Less is More: A Minimalist Approach to Glazing Ceramics

Karen Swyler's "Flow," 7½ in. (19 cm) in height, porcelain, fired to cone 6 in oxidation, 2009. Karen Swyler does not rely on flashy glaze surfaces or intricate decoration to create an impact with her work. Instead she takes a much more subtle approach, juxtaposing raw white porcelain surfaces with ribbons of shiny clear-glazed lines or small accents of color. Her vessels are typically presented as groupings, relating to one another in interesting ways through the minimal decoration, blurring the line between functional pottery and sculpture or still life. And in spite of the subtlety, or perhaps because of the subtlety, the work makes an impact.


Today, Karen explains a little about how she approaches her glazing. I love her minimalist aesthetic and I plan to do some experimenting with the less-is-more approach to glazing. Should be fun! – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.


My glazing decisions are strongly influenced by my forms. Linear patterns and soft colors are employed to emphasize shape and add further layers of detail. Although large areas of the surfaces of these works are frequently unglazed, I spend a great deal of time preparing for the glazing process.


Prior to glazing, I sand my bisqueware with wet-dry sandpaper. This makes the unglazed surfaces smooth; the surface is almost marble-like once it has been fired.


For more great ideas for decorating pottery, be sure to download your copy of Getting the Most out of Ceramic Glazes and Underglazes: Using Commercial Ceramic Glazes and Underglazes to Achieve Color, Depth, and Complexity, which is free to Ceramic Arts Daily Subscribers.


After sanding, I use automotive detail tape to create lines that will be glazed. This tape works particularly well to make a smooth, yet curved line on a variety of forms because it is slightly stretchy. The narrowness of the tape also allows me to make a series of thin lines close together. It adheres well to the bisque ware, but it is important the pieces are allowed to dry after sanding, because it will not stick if the bisqueware is damp.


After the detail tape is applied, all surfaces that are to remain unglazed are masked with blue tape. This tape works well because it adheres firmly but also peels away easily.


Once the taping is complete, glaze is applied using a spray gun. Immediately upon completion of glaze application, the tape is removed and the glazed line remains. Additional detail cleanup is done with a sponge and a small knife.


To learn more about Karen Swyler and see more images of her work, please visit http://karenswyler.com.


  • It is great. We use masking tape for the same for painting. Will do it on pot too. Thanks

  • It’s so refreshing to see such beautiful work with such a minamalist approach, especially after reading so much about the benefits of adding layers of color and detail. Of course it looks like a lot of time and effort is put into making the minimal decoration, the irony of that is great. I wonder if wax could not be used rather than blue tape.

  • The blue tape is actually quicker in my experience. I too got a chuckle about the irony.. seems to be the case.

  • Beautiful work and truly proves that “less is more”. Thank you for sharing your techniques!

  • I love this!…I’m so happy to see that some others thinks the same way I do.
    I agree “less is more”.

  • Your work is beautiful! While viewing it (online), I realized a calming effect. I can only imagine what seeing it in person would be like.
    I love glazing and it’s always a stuggle for me to use only one, simple color. I will have to try again…but first, must make some aesthetically pleasing shapes.


  • Actually have been doing something similar with white matt glaze base and minimal cobalt blue design or spotting.

  • Love this idea! I haven’t done this since a “naked clay” series a couple of years ago. I like the subtle use you have done here. It allows the voice of the form to heard clearly.

  • Aha! What a great way to make a controlled edged line! Thank you ! I’ll throw my brushes away!!!

  • The result of having one glazed thin line to follow the form is very beautiful and sofisticated. I am using red stoneware and I leave unglazed parts (not thin lines) in my work simply because I love the way clay looks. I might try this process. Thank you Karen.

  • loved your work and tried to access your website. The website didn’t come up but another window said that the domain access was not avaiable.

  • sorry about the bad link to Karen’s website…it’s fixed now! – editor.

  • This technique works well when your work is as beautiful as Karens. Her mastery over shape and form stands on it’s own. If only my skills wereat her level..,sigh.

  • Beautiful pieces, simple technique. Love it!
    Less is more- so lovely & true!

  • I love the flowing organic nature of the forms. The glazing further accentuates this with subtlety. Very inspiring. Gives me the impetus to include this approach with my own work. Thanks!

  • They have blue painters tape that has plastic attached. That might be even faster. I love your minimalist glazing..

  • I often leave large areas of clay exposed, just because I love the look and feel of bare clay. I wonder why the glaze is sprayed on, necessitating all that tape, rather than just the two strips of tape and then just brushing on the line of glaze. I can’t see what the benefit of spraying would be in this case? Seems like a lot of effort to tape it up and to clean it up after.

  • I spray the glaze because it makes a much more even surface than brushing could; even with a really thin line, inconsistencies in glaze thickness can be noticeable. I also use a variety of different glaze patterns where larger sections are glazed and less of the piece is taped. – Karen

  • I would love to share some of my cone 6 glaze recipes. I love the subtle but colorful effects you have gotten.

  • Do you wet sand the bisqueware by hand or with a power tool? What tools do you use? Sounds like a great technique!

  • I used 400 wet sand paper by hand and the surface was like a baby’s skin – however, when I masked the area and tried to spray the glaze, it wouldn’t adhere. I didn’t dampen it to start the capillary action OR else the pores closed up. The next test I will try to dampen, hoping it won’t disturb the taping. I did brush some glaze on the exposed area. It is in the kiln as I type.

  • Seems like a big waste of expensive tape. Why not use latex?

  • Karen, Thanks for posting your method. I have been doing some spraying of glaze and I think I get why you go to the extra work to apply the blue tape fully. The sprayed on glaze seems to have a special texture you absolutely can’t get by brushing. I definitely will try your technique on my pots and really appreciate your sharing. Thanks, Ralph

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