The Perfect Cure for Cabin Fever: A Potter Shares a Cool Technique for Making Texture Stamps with Natural Objects

Spring is right around the bend so I thought today would be a good day to present a project that involves getting outside. This technique for making simple plaster texture stamps out of found objects comes from Woodstock, New York, ceramic artist Meg Oliver. To make the stamps she uses to create texture on her pottery, Meg usually takes a nice walk in the woods and picks up objects that will make interesting marks in clay. Then, she uses pinch pots and plaster to transform them into fun, free-form stamps.

 

I thought this would be a great project for teachers with students who are bouncing off the walls! Get ’em outside! – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.

 


 

 

Mark Maker, Mark Maker, Make Me a Mark:

 

 

 

Cherry Blossom Mugs, thrown and stamped porcelain with inlaid glazes, by Meg Oliver.

My mark-makers, so to speak, are plaster stamps. Most have a biological origin. Some are marks from found tools – a broken paintbrush, a grapefruit spoon, to name two of my favorites. Most of the marks are unrecognizable from their original source. On stamp-making day, I generally go for a walk, pick things from the garden or use a flower from a bouquet that is about to go. I basically collect a whole bunch of things. I then make little pinch pots and embed my treasures into the clay or decorate the inside of the pot with repeated marks. If you are trying this at home, remember that undercuts are no fun in plaster.

 

 

Stack of Sorbet Bowls, thrown and stamped porcelain with inlaid glazes, by Meg Oliver.

The plaster is then dolloped into the little pots. Any extra gets poured out onto a bunch of leaves or pine needles, or anything that could be interesting later. For a while, I was enamored by the mark left by air bubbles caught in the plaster, so I intentionally added air to the plaster mix so I could get as many as possible because they wear out quickly. I make about thirty or so stamps at a time. I peel away the little pinch pots when the plaster is still quite soft. This makes it that much easier to remove things that get embedded in the plaster. Some are amazing as little vignettes, but as stamps, are not quite what I was looking for. Some will always be what they are and do not transcend into a mark. And some, if I just cut in half or break off an appendage and rub with a green scrubby – Aha! A new favorite!


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After making a selection of pinch pots and embedding them with various found treasures (as shown at top of page), plaster is dolloped into the pots (as shown at left). Then, they are left to stiffen up.
 

 

Meg removes the pinch pots when the plaster is still a little soft because it is easier to remove things that get stuck. This stamp is ready for clean up.
 

 

The plaster mold on the right was stamped into the soft clay on the left.
For a video demonstration on mixing plaster see “Plaster Mixing 101
in the Ceramic Arts Daily Video Archives.

 

Comments
  • As a gardener/new potter and one who is not so good at drawing and carving this is a wonderful solution to decorating. thx

  • Fantastic idea, thankyou. I will try this on the weekend.

  • you can also make quick stamps by putting an object in the bottom of a styrofoam cup (or a paper cup) and then pour a dollop of plaster into the cup. Patterned buttons or buckles or shells are ideal

  • Awesome idea, I can’t wait to try it. Old earrings that have lost their mate also make interesting marks

  • Nice. I have so many stamps. I make them from just about anything.while working on a piece if I get an idea for a stamp, I stop my work grab a piece of clay and make the stamp..set it aside to go into the bisque fire. Voila! Done. I love your idea though. I think I might give it a try.

  • Here’s a tip, great idea using small cups, etc but if you put a base down of clay in the bottom of the cup, then embed hard objects like buttons with their faces up, or impress natural materials as well, then do the plaster pouring, it assures your item doesn’t move around, and that there are no undercuts where poured plaster might seep under the objects. Actually the same idea behind the process Meg is using here.

  • Please make the pop up pictures larger. Pics are so small, cannot see subject.

  • @ Michael. I switched out the small images. Sorry about that!

  • Intriguing! I know what I’ll be doing this weekend. Thanks.

  • Meg, your stamp-making process opened up a new world of possibities for me! CAD posted your ideas once before and it started me thinking about how to add my own style and marks to pots. Thank you for helping to define my style. I don’t make stamps, but I do impress berries, leaves, nuts, doilies, buttons and anything else that could be interesting. I rub oxides into the bisqueware and fire with translucent glazes. What fun! Thanks again for sharing your processes!

  • I love the look of imprinted textures in clay and use it a lot. I haven’t messed around with plaster much because clay stamps are also effective, once bisqued. I’ve gotten some great ideas from this post and the comments, though.

  • I submitted a comment earlier today, but I don’t see it here. So, here’s my question re-phrased: these stamps look slightly convex and thus they leave a curved depression with the raised part inside that. If I wanted to avoid that, would I have to make a positive mould from them, so that the design would be pushed in with no mark around it? Then I presume it could be filled in with engobe or just with the glaze itself. I think I have some trouble with reversing things…maybe a spatial relations weakness! Can anyone understand what I’m getting at??

  • wow…. wonderful idea to make stamps for decoration. Thank you

  • thankyou Meg… great ideas and from the other comments as well … eg old earrings….love the simple concept of pinch pots….will be a fun lesson for kids and adults alike in classrooms….

  • I get what you mean Ginny. However to avoid the outline of the stamp you just need to roll the stamp slightly as you make the impression and then there will be no depression of the round outline mark left.

  • Thanks a lot for this idea of a simple technique.

    I work at a school once a week and I love this idea for “plaster stamps diy”.

    Infact we have small stamps made of clay which the children really love. Only small clay cylinders marked at top and bottom whith a sharp pencil in different ways give lovely small stamps for their projects. only dry and bisque fire them after modelling.

    Like this, without plaster, you can also do stamps with your small rings or other decorative material in clay.

  • Ginny,
    I think you would indeed have to make a mold of the mold. I think it would work better if you used the cup idea to make the original plaster, then you could press clay into that and bisque the clay to make a stamp. Otherwise your bisque stamp would be concave and difficult to press into the clay. Experiment!

  • try laying items to be cast on the inside sides of the clay, too, then after pouring in the plaster, pull while clay is still able to be easily broken from mold. This way you have a stamp that had a three sided impression without undercuts. Fun!

  • Whew! I understand the answer from I (is that you, Meg?) on March 3rd, I must say I don’t understand Laurie’s suggestion. Can you re-phrase it?? I haven’t had time to try any of it yet…
    Ginny

  • Ginny.
    Meg here. As Diane suggested- just roll the stamp a bit as you press it in to avoid leaving a mark of the stamp- I find it much easier if the stamps are already curved instead of flat (thus making the bowl for the stamp). Also, if the stamp is curved you can get a visual of exactly where on the stamp gets the perfect impression so you can aim much easier…
    Laurie’s suggestion, from what I understand- is filling the entire inside of the bowl with impressions or things so that the plaster mold has texture all of the way around (except for the top) so you can, for instance, keep rolling the stamp along what might be the rim of the bowl…
    Have fun!

  • cool idea! do you buy plaster? if so, where? a powder mixed with water? (new student question).

  • oops, just saw plaster mixing link…but can’t delete my question above… thank u!

  • SO excited to see you on this site! I was THRILLED by the show you had a while back with Thad Powers at the Shirt Factory in Glens Falls (where I also have a studio). I bought a few small cups from you which I use and adore DAILY. I find your work very inspiring! Great article! Are you selling work anywhere at the moment?

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