Clay Books?

sabookI took a workshop with Steven Allen at the Richmond Art Center on the last 2 Saturday afternoons. One day I expressed an idle desire to learn about printing on clay and the next day someone told me about this workshop. Funny how that works sometimes. While the it was not exactly what I was looking for, I was intrigued when I went to Steven’s website. (If you go there, scroll down to the books.) The pictures here are from a couple that were sitting on the studio shelf.

I went to the Art Center with no tools, since it was billed as a demonstration and I was told, as was everyone, that all you needed to bring was an idea for a book you liked. We all started scrambling for tools when it turned out to be a real workshop and not a demonstration. But it was a cooperative and patient group so when the measuring and the rolling and the cutting started there was a minimum of grousing and the next week we were well prepared.

The next Saturday, with the “book” sections leatherhard, we started putting it all together. Basically, we made a 4 sided box with book details. He cuts notches in a credit card pull across the clay to get the effect of the pages.

making pages

making pages

Then he adds details that make it look like an old leather book – stamps and raised lines on the “spine” and the fold line on the back cover. My favorite part is the slightly raised, “glued on” paper just inside the cover that you can see in the next picture and the little “folds” on the corners.

Putting on the front "cover".

Putting on the front "cover".

Then it was time to make the “page” to be printed on which is detailed with page marks on three sides and left covered for a bit while we made the screen.

So all of this has been pretty straightforward – just handbuilding. But the printing threw a big wrench in the process, not because it is difficult – there’s nuthin’ to it, but the screens are made on a Thermofax machine. Now, as a former teacher, I used a Thermofax machine a couple of times to burn transparencies to use on an overhead projector before you could do it on a regular copier, but they have been obsolete for years and most places tossed them long ago. They are no longer made but you can maybe find one and buy it if you want to spend $800 to $1200! Well, that makes the printing process less attractive, but we got to use his for free and I did find a place on line that will make screens for you.


The bright light in the Thermofax burns through the black, leaving a very accurate image if your picture is only black and white – no gray shades will burn out.  The screen is then laid on the damp clay and the mason stain is brushed onto the clay. You can print on both sides if you use a non water soluble fixative over it. Then the page goes onto the book.

Three hours went by pretty quickly and I didn’t have time to properly finish my “book” but I like the image and left it there to be bisqued so I’ll really see how it looks in a couple of weeks but here is how it looks now. The bird drawing is from a wonderful book called Birds, The Art of Ornithology . The reverse side of the page is also printed but I think I messed it up pretty much by hurriedly scoring. I hope not too badly.



4 responses to “Clay Books?

  1. That looks so interesting; I would like to print some of my photographs onto clay. I must learn more about this – I’ll have to come back and re-read your post when it isn’t so late and my brain isn’t so tired. The bird is really beautiful.

  2. Wow, that is amazing. I wonder if I could incorporate some of this…

  3. Hi Linda and Lori, The actual “printing” is really quick and easy and you could use different stain colors, etc. The thermofax screen doesn’t register any shades of gray, though, so you would have to get very high contrast on copies of your photos.

  4. Have you seen the printing process that uses gum arabic, burnt plate oil and ceramic stains? It works pretty well, mostly on line drawings. You do have to copy your drawing at a Kinko type machine to start.

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