Julie Johnson’s pottery combines traditional functional forms with decorative surface design through hand-painted brushwork. Her brush of choice is an auto pin striping brush. In today’s post, an excerpt from the March/April 2020 issue of Pottery Making Illustrated, Julie demonstrates how she creates beautiful fluid thick-and-thin lines and contrast them with geometric shapes underneath. –Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.
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My porcelain pottery combines traditional functional forms with decorative surface design through hand-painted brushwork. I use a direct and spontaneous method of brushwork for its fluid and graphic lines that integrate with the form of a thrown pot. These varied and rhythmic brushstrokes evoke the undulating and dynamic lines of Arabic and Asian calligraphy.
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The brushwork technique I use is inherently both imprecise and controlled, and I find freedom, as well as excitement, working within this duality. A single fluid stroke can represent the wing of a bird or the petal of a flower, ultimately serving as a powerful vehicle for metaphor through exaggeration and gesture.
For a decorative base layer, I apply paper stencils to the leather-hard clay. Abstract and geometric shapes serve as a design guide for later brushwork, while asymmetrically dividing the surface of the pot to offset its regularity. Paper resist allows for a graphic and clean edge when underglaze is applied. The paper stencil is quickly soaked in water and attached to the surface. Apply two thin coats of underglaze, leaving multiple brushstrokes that provide a textured layer (1). Peel away the paper after the final underglaze coat has been applied (2). Let the box dry, and then bisque fire it to cone 05.
I apply all of the brushwork imagery on bisqueware using Amaco black underglaze. Glaze the interior of the box before decorating, as the slight layer of moisture that comes to the surface aids in the flow of the underglaze. I prefer a dense, opaque black line; therefore the underglaze is thick and undiluted. I use a pinstriping brush for the brushwork and wrap the small, thin handle in foam to prevent hand strain (3). Due to the length and cut of the hairs, it has the ability to articulate thick and thin brush marks in one stroke by holding a sufficient amount of underglaze and keeping its shape (4). I use varying amounts of pressure with the brush to achieve different marks. Pulling away achieves a delicate thin line; pressing down with a slight side drag of the brush produces a wide bold stroke (5). I decorate the pot with large, focal images first and connect the design with varied brushstrokes throughout (6).