Pattern making, sewing, and textiles have always been a part of my life. My mom taught me to sew when I was about eight and I have used this skill throughout my life, entering county fair contests, earning a textile degree in college, and owning a children’s clothing company for 26 years. I love being surrounded by color, pattern, the smell, and the hand of the fabric.
I began my clay career wanting to explore beyond the clothing business. What I found was that you can take the girl out of the garment industry but you can’t take the garment industry out of the girl! A workshop with ceramic artist Sam Chung opened my eyes to the possibility of using my pattern-making knowledge as part of my ceramic process. Coming full circle, I found my voice making functional pots using tar-paper patterns, darting, draping, and decorating with textile prints.
Like a well-tailored dress, I am inspired by simple, classic forms that have a lot of surface area so I can put my wonky decorating spin on them. Running textile patterns into the seams and off the piece, adding subtle texture, using drippy glazes to give my forms character and movement are some of the techniques I employ.
Making Tar-Paper Patterns
To make a tall vase, start by creating three patterns: body, foot, and crown. Make the initial patterns out of brown paper as it’s easier to manipulate and trim to size than tar paper is. The body is made from ¼ of a 12½-inch radius circle drawn using a large compass (figure 1). Draw a corresponding ¼ section of a circle on the bottom of the first shape, approximately 2½ inches from the center point. Cut out the cone shape (figure 2), form it using clear packing tape, and alter the shape until the flare is pleasing.
Use the same procedure to cut out a smaller cone for the foot pattern. Use approximately 2⁄3 of a 2½-inch-radius circle with a center circle that’s ¾ inches in diameter.
For the crown, draw and measure the piece straight onto the tar paper. The length matches the top of the largest cone and is 2 inches high. I drew the scallop pattern freehand.
Check that these initial patterns are symmetrical by folding them in quarters and making sure all the seams match.
Transfer the brown-paper patterns to tar paper (I use 15-pound tar paper), using a white pencil to create the final template. The tar paper is very durable and holds up to repeated use with clay. Use scissors to cut out the templates (figure 3) and you’re ready to go.
Forming the Vase
Roll out a clay slab (I use translucent, cone 6 Laguna Frost) that’s approximately ¼ inch thick and large enough to fit all of the templates. Wet each tar-paper template on one side—just enough so that it will stick to the clay. Place the tar-paper patterns wet-side down and roll them into the slab with a rolling pin. Roll one direction then flip the slab and roll the other, making sure that you aren’t thinning the slab unevenly or making it too thin (figure 4). Flip the slab, compress it with a rib, and cut out each piece. Trim the edges of the seams that will be joined together at opposing 45° angles. Cut the tops and bottoms of the adjoining pieces or seams straight.
Keeping the tar-paper patterns adhered to the clay, and form the cone-shaped body of the vase by scoring and slipping the long seam. Gently curve the piece until the edges meet but don’t overlap them. Join the two edges using your fingers to manipulate them together (figure 5). Use a stiff paint brush on the interior of the cone to compress the seams further, making sure not to thin the join. Place rubber bands around the cone to hold the seam together until it has set up.
Repeat this joining process with both the foot and crown templates (figure 6). Let all three pieces stiffen overnight under plastic with the tar paper and rubber bands still in place.
When the pieces are stiff enough to remove the templates without distorting the clay, gingerly remove the tar-paper patterns, then smooth and compress the seams with a metal rib.
Level the bottom of the cone (the narrow end) with a Surform tool, then attach a slab to it (figure 7). I score and slip the body and foot shapes together, joining them with a coil for stability (figure 8). The piece can easily tip over at this point so it’s helpful to try to get the top of the body as level as possible.
Carefully attach the crown; scoring, slipping, and pressing the two pieces together (figure 9). Check once again that the vase is level, then let it set up overnight under plastic.
Decorating, Mishima Style
I begin by drawing a pattern on gridded tracing paper, then transferring this pattern to thin, clear acetate using a thin-tipped permanent marker. Place the acetate drawing over the clay surface and trace it with a small, ball-tipped tool, pressing only hard enough to indent the clay (figures 10–11).
Using an X-Acto knife with a dull blade, etch the traced pattern into the clay, brushing away the clay burrs with a shaving brush as you work (figure 12).
Paint the cut lines with black underglaze (figure 13), then let it dry until it’s no longer shiny. Use a sponge and clean water to wipe off the underglaze revealing the incised design filled with slip inlay (figure 14).
Shellac Resist Decoration
To create a relief pattern on the surface of the clay, similar to the look of textiles, coat the patterned areas and draw freehand designs in amber-tinted shellac (figure 15). The shellac dries in about 10 minutes. Using a damp sponge, wipe down the whole piece (figure 16). This not only creates an additional raised pattern corresponding to the inlay, and adds texture, but also gets rid of any residue from the mishima process, smooths out any imperfections, and compresses the surface of the porcelain.
I dry the piece very slowly under plastic for a day or two then switch to a fabric cover. Using fabric helps keep the cracking to a minimum by letting moisture escape while keeping the air out. I bisque fire to cone 05. The shellac burns away during the firing, leaving only the relief pattern.
I use commercial glazes. My favorites are the Coyote Celadon cone 6 series, which I thin down and apply with a brush and a slip trailer (figure 17). I use the slip trailer to trace the lines made by the shellac resist process and use a brush where I want to cover larger areas. The glazes overlap and blend, and I let them drip to create a watercolor effect. I leave sections of the vase unglazed, to let the stark white, translucent porcelain provide a wonderful contrast with the shiny, runny glazes (figure 18).
Josie Jurczenia is a full-time studio potter. She graduated from the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, California where she studied textiles. After 26 years as a children’s clothing designer and manufacturer, she retired and switched her focus to clay. She makes textile inspired, functional pots in her studio/gallery, fourth & clay in Berkeley. To see more of her work visit, http://josiejurczenia.com.