Mod Podge Resist: A Nontoxic Alternative to Shellac Resist for Ceramic Water Etching

A Super Fun Ceramic Decorating Tool

ceramic water etching

There are so many ways to decorate pots that it is nearly impossible to get bored in the studio. And if you ever do find yourself bored, just browse through the Ceramic Decorating Techniques section of this here website!

Ceramic water etching is a pretty darn fun technique, but up until reading an old issue of Pottery Making Illustrated, I had only heard of doing it with stinky shellac or wax resist. In today’s post, Deanna Ranlett tells us about Amy Roberson’s technique of using ModPodge® as a resist for water etching. It’s such a great alternative to shellac because there are no toxic fumes, plus it doesn’t ruin brushes like wax resist! – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

P.S. See how Amy Roberson makes and attaches all of the parts for her watering can in the May/June 2016 issue of Pottery Making Illustrated.

Water etching (covering part of the surface with a resist material, then abrading exposed areas using a wet sponge), is a great technique to add depth and visual interest to a surface while keeping a very clean and simple finish. It’s great on its own or in combination with other surface techniques and is a fast way to get relief carvings on an entire piece. Amy Roberson uses water etching to enhance her pieces. To have good results with this technique, you must work with your clay just past the leather-hard state, but definitely not bone dry. Amy’s watering can shows this technique off well because of the dynamic form and surface combination.

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Applying ModPodge® for Ceramic Water Etching

In getting ready to water carve, planning is crucial. Remember that because you’re using ModPodge® as a resistant material, the areas covered with it will not be water etched and will remain raised. Planning your drawings and patterns involves thinking about both the positive and negative space.

You can draw directly on the clay with the ModPodge® or you can use paper stencils to mask off areas. Using paper cut outs gives you super clean lines as well as allowing you to lay out your design before hand, making sure all the images or patterns fit and work nicely together. Bold lines and shapes work best, while thin or delicate lines and shapes tend to wash away too quickly.

After cutting out your shapes (1), soak them in water until the paper is damp and flexible. Soaking the paper cutouts makes them adhere to the clay and prevents the ModPodge® from seeping under them. Practice will help you know the exact right moisture level to make the cutouts adhere—if the piece is too wet, the soaked paper will move around and prevent you from achieving crisp lines once you paint on the ModPodge®. Conversely, if your piece is too dry, the cutouts will dry out immediately and could fall off.

ceramic water etching
Figure 1

ceramic water etching
Figure 2

Use a shallow dish with an edge to pull water off the paper shapes by dragging them across the edge of the dish as you remove them from the water. You don’t want them to dry before application as the wet surface helps them stick to the leather-hard surface. Apply the cutouts to your pot and allow them to dry to the touch (2).

Next, apply one coat of ModPodge® directly over the paper cutouts (3). If you’re not using paper cutouts and are drawing directly with the ModPodge®, you should use caution not to get the ModPodge® in areas where you want to wipe clay away. Once the ModPodge® begins to dry, you can peel the paper cutouts off with the tip of a needle tool or an X-Acto knife. Allow the ModPodge® to fully dry to the touch before moving onto the next step.

ceramic water etching
Figure 3

ceramic water etching
Figure 4

Ceramic Water Etching

Now you can begin water etching. Gently begin wiping the surface with a damp sponge (4); any type of sponge will work, but a synthetic, small, yellow one is preferred. The areas covered with ModPodge® will remain raised clay and where there is none, the clay will wipe away, becoming recessed. Rotate your sponge consistently while wiping—you don’t want clay caught in the sponge or it will abrade the ModPodge® away before your desired depth is achieved. Rinse your sponge out often. Amy usually only makes a few passes between rinsing. Allowing the piece to dry for a few minutes will help you to achieve a deeper recess while maintaining a clean line. You can also add more layers of ModPodge® at this stage to accomplish varying depths or multiple patterns.

**First published in 2016.
  • Patrick C.

    Is there any effect on other potty pieces in the kiln during bisque or glaze firing? Also does it work with cone 6 clay?

  • Jonathan G.

    This is very clever. There is also a way to make non-stinky Shellac that will brush on more smoothly. Shellac is a natural product, and it can be made without the toxic thinners. Purchase Shellac flakes from a woodworker’s supply and mix them with 190 proof alcohol. The resulting shellac is virtually odorless, and you can mix the flakes to the level of consistency that works best for you.

  • Carmillia K.

    I would like to get an answer to Bridget’s post before I try this on my cups! I hope it comes soon

  • Bonita E.

    I must have done something wrong along the line, because this did not work for me. When I went to pull the stencil off, all of the Mod Podge pulled off. It wouldn’t just pull the stencil, it all pulled off in one big rubbery piece. Where did I go wrong? I used the glossy Mod Podge as suggested in the magazine.

  • Bonita E.

    I must have gone wrong somewhere, because this did not work for me. The Mod Podge all pealed off as I was trying to lift the paper stencils. It did not come off just where I was lifting the paper, it came off in one big piece, all attached. In order to remove just the paper, I had to use an Exacto blade to cut the Mod Podge. The Mod Podge became a rubber coat that wouldn’t separate.

    Where did I go wrong?

    • Meredith G.

      Hi Bonita, I haven’t tried this myself yet, but based on my experience with mod podge, I believe you would need to peel the ovals off when the mod podge had just barely begun to dry (before it gets rubbery). Then you wait for it to dry completely before you do the wet sponge rub off part.

  • I use the glossy kind, but I don’t think it would make a difference if you used the other kind.

  • Deanna R.

    When you wipe with the sponge, it wipes away the bare clay, leaving a recessed area. The masked areas remain higher because the sponge can’t wipe them away.

  • elena e.

    If the Mod Podge resists the water, why are the ovals recessed? Shouldn’t they be raised?

  • Judith K.

    Any fumes are bad for you to breathe. Modge Podge is stinky- apply it in a well ventilated area- this coming from an art teacher of over 40 years, and make sure your kiln is well ventillated for the same reason.

  • Florence W.

    Excellent idea – something I’ve wanted to try for years. Is there any toxicity associated with the burning off of the ModPodge in the kiln?

  • Esther S.

    Is there any byproduct that could be harmful to kiln elements when it burns off in the kiln? How to find this out?

  • Ash N.

    ModPodge is fired off during the bisque. And you are correct that water-etching works best on porcelain, however, you can water-etch with stoneware or earthenware if it is relatively smooth clay.

  • Subscriber T.

    I have the same question as Elena, i.e. can the piece be fired with the ModPodge on it. Also, I understood that water etching usually gets used on porcelain (because of the lack of grog). The article doesn’t mention that, so is stoneware okay?

  • Ash N.

    This is a oval paper-punch. You can get find different shaped paper-punches at most craft stores.

  • David C.

    Thanks for new technique! Question: In Figure 1, what is the scissors- like tool which appears to cut ovals?

  • Ash N.

    Mod Podge is a decoupage medium — an all-in-one glue, sealer and finish used to attach paper and fabric to various surfaces.

    • Modpodge is a water based very elastic/ flexible Acrylic Emulsion (dispersion) commonly used as a binder for very flexible paints and waterproofing compounds.

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