Good Impressions Part 3: Pottery tissue transfers

The tissue transfer method doesn’t make an actual impression. It transfers an image from paper to clay, but I’m including it here because it requires the act of placing something on clay that remains, leaving a visual element, like impressions. I came upon tissue transfer by chance and it sounds so very cool, I wanted to include it in this series.

Modern-day:  Commercial transfers are sold at supply houses and the following information was posted by Ruth Boaz. Australian Northcote Pottery Supplies carries beautiful Japanese transfers. For some reason, I cannot link directly to the tissue page, so just look it up under the toolbar: pottery supplies. Northcote also has an instruction sheet that you can download from this URL: scroll down to #39. Pottery Supplies’ line has more variety: click here to download their catalog. Finally, Japanese Pottery Equipment: click here to see its line. I must say, I do not know why the sources I found are only in Australia. If you know of a N. American source, can you let me know? Thank you!

Historical: Boaz also suggests you take a look at the Horatio Colony Museum site to see some historic examples. “The English invention of transfer design in the 18th century coincided with the development of pottery that could rival the coveted Oriental porcelain,” according to the site. It further explains that the design was transferred “from an etched copper plate” to transfer paper. “This was achieved by first printing the etched design onto a special tissue paper with ceramic ink.” As a result, for the first time ever, working class people “could afford beautiful dinnerware for their homes.” (There is even a Transferware Collector’s Club!)

DIY Transfers: According Morgan Britt, who commented on the clayart forum, an artist named Rosette Gault gave a demonstration of her transfer technique in a workshop. “She used regular tissue paper and one of the super fine
tipped felt markers, then used a barely damp sponge to transfer the drawing to the clay,” said Britt. Dollie and Ernie Ceramics say they also use markers to transfer a design, but that the design burns out when fired, so they only use it as a guide for filling in with underglaze. So, I guess one must simply experiment, but I think it might take a bit of trial and error to find pen ink that wouldn’t burn out. I did a little investigation and it turns out a number of makeup eyeliners contain iron oxide and some of them are like magic markers. Here are Elaine Bradley’s musings about her experiences with transfers.

So, If a person can master the technique, they will be able to do quite a bit with transfers. There are a couple of other methods happening, too, but they’re a little more obscure. You can check them out, if you’re interested. With one, you’ll have to find a screen printer who will use vitrified ink, the other you’ll have to find a Canon computer printer that uses toner with iron oxide. There are some exciting things happening in studios around the globe, though. Take a look at Potterlalab’s Flickr Photostream by clicking here. Wow! Gorgeous work… I also found a post about transfers, lino prints and other intriguing forms of decoration at Print Pattern Project‘s site. Please take a boo and good luck with your transfer projects!

DIY Ink/Screen/Transfer: Chris Donnelly, originally from Canada, studied at the Alberta College of Art and Design, and is now living and working in Scotland. He has an amazing series of instructional videos on youtube and I highly recommend them (they run below this article). As he states in the first video, you’ll get more out of the series if you have more than cursory knowledge of ceramics. He also uses screen printing techniques and a similar degree of knowledge with this medium would be best. That said, I like the content because I enjoy working on something from start to finish. Also, because of my printing background, I am on familiar terrain with a number of things to which he refers, so the third video felt somewhat like old home week to me. The idea of creating your own designs, mixing your own ink and using the transfers on your own work is very appealing. The book he recommends looks like it’s worth looking into, too.

Tissue transfer is a popular technique, at the present, and an acquaintance suggested that it is too faddish. I think this may be true of commercial transfers and/or certain styles: overlapping birds or flowers with postage stamps or steamer trunk labels, for instance. But your own designs used on your own ceramic pieces would be in a class of their own.

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