Handmade Sgraffito Mug: From Start to Finish
What goes into making a mug? Here are some descriptions and videos of different parts of the handmade process. The making process usually begins with a bit of planning: What will be made? How many? How much time to I have for all the different steps in the process? Working full time at my wetlands job means being very strategic about when I start the process, as too much time between steps risks the pieces drying too much to be further worked.
Once these decisions are made, I begin with the very unglamorous process of pugging up clay - which is weighing each piece that will be thrown, then kneading the clay (like you would bread) into a cohesive ball. Mugs typically start at 1.5 lbs of clay.
The next step is actually throwing, which is depicted in the photo above. I tend to throw around 40 pots in a sitting, which depending on the complexity takes 4 to 6 hours.
These pieces are allowed to dry about 12 hours, then flipped upside-down to allow the bottoms to dry. Next comes trimming:
As I've refined my process, I've learned to take more from the bottom third of the cup while trimming in order to keep it from being too heavy and poorly balanced. Trimming, attaching handles and sgraffito carving all happen in the leather hard stage. This is where the clay is dry enough that it wont dent or bend when you handle it, but not so dry that it becomes fragile. I spend a lot of time and energy trying to keep the pieces at this moisture level - which means re-wetting sometimes, and carefully wrapping them in plastic.
After the handles have been attached, the pot gets a coating of underglaze or colored slip. This is what gets carved through in the sgraffito process, revealing the claybody underneath.
Each piece is allowed to dry to a point where it can be wrapped to await carving. The sgraffito carving is probably my favorite step in this process.
After the piece is carved, it is allowed to dry fully and is fired for the the first time in a bisque firing. The fired mug is then glazed.
For my work, glazing requires a number of steps that usually take at least three days. The first day is washing all the pieces to make sure they are dust free and that the designs are as clean as possible. In most cases I use liquid latex to block out the portion of the design I do not want the glaze on. This step needs to dry overnight so the pot is dry enough to absorb the glaze. The second day is glazing. I usually dip the entire pot, or pour liquid glaze onto portions of the pot. This is also allowed to dry overnight. The third day is peeling off portions of the latex, adding highlight glazes in the design where needed, then giving a clear coat to portions of the design that did not receive glaze.
Once this step is complete, the glazed work is fired one more time at a higher temperature (2167 degrees) and the mug is complete.
It's a labor intensive process, but well worth the result. Thanks for following along!