some of this. My main question is about the decals. Maybe it’s because you use the same images over and over, but it seems like it would just be easier to draw the lines right on the “fondants” than to take the extra step of making the decals and having to do another firing. Underglaze pens and pencils might accomplish the same ends, yes?

  • How do you get the scalloped edge on the plate?

  • Ditto on the scallops-I’ve seen this beading before, and always wondered….

  • Emilie-from what I gathered from the article and from Kari’s recent demonstrations and talks at the Women Working in Clay Symposium at Hollins U, she applies the slip to bone dry pieces, then bisques. Then she glazes after the bisque firing.

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