Big Ceramic Store Blog

Sgraffito in Terra Sigillata With BCS Customer Lisa Harnish - Part 2

BCS customer Lisa Harnish shares her amazing techniques and recipes for "Sgraffito in Terra Sigillata-Part 2" in today's post! Visit Lisa's website for more!

Lisa Harnish first began working with clay in January 2002. Her initial education in ceramics began at Chandler Gilbert Community College, and continues to this day. Lisa’s sgraffito designs take their inspiration from nature, such as grass, leaves, seaweed and vines that wind their way around and across the vessel. 

Last week we went over making terra sigillata, coloring it, and application. Today we'll go a little more in depth on how to "sgraffito" your pots, and some of the tools Lisa uses.

Grab your coffee and follow along with this awesome technique!


“Sgraffito” means to incise into the surface, usually by cutting or carving through a surface layer into the thicker body underneath. The following method is what works best for me, to achieve the strong lines and high contrast I want.

Mugs 40a
Sgraffito can be used for a variety of designs... geometric designs, repetitive patterns, figure drawing, or any other kinds of images you like. Try using multiple colors, in various areas, or layered together.

Applying terra sig to a bone dry piece moistens the surface just enough to draw through the layers into the underlying clay body. With a colored sig, it’s easy to see where the sig stops and the white clay body starts. I use a dull pin tool, but dried out ball point pens, dull pencils, and traditional sgraffito tools also work well for this.

When the last layer (usually about 3 layers) of sig has dried enough to touch without leaving fingerprints, I begin my drawing. Drawing is easiest while the sig is still soft, so I try to work quickly at this stage.

IMG_4409 [269445]
Once the design is complete, I choose a carving tool to use in the negative space. Different tools produce different textures, and I particularly like the fine carving loop tools made by Kemper or Dolan. “M” series round or square point are my most common choices.

I use the tools to scrape away the sig from the negative space around the designs however; you could carve away the positive space, leaving the colored sig “around” your design. If you’re deliberately leaving texture, give some thought to the direction of your stroke to enhance or emphasize it.

IMG_4418 [269447]
Finish the piece by scraping around the foot and rim with a sharp blade, leaving a clean smooth edge, and giving it a professional look. Check the bottom and inside to make sure no stray drops or fingerprint smudges have migrated. Also, keep a clean dry soft brush handy to clean off any excess dust & debris that can accumulate.

Join us next week for the conclusion... to burnish or not to burnish, and glazing if you want!

If you'd like to share your ideas, projects or submit a post for our blog, email us at! We look forward to hearing from you!

2 thoughts on “Sgraffito in Terra Sigillata With BCS Customer Lisa Harnish - Part 2”

  • Cyndie | #

    Thanks for the great information! How do you create your colored terra sig? On the bottom photo, I only see white clay and not the wonderful colors your mugs show...please explain :)



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