Using Sgraffito and Slip to Make Abstract Nature Paintings on Clay

Layering Colored Slips and Carving Clay to Create an Interesting Ceramic Surface

Figure 3

Carolyn Genders sees her ceramic vessels as 3D canvasses and she covers them inside and out with abstract drawings of her natural surroundings. Using layered slip and sgraffito techniques, she creates ceramic surfaces that interact with her coil built forms.

In today’s post, an excerpt from the May 2016 issue of Ceramics Monthly, Carolyn shares her slip decorating and clay carving techniques. She also gives some insights into how she moves from a photograph, to a drawing, to a finished pot. – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

P.S. See how Carolyn Genders uses layers of slips and sgraffito mark making to decorate a bowl in the May 2016 issue of Ceramics Monthly.

Drawing underpins all of my ceramics. I explore the natural world in sketches of soft pencil or black felt-tip marker, I need no color references—they distract me. Photographs are too indiscriminate and flatten the subject, a drawing is more intimate. I draw to see and to experience the visual world in a tangible way. The physical act of putting pencil to paper inspires me.

The essence of my practice is abstraction through drawing; capturing elements of the landscape (1, 2). Color, texture, and mark making are the core elements of my work and are evocative of the natural world, but yet wholly abstract. 

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Surface Development

Creating a surface that interacts with the form is my focus and I continuously challenge myself when making my coiled vessels and sculptural pieces to integrate a painterly surface that weaves around the form. Vitreous slip is the perfect ceramic medium for a painterly effect. Halfway between a slip and a glaze, it can be applied at any stage of the process: leather hard, dry, bisque, and even, at times, on top of glaze. It has the versatility and immediacy of paint; the slip becoming part of form. Once fired, no distracting glaze layer covers my forms; the semi-matte finish of the slip is my ideal surface.

Vitreous slip shares many qualities with and can be applied in the same way as paint; it has the subtlety of watercolor when mixed thin and achieves surfaces similar to that of opaque acrylics when mixed to the consistency of single cream (similar to full-fat cream in the US). It is even possible to build up layers of colors and paint freely, creating rich, textural surfaces (Finished image).

Figure 1

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 2

**First published in 2016.
  • Virginia L.

    I too am curious about how to achieve that wonderful thinness of the coiled pots and also to know what a vitreous slip is made from? How do they compare with ordinary slip and after application what temperatures do they need to be fired at to give that beautiful semi matte finish?



  • Linda S.

    Every time I see Carolyn Gender’s work, I marvel at the thinness of her coiled vessels. What is the clay body? Are the coils extruded and what size are they? Love the forms! LINDA

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