Gestural Imagery & Form with Mel Griffin

In this installment of the Ceramic Arts Daily Presents video series, Mel Griffin presents her techniques for creating illustrated pottery that truly merges the surface and the form. A painter and illustrator at heart, but also in love with the ...(Scroll for more.)

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Runtime: 2 hours

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…ceramic process, Mel doesn’t simply draw on the surfaces of her work. Instead she demonstrates how she draws into the surface, taking advantage of clay’s malleability to create further expression and movement.

She begins by explaining where she looks for drawing inspiration, and then demonstrates how she breaks down source imagery into basic shapes and lines to create energetic sketches. Next she goes through the entire making process for a plate, bowl, and cup – from throwing the forms, to transferring the designs to the surface, to altering the form to enhance the drawing, and all the way through the decorating process. If you are interested in making dynamic expressive work, let Mel be your guide.

A gesture drawing primer

If you find yourself saying “I’m a potter, I can’t draw,” you’ll eat those words after watching the first section of this video! Mel’s ideas start out in her sketchbook, so she begins by walking through her sketching process. If you’ve never taken a drawing class, this is an excellent primer; if you have taken drawing classes, it’s a great review. It’s all about breaking down source imagery into basic shapes and lines and building a sketch from that. With this review and a little practice, you’ll realize you can draw after all!

Wet work

Next it’s on to the wheel. Mel throws three pieces – a plate, a cup, and a bowl – and details the individual considerations for those forms. The fun part comes shortly after throwing when Mel begins altering the forms. Rather than leaving her “canvasses” flat, she uses her fingers to draw and pinch into the freshly thrown pieces, making rough outlines of the animals she will draw in later, as well as background and foreground details. Mel finishes the section off by trimming, explaining her tricks for trimming altered pieces and then adding a nice little detail to the trimmed feet at the end.

Dry work – decoration

To contrast the beautiful red clay body she uses, and to provide a bright backdrop for her drawings, Mel applies a white slip next. She covers everything you need to know about slipping pots including when to apply, how thick it should be, how to avoid brushstrokes, and how to add depth by sanding lightly. Then she does a rough drawing in pencil to map out her composition using her sketchbook as a reference.

Almost all the painting and drawing Mel does is on bone-dry work, which helps her avoid losing pots because they dry too quickly. Before adding the black line work, Mel adds color, using both terra sigillata and a selection of colored slips. Then she adds the line work to give the colored areas definition and expression. She covers everything from how to hold the brush, to the different types of brushes to use to create a variety of different marks.

Finishing touches and glazing

After the pots are bisque fired, Mel explains the finishing touches she adds to create more depth and interest. Cobalt and copper stains are used in a variety of ways before she applies an amber glaze and a clear glaze to select parts of the pieces. The terra sigillata from earlier is waxed off and remains unglazed, and provides a nice contrast in texture from the glazed surfaces.

Bonus Features

A video tour of Mel’s dreamy Helena, Montana, studio is included, as well as Mel’s recipes and instructions for making the terra sigillata she uses.

About the artist

Mel Griffin earned her BA in studio art with a focus on drawing and painting from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. Interested in learning more about ceramics, she went on to complete a two-year apprenticeship with potters Doug Browe and Jan Hoyman in Ukiah, California. In 2011, Mel earned her MFA in ceramics from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Mel has held artist residencies at Millersville University in Pennsylvania, Medalta International Artists in Residence Program in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada, and the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts in Helena, Montana. She has also received a number of awards for her work, including the LEAP Award from the Society for Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2011, and the Emerging Artists Award, from the The National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) in 2014. To learn more about Mel and see more images of her work, please visit

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