You Can Do a Lot With Lines and Dots

Wondering how to decorate your pottery with slip? Make a ton of bowls and experiment! I’ve been decorating small terra cotta bowls with slip and commercial underglaze. I have a lot of bowls to screw up, but my hand is getting steadier and steadier. That’s what practice will do.

I got the needle-tipped squeeze bottles from Amazon. I used to store them with straight pins in the tip. I don’t recommend it. The tips clog and the pins rust. Instead, remove and clean the tips when you are finished and store the bottles with the sealing caps that come with the set. I can’t believe how much easier this makes them to use.

I used some donuts I cut with my Silhouette Portrait 3 in this bowl. Dots and lines followed.

I used a Mayco Designer Liner for the black outline in the above bowl. I will cover these bowls with clear glaze after they come out of the bisque fire. It’s low fire pottery, so they will be fired at Cone 04. Now I just have to come up with ideas for the rest of the bowls!

Adventures in Using a Die Cutter in the Pottery Studio

i am the happy owner of a Silhouette Portrait 3 die cutting machine. What does a Silhouette Portrait do? It cuts materials like vinyl and sticker paper into any shape you can think of. I am not interested in making stickers or greeting cards. I want to design and cut shapes to use for ceramic surface decoration with slips and glazes. and to make templates for polymer clay shapes.

Here’s my first foray into decorating pottery.

I started with some greenware terracotta mugs I threw on a pottery wheel.

That’s my Silhouette Portrait 3. It’s the smallest of the Silhouette die cutting machines and the least expensive. I work small and didn’t want a big machine. I bought it on Poshmark, of all places. You can find more than clothes on Poshmark and I have been very happy with my purchases there so far. My Portrait 3 was new in the box and my savings were considerable. Another great resource is videos by Design Bundles on YouTube. From there, I learned about sources for less expensive supplies and accessories to use with the Silhouette. Plus a lot of tips and tricks for using my die cutting machine.

I am interested in making my own designs rather than buying them. So I have been fooling around with Vectornator, which is a vector-based graphic design software. Vectornator is free and I use it on a iPad. (Procreate, which is a raster-based program, is another option.)

I’m totally new to the software but I’ve been having fun with it, drawing simple shapes which I save as png files and send to my computer which is connected to the Portrait 3. One of the problems I have found with learning to use Vectornator and the Portrait 3 is that most of the written explanations start in the middle, and assume a lot of knowledge. But if you are patient and watch a lot of videos, you will get the hang of it. And watch Design Bundles’ videos.

Above is a flower motif I drew on my iPad and loaded into the Silhouette software. I am using the basic software that comes with the machine because it accepts png files without the need to upgrade.

To use the Silhouette, you line a cutting mat with whatever material you will be cutting ( I used copier paper above), and the machine cuts out your design. The beauty is that you don’t have to be good with scissors and that you can cut as many flowers, circles, shapes, stencils, or what have you as you need. You can save your designs in computer files and access them whenever you need.

Here’s my first few projects. I painted and screen printed greenware with underglaze. (I made my silkscreens previously with a photo bulb and emulsion, but you can make screens for printing with the Silhouette. )

I wet the shapes with water, adhered them to the mug after the underglaze had dried, painted over them with a contrasting color of underglaze and carefully peeled them off.

Here’s the same thing on a different mug. Note that I am using scrap paper to make the cutouts. it works fine. Newsprint is too thin and a nightmare to peel off the cutting mat.

After bisque firing, I coated the mugs with glossy clear for the glaze fire. Some interesting results. I will definitely be trying more surface designs with this technique.

New Mugs at Fleisher Handmade Art Market

Here are pictures of a few of the mugs I’ll be offering at this years’ Handmade Art Market at Fleisher Art Memorial. If you live in Philadelphia (or are visiting) catch me and the other Open Studio potters.

See more work from the Studio Potters gang on my Instagram account here, here, and here.

A Walk Around Bok Part 1

I feel as if I am getting behind in my blog posts although I’ve been posting regularly. It’s just that there’s so much going on around me that even if I don’t feel particularly inspired lately, there’s no shortage of creative people around me. That and my penchant for taking pictures everywhere I go.

If you’re anything like me, you love to peek into other people’s creative spaces. Every year, The Philadelphia Open Studio Tours, or POST, gives me the chance to do that without feeling like too much of an interloper. This year, I went back to the Bok Building in South Philadelphia to see some new art studios. WC Pottery sure got my attention!

WC Pottery is aptly named because potter Erik Wright set up a working pottery studio in a small bathroom in the Bok Building. Maybe he played a lot of Tetris as a child?

I live in a small house and I know a thing or two about working in small spaces. But WC Pottery’s space is a model of efficiency beyond what I would have thought possible. I was impressed.

Not an inch is wasted. There’s a sink, a glazing area, and storage, too. And some very attractive pottery you can see on Erik’s Instagram site here and web site here.

I’ll be writing about more artists I met on this years’ POST tour. Stay tuned.

More Teapots

More teapots even though I don’t drink much tea. I’m not sure where these are going to end up. Some of my little teapots have found new homes.

Not Your Mother’s Majolica

Majolica glaze is a white tin or zinc-based glaze that provides a smooth coating on terracotta clay and acts as a perfect foil for underglaze decorations which are painted on top of the Majolica glaze.  The beauty of the Majolica is that it doesn’t move,  so anything you paint on top of it stays put.   For an explanation of the process, press here and here.

Here are some classic examples: tiles from Portugal.

MajolicaTilesPortugal

So I probably should not have been delighted when I took this out of the kiln.

8-out-of-the-kiln

And yet, I was.   To be fair,  I didn’t start off conventionally.  I took a terracotta bud vase, dipped it in a cone 04 dipping glaze called Ice Blue (you can get the recipe in a free booklet on the Ceramic Arts Network site here. ) 

The glaze has chunks in it and it’s supposed to run and collect in crevices.  It can look interesting when you use it on white earthenware (see right) and beyond boring over terracotta (middle). 

We have a bucket of Majolica glaze in the studio and I decided to experiment.  I had to dip the vase three times to get a good coat, letting the glaze dry completely between coats.  You can see the crackling and crazing from the Ice Blue glaze in the right hand picture below that might have looked interesting had it been on the right kind of clay.

7-underglaze-decoration

I let the glaze dry overnight before adding the underglaze decoration.

7-underglaze-decoration

And here’s what I got!  This was fired at cone 06.  I surmise that the Majolica and the underglaze shifted because the Ice Blue glaze beneath it moved.  I am not sure what I expected.  Not everyone will like this, but for me it was a pleasant surprise.

A Walk to the Navy Yard

Mary Schneider draws and paints on pottery, but what she depicts is not always the usual fruit, flowers and leaves you might expect to see. The inspiration for her latest creation came from walks to the Philadelphia Navy Yard that she took with a friend during the winter days of the pandemic lockdown. She plans to trade the plate, with the image of the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy for a pen and ink drawing of the same vessel by her walking companion.

Little Teapots

I don’t drink much tea, but have become intrigued with making wheel-thrown teapots. Teapots are considered one of the most challenging items a potter can make. Mostly, I suppose because so many elements have to work together at the same time. The handle has to fit ascetically and physically. The spout has to pour efficiently and be placed so you can fill the teapot up. And when you do fill the teapot up, it can’t weigh a bloody ton. It has to be east to handle. And the lid needs to fit properly. You need to be able to get it on and off easily and it has to fit whichever way you put it on. And it has to stay on while you pour the tea, either by itself or be capable of being held in place while the tea is being poured.

And that’s just the physical attributes of the teapot. It also has to look good or at least not suck. I heard someone describe a teapot as a jar with a handle and a spout. Why not a mug with a spout and a lid, I thought? A little teapot to hold a nice cup of tea. I started small and here’s what I came up with.

Here’s what I started out with. Two mug-sized pots, lids, and three spouts each. You’re always supposed to make more spouts than what you need because you are sure to screw one up. Good advice.

Here’s one of the first teapots I put together. You might think it looks OK, but it’s all wrong. The lid is clunky and what about that knob? It’s really not good for much. And who could get two fingers through that handle? The body and spout are OK. I decided to trim the top of the lid which had plenty of clay to spare, and replace the handle.

Here’s the teapot with a trimmed lid and a new handle. I trimmed the lid of the other teapot flat too. I didn’t think a knob would work for either teapot.

My solution? A birdy knob for one teapot and a circle for the other. One third of the circle makes the knob and two thirds of the circle makes a nice handle. And they look like they belong on the same teapot.

I’m usually do underglaze decoration for my pottery. I thought I’d fool around with stains this time.

And here are the finished teapots. The handle on the birdy teapot is not optimal, but it is a vast improvement over how I started. More teapots to come!

Julia’s Creatures

I’m not sure how Julia Durand ended up in Philadelphia but she hails from France where she enjoyed a cartoon called Les Shadoks as a child. Les Shadoks inspired Julia to make a whole menagerie of creatures that I’d hardly call whimsical, but they certainly full of personality and each one has a different expression. It makes me wonder that they would say if they could talk. And if they did talk, it would probably be in French.

If you’re interested in checking out Les Shadoks yourself, they’re on YouTube with English subtitles.

Official Portrait

More from the mind of Marjorie Waxman.