Monday, March 12, 2012

Relieving My Bas

I have been drawn into the seductive world of bas relief. Although I have been attracted to this decorative technique for some time, I have always managed to keep it at arms length for various reasons, but mostly because I am very impatient and I am pretty sure I don’t have OCD. For those of you who read Jim Gottuso’s blog Sofia’s Dad’s Pots, you will know of what I speak. I think he has pretty much written the book on using resists and hydro-abrasion (aka wiping with water) to achieve highly textured and detailed patterns on the surfaces on his pots.

I was first introduced to this decorative process in 2001, but the masking medium used was a liquid wax emulsion which does not lend itself well to the vigorous scrubbing required to achieve good depth. The wax emulsion starts to wear off as you scrub, so you will lose detail as well. I knew that shellac was a better method, but did not want to deal with the fumes from commercially prepared shellacs and varnishes, especially in a communal studio space. Plus, as I had not been enamored with the results with the wax, so it did not really stick in my brain.

A few years ago, I discovered Jim’s pots via random internet searches on pottery. I was blown away by the detail he was able to achieve. I found his blog in 2010 and L’dMAO reading about his experiments with shellac, the trials and tribulations of using a respirator, and the questioning looks he had when asking where he could buy 100 % alcohol to try cutting his own flakes.

FFW’d to a couple of weeks ago. I was working at Ceramics Canada, talking to a customer (also a past Fairview student) about what she was up to now, and she whipped out her phone to show me a picture of the latest greatest thing she was doing….you guessed it, she had been relieving her bas and was using shellac as the resist. I thought, man, I know I could do this; she is just as easily distracted by shiny objects as me, perhaps more so. In an attempt to get at it as soon as possible, I went off to the studio and as I am both lazy and impatient, I decided to use the wax resist on a few mugs, just to experiment with and get my brain working on patterns etc. So far the results have been ok, it just requires a little patience, and really cold water. I find the cold water helps keep the wax hard. I was also not sure about where to get shellac flakes. I did not want to mess around with stinky commercial varnishes. I have found them at Lee Valley, and will be off tonight to pick up a small bag, and then I will need to find a source of denatured alcohol, I am guessing the drug store?


  1. AND here's how my test mugs turned out:

    I used the ring mug as a chance to try out underglaze with the shellac. The shellac resisted very well. Overall, success! I'm excited to go BIGGER with this technique.

  2. Excellent! I have a few examples of my shellackery here