Printing On Clay

Potters have been printing on clay in one fashion or another for millennia. Six thousand years ago the Sumerians made stamps and cylinders to impress their soft clay. Minoan and Mycenaean potters used sponges dipped in colored slips to make splatter prints on their wares (a process revisited and made popular by nineteenth century Scottish potters as an inexpensive way to decorate pottery for people of modest means). The great nineteenth century factory potteries of England perfected the art of transfer ware, creating richly detailed images on their plates and platters. Modern potters use silkscreen, photographic techniques, monotype and monoprint techniques, block prints, decals, photocopies and computers to print on their works. This year, we have three new books on the vast and ever changing topic of printing on clay.

Paul Andrew Wandless, writing for Lark Crafts, gives us two looks at printing on pottery. He is the juror for 500 Prints on Clay and the author of Image Transfer on Clay: Screen, Relief, Decal & Monoprint Techniques. 500 Prints covers a wide range of work, with luscious images of each piece. Personally, I do not think polymer clay belongs in a book like this, though I have no objections to the medium itself: it is not clay but a petroleum product. And I wonder about repurposed “post consumer” crockery.  But that’s me. As with all the 500 series, it is a pleasure to spend an hour or two going through all the photos. It is stimulating to see what others are doing, especially when it is very different from your own work. The pieces include many riffs on books, birds and oddly, guns. I like the books and birds.

In Image Transfer on Clay, Wandless gives detailed instructions for various methods of putting pictures on clay, including how to make your own silkscreens, decals, and stencils and how to cast a slab. This is a heavily illustrated, step-by-step book.

Considerably different in scope, Paul Scott’s Ceramics and Print was recently updated with a third edition. Scott was an early innovator in using print on studio ceramics and has done extensive research and experimentation. His book focuses on history and process. He tells us right from the outset, that it is not a how to book. Yet, he does share tips. In describing spongeware, he tells us that potters wishing to make sponge stamps today will find it helpful to soak and freeze the sponge in advance so that it is easy to carve.

Scott discusses everything from lithophanes to 3D printing. As you know, I have a bias towards books with ceramics history, so it will not surprise you that I liked Ceramics and Print best and recommend it even if you have no plans whatsoever to start printing on clay.

While reading these three books, I remembered a video of Kristina Bogdanov’s surprisingly simple method for photo lithography on clay using a Xerox machine that Ceramics Arts Daily posted. If you want to get started printing on clay, this video is worth a look.

My Guy Wolff Book At Last

There are a half dozen books on my reading pile that I want to tell you about, but, exciting news, at least for me, my new book, Guy Wolff: Master Potter in the Garden is shipping to bookstores now and should start arriving next week. It is, at last, an object that you can touch, pick up and turn the pages and yes, read. And it is beautiful! Between Guy’s wonderful pots and Joe Szalay’s stunning photography, and the excellent design work at UPNE, it is something to behold.

A book lives in one’s head for a very long time, and then there are editors and designers and indexers and sales people, and it is no longer your own, but still, it is not real and for the most part, it remains in your head, and on your computer screen and the screens of your publishers. Until, one day it is printed and bound and becomes real. For Guy Wolff: Master Potter in the Garden, that day has come.

Guy is very well known in horticultural circles where his pots are highly prized. He’s a fast thrower, moving, literally, tons of clay a year. His pots are visually strong, robustly thrown, and connect with people on subconscious and emotional levels. In this biography, I have tried to capture him on the page, using his own words as much as possible. I was fortunate in being able to interview a number of people who shared their Guy Wolff stories – Hannah McAndrew, Todd Piker, Gordon Titcomb, Peter Wakefield Jackson and others, (and thank them immensely). The book is a look at Guy’s life in clay, how he came to be the potter he is, his ideas on the making of a good pot, and the pots and potters, especially the old time potters, that influenced him.

Joe photographed many of Guy’s pots and some of the early pots that he has collected and reveres (they reside in the loft over his workshop). He also brings us into Guy’s shop where we see the pots on his shelves, the tools on his walls, watch him throw, and glimpse his wife Erica’s gardens which feature some of Guy’s very large pots.

I think if you are a potter (and who but potters reads this blog), you will find Guy’s story interesting. If you are a gardener and own or covet his pots, you will enjoy knowing more about the man who made them. There is considerable flowerpot history in the book too, as Guy is an expert on early English and American pottery. I am hoping that even beyond our world of mud and plants, people will find his life by the hand, with its ups and downs, his work for Martha Stewart, Steve Jobs, Joe Eck and others, intriguing.

Joe and I will be visiting a number of bookstores to autograph copies. Guy will be at a few special events. A list is on the Event page of my website.

Meanwhile, I have a making list that is long, so I will be in the studio, and the gardens need attention, but I will get to that stack of books that I want to share. My next book project, also with Joe, is on Sunken Gardens, and after that, a biography of a specific pot and the very different ways it has been perceived by various cultures through the years.