Fabric patterns can be a great source of inspiration for a ceramic artist, but figuring out how to translate the patterns into your clay work can take practice.
With a seamstress mom and a quilting grandma, Colleen Riley was surrounded by textiles growing up so it makes a lot of sense that her clay surfaces resemble fabric designs. In today’s post, an excerpt from the January 2013 issue of Ceramics Monthly, Colleen explains the techniques she developed for creating surfaces that resemble batik fabric. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.
I grew up surrounded by textiles. My mother was an accomplished seamstress, performing a small miracle on every homecoming and prom dress she made for her four daughters. We spent many delightful hours together at the fabric store, in collaborative exploration of every possibility for an upcoming outfit. My grandmother, who lived nearby, always had a quilt, embroidery, or crochet project in the works. My father was stationed in India during World War II. He brought back artifacts that were profoundly exotic to a girl from the Midwest, such as a carved wooden cigarette box and an ivory-inlaid cribbage board. My favorite artifact was a piece of sari cloth woven with silver thread. Sadly, that cloth was destroyed in a flood many years ago, but it remains indelibly etched in my memory.
I admire the luscious bare clay surfaces produced in our soda kiln. But I’m also drawn to the rich, reactive surfaces of saturated matte glazes. In an effort to bring both into my work, I’ve refined a technique that exploits the best qualities of bare clay and glazed matte surfaces in a soda firing, while referencing the textures and patterns found in textiles. I start by applying slip to the leather-hard form (1). This is not a traditional thin flashing slip for soda firing, it’s made from my clay body, with added colorants such as iron and black stain, and mixed to a heavy cream consistency. Any favorite slip or engobe is worth a try, with or without colorants. After the slip has dried a bit, I scratch through the slip to create a texture or rough pattern (2). This creates the impression of threads in a tapestry. I resist the tendency to over-design this bottom layer, considering that this texture will fight with the overlaying design if they are both too busy. (Always wear a dust mask when scratching or carving dry clay.)
Amy Sanders grew up in a house where everyone sewed, and it’s no surprise it shows in her pottery.
See how she combines the best of both world’s in her detailed DVD Creative Forming with Custom Texture.
After bisque firing, I add another design by brushing with wax resist, envisioning a subtractive effect similar to batik (3). After the wax dries, I pour or dip the final glaze layer (4). To avoid opaque, dense-looking surfaces, my glazes are generally applied thinner than they would be for traditional stoneware firing. This allows the underlying colored slip and texture to bleed through, often creating a third different color.
Since this surface can be complex, the interior of a bowl is glazed simply (5). To create a subtle, ghosted effect I may add a complimentary design of the exterior in a slightly contrasting glaze underneath the liner glaze. Or, apply wax resist in a simple pattern near the rim of the glaze, keeping in mind that the soda is likely to affect bare clay only near the rim of the interior.
This two-step decorating process allows me to tap into my inner textile-designer self, giving great flexibility to explore patterns in a broad palette of slip/glaze effects. It’s taken a lot of experimentation to narrow down the most successful combinations, and every firing reveals yet more possibilities. The soda acts as a wash, softening the transition areas between bare clay, slip, and glaze, pulling the elements together into a more cohesive whole.
Colleen Riley is a full-time ceramic artist living and working just south of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. She is founder and past president of the Minnesota Women Ceramic Artists (MNWCA) professional organization, overseeing planning of annual exhibitions, events and programs for 60+ members.