How to Make Clay Slip for Decorating

a picture of pottery with engobe slip

Decorating pottery or ceramics can be a very fulfilling pastime. And there are plenty of ways you could add some art to your pots and plates, be it by using glaze and/or wax resist or by making clay slip. There are many ways you can decorate with clay slip, if you haven’t tried it yet, you have been missing out on some real fun!

So, how do you make clay slip for decorating pottery? To make clay slip, Take A Few Pieces of Dry Clay and Crush it Into Tiny, Almost Powder-Like Bits. Add Some Water to This Powdered Clay and Mix It Well Until It Gets A Thick Cream-Like Consistency. Thus you get one of the coolest and simplest decorating techniques for your pottery.

In this article, we will look at the process of making clay slip in more detail. We will also look into some of the popular decoration techniques that make the use of clay slip.

How to Make Clay Slip

It isn’t very hard to make your own clay slip. Here are all the ingredients and tools that you will be requiring:

  • Bone dry pieces of clay
  • A thick plastic bag (the thicker, the better)
  • A hammer or a mallet
  • A rolling pin
  • Water
  • Container
  • Spatula
  • A mixer of some sort. You can use a hand mixer, a hand blender
  • Sealed plastic bag, jar, or bucket

As you might have noticed, these are all things you may already have around you. Let us now look step by step how you can make clay slip:

  1. Take some dried pieces of clay and put them inside the plastic bag. Make sure the clay is bone dry.
  2. Wrap the remainder of the plastic bag around the pieces of clay on the inside. Now smash on the clay with the hammer or mallet. Continue smashing till the clay is reduced to small pieces.
  3. Then roll on the small pieces of clay using the rolling pin. Continue doing this till the clay is reduced to almost power like tiny bits.
  4. Pour the bits of clay into a container. Make sure you have your mouth covered with some sort of dust mask before you do this, as some powder will float in the air.
  5. Once the clay is in the container, add a little water to it. Mix the solution with a Spatula first. Then you can use a mixer or blender. Repeat this process as many times as you need till you get a clay slip that is of the desired thickness (yogurt or sour cream).

And just like that, you have made your own clay slip. You can use it right away, or you could also store it for future use.

Now you can place some thicker slip in a separate container for slipping and scoring your pieces together. Then add more water if you need the slip to be thinner for other decorating techniques and place it in another container. You can add more water and so on as you go to have different thicknesses of slip for different projects.  

How to Store Clay Slip

If you store a clay slip properly, it will last you a long time. This could save you precious time in the future. You will need an airtight container of some sort. Ziploc bags work great. They keep the air out; this helps to stop the mold from growing.

The slip has to be regularly hydrated, so make sure to check on it every now and then. One thing you may notice is that a layer of mold could soon form over the clay slip. This is fine and will actually help the workability of the slip. Mold in clay is not dangerous unless you are allergic. Most clay contains mold, some more than others. You can also add a little vinegar or bleach to your slip from time to time.   

I made a video on making Plain Slip for you to check out Here.

I also have a step by step video on making Colored Slip you can go to Here.

Some Popular Clay Slip Decoration Techniques

Disclaimer: We are ambassadors or affiliates for many of the brands we reference on the website.  As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

The tools listed in the post are tools I have used or am using at the present time. The tools are also optional, being that you may have, and use many of them already.

Let us now look at just a few of the ways you can use colored clay slip for decorating pottery. Once you get used to working with colored slip, it is one of those materials that you can be creative with. You will find yourself constantly coming up with new ways to use it. For a nice blue mason stain Click Here (amazon)

Here are some cool decoration techniques that you can try out right away;

Slip Trailing  

Slip trailing is perhaps one of the easiest and the most popular pottery decoration techniques. It involves pouring a stream of slip to   Pottery that is in its damp state or leather hard. You can also apply Slip to bone dry or Bisque ware, but you have to be careful because the slip can crack because of the drying rate, espiecaly if you apply it thicker.

Usually, the damp pot is first placed on a pottery wheel. The clay slip has to be poured from something resembling a squeeze bottle. The opening has to be narrow but not so narrow that it allows the clay slip to clog. You can also water down your slip a bit more and use a Slip Trailing Applicator (amazon) or (blick arts)

While slowly rotating your pottery that is either (no longer tacky or leather hard), simply pour the clay slip onto its surface, leaving a sort of a trail around it. Hence the name.

As easy as this process may seem, the end results will look stunning. This also explains why this is such a popular method in pottery decoration.

You can also read this article I wrote for more tips and ideas about Slip Trailing.

Marbling Slip

Marbling slip takes the process of slip trailing a step forward to get it an absolutely stunning finish.

Like with slip trailing, the first steps involve the pouring of clay slips around a damp or leather hard pottery. Once this has been done, use an applicator to pour lines and dots of colored Slip.

a picture of making slip marbling

You then move the piece around or use the pottery wheel and increase the speed so that the slip drizzles and moves around.

a picture of slip marbling

What you end up with are chaotically beautiful patterns that you couldn’t have imagined yourself. When all else fails, trust the randomness of nature to get the job done.

Slip Painting

Slip painting is another cool technique of decorating with clay slip. You will need a painting brush and different colored slips.

What follows is exactly like a traditional painting. You take the different colors of slips with the brush and apply it to the surface of the pot. The pot being worked on has to be damp or leather hard.

Expereanced potters also paint on bone dry and bisque ware pottery.

Besides using a painting brush, you can also use a sponge to apply the slip on the surface of the pot. And if you’re feeling adventurous enough, you can actually do it all with your fingers. In either case, the end results will be beautiful.

Feather Combing

Perhaps one of the coolest and the most fun clay slip decoration techniques on our list is feather combing. This process requires you to first pour slip on your damp pottery, then apply bands of colored clay slips on to the surface of the pottery with an Applicator.

a picture of making feathered slip

Next, you will be widening these bands using some sort of spreader. Now you will be using some sort of sharply pointed tool like a brush to draw on the spread-out slip to get a chevron pattern.

a picture os slip feathering

This cool process is also known as feathering. That’s probably because the traditional tool that was used for this process used to be a feather. If you’re feeling adventurous, you too could try using a feather instead of a brush.  

Slip Texturing

One last clay slip decoration technique that is worthy of mentioning is slip texturing. This is the process of adding various elements like saw dust, woodchips, or even rice to the clay slip.

Once these additives have been mixed into the slip, you can apply the textured slip using any of the techniques mentioned above. Slip trailing would probably work best. You can even lay the organic elements right on the slip.In the end the organic elements burn off and you will be getting beautiful, textured marks around your pot that give it an undeniable charm.

Watch The How To Make Plain and Colored Slip Videos

Conclusion:

Clay slips are amazing choices for decorating pottery. The best thing about them is that you can make them yourself with little to no effort. They can also be stored for long term use.

The most popular method of decorating with clay slip is probably slip trailing. But there are plenty of other techniques too. You could try slip marbling, feathering, or slip texturing. You could also create a few different colored clay slips and then paint them on as you would with regular painting like underglazes. The results will be different in each case, but everything will be beautiful.

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