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Gilhouse Pottery Blog Post


The Life of a Sgraffito Mug

This year I'm planning to offer a lot of sgraffito work because I love the art and enjoy the process. I've found that people are really responding to these pieces and it's exciting as an artist to make something that's appreciated, so here we go. Let me tell you about the life of a sgraffito mug.

Day 1 Throw mug body on the wheel.

Day 2 Trim mug and add the handle. Put into a "damp box": A sealed plastic tub with plaster in the bottom. This prevents the mug from drying. Since I'm a little bit of a SciFi nerd my damp boxes are labeled Stasis Chamber One and Two.

Day 3 Brush on two or three coats of underglaze. I've been using black for the stark contrast and because it's traditional, but the color choices are endless. Return mug to damp box.

Day 4 Let mugs sit in open air to dry out enough to be handled but not completely dry. This is tricky because too wet and things smear, too dry and the underglaze chips off. Put into sealed bin without plaster to "hold". Inside the hold bin is a portable humidity monitor, I've been studying my ideal working level.

Day 5 Carve designs into the mug. Each one takes an hour or two. Set onto drying rack to dry fully.

Day ?? When fully dry, usually about a week, low temp (1900° F) fire in kiln for bisque firing. This sets the clay in permanence while leaving it porous enough to accept glaze.

Day ?? Dip the outside of the mug in clear glaze, add color glaze to inside and lip.

Day ?? High temp (2200° F) fire in kiln a second time to mature the glaze and the clay. This step is what makes the mug functional, now the clay shouldn't leak.

Day ?? Quality check the glaze, if it passes I sand the bottom with a series of diamond sanding pads. The sanding removes sharp edges to avoid scratching your furniture and it makes the bottom feel silky smooth. If the glaze doesn't pass quality check the mug goes back on the shelf to be reglazed and refired.

Day ?? The mug is ready to find it's home.

Overall the process is at least three weeks with a week for drying, and time for the drying rack to fill enough for an efficient bisque fire, in my case about 30 mugs. My two plaster lined damp boxes hold six mugs each and the one without holds four. I try to keep twelve mugs in various stages of readiness at a time, working in batches of six.

I can usually carve two mugs a day before my hand starts cramping up and I need to stop, but that doesn't mean my output is fourteen a week. Sgraffito is just one style of pottery I create, and I usually work six days a week, on other days I'm making other pieces. In a recent push to create a lot of sgraffito work I finished the week with eight mugs on the drying rack.

When you touch a sgraffito mug you'll feel a slight texture variation on the surface from my carving. If you study a mug I carved you'll see the tool marks as well as imperfections in the line work. This lets you know they're carved by hand, freehand, without a stencil. Many times I start carving without knowing how it'll look until I'm finished. This is why I love sgraffito. I could use resist methods to make perfect designs using stencils without carving them, but that's not what I'm going for. You can get that at the Pottery Barn, or Home Goods or whatever it is now, and it would still be a mass produced piece. Handmade is one of a kind, no two are alike because it was made by someone who loved making it. :)

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