Slip Decoration Techniques in Pottery

Pottery slip decoration
Igor Golovniov / EyeEm / Getty Images
  • 01 of 08

    Slip Trailing

    Slip trailing is a commonly used method of decorating pottery with slip.
    Slip trailing is a versatile method of decorating pottery. Here, white and dark brown slips are being trailed across a bowl that has already had a layer of blue slip applied to the outer area of the bowl form. Photo © 2008 Beth E Peterson

    There are many interesting and diverse pottery decorating techniques involving the use of slips. Effects range from very linear to very textural, and from very fluid to quite hard-edged.

    Slip trailing is one of the most widely known and used methods of decorating with slip. Slip trailing delivers a stream of slip to damp or leather-hard clay through some type of dispenser.

    This dispenser can be a large-bore syringe such as a baster, or a bottle with a nozzle such as used for condiments or glue. In...MORE either case, the dispenser's opening must be wide enough so that it won't easily clog. In addition, the slip used consist of fairly fine particles also, again in order to reduce clogging.

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  • 02 of 08

    Marbling Slip

    Decorated pottery bowl with slip using marbled effect.
    The marbled effect on this bowl was brought about by shaking the piece after slips had been applied. Note the difference between the thicker blue slip and the fluid white and brown slips. Photo © 2008 Beth E Peterson

    After trailing slip over damp or leather-hard clay, the slip trails can be modified by turning or shaking the piece of pottery, or combing through the slips. The effects achieved will greatly depend on the method of modifying the slip, and also on how fluid the slip itself is. For example, the slip may take a drip-like shape, or contrasting and more liquid slips can be shaken for a very fluid effect as shown.

    If you do use a very liquid slip, be aware that you will need to carefully control the...MORE piece's drying time. Slow drying and ensuring there is air flow all around each side of the piece will greatly lessen the possibility of warping or cracking.

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  • 03 of 08

    Feather Combing

    Decorating pottery using a feather combing effect in slip.
    Detail of feather combing effect utilizing three different colored slips. Photo © 2008 Beth E Peterson

    Also known as feathering, this technique begins by applying bands of contrasting slip onto damp or leather-hard clay. If the bands are applying using slip trailing, the dispenser's end may be used to spread the slip slightly, to produce a wider band that abuts with the band(s) next to it.

    After the bands have been widen and are adjacent to and touching each other, a soft, flexible and sharply pointed tool is drawn through the slip to produce a chevron pattern. Tools used include finely...MORE pointed brushes, such as liners. (See Brushes Used in Pottery.) It is likely that the traditional tool was the flexible end of a feather, hence the name.

    Feather combing can take quite a bit of practice to master, but it does have very interesting potential.

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  • 04 of 08

    Slip and Brush Decorations

    Decorating pottery through the application of slip with a brush.
    In this piece, slip is being applied with a brush to complete a design begun with stamped slip. Photo © 2008 Beth E Peterson

    When decorating pottery, slips can be applied to ware using brushes. This is best done when the clay is damp or leather-hard.

    Brushing slip onto pots is one of the oldest methods of delivering slips to a pottery surface. The brushed decoration can range from very delicate lines done with fluid, fine-particle slip, to an overall layer of heavy slip applied with wide brushes.

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  • 05 of 08

    Slip Painting

    Slip painting can be used to decorate pottery.
    Painting with slip allows for bas relief effects as well as color. Photo © 2008 Beth E Peterson

    One method of decorating pottery is to do slip paintings. Multiple colored slips can be applied to create pictures or designs on the damp or leather-hard clay surface.

    Like traditional painting, slip painting is usually done with a brush, be the slip can also be trailed or dabbed on with a sponge or the fingers.

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  • 06 of 08

    Terra Sigillata

    Terra sigillata slip can be used to decorate pottery and give a highly burnished effect.
    A visitor to the Shanghai Museum views ancient Greek pots. The ancient Greek potters were masters of terra sigillata, which gives their pots a characteristic burnished surface. Note the sheen on the ware, even though this pottery is completely unglaz. Photo by China Photos / Getty Images

    Terra sigillata (or terra sig, as many potters call it) is an ancient technique of decorating pottery. It is most famous for being the slip decoration of choice by ancient Greek potters, as well as its use by Pueblo potters in the southwestern United States.

    In the terra sigillata technique, no glaze is used at all. Instead, an ultra-fine slip is evenly applied to bone dry greenware and then burnished to a high gloss. After firing, the ware is usually burnished again.

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  • 07 of 08

    Slips and Resists

    Decorating pottery using slip resists can give clean, hard edges to the decoration.
    Using slip resists gives clean, hard edges. The image of the tree was created using two slips, white and blue (once fired), and a paper stencil. Photo © 2008 Beth E Peterson

    Slips can be used with resists in order to decorate pottery. In this technique, slip is brushed onto damp or leather-hard clay after a resist of some form has been applied. The resist is placed in areas which are to remain slip-free.

    Resists such as wax emulsions and hot wax repel the slip. Any slip that falls into those areas beads up and is easily wiped away. The resist will burn off during firing.

    Paper resists and masking tape can also be used. These resists are more like what you may consider...MORE a stencil to be.

    For paper resists, the paper can either be pressed onto damp clay, or it can be moistened slightly and applied to leather-hard clay. Once the paper or masking tape is applied to the clay, the slip is brushed on. The paper or masking tape is carefully lifted away once the slip has stiffened.

    One of the really nice things about using resists and slip is that hard edges and intricate patterns can be achieved.

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  • 08 of 08

    Slip Texturing

    Textured slips can be used to decorate pottery.
    Slips can have textures added to give an all-over effect, or applied to limited areas. In this instance, a textured slip made from the same clay as the pot was added to this thrown and altered pot, along with a non-textured white slip. Photo © 2008 Beth E Peterson

    One way of decorating pottery is to use slip texturing. Although we usually think of slip as being fine-textured and of an even consistency, this doesn't have to be the case.

    Slips can have inclusions added such as grog or sand. They can also simply include clumps of the same clay as the slip itself, rather like lumps left in mashed potatoes.

    These inclusions and clumps can be used for decorative effects. Textured slips can be applied in small, specific areas. They can be dripped or trailed...MORE using a brush. (The large particles will clog nozzles or syringe tips.) Textured slips can also be applied across an entire pot, rather like applying sanded stucco to a wall. Or, you can mix and match to achieve your own vision.

    But this is not the end.... Continue on with A Potpourri of Slip Decorating Techniques Part 2.