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Cecily's Clay Techniques: Sgraffito

Written by Cecily of Porcelain Jazz
This post is about two types of sgraffito techniques. 

The most common way to work with sgraffito is to coat a leather hard clay object (in our case this will be a bead of some kind) with a contrasting colored slip, engobe or under-glaze. 

When one carves back through the under-glaze into the clay beneath a contrasting line will be produced. 
 Remember those scratch board exercises we used to have to do in art classes to prepare us to work with etching and wood block carving in printmaking? This has essentially the same kind of thinking to it.

Some variations on this simple technique can produce rich and complex results. For example what about using several types of line tools to produce different thicknesses and qualities of line. This is the time to pull out all of your needle, ribbon loop and wire loop tools and experiment with the marks that they make.

On quite a few of the beads shown here the petals, leaves and stems are all carved using varying thicknesses of line to produce different flowers. I make petals or simple leaves by pulling up sharply on a stroke to make a tear drop shaped cavity. On the other hand a stem is produced by running a straight, rapid, even stroke in the direction needed. If you go too slowly the line will wobble.

Another aspect of this technique that one might play around with is the color of the clay underneath (aha another way to work with colored clay!) perhaps even marbling it before coating it with under-glaze. One might also come back in and add additional bits of contrasting colored clay to further clarify and enhance a design as the work continues. The grouping of three yellow, aqua and red pendants show some of these experiments in line and color.

Or what about blocking out the various elements of your design with different colors of under-glaze and then using your line work for the details. Another group which I call tree hugger pendants show branches and leaves as blocks of under-glaze with the details etched on top of the under-glaze. I'm not as excited about these as the others. I think I'm going to re-fire them with some additions to add more contrast and focus to the design.

I said two different types of sgraffito so here is another way to tackle this design technique.
I rolled out layers of very thin colored clay. Then I sandwich them together with vinegar. I rolled them some more with the rolling pin to adherer the layers and further thin each layer. And finally I carved my design back through the various layers exposing various colors depending on how deeply I cut. 

This look is chunkier and even more tactile than the previous one since the cuts have to go considerably deeper. I like the results a great deal. Though I am sure some of that comes from the bright colors and high contrast in the group of four pendants in aqua and golden yellow with green and white flowers.

Overall I think this is a technique I'm going to continue to play around with. 
 As usual I will be uploading both a How To do Sgraffito... album and a Kiln Unloading album to my facebook page within the next few days. 
Also some of these pendant beads will begin appearing in my Etsy shop listings almost immediately.


  1. Hi, thanks for the tutorial. I've considered making beads of clay, but have always wondered about its durability. Do clay beads and pendants fare well trough daily life?

  2. I gave this a +1 on Google :-)


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