Developing Ceramic Surface

Developing Ceramic Surface – Five-Day Workshop (Click HERE for a PDF of Background, Description, and Schedule)

Skill Level – Previous experience in handbuilding and/or throwing required

A simple unembellished ceramic form dipped in glaze and fired may turn into an exquisite piece.  A simple coat of glaze on a smooth surface can be an elegant solution, but there are so many other possibilities in ceramic surface design.  Making fine pottery or sculpture with a minimal command of surface decoration methods is like trying to speak a foreign language with minimal command of the vocabulary and grammar.  In both cases, your chance of effective communication is severely limited.

Much of the evolution of ceramics through the millennia displays the human inclination to experiment, to seek new surface and form.  Part of this comes from innate human curiosity, part from the desire of artists/artisans to develop their craft, and part from the drive to create something original that stands out from the crowd. As an individual craftsperson, your best shot at reaching the latter has a lot to do with the foundation of design theory and the vocabulary of decoration materials and methods you can draw from.  Becoming fluent in the “language” of creativity and ceramics gives you a far better shot at originating a unique personal style and direction and orchestrating the desired outcome in your work.

Workshop Description
This workshop explores decorating techniques employed through the ceramic process on both thrown and handbuilt work from wet clay to bisque-fired forms. We will pack a lot of information into five days.  My intention is to keep things entertaining and enjoyable, but if you want to absorb as much technique and information as possible I recommend a good sketchbook for drawing and note-taking.

Abundant workshops address glazes and glazing, but few deal with surface design and decoration in the earlier stages of the ceramic process, and this will be our focus.  We will make and fire bisque stamps and rollers, explore the use of various tools and materials in impressing, carving, and abrading clay, investigate simple slip-decorating techniques such as sgraffito, mishima, wax-mishima, and slip-layering, and briefly explore the use of engobes and patinas on bisque-fired forms.  We will have several simple clear and opaque cone 6 glazes to apply over these effects, and will do a glaze-firing on Thursday night.

We will have a series of slide shows surveying decorating techniques and effects used in ceramic work past and present.  This will be an informal survey providing good coverage of design concepts and the range of possible surface design effects.  The slide shows and discussions will include the following essential concepts:

  1. Whenever possible, a ceramic piece should be designed to accommodate the intended surface decoration, rather than postponing decisions about surface design until the piece is leather hard or bisque-fired.
  2. The potter or sculptor must approach each piece as a designer, and never just as a decorator.
  3. The surface of a pot is like a canvas.  Would a painter ever place a small image, icon, or symbol in the center of a canvas and leave the rest blank?  As in a painting, the objective is to address the entire surface of a ceramic piece in a composition that makes use of positive and negative space, focal points, symmetrical or asymmetrical balance, and rhythmic or non-rhythmic repetition of visual elements.  That in no way implies that the entire surface is covered with pattern or imagery (although sometimes it is), but rather that the decoration is designed and placed in consideration of the entire surface.

Some of the most interesting and effective ceramic works feature multiple surface decoration methods added at sequential stages of the ceramic process, resulting in a richness and depth unavailable through any single technique.  We will have only minimal opportunity for such layered effects in a five-day workshop, but will discuss the possibilities and see examples in the slide shows.

Throughout the five days of this workshop we will maintain an ongoing dialogue about surface design and ways to achieve particular aesthetic and utilitarian effects and outcomes.  I encourage you to bring samples or images of your work to share with the group, giving us the added opportunity to talk about surface design in reference to your own work.  You will leave this workshop with a significantly-expanded vocabulary of surface design possibilities.

Workshop Schedule – Five-Day – Developing Ceramic Surface
This schedule serves as a general guide, but must remain flexible. Every workshop group is different, and the schedule always evolves to suit the needs and productivity of the participants.

  • First Day Morning – Introduction to the workshop, general information about the studio and our work schedule. Discussion/demo of bisque-stamps and rollers.  Make bisque-stamps and rollers.  First surface design slide show.  .
  • First Day Afternoon – Discussion-demo of impressing, texturing, and carving methods.  Demo use of foam slump molds.  Finish bisque stamps and rollers, work with modeling tools and other tools/materials, investigating markmaking on damp clay.  Bisque-fire bisque stamps and rollers.
  • Second Day Morning – Discussion/demo of carving/abrading methods on leather-hard clay.  Experiment with pattern, texture, and other markmaking on damp and leather-hard clay using bisque stamps and other tools.  Work on projects.  Second surface design slide show.
  • Second Day Afternoon – Discussion/demo of handles and feet for slumped trays, plates and bowls.  Work on projects.  Make tiles and other small forms with carved/impressed pattern/texture/marks to be bisque-fired for experimentations with engobes and oxide patinas.
  • Third Day Morning – Discussion/demo slip-decoration processes including slip painting, sgraffito, mishima, wax mishima, and slip layering.  Work on projects.  Third surface design slide show.
  • Third Day Afternoon – Work with slip-decoration processes. Load bisque-firing.
  • Fourth Day Morning – Discussion/demo of use of engobes and oxide patinas on bisque-fired ware.  Work on projects.  Slide show about Vince’s work.
  • Fourth Day Afternoon – Continued working on projects, glaze wares.  Load glaze-firing.
  • Fifth Day Morning – Finish projects, unload glaze-firing, discuss outcomes, look at samples or images of work brought by participants.

Materials Provided On-Site by Host (Click HERE for a PDF of Materials and Facilities List for Workshop Host)

  • Buff or white cone-6 or cone-10 clay. Have on hand 50# per participant and 150# for instructor, plus some extra available.  Don’t skimp on the clay, because there are few things worse for a workshop than running out of clay.
  • One gallon white vinegar.
  • One gallon of joining slurry made in advance from the claybody. Cut 12# of clay into thin slices and dry completely. Break up the bone-dry clay into smaller pieces (not crushed) and immerse in water with several inches of water covering the clay and let sit overnight.  The clay will slake down to slurry by itself.  Next day, drain off all excess water, mix with drill impeller mixer or hand blender until completely smooth with no lumps, add one cup of vinegar, add water carefully, mixing frequently, until slurry will not pour if you tilt the bucket, but will if you shake it.
  • 1/2 gallon each of brown, blue-green, dark blue, black, white, and tan colored slip using the STA white slip recipe on the syllabi/handouts page of my website.
  • Two one-pint bottles each of black, brown, white, red, and blue Speedball underglaze.
  • Oxide patinas – oxides in water suspension, one quart each of iron, rutile, copper, cobalt, and black oxide mix (equal parts cobalt carbonate, red iron oxide, and manganese dioxide).  Add two heaping tablespoons to a little less than a quart of water and mix well.  They settle quickly and will need to be stirred frequently during use.
  • Two standard propane canisters as used on a hand-held propane torch. I will bring several torches.

Facilities, Equipment, Tools, and Supplies Provided On-Site by Host
Please note: the quality and content of this workshop depends on having all of these supplies. In some cases I may bring some of these things, so before purchasing extensive amounts of supplies, check with me to see what I am bringing with me.

  • Digital projector, and appropriately dark room with large screen or white wall.
  • Large sturdy work tables for handbuilding and decorating. Heavy plywood-covered tables are best, but sturdy 3×6′ folding tables will work, with no more than four participants per 4×8′ table and two per folding table.
  • Several pottery wheels with standard bat pins for working with thrown form.
  • 24″ (plus or minus an inch or so) stool for instructor to use. This is important.
  • Slab roller with at least four appropriate canvas sheets for rolling slabs (presenter and participants will transfer slabs onto their own canvas sheets).
  • Heavy-duty rolling pin with 12″ by 3″ body and bearing-mounted handles (unless I bring my own). If you are buying one, go to amazon and enter “Medium Commercial Rolling Pin by Thorpe” in the search box. It isn’t worth it to get a cheaper or smaller one.
  • Several sturdy banding wheels (unless I bring my own) – CSI “lazy-susan” turntables are okay, but cast-iron or aluminum ball-bearing banding wheels are better.
  • Bench grinder – this one from Grizzly Industrial is perfect, and will serve many purposes if you do not have a bench grinder.
  • Small bench vise – this clamp-on vise from Grizzly Industrial is appropriate.
  • Two clear plastic storage bins with lids (approx. 12x24x12″ deep, for me to use as damp boxes).
  • Six 36″ by 24″ (or whatever width fits the slab roller) sheets of unprimed 10 oz. canvas duck. “10-ounce” is a trade reference to the weight per yard for canvas sold in art supply stores. If you buy canvas from a fabric, sail or house painting supplier they might not that reference, but just get sturdy uncoated canvas while avoiding stuff that is excessively heavy – it should still be very flexible.
  • At least six 24″ by 36″ pieces of 1/2″ or 3/4″ plywood for handling and flipping slabs (more if possible – if you have 24″ by 24″ pieces, they will work, but 24″ by 36″ are preferable).
  • A good supply of throwing bats and ware boards.
  • One plastic spray-bottle for vinegar water.
  • A supply of transparent plastic sheeting to cover work – dry-cleaner bags or similar clear plastic is preferable.

Supplies for Participants to Bring (Click HERE for a PDF of Supply List for Participants)
Depending on the particular venue, clay may be covered by workshop cost, or may be available for purchase on-site. Joining slurry, vinegar, colored slips, and a limited range of commercial underglazes will be provided. The following is a considerable list of supplies for a workshop, but these are the things you will need in order to continue doing this work on your own, and we will be able to make better use of the available time if you bring all of these supplies. Some of these supplies may be available on-site, but only if specified by workshop venue.

Note: The Kemper tools are available from amazon and most art suppliers.  The CSI banding wheels are available from almost any ceramic supplier.  The Stanley Surform tools are available from amazon – enter “Stanley Surform” in the search box.

  • Four 36″ by 24″ (or whatever width fits the slab roller) sheets of unprimed 10 oz. canvas duck. “10-ounce” is a trade reference to the weight per yard for canvas sold in art supply stores. If you buy canvas from a fabric, sail or house painting supplier they might not that reference, but just get sturdy uncoated canvas while avoiding stuff that is excessively heavy – it should still be very flexible.
  • Standard clay tools (the packaged Kemper kit contains a wood rib, stainless-steel scraper-rib, wood knife, needle tool, cutoff wire, small sponge, and trimming tools).Kemper S-10 flexible stainless steel serrated rib (no substitutes).
  • Kemper RB-4 or RB-6 wood rib.
  • Four Kemper RB-7 ribs. We will use files and a bench grinder to make profile ribs, using these as blanks.
  • Metal fork.
  • X-Acto knife – pencil-thin model with 1″ tapered blade – no substitutions.
  • Several old Bic-type ball-point stick pens – no substitutions – buy new ones if you have to. This is an excellent tool for sgrafitto and for general incising.
  • Wood rolling pin with bearing-mounted handles.  If you want to get a really good one, go to amazon and enter “Medium Commercial Rolling Pin by Thorpe” in the search box. This one’s a beauty, and it isn’t worth it to get a cheaper or smaller one.
  • Stanley “Surform Shaver” (short curved blade) and Stanley “Surform Pocket Plane” (5″ flat blade). Get both types – these are made to be woodworking tools, but are excellent for shaving clay.
  • Small, sturdy banding wheel. The 8″ CSI turntable available from most ceramics suppliers for around $15 is acceptable, but a heavy aluminum or cast iron ball-bearing banding wheel is far better. Light-duty plastic kitchen turntables will NOT work.
  • Spray bottle for vinegar water.
  • Small bucket for water.
  • Small snap-lid container for slurry.
  • A collection of bisque stamps and/or other textured objects or materials for impressing patterns and textures into the clay.
  • Several dry-cleaner bags or large plastic trash bags to cover your work.
  • Small towel or other sturdy rag.
  • Apron (optional).
  • If you are driving, bring a large clear plastic storage bin with lid, approximately 12x24x12″ deep, to serve as a personal damp box. Transport your supplies in a separate box so that this plastic storage bin will be available for its intended use.

If you have any questions or are interested in hosting one of my workshops, pleas email me.