Thursday, January 31, 2013


I decided to bring home this piece to work on over the weekend so I could try a few techniques in my spare time. I rarely build sculpture at work, since the majority of my classes are throwing classes and sculpture takes significantly more time than thrown pieces. This quarter I am teaching a hand-building class and wanted to work on this piece while the students were coil building to show them some steps in the process. 

my coil built piece after the weekend work

After I built the piece, I wanted to finish it to an acceptable level, though I had run out of class time and had limited hours in the studio outside of class. I decided to experiment with a couple of stenciling processes to see if they would work on this scale and with a high level of detail. 

detail view with some paper stencils adhered to the surface

I had originally intended to buy some large stickers that had delicate lines and patterning but I was unable to find any. I searched Michael's and eventually found some decorative punches in the scrapbooking area. I bought a large daisy punch by Martha Stewart because it was on sale. The pattern it creates is delicate and visually interesting and If you line up the paper differently when starting to punch the second row, you can get a twisting design as opposed to sets of circles. 

daisy punch with twisting paper "stencil"

The punch is easy to use and cuts evenly on regular paper if you put enough pressure on it. My daughter had trouble getting the leverage to get it to punch through, though she may have fared better on a lower table. I punched some used copier paper, some junk mail and one of my daughter's sheets of construction paper to use as clay stencils. I then wet the surface of the clay slightly and pressed the paper on. The paper stencils stick to the surface best if they are wet and are then pressed on. I used a paintbrush at first to wet the clay and the paper, but the thin lines of the paper started to rip so I switched to using a damp sponge and pressing gently onto the paper instead of brushing or wiping with moving strokes. 

stencils on clay surface after wiping with a wet sponge

Once the paper was stuck to the surface, I used a damp sponge to wipe away the exposed surface of the clay. Wiping the clay with a wet sponge washes away the clay and leaves a rough surface. The sand or grog that gives our class clay its grit and texture stay while the clay is washed away. The clay under the paper should be protected from the wet sponge and not wipe away. I have used this technique many times in a class demonstration, but I usually use just one relatively small, thick stencil of paper. The paper stencil, when removed, leaves a raised smooth area of clay the size and shape of the paper stencil. 

wiping in progress

I had never tried the technique on a large scale or with such delicate stencils as these. I punched several strips of stencils out of the different papers and adhered them to the leather-hard clay surface with a sponge. Once wet and pressed into the clay, the stencil stuck to the clay so I was able to wipe the surface with a sponge and not risk the paper stencil moving.

the white stencil section has not been wiped yet

The technique seemed to work relatively well, but the thin paper tended to rip and it was difficult to know how much I needed to wash away the clay surface to leave a visible texture change. I ended up hedging my bets and applying white slip inside the daisy stencils before removing the paper. If the paper stencil does not function well to protect the surface from the sponge wash, at least there will be some surface decoration that comes from all the effort of cutting and applying the stencils.

white slip has been added inside some of the daisy stencils

I have not yet removed the paper stencils, but when I do I will be able to see both the white slip decoration and what is visible of the texture change from wiping the clay surface.

In an effort to try several things on this test piece, I bought a second paper punch this weekend and used the contrasting cutouts as white slip stencils on a second area of the sculpture. I bought the second paper punch at Craft Warehouse but it was a different brand. I was disappointed that it didn't punch all the way through the paper and I had to cut out the center section of each stencil. That's 12 small snips on each piece. It gets quite repetitive and annoying.

paper stencils adhered to the leather-hard clay

I punched the stencils from paper that was in our recycle bag. I used a SpaghettiOs label and some used copier paper. I placed the labels and used a damp sponge to press them onto the clay. Once they were adhered to the clay and as flat as I could get them, I brushed white slip onto the surface of the area, covering the stencils and the exposed clay.

paper stencils with initial layer of white slip

After the slip was dry enough to touch without smearing, I used a needle tool to peel away the paper. The copier paper ripped as I peeled it off, but I was able to get the slipped top layer off. The remaining paper should burn off during the firing  or I can pick at it as the clay dries. The shiny SpaghettiOs label peeled away in one piece, leaving a perfectly clear line. Both papers leaked a little, letting slip bleed over into the decoration. When this happened I scraped away the extra slip inside the lines of the stencil with a needle tool or small carving tool.

slipped area after removing stencils

I still have some more work to do the piece, but the going is slow. Once it is finished, I should be able to glaze both areas in such a way that the clay color difference and the surface texture both remain visible or are even highlighted and made more visible.


  1. so popular Cricket stencil cutter. But your challenge was impressive.
    2021 today, you must have more experienced with this process.


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