Progress Photos

I took photos at all (most) of the stages of work on a large vase, and thought I’d share a look at my process here!

Large clay vase, freshly thrown out of dark brown clay. It's sitting on a throwing bat on a table in a pottery studio.
Step 1: Throw vase form and add tiny handles. Wait for it to dry just enough that the surface is dry to the touch. Not pictured: paint the vase roughly with 1-2 layers of white underglaze, and let dry.
An in-progress sketch of two women, one with wings. Also visible is a pencil, pink pearl eraser, and a mug.
Step 2: Figure out the size your image needs to be to fit on the vase. Decide on your image and sketch it out. (Netflix and tea optional but preferred)
Line drawing on plastic of the same sketch, finished. A winged woman with a crown holds a shorter woman with braided hair and a dress. They are framed by plants.
Step 3: Trace the drawing onto a piece of a grocery bag with a permanent marker. The grocery bag plastic is sturdy enough for gentle drawing, but thin and flexible enough for the next part.
Ceramic vase lying horizontally on a piece of foam. The drawing on a piece of plastic is pinned to the surface with sewing pins.
Step 4: Position the plastic drawing on the vase, and gently pin it into place. If possible, I aim the pins at spots where I will carve a line – they do leave tiny marks in the underglaze.
Unfired ceramic vase lying horizontal on a piece of foam. The image of two women is lightly indented into the surface.
Step 5: Gently go over the lines of the drawing, through the plastic, with a dull pencil or other small rounded tool. The impression it leaves will be visible even if it isn’t carved. Trace as much of the drawing as necessary. (not recommended: remove plastic and realize you forgot part of the drawing)
Same vase with the wing and some details painted in purple, and a framing border and some details painted in yellow.
Step 6: Paint in any colored areas with underglaze. This allows me to get the carved lines more precisely if that comes after the last layer of underglaze.
Same vase with the majority of the lines carved to reveal the dark brown clay under the white and colored underglaze.
Step 7: Start carving! There’s not any good way to ‘erase’ a mark you don’t want, so I always start with the faces. They’re the trickiest part, and if a face gets messed up completely, it’s not worth continuing the piece. From there, I just work on whatever feels right, paying attention to which bits need to overlap other bits.
Same vase, now standing on a wood table, with the entire drawing complete.
Step 8: Continue to finish the drawing and add details as desired. The smaller details on their clothing and the shading on the leaves were decisions I made as the image came together.
Finished vase. It has a rounded body, flared neck, and two small handles by the neck. The handles and neck are dark brown, the body is painted white with a blue and yellow image carved with dark brown lines. A winged woman holds another woman in her arms and they look lovingly at each other. The image is bordered by a yellow line overlaid with sprigs of the deadly nightshade plant.
Step 9: Bisque fire, clear glaze, and glaze fire. Marvel once again at the fact that your blue underglaze looks purple until it’s glazed.

The basic process (make piece, paint on white underglaze, carve image) is how I do all of my illustration pieces. I don’t always go through the process of sketching beforehand and transferring the drawing using plastic. Usually for my birds, moths, and snakes, I just freehand the image right onto the pottery. But for people, where the proportions are more important (let’s avoid the uncanny valley), for more intricate designs with multiple parts that need to play well together, and for larger pieces where I need to get the layout just right – that’s when I pull out this multi-step process.

Hope you enjoyed this peek into the studio!

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