I am inspired by vibrant, distinctive, and complex patterns, such as Islamic art patterns. As the viewer’s eye is captured by bold symmetry and an interplay of color, the potter may also experience a similar, indescribable sense of journey as they trace and define the distinctive geometric motifs through slip trailing. These colorful, wheel-thrown, slip-trailed, hand-painted plates are beautiful enough to be used for special occasions or to simply elevate one’s daily routine.
Throwing and Trimming the Plate
Begin by centering 1 pound (450 g) of mid-range porcelain on a bat and flattening it into a disk approximately 6 inches (16 cm) wide. To create the plate lip, push the outer base of the clay disk inward 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) (1), before pulling the raised ridge of clay above it up and out 1 inch (2.5 cm) at a 45° angle. Remove any excess slip from the top and bottom of the lip and the rim (2), then flatten the lip slightly (3). Tip: I use a small square of plastic cut from the clay bag to compress the rim and remove slip. The thrown plate is about 7 inches (18 cm) wide with a well diameter of 5 inches (12 cm). To prevent deforming the plate when removing it from the bat, let it stiffen under plastic overnight before releasing it from the bat using a cut-off wire.
When the plate is leather hard, trim a ¼-inch-tall × ¼-inch-wide (0.5×0.5 cm) foot ring that is the same diameter as your plate well (4). Trim the base of the plate too, if needed, so that the plate is not more than ⅓-inch (0.75 cm) thick.
The book Les Éléments de l’art Arabe (1879) by Jules Bourgoin is a useful source of royalty-free Islamic art patterns, some of which can be scanned or found freely available online for download. Whichever image you choose, create a JPEG file and open it in a graphics or word-processing program where you can adjust the scale and size of the pattern to fit your plate (5) then print out the pattern. A 5-inch (12-cm) diameter circle is shown here, the same size as the plate well. Cut this diameter circle from your paper pattern and trace the lines onto the leather-hard clay using a ball-point pen (6).
Fill a slip-trailing bulb with black underglaze, and put on a fine-tipped nozzle (I use a Xiem Tools Precision Applicator 3-ounce bulb with a yellow 20-gauge applicator tip). Center the plate on a banding wheel and with a steady, braced hand, lightly slip trail lines along the lip by walking your left-hand fingers under the wheel surface to turn it in a clockwise direction. Slip trail over the traced pattern on the plate well. Rather than trying to trace the complex pattern in one continuous line, break up the lines into small sections, always dragging the tip away from where you started (7). Decorate the lip of the plate using a motif from the main pattern. Here, the tear-drop shapes from the flower motif are used to frame the well of the plate (8).
- A steady hand in a comfortable position is key to making good lines. While sitting, rest your arm on your knee, and your wrist lightly against the banding wheel to keep your hand steady.
- Hold the slip-trailing bulb like a pen, lightly squeezing the bulb to produce a thin flow of underglaze while dragging the bulb. Alternatively, keep the bulb stationary and rotate the banding wheel. Use a narrow pin to poke the tip clear should it become clogged with clay.
- Wipe the tip frequently on a damp sponge to remove clay burrs that can smear lines and impede the flow of underglaze.
- Slip-trailing mistakes will happen. Use a fine-tipped stylus or a metal rib to gently scrape away unwanted lines, spatters/blobs, or clay burrs.
Color and Decoration
Test tiles showing the fired appearance of glazes layered over underglazes are useful for visualizing finished plate colors (9). Pick individual colors or make a gradation of color from the center outward, by mixing underglazes of a similar hue or color family to get a range of values. In this case, a darker value is mixed with a lighter value to get an intermediate value of the same hue. For best results, mix underglazes from the same manufacturer or ones you have mixed and tested previously.
Using a fine liner brush, paint the underglazes in between the slip-trailed lines (10). If desired, use a fine-tipped stylus to carve sgraffito patterns into the underglaze (11) and place dots of underglaze using the end of a paintbrush or chopstick (12).
Glazing and Gold Luster
Bisque fire your plate to cone 04. Glaze with a thin coat of colorless transparent glaze, and fire to cone 6. I use a clear, glossy glaze (G2926B) created by Tony Hansen for Plainsman Clays as well as his recommended PLC6DS firing schedule, both of which can be found on the https://digitalfire.com website. You may have to experiment with different clear glazes if this one does not work for your clay body.
To make your plates extra special, paint gold luster onto the rim of your glaze-fired plate. Gold luster looks best when the glaze underneath is smooth and glossy. Any defects in the glaze will reflect in the luster.
In preparation for luster painting, clean your plate with a paper towel dampened with rubbing alcohol to remove all traces of grease and dust. Use a clean liner paint brush (one that hasn’t been used for anything else) to paint the luster onto the rim (13). Again, a banding wheel and a steady hand help to make nice lines. Luster mistakes and drips can be removed with a cotton swab dampened in rubbing alcohol. Fire in the kiln as directed by the luster manufacturer, usually to cone 018–022.
Gold Luster Precautions
Because metallic lusters contain organic solvents, it is good practice to use a professionally fitted NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) organic-vapor (OV) approved respirator fitted with organic vapor filters and work either in a well-ventilated space or outside. It is also important to wear as protective gloves. Refer to your luster manufacturer’s safety guidelines and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for more information. Gold-lustered pottery is food safe but cannot be used in the microwave and is best washed gently by hand. Multiple washings in the dishwasher can eventually wear away the gold luster.
Tanya Everard started her journey with clay as a geotechnical engineer. Aside from taking some introductory pottery courses, she is, for the most part, self-taught and has been creating porcelain ceramics in her small home studio in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, since 2014. To see more of her work, check out www.tanyaeverardceramics.ca and Instagram @tanyaeverard.