Tips for Using Commercial Sprigs to Embellish Handmade Pottery



Many studio potters consider it cheating to use commercial products (molds, glazes, etc) in their work, but to me, nothing should be off limits! Kate Maury agrees and makes gorgeous functional work that looks more like sculpture. She does this using commercially made sprigs and clay sprigs made from found objects. In today’s post, she shares tips for working with, as well as storing, these sprigs. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.

PS: To see Kate’s process for making a candle holder using sprigs, buy a back issue PDF of the January/February 2014 Pottery Making Illustrated.



Commercial molds can easily be overlooked when making your personal artwork. The thought of using any craft shop mold may have you recoiling with a gasp while clutching your chest at the very thought. Before this drama ensues, first consider a new approach to the production craft mold. Repurposing the elements offered within these molds and the variety of options they provide can be used to improve the surface of your form.



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Various textures and elements of these molds can be pressed into small pieces of clay and applied as sprigs. The sprigs quickly create low- or high-relief embellishments and add a new visual dimension. Sprigs rapidly establish rhythm, patterns, and dynamic details on a form that can be further amplified by a fluid transparent glaze.

Sprigs from these commercial molds can be transformative, creating a visual language with great detail or patterning. The artist may repeat a pressed sprig image creating a variety of motifs or further emphasize movement from the fluidity of the sprig lines used to contour a form. The options are limitless when embracing the commercial molds as a means to an end.


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click to enlarge

Repurposing craft molds or even quickly made clay molds can produce sprigs that can easily establish high-relief surfaces, highly textured elements, or detailed work in a minimum amount of time. I use cone 6 Super White pre-mixed clay from Continental Clay Company, but just about any clay can be used for this process.

 Making Sprigs

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click to enlarge

Clay sprigs can be pressed and cleaned up ahead of time and stored in dampened, plaster-lined tubs for convenience (figure 1). Detailed forms can be quickly finished with sprigs when you have damp boxes stocked with a variety of these textured shapes. Such damp storage can keep the sprigs moist enough to work with for weeks at a time. When making sprigs from commercial molds I look for molds that have texture, movement, and volumetric shapes (figure 2). Some sprigs can repeatedly overlap vertically, horizontally or diagonally to give the appearance of dynamic movement. Other sprigs can be used to build separate forms to be applied as floral embellishments.


Kate Maury received her MFA from the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University. Her work is featured in both juried and invitational shows at national, and international venues and appears in a variety contemporary ceramic art books and magazines. She is a professor of Art and Design at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie, Wisconsin, and resides in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where she has a studio at the Northern Clay Center. Kate will also be presenting at the Potters Council Integrating Form and Surface workshop, hosted at Aardvark Clay, September 12-14, 2014.

  • julie j.

    helpful right when Im trying some sprigs for variations on a theme-I dont have a real dampbox, but the old styrofoam cooler will work for holding those multiple sprigs

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