Wax Resist Over Glaze: A Simple Pottery Decorating Technique

Creating beautiful designs using wax resist over glaze.

wax resist over glaze

I think we’ve all heard it said that the simplest solution is the best. And while I always make it a rule to never deal in absolutes, today’s tip does seem to prove this adage true. Brought to us by Sumi von Dassow, this surface-decoration technique simply involves wax resist over glaze. And like most simple techniques, a little experimentation can result in many new ways to add interest and depth to your work.

In addition to this great wax resist over glaze technique, Sumi also includes some general tips for working with wax resist, and these will help you regardless of which wax technique you use. Enjoy! —Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.


A lot of potters make beautiful pots with only one sublime glaze on them, or a couple of glazes dipped, poured or sprayed in combination. On the other hand, a lot of other potters make very beautiful pottery with slip-trailed or painted decoration. If you are working in oxidation, particularly at low temperatures, it is often difficult to make a pot come alive with only a single glaze, a circumstance which leads many potters to turn to painted decoration.

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If you would like to decorate your pottery but you don’t feel confident about your painting skills, there is still hope for you, which involves a template and wax resist over glaze. Though you won’t regret any time spent learning to master a paintbrush, slip trailer or potter’s pen, there is a relatively simple way to render a line drawing in glaze or underglaze. The technique of painting a layer of wax resist over glaze is sometimes called resist inlay and requires only wax resist, a tool such as a wire loop sgraffito tool, a small paintbrush, glazes or underglazes and, of course, a design.

The basic technique of resist inlay is to coat the surface of your piece with glaze or underglaze, paint a layer of liquid wax resist over the glaze or underglaze, scratch your design through the wax and then brush a second color of glaze or underglaze over the incised design. There are a couple of ways to transfer a design to the surface to be decorated, so you don’t have to render your design free hand.

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If you use resist inlay with glazes, you will have to be careful to choose glazes that are not too runny, so your design will stay crisp after firing (although experimenting with fluid glazes might yield more abstract results). Even so, you may find that the technique gives more satisfactory results on a flat piece, such as a platter. If you use underglazes, they won’t run or blur, but you will have to fire the piece to burn off the wax before coating it with clear glaze. You will also have to be very careful to apply three coats of your background color to ensure adequate coverage. Whether to use glazes or underglazes will depend on the particular materials you have available and the type of design you have in mind. Either way, you will find it an enjoyable and rewarding way to explore decorating.

The photos illustrate a simple and direct way of transferring a design. For this technique, you might use an original drawing, clip art photocopied to the right size from a copyright-free book, or clip art downloaded from a copyright-free source and printed out to the right size. For this photo sequence, glazes are used instead of underglazes.

 

First, the bisqued plate is dipped in glaze, allowed to dry, coated with wax resist over glaze, then set aside to allow the wax to dry (figure 1). The pattern is laid directly on top of the waxed surface and traced with a sharpened pencil (figure 2). When the paper is lifted, it removes the wax and some of the glaze wherever the pencil was impressed. You will see glaze stuck to the lines of the pattern (figure 3). The wire loop sgraffito tool is used to decorate the rim of the plate (figure 4). The main design can also be touched up at this time, if needed.

NOTE: If you trace over lines that are too close together, the wax between them may peel up as well, so it is better to wait and do more intricate parts of the pattern after removing the paper. If this does happen, take a small brush and touch up the glaze and wax in the problem areas. You might also find that some of your glazes or underglazes are more suited to this method than others.

A second, contrasting glaze is painted over the design (figure 5). Check to ensure all carved lines are filled and small details are visible. The design is sponged lightly to clean up the extra droplets (figure 6). This is an important step when using glazes because there is no intermediate firing to burn off the wax.

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Working with Wax Resist Over Glaze

Many potters try decorating with wax resist and give up in frustration, but the following tips will help you achieve success with this useful material.

1. Liquid wax is usually quite thick in consistency, like buttermilk. You will generally get better results if you thin it with water, sometimes as much as a 50:50 ratio. If it is too thick, it just takes longer to dry, and if it’s not dry, it won’t resist. It is also harder to carve through when thick. You may have to experiment with the brand you have available to figure out the proper proportion of wax to water, but it should be no thicker than cream.
2. A single coat of wax is all you ever need. Once it has touched your pot, it will resist anything you paint over it, including more wax.
3. If it isn’t thoroughly dry, it won’t resist. After applying wax resist over glaze, let pieces dry overnight before doing resist-inlay decoration. If you’re in a hurry, you can put your waxed piece in front of a fan for an hour or two. It also helps to let your piece completely dry after coating it with glaze or underglaze before applying wax.
4. You can use any brush for liquid wax. Just wash it with hot water and soap as soon as you’re done to preserve the brush.

Sumi von Dassow teaches pottery at the Washington Heights Center for the Traditional Arts in Lakewood, Colorado. To see more of Sumi’s work visit www.herwheel.com.

**First published in 2008.
Comments
  • Stephanie H.

    I have seen a potter paint his own wax resist mixture over a pale glazed surface. He then applied a second glaze. The glaze tends to bead up around the edges of the wax resist. Holding the airbrush at a very low angle, he sprayed red iron oxide over the beaded up areas of the glaze, so that it hit one side only of the little ridges of glaze. When fired, the result was a lovely subtle drift of colours around the areas of glaze that had been covered by the wax.

  • Pauline P.

    I have admired this technique, but have never seen it done over glaze. I do single firing and this could work, appy glaze, wax, dry, scraffito through wax, apply underglaze or another glaze. If underglaze, I guess I could apply clear glaze on top of where I used underglaze, then single fire. Hope this would work.

  • Alli F.

    I like this style but I found that I like using latex the same way, if i mess up with the latex I can simply peel it off instead of having to re bisque to burn the wax resist off.

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