I have used stencils to decorate my work in the past, but have primarily used them with underglazes and slips. But Melissa Mencini uses them with a commercial glaze applied during the greenware stage. Then she decorates the unglazed areas with decals and the results are stunning.
In today’s post, an excerpt from the May/June 2021 issue of Pottery Making Illustrated, Melissa shares how she creates her Moroccan tile pattern and applies the glaze. – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor
PS. Check out the May/June 2021 issue of Pottery Making Illustrated to learn how Melissa finishes the decoration with decals.
Applying the First Pattern
I create subtle plane changes on the surface of each pot with my flexible metal rib while I make it on the wheel to designate areas for the pattern to start and stop (1). I apply this specific layer of decoration when the pots are leather hard. One of the reasons I decorate before adding attachments is that working this way gives me the ability to create a seamless pattern. For a teapot, after the pot is thrown, I make sure the lid fits and attach a knob, then divide the pot into eight or ten equal sections, depending on the volume of the pot and the size of Moroccan tile stencil (2) that I use. It is very important that there is enough space between the tiles for that pop of shiny glaze (where the paper tiles sit will be bare clay), so I would rather err on the side of fewer divisions than to risk overlapping tiles and having no glaze. I attach a little decorative nubbin on the top rim of the pot that catches the lid when the teapot is tipped forward in use (3).
Next, I dip the paper-cutout versions of the Moroccan tiles in water, then lay them down, running a finger with a bit of water on it around the exterior of each edge to make sure that it is completely adhered to the clay (4). If the tile is not completely secured, it will lift when you apply the glaze and no longer act as resist. Tip: I use Tops brand yellow legal paper for the resist stencils because it does not expand when it gets wet and it peels off clean.
After all of the tiles are affixed to the pot, I paint two coats of Mayco Stroke and Coat glaze on the surface (5). As soon as the glaze has set up a little bit but is still wet, start to peel off all of the paper tiles (6). If you wait too long to peel the tiles off, the gum solution in the glaze will cause it to chip and you will end up needing to do a lot of repair work.
Melissa Mencini is a full-time studio artist and educator in Austin, Texas. She built a studio in her backyard so that she could be close to her dogs, cat, chickens, garden, and husband while she makes work. She is originally from Cleveland, Ohio. She has spent many years teaching and taking part in artist residencies across the US and she still loves traveling to teach workshops and do short-term residencies all across the world.