What Is Slip Trailing | Glazing Tips Tools and Ideas

a picture of a potter slip trailing a cup

Pottery is a form of art that allows exceptional flexibility in expressing one’s self. The possibilities in crafting are endless and slip trailing can amplify it even further.

So, what is Slip trailing? Slip trailing is a technique in pottery where a Potter applies Slip (watered down clay with or without colorant onto mainly leather hard clay) using a Bottle, Bulb or Flexible Container that has a pointed tip. Slip trailing adds another dimension to pieces through decorative lines or unconventional shapes.

It’s a highly flexible decorative technique that uses a Slip Trailer or other Applicators. These tools can be in the form of commercial applicators, bottles, cake decorators, or squeeze bottles.

When Bisque fired, Slip trails create raised textures or contrast to the surface. With enough creativity, a Potter can add more depth to Ceramics. Although it will take a lot of practice to perfect Slip trailing, the process of learning will be fun, and you can apply it to your pieces almost immediately.

Basics of Slip Trailing

Slip trailing is different from applying glaze to your Craft. Unlike glazing that adds the finishing touches and shine to your art, potters use Slip trailing to Pottery that is Bone dry, Leather hard, or even Workable Stage to create textures and designs. Technically you can apply Slip trailing to bisque ware but it can be tricky because of the different shrinkage rates with the Slip and Bisque piece.

a picture of underglaze slip design

The raised surface that you create when you apply Slip provides a physical and visual texture that adds depth to your pieces. It stays in place, doesn’t move, run or flatten, so what you see before bisque firing is what you get for your finished product.

If you use Colored Slip, it’ll stay in place, and it becomes a part of the pot.

It’s best to have exceptional precision when Slip trailing. Careful planning and execution will save you from several trial and errors.

However, you can remove slip trailing from your bisque piece by simply sanding it off (always wear a dust mask when sanding).

If you didn’t bisque your slip trail on to your bisque ware you can wipe off your slip trailing with a sponge. Removing the slip trail from greenware is more difficult.

It can be a little challenging when you use slip trailing for the first time, and it’ll take some time and effort before you can craft beautiful trailed pieces.

Potters who are working with slip trailing for the first time can follow these simple steps to get started:

  • Develop a design idea that you want to use for your craft. It can be an abstract design or bits and pieces of elements that create a consistent look throughout your ceramic.
  • Select the tools that you’ll use for your craft. It needs to fit the characteristics of the design that you want to create. If you’re going to apply fine lines throughout your piece, then you need an extra-fine tip for your applicator.
  • Familiarize yourself with how each applicator works, then practice working on a slab. Remember, what you see is what you get when slip trailing, so you should keep practicing until you’re satisfied with the design that you have on the slab.

Keep improving your slip trailing skill until you get the design that you want. Only then should you start working on an actual piece.

How to Make Your Slip

Slip is the most vital ingredient in slip trailing, but you don’t have to spend money on it. Buying it is perfect when starting to learn the basics of slip trailing because it shows you the consistency and softness that you need for this technique.

a picture of pottery clay slip

Once you understand how the process works, it would be best if you use scraps of clay from the pieces that you created. Using the same clay allows you to maintain the consistency of your craft and its design. Here’s how you can make the best slip for trailing:

  1. Soak scraps of clay in water. You can have as much as you want because you’ll store the excess for future use anyway.
  2. Keep stirring the mixture until it becomes slurry. It needs to be soft enough to use for designing your craft, but not watery that you can’t form a shape using it.
  3. Use an extra-fine screen to remove all lumps and grog. We recommend at least 80 mesh, but you can use a finer sieve. The texture of your slip should be consistent and smooth, especially when working on intricate details for your pieces.
  4. Store it in an airtight plastic container to keep it suitable for future use. If you’re going to use different types of clay for your pieces, it would be best to have different slip containers to maintain the consistency of your ceramics.

 Having a premade bucket of Slip is the most convenient way to go, so you don’t have to spend time making a new batch every time you want to Slip trail.

a picture of color powder explosion isolated on white background

Disclaimer: We are ambassadors or affiliates for many of the brands we reference on the channel.  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.

See these Ceramic Stain Powders (amazon) for some cool colors you may like to add to your Slip.

Tools for Slip Trailing

If you want to use slip trailing for your pieces, you’ll need trailing applicators with varying types and sizes. You can buy commercial applicators with removable tips to have a complete set for different trail sizes. This gives you better flexibility and creates more room for creativity.

It would be best for you to experiment with different types of trailing applicators to gain a better understanding of their various potentials. The subtle differences in squeeze bottles, bulbs, containers, and tip sizes can create unique effects on your pieces. Some applicators allow potters to create bulbous effects on their ceramics, while others create intricate trailing details.

Once you get the gist on how these tools work, it’ll be easier for you to find different alternatives that offer better flexibility.

What’s more important is that you have a wide array of slip trailing tools with varying sizes. Having these in your workshop will allow you to create better and more intricate design details on your pieces.

Precision Applicator Bulb:

The bulbous container has a threaded opening that will allow you to use different tip sizes for your craft. You may want the Xiem Slip Applicator. (amazon) or (blick arts) It works the same as the syringe applicator, but you can use it for patterns with varying sizes.

It’s a versatile tool with varying tip sizes that you can use to correct imperfections with your craft. Although slip trailing isn’t prone to significant flaws, this tool will help you keep consistency in your pieces.

a picture of the Xiem Applicator

For the Current Slip Applicator Pricing at Amazon

Rubber applicators:

The Comiart Ball (amazon) is an easy to use rubber Underglazing Ball. Perfect for delicate and detailed work because of its precision tip. They are ideal for creating independent slip trails that provide better tactility on your pieces.

Syringe Applicator:

This Applicator tool (blick arts) allows for exceptional control when applying casting slips or engobes. It allows you to create extra-fine trails with excellent accuracy and consistent thickness.

Squeeze Applicator:

These Squeeze Applicators (amazon) are tools that Potters use to create more prominent design elements. It’s for pieces that rely on different design patterns, rather than intricate trails. You can adjust the size of the tips by cutting the tip.

Watch me Make Colored Slip

a picture of a potter holding up a plastic bag of clay pottery slip

Conclusion

The potential for slip trailing is endless. It will allow you to push the boundaries of your creativity to its limits. Perfecting this craft, though, will take a lot of practice. You will spend time familiarizing yourself with how your tools work, and how you can use this method to your advantage when trying to add depth to your craft.

Fortunately, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to practice slip trailing. You can keep using the same pieces of clay over and over until you get satisfied with your design. It’s one of the easiest techniques to master because, unlike glazing, you don’t have to bisque fire your pieces to see the results.

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