Sarah Halford

Architecture and Ceramics

all go around ‘ere

Our pottery group – Bridge Pottery Collective – has been offered a much bigger studio in the same building that we are in at the moment, the Arts Complex. The new studio will be more than twice the size, have running water [we manage at the moment with a system of pulleys, levers and walking back and forth to the cleaners’ sink] ventilation for the glaze area, a display area for us to display recent work or work from other ceramicists… it’s going to be fantastic.

In the meantime we need to make some money for the move, and for the flooring, new equipment, booze for the official opening, a name plaque for the door, all those essentials.
MEANWHILE we’ve been invited to exhibit work in an exhibition at Arts Complex in November, which in ceramic terms is five minutes away, so I’m thinking about that. I’ve been interested in experimenting with inlaying techniques, which are so fun and soothing, and involve working with clay at the cheesehard stage, which is after leatherhard, and before totally dry.

You will need

  • leather/cheesehard piece of work
  • coloured slip using same clay body – not a cupful, more like an eggcupful depending on the area of carving
  • design for your inlaying
  • hairdryer
  • carving tools [metal preferably]
  • stiff paintbrush
  • metal kidney/metal scraping tool
  • scouring pad

First you make your basic object, and leave until it is cheesehard, which is still cold to the touch, but can be handled easily without deforming. If the clay is too wet, the coloured slip will be difficult to apply, and more difficult to remove.

Pencil in your design using either a mechanical pencil, or any sharp object that’s easy to work with. You might want to measure your object to evenly distribute the pattern. Carve the design using any tool you like, trying to get a fairly deep mark even if you’re using a thin implement. I use a mixture of hole cutting tools, which work well and give a calligraphy style line if you’d like, while clearing the mark behind them. If you have crumbs of clay left behind, you can clear them away using a stiff brush.

At first I coloured slips using oxides, but they burn out of the clay during firing, leaving an ugly surface. I now have amaaazing Mason stains, from Scarva, who send sweets with your order! They come in every colour, and fire beautifully in line with the rest of the clay body.

I use 5% Mason stain with the powdered clay body to mix the coloured slips. Apply the slip with a brush to the carved areas, liberally. Preferably airdry the piece, but I force dry using a hairdryer. The coloured slip sinks as it dries into the carving, and you want a raised surface all over, so keep applying layers of coloured slip and drying between layers. Timing is tricky, and you should wear a mask for all of this, especially the next part.

When the whole thing is covered in enough slip that you can no longer see the design, and the slip is hardened enough not to smear across the piece, start scraping back the slip using a metal kidney, or rougher scraping tool. Using the same principle as sanding wood, you use a rougher technique at the beginning, and smoother scouring pad at the end. Watching the design appear under the slip is so satisfying, and the idea is to scrape back the minimum possible to see the design, and not damage the surface of the piece.

You can reuse the scraped off coloured slip by tipping it back into the slip container.

Some tiles taken from A Book Of Nonsense by Edward Lear.

A plate called ‘The 3 Stages of Cat Sleep’. You can see the sketchiness of the original line comes through in the finished article, it’s really fun.


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This entry was posted on August 25, 2012 by in pottery.
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