Thursday, December 11, 2014

Water Etched Ceramics

I’ve been playing around a lot recently with surface textures and masking (are you bored yet?) with the aim of creating some unique work. I think this is my absolute favourite thing about clay. Everything you make starts out as a bag of mud, every artist can create something unique to themselves, and what you can produce from it is only limited by your imagination… my imagination has been working overtime recently and I’m loving all the different directions it’s leading me in. 

My second favourite thing is the number of different techniques there are to create the different surface effects... I'm determined to try as many as I can!

I love etching on metal, so you can imagine how excited I was to discover you can etch on ceramics… with water! No mess, well no more than usual, and no chemicals. 

Within 10 minutes I had researched everything, ordered what I needed and impatiently waited for the postie.

The supplies for this technique are pretty minimal. Clay (already have) glaze… yep! Denatured alcohol and shellac. 

I’d heard of shellac and knew it is used for french polishing, but had no idea what it was. It is a natural substance produced by the female lac beetle. They feed on the sap from trees in India and Thailand and secrete the shellac which then dries on the branches and is collected. So basically it’s beetle poop! 

Thankfully someone has done all the collecting and it’s available as flakes or bottled ready to use. I used Rustin’s brand which is sold as button polish. You can see from the bottle it’s made from pure shellac. 

You will also need denatured alcohol to clean up your brushes. 

So for my first attempt, I tried it out with porcelain. This picture is mostly to show off these nifty little bands I got for my rolling pin. They ensure that your clay is rolled to an even thickness (something that drives me crazy and wastes so much time usually) They work brilliantly!

I cut discs from the clay and left them to dry. Once they were bone dry I painted on the shellac. It’s quite drippy and tends to bleed, so works best with simple images rather than anything too detailed. I decided to try out some clouds and trees trunks.

Once the shellac was dry (about 15 minutes) the piece was sponged. A rough sponge works best. This removes the exposed clay and leaves a raised image underneath the shellac.

Bisque firing burns off the shellac, and I’m assuming that the fumes aren’t as toxic as some chemically made resists. It didn’t smell too much in the garage during the firing, but I didn’t hang around in there just in case!

Next the pieces were glazed.

I chose glazes that break over texture, some worked better than others, but I love the effect and am looking forward to more experimenting over the Christmas break.

And for an idea of what you can do if you’re a little more adventurous, here are some great pieces I found on Google…

Click on the pics to visit the sites!

Cecilia Colman

Ruth Robinson Ceramics


Melynn Allen

And while I was looking around, I also found this great video demonstration of the technique by one of my favourite artists, Simon Leach… I just love his work process and teaching style, I could watch his videos all day!

Thanks for reading!



  1. You always find the neatest things! It does look like fun though I would need to get a kiln.

  2. Hi Caroline, Bored? On the contrary I find your posts fascinating. Thanx for sharing.

  3. Hello Caroline, I posted to your silver etching tute this morn, and hope I get a response to that question. As for this tute, it is a cool technique. Have you ever tried something similar with silver clay? I have, and used red laquer nailpolish for a resist, and a soft sponge to slowly remove layers of silver clay for an etched effect. Thought you would like to know. Awesome blog.

    1. I bet this is a lovely effect on silver... great idea! Sorry, but I can't find the comment on the silver post, if you want to try again, I will get right back to you :)

  4. Very cool! I love the results and can hardly wait to see where you take it


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