How to Make Tessellations with Simple Bisque Stamps

Tessellations made easy!

How to Make Tessellations

Amy Meya was fascinated by tessellation—the repeated use of a single shape without gaps or overlapping—and wanted to figure out a way to incorporate tessellating patterns into her work. At first she tried to make a mosaic with tessellated tiles, but wasn’t happy with the results.

So she came up with another method in which she created bisque stamps that would create tessellations. In today’s post, an excerpt from the Pottery Making Illustrated archives, she explains how to use them on slabs to make beautiful wall tiles. – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.


Several years ago I became fascinated with tessellation, the repetition of shapes without overlapping or any gaps, and wanted to use this interesting technique of pattern making in my work. There are many examples of tessellations in nature—a honeycomb is an obvious one—but some others are turtle shells, salt flats, and snake skin, to name a few.

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Roll out a 1-inch-thick slab of clay and let it stiffen up a bit, but not to leather hard. Place a pre-cut paper template on the slab and then trace around it. Cut through the clay around the template using a very sharp, thin knife. Then, using various loop or carving tools, enhance or alter the surface to finish the tessellation stamp. Some shapes, such as hexagons, tessellate in such a way that a pattern created in the shape can flow to the adjacent shape if designed correctly. Knowing which edges will be touching when the shapes are put back together can help you decide what type of pattern to put on the stamp.

Once the stamp is leather hard, smooth all the edges on the top and the bottom, that way you won’t hurt your hand on any sharp edges when pressing it and it’s less likely to chip or break. Tip: Use recycled clay to make stamps, so as not to waste new clay. I use a mixture of terra cotta and a grogged earthenware clay body. Bisque fire the dry stamp.

Testing the Stamps

Roll out a slab using moist clay and smooth the surface. Don’t let the slab firm up. Begin stamping into the surface to create a tessellated pattern. After repeated use, the stamps become saturated and tend to stick to the clay. Dust the stamp with a little corn starch to prevent this (figure 2). Tip: I keep a shallow dish of corn starch on my work table to press the stamp into, then tap a corner of the stamp on the table to knock off the excess, and continue stamping.

I have quite a collection of these stamps now and have been using them in my work for many years. Every now and then I find the time to create some new shapes; however, the best part is finding new patterns to make using existing shapes.

Creating a Tessellation

To create tiles, wall sculpture, or any flat piece, first plan a design based on the shapes of your bisque stamps. Roll out a ¼-inch-thick slab of moist clay, smooth the surface, and trim the edges to your desired size. I like to roll out large slabs to cut into panels where the design on one flows into another adjacent one. I use the tessellated pattern as a backdrop for images of birds flying in windswept scenes (perhaps influenced by Asian tapestry) and to tree branches growing across the surface, carrying flowers that are about to be swept away.

The size of my stamps vary from an inch to almost four inches in width. The smaller stamps create detailed-looking texture, while the larger stamps create a more subtle background. Play around with both sizes, depending on the look and feel you want in the composition. With some of the larger multi-panel pieces, I start with one stamp and then gradually begin to use a different stamp, sometimes using five or six different patterns that flow across the piece (figure 3). These pattern changes also inform the way a piece can be glazed—pattern breaks require color breaks, which add to the flow or movement of the design.

The possibilities are endless when working with tessellations. It’s so simple to come up with a few shapes to start with, and just getting started will open up new ideas.

Amy Meya is a studio ceramic artist living and working in Kansas City, Missouri. For more information check out http://amymeya.webs.com/.

**First published in 2013.
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