Birch work  -Slip resist with sgraffito’d details..

Because porcelain tends to slump when it is so horizontal, I use stoneware in a slump mold. (I’ve found various delightful molds at the junk store.)painted-stoneware-in-slump-molds

As soon as I put the slab in the mold, I cover the surface with white slip.


Because I am working with two different clays- stoneware in the mold and porcelain slip- there is a slightly different shrinkage and I want the two clays to bond as much as possible when they are the wettest.


After the piece gets near leather hard, I tear up a bunch of newspaper strips and wet them and the surface of the tray. Wetting them helps them to stick down to the piece. The “frondy” edges of the torn paper also tend to stick more than a cut edge.

After they are down I apply a contrasting slip- in this case blue-


and after letting it set up until it is no longer shiny but long before it dries, I pull up the strips.


Here it is with all the strips pulled up. 


you can see places where the blue slip “snuck” under the paper- I will either draw over it or carefully scrape it off the white.

After that, I go back in with a drawing stick and define at least one edge of the tree  (thanks to Stephanie M. for that suggestion)and make all those little marks that are so distinctive to birches.


This one (above)  is not even dry-certainly not fired or glazed. 

Glazing- I thought I would try a clear glaze on one

(here it is- some small  piece of the kiln stuck to it)

small-birch-tray-clear-glazeand on another, some soda ash water for a matte finish with possible orange flashing. 

long-birch-tray-shino-waterI have tried quite a few finishes on these trays. 

I’m trying to find something that enhances it by turning the carved lines brown (as opposed to the gray of the clear glaze above) but without changing the white of the birches. I’ve not been completely successful.

Here’s what I’ve got so far:

Under Celadon- glossy finish…y’know, I think I painted red iron oxide into the lines on this one and wiped it off.

birch-under-celadonUnder shino and wiped off lightly- matte finishbirch-under-shino-wiped-offunder Rutile Blue and (badly?) wiped off- matte finishbirch-under-rutile-blue-wiped-off


This next one below, took too long and I worried too much. This is shino wiped off and then clear painted on. If those two meet, they look awful together, bubbling, etc. NOTE* upper left corner, you can see where the slip did not bond to the stoneware- it can be a problem- and flaked off. Darn!

birch-shino-wiped-off-and-clear-painted-onbut of all the finishes (and this is just a little too matte) this is probably what I was shooting for.


A lot of my imagery comes from what I see on the surface of the pot after I’ve painted the slip on.  I look at the brush strokes on the surface and they suggest images to me.  Perhaps that’s why I have a lot of birds and fish on my  pots; they are generally shaped like a typical brush stroke. 

Birds have manifested themselves in my subconscious as the caretakers of security, of home; they are the ultimate good and selfless parents and they are omnipresent  (in real life too- the always -everywhere ambassador of nature). 

I also started drawing nests on my pots.

I didn’t think much about it until I started looking at the birds I was drawing with the nests. They sometimes looked menacing such as the large one in No Fly Zone done the first year of the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. 


No Fly Zone
No Fly Zone



The nests require a lot of time and energy as I painstakingly draw the individual strands and twigs. It’s not quite the same as building one but it’s the best I can do.



Nests are a wonderful metaphor for home and protection and parenting. The parent birds spend all this time and energy working on this nest, crafting it just so, sheltering the delicate eggs and working ceaselessly to feed the little hatchlings –

 the hatchlings crap all over the nest and eventually jump out and take off. A thankless job to be sure and of course there’s that empty nest there.


Empty Nest



Still beautiful, a bit worse for wear and its purpose is over -depending on the breed – some birds reuse their nests every year; fixing them up in the spring; others abandon the nest and it eventually falls apart. 

Then last year, I made this lovely nest but somehow the bird I saw coming out of it was HUGE.


Too Big for the Nest



That was weird but fine however,  when I made a second one, I had to stop and wonder why. Of course the minute I looked at it-  hmmm a strident bird too big for the nest and I have a teenager  – it became clear.

So the nests seem to be about home, parenting and safety no matter what their various states; one or two eggs or empty or,

surprisingly, filled with a huge loud bird that is definitely still in the nest but not happy about it. I don’t think the mommy bird is too thrilled about it either.