How To Make Sgraffito Pottery

Updated: November 11, 2023

Sgraffito is a technique where potters can put a layer of glaze or slip on a piece of pottery, let it dry, then use a pottery carving tool to scratch at it to show the base layer of color. Sgraffito derives from an Italian word meaning “to scratch.”

Here’s how to get started!

1. Create Your Pottery Piece

Start by creating a shape or design that you’re interested in! Whether it is a vase, mug, plate, or whatever you desire to make, it can turn into a sgraffito piece. Ensure the clay has a smooth surface because sgraffito will not look great on an already textured work of art. This step of the creative process is where you can genuinely design any unique shape!

Create Your Pottery Piece

2. Allow Your Pottery To Become Leather-Hard

Leather-hard clay is dried out but still has some moisture, and this is what you’ll be looking for when creating sgraffito pottery. Although you can’t shape the clay anymore, it can still be carved or scratched. Finding the right point where you can start carving your piece can be a bit tricky. If the clay is too hard, you won’t be able to make the correct carvings, and your underglaze will crack or flake off once applied. If it’s too wet, your clay piece will collapse and deform when you try to carve it. 

To know if your clay is leather-hard, pick it up and ask yourself these questions. Is it firm enough to hold without feeling like it will crumble? Does it leave a small mark if you press your fingernail against the clay? If yes, you’re ready to move on to the next step in the sgraffito process. 

Allow Your Pottery To Become Leather-hard

3. Apply The Underglaze

Once your clay is leather-hard, you can apply your underglaze. Use the underglaze of your choice by painting it on, dipping, spraying, or pouring it. If you want to make a unique sgraffito piece, you can apply two layers of different color underglaze to your pottery to show different colors as you move to the carving process. The different colors will show depending on the pressure you use to carve.

Typically, you apply two to three layers of underglaze to a piece of pottery. You’ll need to apply more underglaze to the leather-hard clay than you typically would with other clay types since the clay will absorb it. Using more underglaze will keep the color opaque as you begin carving. Once you feel that you have enough layers to show the color of the underglaze applied successfully, you can start your sgraffito design. 

Pottery with underglaze

4. Draw Your Sgraffito Design

If you plan to create a more detailed sgraffito design, drawing your design on a piece of tracing paper could be helpful before carving into the clay. If you’re just starting your sgraffito pottery journey, you can start with a simple but beautiful carving that we’re sure you’ll love too! Use a pencil to mark out where you’d like your design to be and how you’d like the overall piece to look. If you’re gentle enough, the pencil marks you’ve incorrectly marked will fire off in the kiln. 

Pencil

5. Grab Your Sgraffito Tools

Choosing the right tools is crucial for your sgraffito project! At DiamondCore® Tools, we offer a variety of specifically designed tools to help you achieve your pottery goals. With different shapes and sizes, including some unique options, our sgraffito tools make it easy to create the designs you’re aiming for. 

Shop our sgraffito tools that other artists love and add additional valuable pottery tools to your collection!

3-Piece Sgraffito Stylus Set - $129

3-Piece Sgraffito Stylus Set

Elevate your ceramic art with the 3-Piece Sgraffito Stylus Set from DiamondCore® Tools. This must-have set for carving intricate details and fine lines is available for just $129 when bundled – saving you money compared to individual tool purchases.

This set includes: 

  • L1 Diamond Stylus Tool - Needle / 1 mm Ball
  • L2 Diamond Stylus Tool - 0.7 mm Ball / 2 mm Crown
  • L3 Diamond Stylus Tool - Small Football / Large Football

SHOP 3-PIECE SGRAFFITO STYLUS SET

L1 Diamond Sgraffito Stylus Tool - Needle / 1 mm Ball - $48

L1 Diamond Sgraffito Stylus Tool

The L1 Diamond Stylus Tool from DiamondCore® Tools features a diamond needle tip on one end and a 1 mm diamond ball tip on the other. This gives you the flexibility for pencil-like freehand carving, fine Sgraffito detailing, and the ability to clean up bisque lines and grooves.

  • Features a rugged diamond “needle” tip on one end and a 1 mm diamond ball tip on the other end
  • Beautiful hardwood pencil handles with foam grip
  • Ideal for pencil-like freehand carving, fine sgraffito detailing on dry clay, fine carving on drier clay, and cleanup of bisque lines/grooves

SHOP L1 DIAMOND SGRAFFITO STYLUS TOOL

L2 Diamond Sgraffito Stylus Tool - 0.7 mm Ball / 2 mm Crown - $48

L2 Diamond Sgraffito Stylus Tool

DiamondCore® Tools’ L2 Diamond Stylus Tool features a diamond Sgraffito tip on both ends. This pottery carving tool is perfect for Sgraffito detailing and arcs on dry clay.

  • Features a diamond “crown” tip on one end and a 0.7 mm diamond ball tip on the other end
  • Pencil-like foam-grip handle 
  • Great for freehand carving; sgraffito detailing and arcs on dry clay; carving, shaping, and sculpting on drier clay; and cleanup of bisque lines/grooves

SHOP L2 DIAMOND SGRAFFITO STYLUS TOOL

L3 Diamond Sgraffito Stylus Tool - Small Football/Large Football - $48

L3 Diamond Sgraffito Stylus Tool

The L3 Diamond Sgraffito Stylus Tool from DiamondCore® Tools features a small, 1.7 mm diameter diamond “football” tip on one end and a larger 2.5 mm diameter diamond “football” tip on the other. This tool is meant for fine Sgraffito detailing on dry clay.

  • Small diamond “football” tip (1.7 mm diameter) on one end and a large diamond “football” tip on the other end (2.5 mm diameter)
  • Beautiful hardwood handle with comfortable foam grip
  • Use for pencil-like freehand carving; sgraffito detailing on dry clay; carving, shaping, and sculpting on drier clay; and cleanup of bisque lines/grooves 

SHOP L3 DIAMOND SGRAFFITO STYLUS TOOL

6. Begin Your Sgraffito Carving

Sgraffito is similar to drawing but on clay. By starting your carving process, you can begin to use different pressures to reveal different underglaze colors or add different textures with differing carving pressures. Feel free to carve out various shapes or patterns, keeping the underglaze color where you think is best. Your preference for how much clay you take away from your piece allows you to make the sgraffito design your own.

 

 

7. Finalize Your Sgraffito Project

If you accidentally removed some underglaze or need to touch some spots up, this step is where you can take the opportunity to add underglaze to your pottery piece! Check that there aren’t any sharp edges on the surface of your sgraffito work; if there are, take the time to remove them. Let your piece become bone dry, then bisque fire it. Next, apply a clear glaze before glaze firing, and then you can see your finalized sgraffito piece! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We can’t wait to see the sgraffito pottery you create! Give us a link to check out your work in the comments below, or tag us on Facebook or Instagram!

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