A potter, and most artists I would think, never stop challenging themselves or trying new techniques. Several years ago I played with Sgraffito, a technique where you scratch in clay.  I am revisiting it again!

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Turquoise Blue Bold Flowers
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Carved into the clay – Turquoise colored Flowers and big swirls

A few years ago, at an art show, I stumbled upon a potter whose design appealed to me a lot. It was a coffee Mug, in black and white, and the design was scratched in clay.

It didn’t just appeal to me it BLEW ME AWAY. I was so totally drawn to it in a way I had not been drawn to a piece of pottery before and “cheap old me” bought one of her pieces. https://carolynyoungceramics.com

 

It was a coffee mug and it soon became a favorite.

What appealed to me most was the sharp contrast between black and white, and when I touched it I could feel the design, every stroke the artist made. As I gazed at the design I could almost FEEL AND SEE the artist making her art.

The design, which was scratched into the clay, changed from one side of the mug to the other and drew my eyes in. I could see and feel the mark of the artist and knew that no one, NO-ONE, HAD A MUG LIKE MINE

I knew I had found a technique I could really wrap my arms around.

Sgrafitto Tree Bowl
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After some research, I discovered the technique was called Sgraffito, an Italian word meaning “to scratch”. In a nutshell, underglaze or slip is applied to a semi-wet (known in the potter’s world as “Leatherhard” piece, and then the surface is scratched into the clay to reveal a pattern.

I started playing around with it a bit around 2016. I blogged about my first attempts at Sgrafitto and then talked about it again here.
Yeah Baby…I am Italian and the word is Italian…a perfect match.

Scratched in Clay-It isn’t all Black and white

I have always been drawn to high contrast, rich colors, and carving so when I saw this I knew it would be a perfect place to take my pottery. Black Underglaze over white Clay is and will probably always be my favorite combination but I have played around with other colors.

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Flower Power – Sgrafitto

My preferred Underglaze in Amaco Velvets but I found that some of the colors don’t stay true at Cone 6 so I am using some Speedball (Love the Pink).

Hints and Tips for scratching in the Clay – aka Sgrafitto

  • With Sgrafitto you have to have a contrast between the glaze and the clay body. I use white clay so black, brown, dark blue, red etc works well for me but I have seen some gorgeous sgrafitto work on dark clay with a white slip or underglaze over it.
  • The best time to scratch or  carve is when the piece is at the drier end of Leather hard. If the clay is too soft the carved off stuff will clog things up. Too dry and all you are doing is scraping off the glaze, which may be what you want, but sgrafitto is super cool when you show carved marks in the clay.
  • REMEMBER  that when you paint on the underglaze you are adding moisture to the piece.
    Emily is helping me sgrafitto
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  • I suggest using three thick coats of underglaze for an opaque coverage.
  • You can keep your pieces is a state of semi-moist using a Wet Box, which I have made myself several. These are plastic storage containers with a layer of Potters Plaster on the bottom. It creates a humid environment and keeps your pieces moist.
  • After doing all your carving, let the piece dry and Bisque fire it.  For the glaze firing a good clear coat will really bring out the colors.

This is the clear recipe I use.  Its worked for me and my clay…. no blushing.  I dip my pieces. Kitten’s Clear

My Favorite Sgrafitto Poducts

 

    1. Amaco Velvet Underglazes – These wonderful Underglazes work on Greenware and bisqueware. I use Amaco Velvet Jet Black primarily in my SgraffitoWork but have also used Flame Orange and Bright Red.  I apply three heavy coats to make it opaque.
    2. Banding Wheel– This is not a necessity but it sure comes in handy if you don’t want to handle your piece to much. I have the Shimpo Banding wheel which is amazing. It spins really freely and is heavy.  It is expensive but worth it. Very high quality
    3. Carving Tools – I have a large assortment of tools that I carve with. My favorite
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      is this inexpensive Wire Stylus tool by Kemper. The tip is a pretty thin wire and I love that it carves smooth but it breaks often and I have to replace it often. I also have this set of Ultimate Carving Tools by Xiem. I use the round tip and the teardrop tip often but have not had the opportunity to use the other two. They are well-made and seem to stay pretty sharp. These are more for taking off big amounts of underglaze and clay, which is pretty much what I use it for. They also make nice strokes in the clay.
    4. When you get super serious about Sgrafitto the Zebra Carving Tools by DiamondCore are the Cadillacs of tools. I own several of their tools. They are now my go-to carvers, especially the L1 and L2.
    5. Brushes – I love these Hake brushes for applying my underglaze. They hold a ton of material and they are super cheap!!I hope that I have inspired you a little to play around with Sgraffito!!!  It’s so much fun, very artistic and striking! If you have a favorite technique or tool you like to use do leave a comment and let us know.

    I hope this little run down on Sgraffito has helped you in some way get to get started or maybe helped in your current exploration of this technique. Feel free to leave a comment or a question. I am here to help!

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Dani Montoya - Potter
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My name is Dani and I am the potter behind this page! I am retired and having a ball being the artist I always wanted to be. My studio is located in NW Arkansas where I live a quiet life, on a lake with my husband, 3 dogs and two cats.

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Amaco Velvet Jet Black Underglaze

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Amaco Velvet Jet Black Underglaze is my base color for Sgraffito Work. I apply 3 coats on a Hard Leather hard piece to give a lovely opaque palette to work with. When Bisque Fired it turns a deep matte dark grey. Applying clear glaze brings out the shine and makes it very black.
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Shimpo Banding Wheel

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These may be expensive but they are worth every penny!!  They are banding wheels on steroids!  Super heavy duty and spins freely, smoothly, and quickly!!
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Ziem Carving Tools

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Ready to start carving? This is a great way to get going!
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