How to Decorate Pottery with Colored Wax Resist

  • 01 of 04

    How to Create a Colored Wax Resist

    A potter mixes dried underglaze into wax resist
    Beth Peterson

    Using wax resist as a decorative technique has many possibilities, from shaping greenware to making a pot that has multiple layers of resist and glazes. To see some of the possibilities, look over the Wax Resist Pottery Gallery.

    In this demo, we will take you through the steps of creating a stained glass effect on your pottery. For this, we need a dark-colored wax resist, preferably a black resist.

    To make a colored wax resist to use on your pottery, you will need a few things:

    • wax resist emulsion (this is much easier to work with than actual melted wax)
    • a colorant such as dry stain, dry oxide, or dried out underglaze
    • a small container in which to mix the wax resist and colorant
    • a small but sturdy stirring stick
    • something with which to apply the wax resist to the pot.

    For myself, we had leftover dried black underglaze that we decided to use as our colorant. Using a mortar and pestle, we ground the dried underglaze thoroughly making certain it was completely pulverized. We then carefully poured it into a small medicine cup (available at many pharmacies) using a piece of orange paper to control the powder.

    We then poured a small amount of wax resist emulsion into the same cup. Use enough resist to wet the powder, plus just a bit more. Stir very well to mix the colorant and resist; it should be a smooth, workable paste. Add more wax emulsion as needed to get a working consistency but don't make the mixture too fluid. This will weaken the color of the finished lines.

    If you have an intricate design that will take more than a few minutes to draw on your bisqued pot, cover the colored wax resist with plastic until you are ready for it.

    Continue to 2 of 4 below.
  • 02 of 04

    Make the Design for the Wax Resist Decoration

    A potter creates the design on a pot
    Beth Peterson

    If you have not already done so, take a moment to visualize your final design completely. Once the resist is placed, it cannot be removed other than by firing the piece.

    Before working on your bisqued pot, remember to wash your hands thoroughly. You will be handling the pot a great deal and oils from your hands can interfere with glaze adhesion just as effectively (if inopportunely) as wax resist.

    If you have a repeating or sectional design, divide the pot's sides into even sections. The easiest way to do this is to lay something straight across the top of the bisqued pot, dividing it into the half. Mark each half with a pencil mark. (The graphite will not interfere with wax or glaze and will burn out in the firing.) You may want to mark on the pot's neck or the shoulder, depending on your design.

    Move the straight tool to divide the halves into quarters and mark the quarters. Continue in the same manner until you have as many divisions as you need.

    Once we had the sections evenly divided for my pot, we marked out the design itself. Again, we used a graphite pencil. Make any needed changes or refinements to your design during this phase.

    Continue to 3 of 4 below.
  • 03 of 04

    Make the Colored Wax Resist Decoration

    A potter creates the wax resist design and fills it
    Beth Peterson

    Because you have left the wax resist to sit while drawing on your design, any particles of colorant that hadn't been completely soaked beforehand should have become so at this point. If a skin should have developed over the top of the resist, then discord it. Stir the wax resist again, just before use.

    Choose your waxing tool with an eye to the kind of line you are looking for. I wanted a fairly well-controlled line so chose to use a toothpick rather than a brush. For truly controlled and even fine lines (suitable for use only with a very stiff glaze), you can use tjanting tools, a specialized type of tool used in batik to apply hot wax to fabric. If you are interested in tjanting tools, do be aware they come in various sizes depending on line thickness desired.

    Apply the wax carefully to your drawn design. We applied thicker lines than were drawn since we knew we would be using rather fluid glazes and didn't want the design accidentally eradicated.

    Once the colored wax has hardened, you can apply glaze to the pot. We poured the interior glaze in then out and used a brush to apply the three different glazes we used on the exterior.

    Be sure to clean any excess glaze from waxed areas, as the glaze might fuse to the pot during firing, or worse, drop off and melt on the kiln shelf.

    Continue to 4 of 4 below.
  • 04 of 04

    Finish the Pot Decorated with Colored Wax Resist

    A pot decorated with a previously colored wax resist
    Beth Peterson

    Once any excess cleaned off and the glaze has dried, the pot is ready to be loaded into the glaze kiln. If you are firing using a fuel-fired kiln (natural gas, propane, wood, and so forth), there is nothing special you need to do. If you are firing in an electric kiln, however, there are some precautions you should note.

    Burn-out of combustible materials damages electric kiln elements. The more combustible material there is, the more smoke and gases are generated, and the more damage is done to the elements.

    To avoid excessively harming your elements, you may load minimal amounts of wax resist decorated pots per firing. However, if you like this process and want to do a great deal with it, you can also use saggers to keep undesirable gases from your kiln elements.