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The Joy of Slip

There is simplicity in slip, the mixing of clay and water to a smooth homogenous liquid. Slip decoration is so seductive and there is something about the playfulness of surface that it brings. There are some amazing potters that slip decorate on Instagram like Naofumi Maeno, and Kazuhiro Ashizawa I am always jealous of their surfaces. Doug Fitch has been a major influence on my work too and love talking clay with him.

Carved Cup
Adam Field’s Carving

Though slip is something I fell in love with around the time I met Adam Field, I saw he was doing carving with a tool much broader than I would normally have tried with sgraffito. I liked the way he worked with it and bought one of his carving tools. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it, but I had the idea of working with terracotta and white slips to bring contrast to the work, instead of buff stoneware which I was increasingly finding dull.

Stretched & Slipped Vase
A slipped and stretched stem vase.

I had used slip before, but mainly brushing on and stretching out, a technique a favoured by the university technician on my undergraduate course. My pots that I made this way were too heavy, clumsy and didn’t say anything I wanted to say in my work. I was glad to turn away from it. Switching to dipping slip gave me a nice smooth surface to draw on and carve into. The question at the time of what to carve into was covered by having to submit work for a My&FYC, where they wanted imagery for Blackpool and the local area.

I felt like the terracotta of the clay, really complimented the local red brick buildings, around the local town. Some of the buildings have been covered by white paint and it starts to peel off so there is that sort of connection there. So I started looking up and looking around and starting photographing and decided to draw some of the buildings in Blackpool.

Pottery for Fleetwood
Slipped and Carved Pottery

There were flaws with that work, and it was only my first real attempt at something like that. I learnt a lot from that work but it was done only a few weeks before my youngest was born, when I decided to become a teacher. If I want to do more sgraffito I really need to start a sketchbook and work on my drawing.

With slip there can also be frustration if you move a slipped surface too quickly the slip can distort, it is just a matter of being careful with it and just letting it sit. I have had pots collapse after they have been slipped, or the handles drop off. To prevent collapse I try and dry the excess moisture quickly and then let it dry naturally. Adrift Pottery gave the tip of brushing the slip on instead as that won’t be as thick.

Mixing Slip
Mixing a cobalt slip for the wood kiln

In terms of slip recipes I have several; all of them are different thickness depending on their uses.I have a local clay slip that until recently I was using for under a white slip on stoneware, but it bloated. I have slips mixed up for a salt firing, in Scotland which are ball clay and china clay blend with oxides added for colour. I have porcelain slip made from a porcelain clay body to give texture.   My favourite by far is a simple ball clay slip that breaks over the pots natural textures.

A newer development with slip for me has been mono printing, on sheets of newspaper. This allows me the freedom of making loose marks on a flat surface and which can then transferred onto a pot in the round. Though mono printing is still in the early days of development and it needs a lot more work. I want to keep working with slip but it is finding a focus that works with my new glaze recipes. But slip is still an area I can play without much pressure so I do not want to focus just yet.

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