How To Make Sgraffito Pottery
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!
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.
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.
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.
5. Grab Your Sgraffito Tools
Having the right tools for your sgraffito project can make or break your overall design. At DiamondCore® Tools, we have tools specifically designed to help you accomplish your sgraffito pottery goals! Tools in different shapes and sizes will allow you to achieve the designs that you’re seeking, and we have some uniquely shaped tools to do just that!
You can look at all of the DiamondCore® Sgraffito Tools that would be a valuable addition to your pottery tool collection and see how other sgraffito artists love them!
6. Begin Your Sgraffito Carving
Sgraffito is similar to drawing but on clay. By starting your carving process, this is where you can begin to use different pressure to reveal different underglaze colors or can add different textures with differing carving pressure. 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!