Sunday, August 19, 2012

What is sgraffito?

            Before I was introduced to the ceramics world, I had never heard this word, "sgraffito." For those in a similar position, here is an explanation, complete with pictures.
            Sgraffito is the surface decoration technique of carving through a slip that has been applied to the pot or sculpture. Slip is clay that has more water in it, which gives it a runny texture and allows one to apply it with a brush or by dipping the object in a bucket of it. Most of the time, one adds a colorant to the slip so that it will be a different color than the clay underneath. This is when the technique of sgraffito is most useful.
            Once the slip has stiffened, one carves through it to show the clay underneath. There are many different carving styles that look amazing with the contrast this provides. Here are some examples of my work in which I have used sgraffito to my advantage. If you want a closer look, you can click on the pictures.

            This is a very simple style of carving; it is basically a line drawing. But the contrast between the black slip and the white porcelain underneath provides the marks with drama.

            This is also sgraffito. The slip here is dominated by iron, and it is very red and metallic (it was fired in reduction to cone 6). I have taken a metal rib and scraped away at the surface, leaving some slip behind to create the pattern. Then I carved out the mushrooms and their roots. I carved all of the slip out of the mushrooms, but applied an iron oxide wash to make them look softer and reddish-brown.

            These pieces were fired in a wood kiln. They were made with a dark red stoneware, but then I brushed white slip on them and carved through to the dark clay underneath. The wood kiln did its magic, and the slip flashed different shades of orange, while the darker clay in the carvings remained maroon and red and brown.
            This is only the tip of the iceberg for sgraffito. You can use green slip, or blue slip, instead of the earthy colors in my examples. You can carve very elaborate things or very simple things. You can apply glaze over the surface to get altogether different effects. This is just one tool in the toolbox for ceramic artists to apply in whatever way we want to create the surface effects we like. And it's one of my current favorites!

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