Monday, August 1, 2011

Today's Craft: Sgraffito

"Sgraffito (sometimes spelled scraffito) is a technique either of wall decor, produced by applying layers of plaster tinted in contrasting colors to a moistened surface, or in ceramics, by applying to an unfired ceramic body two successive layers of contrasting slip, and then in either case scratching so as to produce an outline drawing."

Another craft I got the privilage of learning this summer at Holden Village is the unique art of sgraffito. If it sounds a little like "graffiti", there is probably a good order to get the image you desire, you have to scratch the outside of your piece, whether it is a bowl, plate, or cup.

At Holden Village, this class was called "The Giving Bowls" because you don't get to keep the one you make! At the end of the snowy winter, the entire village starts making sgraffito bowls....they then take a pictures of themselves with their bowl, and write their email down on a slip of paper. A few months later, when I showed up, I received a bowl that had been made by the village pastor, and then the bowl I made will be given to another guest who arrives later in the summer. It is a pretty cool concept, and a great way to keep the thought of giving alive! Let's get started...

Unfired pottery NOT dried to the point of greenware
Potters glaze
Sharp point for carving
Soft paintbrush for dusting away pieces of glaze

To begin, you will need to prepare a piece of pottery as if you were getting it ready to fire normally. However, to allow the piece to be scratched easily, you will need to keep the piece from drying out completely. Also, while the piece is still on the throwing wheel, apply a layer of glaze to the outside of the bowl, taking care not to get the glaze on the bottom where it will rest in the kiln. Keeping the bowl in a plastic bag will prevent it from drying out too much.

Handle your bowl very carefully, as the bowl is not as strong as greenware in this state. Next, begin carving with a pointed tool the areas you would like to remove. Instead of brushing the scraps away with your hand, use a soft paintbrush. This is keep your bowl from getting damaged by your fingers. For my piece, I wanted to recreate the central area of the village, with the mountains in the background. I made an outline of the peaks....

....and then removed areas bit by bit. I wanted to leave a little of the natural beauty of this mountainous village with the bowl, so I decorated the back side with local flora....




Other artists hard at can you not be inspired in a studio like this????

My mom's bowl...

Now that the bowls have been carved, they are allowed to sit and become "greenware", and are ready to be fired. Firing occurs in a gas-kiln, powered by the local stream, which is fed by the snow melting in the mountains around the village.

A few finished pieces, getting ready to find their new owners, the slips of paper inside are the email addresses of the bowls' makers....

And finally....after I finished my bowl (and gave it to Tara, the instructor) I received my own "giving bowl" to take home. The artist had carved a picture of one of the busses "Jubilee" picking up luggage at the dock...a fitting memory for a beautiful place.

"The value of a man resides in what he gives, and not in what he is capable of receiving" -Albert Einstein


  1. Those bowls are fantastic!! And what a beautiful place to work!! Do they want to come build a studio at my place ;)

  2. Great effect! I have not tried it yet.I like this!