Nature is inherently beautiful and has been a muse of mine for as long as I can remember. Capturing nature on the ceramic surface is fun to do and creates an instantly attractive surface. You need to have access to live, growing leaves, ferns, and flowers for this project, so spring through early fall is a perfect time of the year to try this out. In the middle of the New England winter, when there is snow all around, I love looking at the surfaces I have made using nature resists—they are a reminder of the bounty of summer. This technique allows Mother Nature to do the drawing for you!
This project works best on malleable clay. Work on a freshly made piece that’s still fairly soft or work on a thrown pot right after it’s trimmed. Gather your leaves or other natu-ral items to use as a resist. Be sure to get live, green leaves and flowers to use, because they are the most flexible, will adhere nicely to the clay surface, and can be easily removed. Dried leaves are too brittle for this technique.
1 Arrange leaves in any pattern you wish on a leather-hard surface.
2 Press the leaves into the surface. If the they won’t stick use a damp sponge.
3 You can also roll- a rubber ball over the leaf to press it into the surface.
4 Brush a thick layer of slip over the entire surface. Allow it to dry to leather hard.
Position the leaves as desired on the surface of your leather-hard or softer form. Gently press the leaf into the surface of the clay (1). The veins of the leaf will create an impressed texture. If the leaf isn’t sticking to the clay, dampen the surface of the clay slightly so the leaf will adhere. You can do this by running a damp sponge over the surface of the clay just before ap-plying the leaf or by lightly wetting the surface with water from a spray bottle (2). You can use a brayer to roll the leaf onto the clay surface or, if you are applying the leaf to a rounded surface like the interior of a bowl, try roll-ing a rubber ball over the leaf to press it into the surface (3).
Use your fingers or a damp sponge to smooth out the leaf so it conforms nicely to the form. Try to press the leaf into the clay enough so that there are no spots where the leaf buckles or sticks up. This is important, because if the leaf isn’t sealed to the clay surface in all areas, underglaze or slip will seep underneath, requiring cleanup after you remove the leaf.
5 Use the tip of a needle tool to gently lift up the leaf’s edge to remove it.
6 Use a carving tool to remove any underglaze that has seeped under the leaves.
7 Try coating the form with one color before adding leaves and a second color.
8 Evelyn Snyder uses a leaf-resist technique to make functional ware that reflects the beauty of the natural world. She uses hand-picked leaves to create patterns on stoneware.
Using a 1-inch brush, apply a thick layer of slip or underglaze over the surface of the leaf and the clay (4). Allow the piece to dry back to a leather-hard state, so the underglaze is no longer wet to the touch.
Gently remove the leaves to reveal the resisted silhou-ettes and impressed texture they leave behind (5). If any slip or underglaze has worked its way under the edges of the leaves, use a spear-tipped sgraffito tool to gently scrape away the unwanted color (6).
Alternatively, try coating the ceramic surface with a layer of underglaze or slip before adding the leaves to the surface. After it dries enough to the touch without the slip sticking to your finger, place the leaves over this layer of slip or underglaze, then add a second color over the leaves and the first color. This technique creates a multi-lay-ered surface decoration with contrasting colors of slip or underglaze, making your leaf pattern pop on the surface (7).
Allow the piece to fully dry, bisque fire it, coat it with a clear glaze, and refire it to the appropriate cone or temperature for your glaze. Evelyn Snyder’s work shows an example of leaves used as a resist to create saturated, high-contrast surface designs on stoneware (8 and 9).
Molly Hatch is the author of the new book, New Ceramic Surface Design: Learn to Inlay, Stamp, Stencil, Draw, and Paint on Clay, published by Quarry Books, Beverly, Massachusetts, 2015, http://quartoknows.com/books. To see more of her work, visit http://mollyhatch.com.