An E-Mail With Everything I Know About Cold Finishes


Mended Incinerator Top with Pitt Pens and Colored Pencils


The Summer Studio Journal Re-Runs just keep on comin’! This post from August 22, 2012 is essentially a reply to an email query, as you shall see. I have added a few more resources that I have learned of in the past five years, but other than that, it’s a great guide, so here it is:


I don’t get a lot of emails from complete strangers, but after a few years of an active festival, gallery and online presence, I’m starting to.

Most writers want to share a specific resource, ask an art business question, or even commission me to make something special. I take these conversations as they come and generally enjoy the new connections.

This one, however, was from a person new to ceramics in a country on the other side of the blue Pacific. The subject line read “admire your work.”

She explained she was seeking ways to decorate her ceramic sculptures without further firings.  She knew it was called a Cold Finish, but besides paints, she was finding precious little information about it.  She had miraculously stumbled across my work and was wondering how I got my pieces to look like they did. Was any cold finishing involved?

I sat down to respond to her with a few ideas and out popped the following email, which does an incredibly better job of listing Everything I Know About Cold Finishes than I ever would have written without the compelling urge to help another beginning ceramics enthusiast. It’s one more reason I enjoy ceramics: we are a community of sharers.

In that spirit, I thought to reproduce the email exactly as I wrote it the other day, with only some added bolding as enhancement. Here it is:


Hello Catherine and thanks for your lovely words!

Most of my finishes are fired to cone 6 oxidation (electric kiln) but I have a few cold finish techniques I can share with you.

Sometimes my firing results are close but not quite what I want or I want some added bling.  At those times I have found the following list of products to be useful:

Sumi Ink and India Ink, brushed into the lines and recesses of a piece and sponged off. Nice!
Golden Acrylic paints, in thin washes. I especially use Micaceous Iron Oxide which not only has fun tiny mica flecks, but I’ve learned (by accident!) that it will last through a firing….so sometimes I fire it on too.
Oil paints and watercolors are nice too, but I tend to reach for them less.
Prismacolor colored pencils: a waxy drier finish which is lightfast and can be layered for subtlety. They won’t slick to glassy glazes and do better over very dry surfaces.

(Which reminds me: most of these products are lightfast and archival, but probably not for outdoors.)

Faber Castell makes a line of PITT artist pens which have tiny ink-based pen tips, and large or small brush tips that I use more for changing the tone of an area or linear emphasis. Very nice!
Amaco makes a range of colored metallic waxes called Rub ‘n Buff which are useful for a bit of gold, silver or even blues, reds and purples, on highlights. Can help with a worn antique look.
And lastly are two brands that market adhesives and thin gold leaf variations : Old World Art and Magic Leaf. This is if you want a bit of true shiny non-tarnishing gold!

For a matte sealer, which is to me is better than a shiny clear coat: Delta Ceramcoat Satin Exterior/Interior Varnish. 

That’s my brain dump. If I think of something else, I’ll send it along. I don’t know if these products can be had locally for you, but online is sure to get you most of them.

I wish you all the best,

P.S. Most books don’t cover “post-firing” finishes, but I found an excellent discussion in Robin Hopper’s book Making Marks. He also discusses sandblasting, acid etching and cutting elsewhere in that book. There, you have all I know!


And there, you Dear Readers now have it! I would add today that these types of cold finishes are more suited to sculptural work. If you put them on pieces used for food, even on the exterior to avoid possible leaching and toxicity, they will still suffer from the washing.

Since 2012, I have also discovered an outdoor sealer that doesn’t change the look of unglazed ceramic sculpture or grout: Glaze ‘n’ Seal Waterbase Stone Sealant “Natural Look” Impregnator.

And, lastly, while they involve another very low temp firing so are technically not Cold Finishes, playing with lusters, china paints and decals is pretty fun and adds a whole other dimension to things.


~ Liz Crain,  who knows it’s all a work in progress and hopes to be saying “Ancora imparo” – I am still learning – at age 87 as Michelangelo did.


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Spouting Off


Drawing of Teapot Spout Fail
Dripping Spout drawing in “A Potter’s Workbook” by Clary Illian, University of Iowa Press, 1999.


The spouts of functional pouring vessels have to do two things: deliver well and hopefully look pleasing. Stint in either task and ya got problems, some less bothersome than others. And after my last post about the snub-spouted Cube Teapot, it might be manifestly simpler to say that functional spouts really have only one thing to do: pour well, if not flawlessly.

So what, specifically, goes into a smooth-functioning spout, whether on a teapot, pitcher, ewer or creamer? Yes, style still counts, but for now we will just explore how precise forming affects better function.

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Molly Hatch’s Surface Design Book: YUM!

New Ceramic Surface Design Book Cover



Dear Molly,

Thank you for making the book New Ceramic Surface Design. It’s a corker and I am keeping it out for easy reference.

While I own a couple other treasured surface design books (Robin Hopper’s Making Marks and The New Ceramic Surface by Mattias Ostermann,) I have never read them cover to cover, penciling notes in the margins and flagging whole sections, like I have yours.

I know nothing you cover is a really new technique. Believe me, I have tried mishima, stamping, textures, doodles, resists, stencils and my favorite, sgraffito, many times before. I have watched DVDs, taken classes and explored the surface design chapters in many other books over the years. So what’s different and valuable about yours?

Here, I’ll tell you:

  • Your charming voice. I sense your playfulness and joy as much as your expertise.
  • The bounty of illustrations, which are large and generous but not gratuitous and don’t skip important details.
  • The Artist Inspiration pages. They are well-chosen and informative and spot on in their placement.
  • The Tools list and photo before every new technique.
  • The “Tip” and “Try It!” boxes sprinkled everywhere.
  • The sweet lagniappe sections: Templates, Resources, Recipes and Glossary.
  • The thoughtful discussions about inspiration, composition, color and lines.

What I really can’t wait to use:

  • The Saral Red transfer paper – because the wax in graphite paper and carbon paper have been giving me fits for years now. You just took away a major headache!
  • Washi Tape – it sounds like the perfect solution to my tape sticking and residue problem
  • Lightweight clear packing tape in order to make…
  • Transfer Templates! Again, you just solved another major hassle in being able to confidently place patterns where I want them.
  • After I settle down with the above remedies, I’m looking forward to generally fooling around combining and layering your techniques, marrying form and surface and having a blast.

It pretty much all comes down to you being the generous and knowledgeable “friend with a good eye” you speak of on page 34.

Gratefully yours,

–Liz Crain, who also thinks the spiral binding is a nice touch so this reference book and be fully referenced.

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I Don’t Throw Pots…But I Review This Book

Mastering the Potter;s Wheel book cover


Why would I, a longtime confirmed handbuilder-of-clay, seek out and buy a book dedicated to wheel throwing? Am I switching teams? Not hardly! I have no intention of throwing pots.

So, then, what gives? And why this particular book? I’ll explain.

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500 Books and Two for the Desert Island



I love a wall of books. It unfailingly rightens and reassures my weary, distracted world.

Not just anyone’s wall will do, though.  I need my hand-selected wall: that mish-moshed reflection of personal passions and meaning,  in which each volume has survived at least one of my annual-ish purges, if not decades of them.

While I gather new books often, I let go of plenty. Some go to the local library, some to trade at Logo’s, the local used book buyer/seller. (Where I easily spend my cash and trade-in credits on more.)

Novels and pop culture bestsellers – if I don’t request them from the library – tend to come in and go out.

My keepers?  Vintage tomes, family works (yes, I’m related to more than one published author) and Art: history, artists, philosophy, creative process and technique, i.e. reference books.Read More >

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