How to decorate handmade pottery: the ultimate guide

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Adding Finishing Touches and Glazes

1. Create texture with imprints, stamps, and other tools.

If you want your piece to have additional texture, add it while the clay is still soft for the best effect. Use items like leaves, needles, or rubber stamps for a variety of different textures. Always be gentle when using tools and stamps, as it can be easy to puncture or dent the clay. If you happen to make a stamp or mark you don’t like, simply dip your fingers in water and gently rub them over the area until the mark is smooth.

Adding Texture

Stamps: Purchase rubber stamps from the craft store, and press them against the clay firmly to make markings. These are ideal for creating a repeating pattern or a “signature” marking on an item.

Tools: Select household items, like forks, knitting needles, or combs. Press them against the soft clay, or gently drag them across the surface to create an interesting, geometric or rough texture.

Imprints: Choose natural items, like leaves, twigs, and stones, and press them against the soft clay. This will leave a faint, delicate imprint of the texture of the item on the clay before you fire it.

2 Let the clay dry overnight until it becomes lighter in color.

If your piece is made of air-dry clay, be sure to check the directions to find out how long you should let the piece dry before handling it. For clay that needs to be fired in a kiln, make sure the clay is dry to the touch, which can take 12-24 hours, depending on the clay that you used and the size of the project. Then, carefully transport the piece to the kiln. For air-dry clay, you can use a fine grain sandpaper, such as an 80- or 120-grit, to remove small imperfections and smooth the surface before adding paint.

3 Paint air-dry clay with an acrylic or latex paint if you want to add color.

Select a paint that is safe for use on clay and that doesn’t require firing in a kiln, since air-dry clay can’t withstand high temperatures. Apply the paint using brushes, sponges, or other techniques, and then let it air dry according to the directions on the paint. If you plan to use the pottery for eating or drinking, opt for a food-safe paint and apply a food-grade sealant all over the piece after the paint is completely dry.

4 Fire the clay in a kiln if you aren’t using an air-dry clay.

Locate a kiln at a local community center, art space, or library, and schedule a time to fire your piece. Carefully lower the item into the kiln, and close the lid. Make sure the kiln is set to the correct temperature for “bisque” firing, which is the first stage of firing the pottery. When it’s finished, carefully remove the item from the kiln to add a glaze. If you’re not sure what that temperature should be, check the directions on the clay packaging. If you don’t have the packaging, research the type of clay you’re using to find the ideal firing temperature.

5 Apply a glaze according to the instructions on the packaging.

Dip the item into the glaze, or paint the glaze onto the newly-fired piece. If you want to add multicolor designs, use brushes or sponges to apply the glazes in an abstract design, since they will sometimes blend and run together in the kiln. If you prefer the natural color of the clay, apply a clear glaze for extra protection. Keep in mind that the color of the glaze when it is applied can look different than when it is fired. Be sure to choose the glaze based on the fired color! Avoid putting glaze on the bottom of the piece, since this can make it stick to the kiln.

6 Place the piece in the kiln for a second time to seal the glaze.

Transfer the item to the kiln by holding the base to avoid smudging the glaze. Check the glaze packaging and set the kiln to the correct temperature, which is normally lower than the bisque firing temperature. Make sure the item isn’t touching any other pottery in the kiln, and close the lid to start firing. Once it is finished, carefully remove the item from the kiln! After it’s fired, you can safely touch and handle the kiln without affecting the glaze, since it should be completely cured and hardened. If you’re not sure of the appropriate temperature, check online for temperature charts that list a variety of glazes.

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