There was a time when I was fixated on what new tools I could buy that would improve my pots. My first NCECA was somewhat of a race through the vendor area to see how many new texture tools I could find. I think we all do it – or at least a good many of us. I still enjoy looking at new ideas in tools, but when it comes down to it, I pretty much use the same trusty small handful of tools again and again.
My new obsession is what tool can I MAKE and what can I use that I already have lying around the studio in order to do it. Roulettes made from bottle caps, kids’ toy truck tires; gears from an old pencil sharpener (an idea borrowed from my teacher). It just seems like you get a more unique impression with a tool that you’ve made yourself. There are a huge selection of commercial stamps on the market and many are really well made, but frankly, the last thing I want when someone looks at one of my pots is for them to think, “oh, I have that stamp.’’.
To an extent, the originality of your piece can depend on how you use the stamps, but we make stuff out of clay – that’s what we do. Wouldn’t make sense to make your own stamps that are completely your’s? I carved a few in a matter of 15 minutes. I hand build the stamps – nothing fancy, let them set up until no longer tacky, then using narrow ribbon cutting tools, I carve the designs into them. You don’t have to know how to draw and it doesn’t have to be complicated. A few examples can be seen above. Once they are dry, they can be bisque fired and then ready to use.
Roulettes can easily be made from clay discs and bisqued as well, if I’m making large patterned rollers, I’ll often poke holes in them, not only to lighten them up, but to make sure they dry thoroughly for bisque firing. I used to use a manufactured handle with them, but really, they spin just as freely between your thumb and forefinger and it’s quicker to change rollers that way.
Sea shells make really great organic stamps and depending on which part of the shell you use, you can get a different look with each shell. The textured patterns on the box below were entirely done using different shells and coral I brought back from a trip to Aruba (yes, I know technically you’re not supposed to do that, but it was just a few and we won’t discuss the clay I dug up here).
I also like to carve designs in slabs and bisque them to use for slab impressions. There are hundreds of online websites with patterns that you can use, print, and transfer by tracing over it with a pencil right to your clay slab. Leave until leather hard, then carve.
If that seems like too much work, there are lots of textured things out that you most likely have laying around, or, easy to find, that you can use for slabs. Car floor mats often have some great patterns, vacuum hoses can be used for rolling over slabs to create a lined texture; embossed wallpaper can make an elegant pattern and really draws the eye to the bottom of a platter or inside a box. Here’s a fun, rather geometric pattern, obtained from rolling a slab over a florescent lighting cover that I broke….err… got broken in our basement.
And last but not least, buttons! I love antique buttons but with the popularity of ebay, they have really gotten super expensive. I’ve been known to raid my mother’s ‘button box’ looking for really cool and unique patterned buttons, but now they also make ‘antique reproduction’ buttons and you can pick a whole bag of them up for a song on ebay as well. They make super ‘sprig’ molds, or, bisque the sprig mold and create a stamp from it. Some of the patterns on these old buttons are really beautiful.
Just some ideas that I had rattling around my head and wanted to put down. Hope they’re helpful to some of you in your quest for unique impressions. Good potting!
If you don’t want to carve your own stamps, there are great texture ‘tools’ out there that you can use to make unique impressions. Collected seashells and coral make awesome organic impressions that can often change dramatically depending on what part of the shell you use to create them. The texture on this covered box was stamped entirely with shells I brought back from a trip to Aruba (yes I know, technically you’re not supposed to do that, but it was just a few, so we shall not talk about the clay I dug up and brought home).