Decorating Low Fire Pottery with Slips, Underglazes, and Lusters

Although bright colors have become just as easy to achieve at cone six as they are at cone 06, Gail Kendall still prefers the low fire approach, inspired by the casual decorative style of peasantware from Europe and Great Britain. In today’s post, Gail explains her techniques for creating simple and beautiful slip-decorated surfaces. She also shares her slip and glaze recipe. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.



Back in the 1960s, only the low-fire process afforded access to a broad range of saturated colors. With various encapsulated stains that have come onto the market in recent years, a whole range of reds and oranges have become reliable at high temperatures.

I still work with low-temperature materials for philosophical reasons as much as anything else. My goal is to align my work aesthetically to its peasant-ware ancestors from Europe and Great Britain.




 Slab and Coilbuilding

Gail Kendall reveals how you can create beautiful pots with the simplest of tools and techniques. Her easy-to-follow step-by-step instructions on her comprehensive video guide you through a series of projects relying on ancient techniques that have never gone out of style. If you think you need expensive equipment and tools to make pots, think again.

Check it out and view a clip 



One of the aspects of peasant pots that I love is the casualness of construction and glazing that is common to the finished object. Village potters collecting scant remuneration for their labors could not invest huge amounts of time in their work. It’s likely that more basic and less controlled firing technologies also contributed drips, splotches, blurring and other variations that add to the overall feeling of freedom that I admire.

Greenware is painted with White Slip (see above). I use brushes with either coarse or soft bristles, for the desired surface texture. Small areas missed are allowed to remain.

I draw through the slip on the surface. I use a sharp knife to cut through the slip to trace the shape of an edge, or create a design or texture. I also may use sgraffito techniques to texture areas with a stick or pencil, or draw other patterns onto the surface revealing the red clay under the slip.

After bisque firing to Cone 03, black underglaze is applied to the surface, then washed off. I let the piece dry thoroughly and then begin applying fields of small, black underglaze dots.

The final appearance of any pot is affected by every stage of the creation process, beginning with forming. I allow joins, scrapes, scratches and other imperfections resulting from handbuilding to remain on the surface of the finished greenware.

Prior to the bisque firing, I carefully brush or smooth away the little bits of piled up slip that accrue on the surface due to the sgraffito techniques. Tiny bits of slip, if allowed to remain through all the firings, can become sharp enough to cut or scratch the user.

Once the pot is bisque fired to Cone 03, I paint the entire surface with a black underglaze—watered down as much as possible but still opaque when applied.

After it dries briefly, I wash it off with clean water and a sponge, retaining the black in the recessed details.

I always use a food safe commercial clear glaze on the interior of all soup tureens and teapots, or any other form that may hold liquid. Fashionable or not, I am pleased with my work when it displays a lustrous gloss of just the right thickness and juiciness.

I apply four or five coats of Gerstley Borate Base Glaze in the remaining unglazed areas. I enjoy the subtlety of commercial gloss next to my own gloss glazes, which have a softer appearance.

I then fire these pieces to Cone 03.

After the work comes out of the glaze firing, I may add some 24K burnished gold luster to handles, small buttons of clay, or other details. This luster is formulated with small amounts of yellow ochre that rises to the surface during the final firing to Cone 017.

The luster is then burnished with extra fine steel wool to reveal the beautiful shine of 24K gold.


For more interesting ceramic decorating techniques, download your free copy of Five Great Pottery Decorating Techniques: A How-to Guide for Decorating Ceramics with Slip Transfers, Chinese Brush Techniques, Ceramic Slip, Sgraffito, and More.



Click to enlarge!

Click to enlarge!

Click to enlarge!

  • Robert B.

    Sorry! Got Gail’s name from the link embedded in the post. Still love the work!

  • Elizabeth J.

    Thanks for the recipes

  • H.

    Sorry folks! Just saw these comments! I totally forgot to add the recipes. They’re up there now! – Best,
    Jennifer Harnetty

  • Elizabeth J.

    Couldn’t find the recipes in today’s post????

  • Maria Do Carmo S. R.

    I am also interested in those recipes.
    Thanks for the post

  • Robert B.

    Hi Gail! Thanks for the post. I was at the Bray with you in the mid 90’s, just getting started on my way in ceramics then. I really appreciated your work then and do now as well. I just got my own electric kiln set up at home after years of relying on the institutions I teach at. It is good to read about and see these techniques as I explore low fire in my own tiny studio. I am seeing the benefits of commercial products when working in a small space with limited storage for big buckets of glaze.

  • Kari B.

    Thank you for the nice post. I really like the final results of this technique. Jennifer’s intro mentions that she would share her slip and glaze recipe. I didn’t see where those were posted. Did I miss them?

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