Layers of Information: How to Build Surface Texture Layer by Layer


The malleable nature of clay is what makes it such an irresistable material for clay lovers. The thrill of squishing something into a piece of clay to make texture just never gets old.

So, in today’s post, an excerpt from Surface Decoration Techniques, Annie Chrietzberg explains how Lana Wilson uses bisque stamps, textured materials, rolling, and paddling to create layered texture on her work. She also explains her darting technique for creating a slab-built platter. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.

Lana Wilson’s career spans more than 40 years and includes a vast repertoire of pieces and surface considerations, which she regularly shares with students. She teaches, on average, a workshop a month, and loves to do so. “It’s so easy, really. The people are always interesting; you are instantly submerged in a milieu of like-minded people. I love the humor, and people are so kind.”

Lana applies texture in layers, and does so throughout her making process. During my visit, she made a serving platter to demonstrate how she works.

The Texture Process

After using a slab roller to make a large slab, she lays out some fruit netting on the table, and sets the slab on top of it. This netting forms the basis of the texture composition on the back of the piece, though Lana will embellish it more at later stages.

After smoothing the front of the slab with a small squeegee, Lana uses a wooden rolling pin from a pastry store to lay down some waffle texture, which created impressed squares, then in an adjacent area, she lay down and rolled over plastic sink mats that left larger, high-relief squares.

I watched her then target and go after some of the high relief squares with her small hand-held stamps, hand tools and some found objects, inverting them with embellishment.

I was surprised when she picked up her rolling pin and rolled over the work she had just done, but she explained to me, “You see, this softens it and makes it more interesting. I don’t want it to look like plastic surgery. I don’t like the whole Southern California glitzy sequin scene, I like old, worn friends. I like layers; I walk regularly in the Torrey Pines State Reserve when I’m home in San Diego. I love those layers of information around me.”

I looked, and the effect she had created by rolling over existing texture was to ‘tuck in’ all the little marks she had made, like treasures in lockets. After tucking in her preliminary and secondary texture with a rolling pin, Lana embellished further with one of her new favorite items, the red scrubby applicator from a Shout bottle, and an old favorite, a seamstress’ marking tool.


Forming the Platter

Lana Wilson uses a framing device made from cardboard as a viewfinder to find the most interesting part of the piece.Lana had created a slab much larger than what she actually needed for the piece she had in mind. She cut a framing device out of a piece of paper roughly the proportions of her intended serving dish. She used this viewfinder to locate the best part of her texture drawing, marked the boundaries by laying down a straight edge then, using the straight edge again, cut out the shape.

Lana Wilson cuts out a dart then uses it as a pattern to cut the remaining darts.Lana needed to take two darts out of each end to have the flat shape rise up into the form she wanted. “Oh, I suppose I should use a template, but I never do,” she quipped, knowing that I am a template fiend. “I can never find the one I need when I need it, besides, I know what shape

I need to cut out, and after I cut the first one, I’ll use it to cut the other three,” she explained, as she cut out and removed the first dart.

She took the triangular piece of clay she removed, turned it over, and set it gently down to trace it where she wanted the second dart. She then took those two cut-out and placed them on the other end, and traced and cut out the remaining two darts.

The size of the dart determines the shape of the final form. After slipping and scoring, she simply lifted and butted the joining edges together, and then used small

pieces of foam to prop up the ends of the serving dish which allows them to firm up while supported. She fills in gaps in the texture where the darts were removed with paper clay to prevent cracks from forming along the seam.

To address the sides, Lana grabbed a couple of paint stirring sticks, which she used to lift the sides and then shoved pieces of foam beneath to hold them in place. She filled in gaps that had been made by cutting through existing texture on the edges, and then compressed and beveled those edges with a pony roller. Then, she used a spirit level to make sure the

edges, were, um, level. “I don’t know a gallery who would take a piece that’s not level,” she murmured as she made slight adjustments. “There we go!”

Making Handles

Lana Wilson forms cones from a textured slab and then lifts and slams the cones on the table to get a more organic shape.The next task was to make the handles. First, she textures a slab and cuts out large triangles, then she rolls them into a cone, seals them using a pony roller, and drops them on her workbench. They magically gain character with each whump. Once she is satisfied with the result, she cuts away excess clay with a fettling knife, scores and

slips the end of the serving dish, as well as the inside of a handle, and then attaches it, stacking foam beneath it for support.

Lana constantly manipulates the surface of her pieces as she is making, adding texture as she goes. After attaching the handles, she grabbed a wooden dowel with sharpened ends (a pencil would work, too) to both re-draw and enhance existing lines. After the piece had dried to leather hard, she removed the bolsters and turned it over on a large piece of foam to access the bottom. She filled the gaps in the seams

with paper clay, again to strengthen them and prevent cracking. When she makes a repair like this, she adorns it. “I could teach a whole course on cheating,” she joked, while rolling a seamstress’ marking tool over the filled-in seam.

Adding a Foot

The last part of the serving dish project was to make and attach a foot. Before she had turned the piece over, she had taken an approximate measurement with a seamstress’ measuring tape, and had created a long slab to texture. She played around a bit with

some scrap clay to determine the appropriate height, textured the slab, and used a straight edge to cut a long strip of clay for the foot. She picked up the long strip in loose folds and dropped it a few times on the table. “This makes an undulating line I just love,” she told me as she worked.

She placed the foot on the bottom of the pot, shaped it how she wanted it, and cut the excess away, then joined the foot into a ring. After scoring and slipping the areas that need to be joined, she attached the foot ring to the bottom of the serving dish and used a dry soft brush to remove excess slip and blend the seam. She then used a

common loop tool to create a little looped arch on each side of the foot. She rolled the edge with a pony roller, used a ware board to flip the piece right side up, and used the spirit level again to make adjustments.

Lana has a delightfully free, direct, and easy way of making, but don’t let that fool you into thinking she doesn’t take her time in the studio seriously. “I’ve changed my style of work about six times through out my career., and each time it takes me about six months to a year to figure it out,” she told me. “People don’t realize that being an

artist is really about daily discipline; when I’m working, I want my time to work. I’m not one of those ladies who does lunch. Ceramics is far too expansive for that.”

To see more of Lana Wilson’s work, and for contact information, visit her website at

**First published in August 2015
  • Ralph R.

    I loved your idea for the handles, looks finished yet kind of free form. Handles are where I have troubles with a lot, and this idea can be used on other things too. THANKS

  • Karenn O.

    This is beautiful, fascinating work. It cries out for a CAD video. I would love to watch one of these being created.

  • As a fellow texture addict, I must say, “Wonderful work!” The style is immediately recognisable, yet each piece is unique.Thank you for this.

  • I apply dots of 2 to 4 different colors with a brush in a 1/2″ square and then steel wool it down so each color shows. You can try using a sponge where most of the water has been squeezed out of it and then wipe the color off so you can see the texture and the different colors. So essentially you are right, the color is brushed on then wiped.

  • I was wondering about your color application. Is it brushed on, layered, wiped, wax resist or all of the above. Beautiful whimsical work. Thanks for sharing.

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