Tag Archives: antique pottery

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 pottery.org 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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The translucence of porcelain rice grain ware

Bluish white porcelain with translucent spots the size and shape of a grain of rice. Clear glaze with light blue or bright cobalt accents. The first time I saw rice grain ware was in Montana in the form of a teapot. It was beautiful and exotic. I couldn’t figure out how it was made. If you hold it up to the light you can see through the tiny spots. I’ve read some sources that said it was made by inserting little grains of rice in the walls of a porcelain vessel. After glazing, the rice evidently burned out during firing, so all that was left was the translucent glazed area. As it turns out, it is created much more simply. No rice is used at all, states Jan-Erik Nilsson Gothenburg on his Gotheborg site. This makes sense because, as another source pointed out, the rice would expand by absorbing moisture from the clay as it dried, thereby growing in size. This would cause the vessel to crack before bisque firing. “‘Rice grain’ is a name of a technique rather than actual rice grains,”  according to Gothenburg.  “To make this kind of decoration the holes are pierced through the rather thick walls of the rough and unfired porcelain and the holes are then filled with translucent glaze.” Interestingly, the porcelain vessel is initially quite thick. After the holes are made, then filled with the glaze and dried, the potter reworks the vessel.  This is done by thinning the walls without compromising the integrity of the vessel. Surely this must not be how they are all made, however. It seems there must be a big market for slip cast rice grain ware, considering the amount that is sold. Pieces made the traditional way must be wafer thin. “The highly skilled potters, who are usually young women, after what I saw when I visited a factory for this kind of porcelain in Jingdezhen in the 1990’s – are judging the thickness of the walls and the work progress by the sound of the paring knife against the unfired clay,” writes Gothenburg. He says the technique came to China via Turkey in the 14th century. Another style of pottery is made when the holes aren’t filled with glaze. This linglung work creates a lattice effect. These techniques are much older than I realized and the oldest pieces are quite collectible. I myself have a modern rice grain ware teapot. Such porcelain is common and inexpensive in Metro Vancouver, so my take on it is that the finer pieces are pared thin by hand but, others, like my teapot, are slipcast. It is no less appreciated, though. The translucency makes it appeared delicate and the cobalt blue decorations enhance the whiteness of the porcelain. These pieces are truly beautiful.


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The mystery of Blue Willow Pattern china

Ever since I started reading the Lovejoy mysteries, I’ve been entranced by author Jonathan Gash’s knowledge of antique pottery. To the mix, I must now add Robert van Gulik, who authored The Willow Pattern, a book I just finished. I was drawn to the title because I recognized the china pattern and was thrilled about the chance to read another mystery revolving around pottery. I love it when an expert decides to write fiction using the reservoir of knowledge they’ve attained. This is very much the case with Van Gulik, a Dutch diplomat who spent many years in China and who, in fact, married the daughter of a mandarin. Below is an an excerpt from the Postscript, van Gulik gives us the history of the Willow Pattern, from the folkloric myth to actual production of pottery with the pattern in England and China. Fascinating stuff from a true master!

“The precise origin of the willow pattern is an unsolved mystery. It has not yet been ascertained what Chinese model, if any, the famous English artist Thomas Turner followed in designing this motif for the Caughley Factory in Staffordshire, when he was working there from 1772 to 1799. Landscapes of country villas on the waterside planted with willow trees are frequently found on Chinese porcelain (see, for instance, plates 252 and 253 and W. G. Gulland  Chinese Porcelain, volume 1, London, 1902), but as far as I know the particular design where the villa is connected by a bridge with a water-pavilion, and a person with a raised stick is pursuing two others crossing that bridge, has not yet been found on purely Chinese porcelain. Since, however a bridge being crossed by two friends followed by a page carrying aseven-stringed lute (the favorite musical instrument of the literati; cf. Dr. R. H. van Gulik  The Lore of the Chinese Lute, Monumenta  Nipponica Low-quality ‘misty’ Nankin ware Monographs,  Sophia University, Tokyo, 1940) is a common Chinese motif, I suspect that an English designer mistook the lute for a stick or a sword, which gave rise to the ‘legend’ concerning the pattern. Bernard Watney aptly summarizes the situation in his English Blue and White Porcelain of the Eighteenth Century (London, 1963, p. 113): ‘The willow pattern was not really an original Caughley chinoiserie, but merely the crystallization of a number of similar transfers used at the English porcelain factories from about 1760. This romantic vision of Cathay gained full popularity in its final form as a result of the mass production of cheap earthenware by Staffordshire potteries in the nineteenth century. The creation of the suitable legend heightened the appeal and ensured its continuity.’ I may add that that ‘legend’ about the mandarin’s daughter who fell in love with her father’s poor secretary…bears the hallmark of the pseudo–Oriental romanticism popular in England and Western Europe during the second half of the eighteenth century; a lengthy version, complete with amatory verse, may be found in C. A. S. Williams Outlines of Chinese Symbolism and Art Motives, Shanghai, 1932, s. v. willow. After the English-made Willow Pattern ware had been sent to China, Chinese potters imitated it for re-export to the West, laboriously copying with their brushes the English transfer-printed design. ‘The best-known Chinese porcelain with Willow decoration is the blue-and-white Canton or ‘Nankin’ ware, a utility ware of the early 19th century (or earlier) made for export. It is often thickly potted, sometimes even clumsy, and has been made continuously ever since its introduction. It was and still is made in three qualities; the highest quality having sharply distinct brushwork and dark blue, while the lowest quality has the familiar misty blue outline. This ware was very exactly copied in England by Josiah Spode II for export to Persia (1810-1815). Nankin Willow ware is quaint and often very charming and is still sought by discriminating people.’ (Quoted from F. St George Spendlove’s article ‘The Willow Pattern: English and Chinese.” in Far Eastern Ceramic Bulletin, vol. VIII, and oh. 1, Boston, 1956.)”


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