How to Sgraffito on Clay - A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

How to Sgraffito on Clay - A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

Sgraffito is a decorative technique in pottery where a layer of slip or underglaze is applied on the surface of the clay and then scratched away to reveal the clay body underneath. This technique can add depth and texture to your pottery pieces and create unique designs. In this post, I will discuss how to sgraffito on clay, step-by-step, and share some tips for beginners or those new to the technique. 

Step 1: Prepare your clay surface

Make sure you are working with a smooth surface. I go over my leatherhard piece with a damp sponge before I do anything else. Apply a layer of slip or underglaze on the clay surface. Use a nice sized paint brush to apply the slip or underglaze evenly on the surface. I personally prefer underglaze over slip. It applies smoothly and you can apply it during any stage of the clay drying cycle. It is absolutely imperative that you apply 3 coats,. Wait for the each coat to dry before applying the next. I will let my piece sit on my workspace for a while after I’ve applied my underglaze to let it dry out. 

Step 2: Sketch your design (designs are available on my website) 

Once the clay has reached the leatherhard stage it’s a good time to carve. a good way to know if the clay is ready for carving is how the clay reacts. If it doesn’t fall away from the piece then it’s still to damp and that will result in loss of detail. 

There are many options to transfer the design to your piece.

1. You can sketch your design on the surface of the clay using a pencil or a pointed tool.
2. You can use a stencil or template to create your design.

3. You can print the design on a piece of paper and use that to trace the design on your piece.

4. You can use a silkscreen to transfer the design. All of my available designs are suitable for silkscreens. There are many methods to creating silkscreens that I have covered in other blog posts. 

5. You can create underglaze transfers to transfer the design. I also have a step by step blog post about this as well. 

However you choose to transfer your design, make sure it is visible enough to follow during the sgraffito process. I have designs available on my website for anyone who struggles with drawing or doesn’t enjoy drawing. They are available under “ Artistic Resources” 

Step 3: Scratch away the design Using a sharp tool or a needle tool, start scratching away the slip or underglaze to reveal the clay body underneath. Follow your sketch and scratch carefully to avoid any mistakes. You can also use different tools for different textures and effects. I personally use diamond core tools, I find them excellent for detail. 

Step 4: Finishing touches

Once you've completed your design, use a fluffy paint brush or makeup brush to remove the leftover crumbly bits.  If they do not fall away easily wait a little while and try again. Then, let the clay piece dry completely before firing it in a kiln.

Tips for Beginners:

  • Practice on a small piece of clay before moving onto larger pieces.
  • Use a light touch when scratching away the slip or underglaze to avoid scratching the clay body.
  • Experiment with different tools to create depth 
  • If you make a mistake you can touch it up with your underglaze

Thank you for ready, if you have any questions leave a comment below!

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