The Carved and Slipped Surfaces of Matt Repsher

An interest in architecture and geometric design combine in the forms and surfaces of Matt Repsher’s vessels, jars, mugs, bowls, and sculptures. From the choice of clay — a red bricklike body — to the carved ornamentation, Repsher gives a nod to these influences.


In today’s post, an excerpt from the October 2013 issue of Ceramics Monthly, Matt explains his process for carving and decorating his surfaces with slip.- Jennifer Harnetty, editor.



I am very interested in layers for building up the surface of my vessels, beginning with my choice of clay for the foundation. I work in the cone 6 range with red clay, preferring the contrast it has as I am working. In my eyes, light and shadow are more intense and the form and carvings are clearer. The leather-hard and fired color of the clay I use, Laguna’s SB Red, are very similar, so I can envision the final surface early on. The allusion to red-brick construction materials is also something I consider to be an important bit of information the red clay offers.



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I lay out the carvings by drawing on the surface, working by eye rather than measuring, preferring to keep the pattern inexact so that the forms have a veil of perfection created by the overall visual effect with little differences in the repetitions revealed on closer inspection. Carving is done with a fettling knife that has been ground down so it’s very thin and short. Its thinness keeps the clay from separating too much as it is cut, and therefore prevents any clay from being pushed out of line in the finer cuts. After carving, the surface is combed with a fine-tooth hacksaw blade. This texture is then accentuated by painting colored slip patterns over the surface. I brush on the slip with a more spontaneous action in comparison to the carved patterns.


I use wide swaths of color, creating shapes that play off of the form of the vessel and the carvings. The painting is meant to flow around the vessel in a way that can visually alter its shape as it’s seen from different viewpoints, both accentuating and camouflaging the form.


Once the colored slip is dry, I remove the top layer with a knife to bring back the clay color on the raised areas, but leaving it in the recessed texture, creating a striated pattern. The revealed inlay softens the surface and edges of the color shapes. I prefer the matte surface of the slip and clay, so my tendency is to keep the glazing to a minimum, confining it to the interior.


Step 1


Incising concentric guide lines for the carved pattern on the neck of the vessel.


Step 2


Incising vertical and arched lines onto the surface. The space between the curved line and the grid will be cut out to form the pattern.



Step 3


The grid and curved pattern continue to the bottom of the form. Next, an altered fettling knife and hacksaw blade will be used to carve and complete the pattern.



Step 4


The ground-down fettling knife displaces less clay as it cuts through the surface, resulting in less distortion of the pattern. Working from the top of the form toward the bottom keeps the base stronger so it can support the form and resist warping.




Step 5


Running a cut-off hacksaw blade across the surface makes a roughly lined texture that creates recesses for slip application.


Step 6


Additional shapes are created on the surface in response to the first, with the negative space between them being an important design element.


Step 7


A contrasting slip color is applied to the negative spaces, with a thicker application being used in areas where a more intense color is desired.


Step 8


After the slip dries, the top layer is scraped away using a fettling knife to reveal the clay color on the raised areas.





For more ways to add texture to your work, download your free copy of
Ceramic Carving Tool Techniques: Bringing the Ceramic Surface to Life!



  • Can someone explain why these email articles almost NEVER show the finished piece? They go through all of the steps and then don’t show you the finished piece. It’s maddening!

  • Hi Matt! I have worked with Matt in New Mexico and his work is exquisite and his teaching direct and informative. His work is Complex and simple at the same time. I am lucky to own one of his pieces and encourage you to add to your collection.

  • Deborah, this is just an excerpt of an article meant to whet the appetite for the actual article where you can find all the details.

  • Nice to see some pierced ceramics at long last.
    Well done Matt.

  • Deborah, why would you bother to pay for something if you could get all you want of it in the free excerpt?

  • I agree with Deborah, I don’t want ALL the info. that would be on the DVD/book/whatever, but I think you should ALWAYS show the finished piece. It IS maddening. My question for Matt is how and why would you ever glaze the INSIDE of a vessel like this?

  • PS…your work is beautiful! I do some cutwork like this, and I use an exacto knife because of its thin thin blade, for that same reason.
    Why grind down a fettling knife?

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