Sgraffito Tools and Techniques

As previously mentioned, sgraffito is my favorite method to use when working with clay. In the last post, I discussed the different levels of dryness of the clay and how that has an effect on the sgraffito method and how it turns out.

In this post I want to talk a bit about the different sgraffito tools you can use when working with the clay. This is a piece I was just working on, and the tools that I used to make it:

sgraffito tree and tools

Process: I cut the clay from the block, put it through the slab roller, sponge it into the mold, trim and smooth edges, apply layers of colored underglaze, and let it set to leather hard with bags of beans laying in the mold to keep it from warping, and lightly cover it with dry cleaning plastic so I can carefully monitor the dryness. The size of the piece will also impact the drying time. This one has been sitting for about 5 days.

Then, when it has reached leather hard, I use the needle tool (second one down) to trace the image I want to carve – I always do freehand though you could probably carefully trace a design.

After drawing with the needle tool, I use the soft-bristled paint brush to brush away some of the crumbles generated by the needle tool carving. I then use the wire sgraffito tool (third one down) to carve away try top layer of colored clay. Depending on texture you are looking for and hardness of clay, you may find tools 5 through 8 useful. As I carve, I use the paintbrush to gently brush away the carved out clay crumbles.

Depending on how much colored clay you leave and how deep you make the grooves, you will have a more or less visible carving tool pattern. Also depending on the type of clear or matte top glaze – whether it’s colored or clear – will make a difference in how much you see the carving patterns.

Finally, I use the fourth tool down, a soft rubber tip, to smooth any crumbly or rough edges.

There are so many variations and possibilities with sgraffito that it’s a lot of fun to experiment and discover your favorite color combinations, carving techniques, and textures.

sgraffito tools

sgraffito tree, leather-hard


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