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.