Slip Trailing for Beginners: A Primer on a Great Ceramics Decorating Technique

The Beauty of Ceramic Slip Trailing

slip trailing imageSlip trailing is a great way to use clay slip as a decorative tool. Like its cousin glaze trailing, slip trailing applies material in lines using a slip trailer or other applicator. The big difference is that this ceramic decorating technique not only adds lines and patterns, but it also creates a raised surface texture that adds tactility to the decoration. 
 
Today, potter Judi Munn gives us a primer on slip trailing, one of the ways potters and ceramic artists can use slip as a decorative element in their work. Follow these simple guidelines to create lovely slip-trailed decoration on your own work. – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.


This simple clay and water mixture is a wonderful decorating tool because it allows for tremendous personal expression. Although clay slip can be applied by using all of the same techniques as a glaze, the slip trailer and commercial applicators offer a lot of great opportunities.

Some Basics of Slip Trailing

Slip trailing is the application to a clay surface of lines of slip using a fine-pointed dispenser. It differs from glaze trailing in several ways:

• Slips are generally applied to leather-hard work, even though some can be applied to bone dry or even bisqueware.
• Most slips do not move, run or flatten out during the firing. What you see is what you get.
• The raised surface creates physical as well as visual texture.
• Since the color is mixed with clay, it stays in place when dry and doesn’t dust off when rubbed.
• When bisque fired, the slip becomes part of the pot and stays on even when scraped.

Five Great Decorating Techniques

Make surfaces that stand out when you download this freebie, Five Great Decorating Techniques.



These characteristics create a decorating technique ideal for designs requiring precision, such as commemorative plates. Planning ahead lets you put slip to work for you and make the most of its qualities.

If you’ve never worked with slip before, it takes some getting used to. Here are five simple steps that will help you get started:

  • Select your materials and tools.
  • Become familiar with how a trailer works.
  • Develop an idea of what you want to create.
  • Practice on a slab.
  • Try it for real!

 Getting Started with Slip Trailing

The tools and materials needed for slip trailing are simple and can be purchased or even fabricated in the studio. You can make an inexpensive slip by soaking dried scraps of your clay body in water. Let it soak until it’s a slurry and stir. Screen it to remove all the lumps and grog and store it in an airtight container. For a simple trailer use a condiment dispenser available in most large kitchen departments.

If your trailer is not filled, remove the tip, squeeze the bottle and insert the top of the trailer in the slip container. Ease off the pressure and allow the trailer to draw in the slip then replace the tip.

To use the trailer, grasp the bulb or sides of the bottle, shake the slip down toward the tip, tilt the trailer to one side and gently squeeze. You can drag the tip on the clay as long as you are moving it away from the open end, so the slip is trailing out behind the applicator as you create a line. If you move it the other way, the tip will dig into the clay and get clogged.

Before creating a design, practice using the trailer on a slab of leather-hard clay. Get a feel for how the slip comes out and what kinds of lines you can make with it. Spend time playing with different hand motions. If you’re used to a brush, using the trailer will feel a bit awkward at first. It takes practice to squeeze with the right pressure and move your hand at a steady pace to get a smooth line. After a number of tries, you may decide that the applicator is too big or too small for your hand. If that’s the case, find one that’s comfortable to use.

Once you’re done experimenting, make a test tile with brushwork and trailing with each slip you’re working with. Make one tile for each glaze you want to try, plus an unglazed tile. If you have any pinks, lavenders or purples, make sure that the glaze is zinc-free or the color will shift. I test all slips on wet, leather-hard and dry clay to give me an idea of the moisture range they can tolerate, and a soft leather-hard clay worked for all the materials tested here. You need to experiment to see how your slip works with your clay.

Check out this archive article for a great pottery decorating technique using stiffer slip.

Judi Munn is a potter living in Mountain View, Arkansas.


**First published in 2008
Comments
  • Annette L.

    If I want to make larger amounts should I use something to keep the slip is suspension, or will just liquid clay do??

  • Jimena A.

    Just read Harold’s comment.
    as a self-taught potter, I know how hard it can be to have basic questions answered.
    the best resource I have found is clayart. you can do a google search like “clayart slip trailing” or “clayart square plates” and come up with some great stuff.
    I’ve also found great tutorials and information on pinterest. try a search on “pottery techniques” or “ceramic techniques” and search under BOARD not PIN.

  • HAROLD S.

    Just read all these comments. Wish I could see the answers to many of the questions . I’m a new potter and really need a source to ask questions to.Facebook? My wall name is Bruce Seiple (middle name).Is there a pottery forum of some sort? Questions and answers?

  • Joseph B.

    Commercially available casting slips can be made into trailing slip by adding small amounts of epsom salts solution. This will thicken the slip by refloculation. This thicker slip will trail nicely and retain the raised texture. Predissolve epsom salts in water and add by the drop. Commercial casting slips are defloculated and have less water in them than undefloculated slip. The defloculated slip will shrink less, leading to better adhesion.
    Except for cobalt you will probably need 10% or more stain to get a rich color. Commercial underglazes can be used to used to color your slip, though the cost will be higher than with stains or raw materials. We still have all 100 plus Mason stain colors in stock if anyone needs them. Joe Brecha Clay Art Center http://www.clayartcenter.net

  • I recently saw another book called Techniques Using Slips by John Mathieson which looks very good as well. I believe it can be found on Amazon.com.

  • Lester H.

    Good article Judi. Highly recommended!

  • Nigel C.

    For a more interesting decorative effect try adding crushed glass to the slip – when fired to glost temperatures the fine powdered glass will fuse and produce a glaze like finish.

  • Scott M.

    The KitchenAid KHB100OB Immersion Blender does a beautiful job of turning a mix of clay trimmings and water into slip. I’m sure any immersion blender would work, but the KitchenAid model is powerful and up to the task. What could be a better slip than slip made from the clay body? I also use this slip for throwing pots instead of water. I believe it weakens the clay less than water.

  • Maria B.

    I have made my own slip by using clay trimmings. The recurring problem I have is getting the slip at the right consistency, ie not too wet, or not wet enough. Sometimes I strike it lucky, other times it globs and runs 🙂

  • This is an excerpt of an article that was published several years ago. The complete article has info on how to guard against air bubbles in your slip trailer, as well as information on the various brands of slip that were used.

    The original article was directed at potters who would mixing your own slips and firing at cone 10. At that time I used two colors: 2% cobalt and 10% red iron oxide added to a Robin Hopper slip (in Ceramic Spectrum). Bill Jones was very kind, and encouraged me to rewrite it to better suit the readership using commercial slips and firing to cone 6 in an electric kiln. He also sent me a box of commercial slips to play with. I loved the wide variety of color that was available. The commercial slips have been so fun and easy. They are not cheap, but they sure work well. I do have a collection of stains and am working on my own slips. I usually start with 2% stain, then go up. I start with a 300 gram batch of dry slip (or dry clay trimmings) and add stain to it in 2% increments.

    Irma Starr has a video on slip trailing as well.

    The cups are glaze fired to cone 5-6. They have a white liner glaze inside and are unglazed outside. I love the simplicity of it, but customers are bothered by the texture. I think terra sigilata and changing to earthenware would feel better.

  • Veronica L.

    So how do you make colored slip? Do you just add a powdered stain to some slip? If so – how do you know how much to add? Slip trail on leather hard, bisque fire, the glaze and fire? Any glaze or just clear and or (celadon?)

  • The pieces pictured are all great. Does your slip and clay body have to be the same? So if you use different types of clay you have to have different slip for each clay?

  • Marta R.

    Julia, there is another book “slips and slipware” by Anthony Phillips, published by Batsford Ltd., England and edited by Emmanuel Cooper. It is very comprehensive and cites different potters , theis tchniques and their slip and glaze recipes.
    Darlene,You can get very fine nozzles, by recicling the bottles used for hair coloring.
    It is important that your body clay and the slip clay have a good fix, otherwise it will scrape off after bisque firing.
    I think those cups have been glazed fired.

  • Nancy G.

    Very important thing missing here: Loading the slip trailer so it doesn’t have bubbles and burp on your nice piece. The Mary Wondrausch
    covers this well.

  • Marian S.

    The cups on the top photo are just beautiful? IS that when they are finished and glazed or is that before firing? The colors are so good. I would think after glazing and firing the color wouldn’t be as nice.

  • Diane A.

    Marian – Many glazes can be used over the slips. You can use a clear, or a celedon, which won’t mute or change the color of the slips underneath. But you can also get some great subtle effects with matt glazes over slips.

  • Marjorie L.

    I find that clear glaze with zinc in the recipe can also turn my greens to muddy olive colour. These days you can even buy premixed slip with fine trailer kits in ceramic supply stores.

  • Mary Jo B.

    Slips are not mixed with glazes. The color comes from mason stains or oxides. ^10 slip comes from ^10 clay. Oxides as cobalt carb,copper ox or copper carb,chrome for greens reliably go to ^10. Mason stains are reliable to ^6 and varieing percents by weight to amount of slip. Probably all the can be found on the author’s CD. To get fine thin llines will take trying different squirt bottles with different size openings and very well screened slip. It can be tricky and takes practice, practice

  • Julia, Mary Wondrausch wrote a book years ago on the topic of slipware. We still have a few copies left in the bookstore at ceramicartsdaily.org/bookstore. She covers techniques and spends a lot of time on the history of English slipware where the practice was perfected. The title of the book is “Mary Wondrausch on Slipware”. Hope this helps. Bill Jones, Bookstore Manager.

  • Darlene M.

    “If you have any pinks, lavenders or purples, make sure that the glaze is zinc-free or the color will shift.” are there some slips that do better at cone10 i read something about one pink will do well and another wont, but now can’t find that reference.

    Do you use mason stains or oxides to create your colors or bottled slips?

  • Darlene M.

    HI, those cups are pretty! , what is the best applicator for very thin, small detailed lines and scrolls?

  • Marian S.

    Will someone be able to answer the questions here?

  • Even when I’m familiar with a technique, it’s great to see someone’s examples. I particularly like her sample where she’s showing the many different designs she’s practiced.

  • Marian S.

    Do you put a clear glaze over these colored slips?

  • Julia R.

    Is there a book I could order on this subject? thanks! Julia

  • Elisabeth M. L.

    I was thinking if I could use this for cone 8 firing…

  • Helen S.

    Do you color the slip with stains and/or glaze mixed with the slip?

  • Tammie L.

    would luv to try this..oh, the possibilities.

Enter Your Log In Credentials
This setting should only be used on your home or work computer.

Larger version of the image

Send this to a friend