By: Danielle Kearns
We love a good fake-out at the claypen. We have customers ask us all the time, "I'm not very artistic. What can I do that's easy?" Not only are these customers looking for guidance, they're looking for something that won't be difficult, time-consuming, pressure-packed, and come out looking awesome! We love taking the guess work out and giving you easy tips and tricks to make just that happen. Here are our top 10 suggested painting techniques to try out upon your next visit!
1. specialty glazes
The typical glazes people tend to pick are called undercoat glaze. They are a specific color that, when applied 3 times, will be bright, shiny, and vibrant. What we call "specialty glazes" are what other studios might call pottery glazes. They are a form of undercoat that will change naturally in the kiln because of the extreme temperatures and create a variance of color. They come in both shiny and matte finishes and can completely transform your piece. Even crazier, they usually start as some wackadoo color in the bottle. For instance, our very popular vintage Christmas tree workshops were done with a color called "glass green," which starts off brown in the bottle!
Here's a fun one. You paint your pottery whatever color you like. While it's wet, lay a piece of lace over the piece in whatever coverage and pattern you like. Then, paint over that! Peel and, voila, it's as simple as that!
You read that right! Throw some paint, water, and dish detergent in a cup and mix it up. Using a straw, blow into the cup like you did when you were little to create rising bubbles. Once they've reached the top of your cup, tilt the cup over your piece of choice and allow the bubbles to fall where they may. They will begin to settle on top of the pottery and pop, leaving a color stain behind. Do the same with another few colors to give the piece a really impressive finish.
Every time we put out a mandala sample, people ask how we did it. It is currently one of our top replicated ideas, and it's so stinking easy to do yourself! We have a bucket of polka-dotters on the wall. Essentially, that is all a mandala piece is... polka-dots. The hardest part is finding your symmetry. The best way of determining that is to give yourself guidelines on the piece itself using a regular No. 2 pencil and sketching a design or lines to give yourself an image to work off of. No. 2 pencil burns away in the kiln, so people will be none the wiser.
5. fluid art
Take some paint colors of your choice. (We normally recommend between 3-4 colors.) Mix water into each container, about a 1:1 ratio, aka equal parts. Give those a stir and pour one on top of another into a larger cup (or bowl, if you're doing a massive piece). Don't even mix it. Just pour the contents onto the pottery in whatever motion your prefer. (I normally do a figure-eight or spiral.) Then start to tip your piece in all different directions and watch the paint start to move and swirl together and create colored layers. Once the entire surface is covered, allow the excess to drip off, hopefully in the sink or over a tray. If the sides or bottom of your piece got a little dirty, just wipe it off with a wet sponge and you've got another awesome (and easy) work of art!
6. splatter effect
Woah, here's a hard one. Pour paint. Take toothbrush or paint brush and flick paint at pottery. Done. You can also tape off areas (like our very popular canisters) to give the piece a more modern and refined look.
7. silk screens
Silk screens are just a more mature version of a stencil. It takes the same approach as screen printing on a t-shirt. We mix the regular paint (we find black works best) with a powder solvent that thickens to the paint for application. (It's kind of like adding flour to create a roux.) You dunk your finger in the mixture and spread the mixture all across the surface of the silk screen until the entire image is covered. Peel it off, and you've got a (hopefully) perfect replica of the original image. We have an entire binder of silk screen options available on a walk-in basis. We also have some that are reserved and only available for workshops and theme nights.
8. masking tape
Yup, just tape. Think of it like prepping to paint a room of your house and sectioning off the molding. Put tape wherever you wish to have white or a nice clean line. Paint each with your personal color palette. Peel the tape off and you've got a beautiful, clean, and modern design.
9. tracing + transfer paper
Have a symbol you absolutely love or an image you'd like to recreate? The answer is our transfer paper. Images can be traced and then transferred onto the pottery. Then, you treat it like a coloring book page and fill in the sketched images with paint. Transfer paper is available on a walk-in basis for an additional fee, but built in to some classes and workshops.
Over the winter, people went crazy for our cozy sweater mug. It is absolutely adorable and absolutely one of the easiest things to recreate on your own. This works best with pieces that have dimension or ridges. (The sweater worked perfectly for this.) All we did was paint the entirety of the mug our desired color... in this case that was pale blue. After painting the 3 coats on the mug, we took a synthetic sponge (we have plenty of them here) and wipes away the paint from the sweater's "threads," leaving the paint only in the nooks and crannies. I know, I'm giving away all our secrets!
You can also just dab the sponge all around the piece and layer your colors. (We have sponges of different shapes and textures.) This effect always reminds me of the galaxy.
10b. a wash
I had to sneak another one in because, heck, it's just too easy not to tell you! A wash is just water and paint mixed together to make more of a water color effect. In this instance, you want to see the brush strokes! It's what makes the piece... but you have to work quickly. After the paint and water have been mixed up, start working as quick as you can around the piece. I find that purposely doing strokes in all different directions gives it a very natural look. Move the piece around to cover all of the desired areas before they begin to dry. Use a sponge to clean off areas you may have painted but want a clean finish - like the rim of a mug. Give the piece a finished looking by adding a silk screen. (See #7.)
Did you know that we have drawers and drawers of supplies that you are free to use free of charge? This even includes laminated technique cards that you can access and teach yourself how to do right at your table! Ask a Studio Associate where our technique cards are to try something new at your next visit!
By: Danielle Kearns
It's not always just mugs though...
Videos By: Sophia Dzialo
By: Danielle Kearns
I am fairly new to the pottery world, so learning the ins and outs of the clay business was a total learning curve for me. We get asked all the time, “Why does it take a week to get my pottery back?” I wouldn’t have really understood myself if I hadn’t just recently been trained in it. So I figured I could give a little step-by-step tutorial of how it all works and the TLC each piece receives right here, in house, from our Studio Associates and Custom Artists.
Step One: You paint!
Obviously, each piece is painted to be uniquely your own. When visiting us, you pick and paint your piece in our cozy studio. Most people paint using our “Fun Strokes!” undercoat glazes. These are our solid colors, of which we have over 70! We also offer specialty glazes, which will fire in the kiln differently from the Fun Strokes, and will create a more complex, multi-layered color scheme. Some folk choose to have extra details or wording added to their piece, which can only be done by our talented Custom Artists, so those will wait on special shelves for their expertise hands.
Step Two: Drying
Each piece painted gets organized on the back shelves by day. These items need to dry for a full 24 hours to allow the paint to dry fully and set.
Step Three: Glaze Prep
We glaze on an almost daily basis. Each of our Studio Associates are trained in the process, which is an art form in and of itself. We use a clear glaze, which is combined with distilled water in a large tub. The mixture is blended (thoroughly) with a power drill and the largest whisk you’ve ever seen. The glaze’s viscosity is then tested using a special viscosity cup. At this point, we make sure our glaze is primed for the best results possible.
Step Four: Time to Glaze
The majority of our items are hand dipped into this mixture… twice! We attempt to coat as much surface area as possible the first go around. The items are then shaken vigorously to allow the excess glaze to drip off and create a smooth layer. We also use synthetic sponges and fan brushes to dab at the glaze to ensure it doesn’t pool or drip in any one area. It is a long process, and one that requires a lot of patience and focus to detail. After all of the shelves have been half dipped and partially dried, we go back to the beginning and do it all over again, this time dipping the other end of the piece and ensuring the names on each piece are preserved. This is so important to make sure you get your same piece back later.
Step Five: Spot Check
Now, everything should have a complete layer of glaze on it. It almost looks like everything on the shelf is mummified and there is no more color visible. Everything has turned a chalky white color, and the original colors are now seemingly hidden. At this point, we check each item to make sure there are no lumps, bumps, or imperfections. If we see any blemishes, like glaze drying in a funky way or drip marks, we go back and finger sand each item to make them as smooth as possible. Any items that were painted with speciality glaze are "tagged," as those are not glazed in the same way.
Step Six: More Drying
That’s right! Even the glaze needs 24 hours to dry. The shelves will be filled with these items that are prepped and awaiting the kiln, still organized by day, and now also organized by sizes to make the loading process more efficient.
Why Do We Glaze?
Think of glaze like the clear nail polish for your pottery. It is the finishing touch to make everything shiny, special, and bright. It allows anything left unpainted to become a natural white. It is also the thing that makes your piece food-grade safe at the end of the day! One of our biggest sellers at the claypen is kitchenware. It would really be a shame if you made these awesome creations and couldn’t actually use them!
Stay tuned for next week to learn a little more about how we load the kiln and bring these pieces to the finish line. There's a lot more to it than just paint and pick up.
Danielle is a CT native, She started at the claypen in 2018 as a Studio Associate and quickly became a Team Lead and our resident blogger on staff. Her previous experience includes teaching, writing, and photography. You can find her on Instagram and LinkedIn or reach out with questions via email.