Creating three dimensional beads in clay doesn’t have to take hours of carving. I’ve been working on some raised designs using clay slip and for today’s post, I’d like to share how I do it.
First I sketch out ideas for designs, they can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make them. For animals, I use reference pics (google images is great for this) so I can get the anatomy roughly correct. I don’t like to make things too detailed as some of it will be lost depending on how you’re glazing the bead. But work in your own style to create something unique.
Next I make the bead base and create the hole. I’m working with mid fire earthenware, but you can choose whatever clay you prefer to work with. I’ve used this technique with stoneware and porcelain both with good results. Low fire earthenware isn’t great as the design will chip easily, but the technique will still work.
Using a rubber tipped tool, lightly sketch the outline of your design. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but get it as close as you can. These lines will be used as a guide, so you can do a bit of tidying up later on.
Next step is the slip. To make slip, all you need is clay and water. I’m using the same clay as I used for the bead. Other types of clay that fire in the same range may work, but your design could pop off during firing so test if you’re not sure. To keep it simple, I use dried up bits of the same clay body and break them up to crumbs. Use the proper safety precautions when working with dry clay. Wear a dust mask. Don’t inhale the dust!
Add water and mix. I start by adding less water than I think I need and mix with an old whisk. If your clay is dry to start with, it usually takes about 5 minutes of mixing to remove all of the lumps.
Keep adding water a few drops at a time until you get a mix without lumps that will form a small soft peak when you lift the whisk out of it. If you add too much water, you can leave it for a few hours to separate and siphon off the excess water, or add more clay and keep mixing.
If you don’t fancy mixing, you can use a lump of wet clay broken up, pour water to cover it, and leave to sit overnight. Siphon off the top layer of water the next day and you should have a layer of slip below it.
The slip is then put in to a slip trailing bottle. This bottle comes with a variety of tips. I chose a nice thin one to get fine detail in my design. Getting the slip in can be tricky as it doesn’t pour well, so I use an old funnel, fill it half way, hold the funnel in the bottle and tap it on the bench until it fills up. Don’t fill the funnel to the top, or you’ll end up with it all over you when you tap it down!
Draw around your design with slip and fill in the lines to create your design. It will look quite raised at this point, but will sink down as it dries. Keep the tip above the surface of the bead and let the slip fall on to it. If you drag it across, the nozzle will get clogged and you’ll need to stop and clean it out.
Use a wooden skewer to smooth out the slip and try and define some of the high and low points of your design. You can’t add too much detail at this point as the slip is still very wet.
Use a damp paintbrush to tidy up the edges where you went over the lines.
Leave the bead to set a little bit. If you’re in a warm room, this usually takes a couple of hours so I make a few at a time. It’s ready for the next stage when the slip is firm, but will take a clean impression from a fingerprint. Use your damp paintbrush to smooth the whole design. Don’t add too much water or your design will wash away.
Using a rubber tipped tool, start to define the shapes and add detail.
Use the damp paintbrush to smooth the areas you’ve been working on.
If you want to, you can add more slip. I’ve added some here for the grass around the hare’s paws.
You can now add fine details to the design using carving tools. You need to be quite gentle with the slip, but any mistakes can be smoothed over again with your brush.
After adding in the fine details, I go over the whole thing very gently with a damp brush to take off the sharp edges of the carving.
And here are a few finished. I had hoped to fire and glaze them, but they took longer than I expected to dry out. I think I’m going to do them with oxides to show off all the details!