Sgraffito Clay Slab Boxes

 Sgraffito (noun) (“scratched”)

A ceramic or mural decoration made by scratching off a surface layer to reveal the sub layer beneath.


Create a sturdy clay slab box/vessel and decorate underglaze with a set of expressive sgraffito illustrations.

(Artwork by Todd Barricklow)

Artist: Todd Barricklow

Further Techniques



Tracing Paper


Wood/Canvas boards

Slip/Score tools – toothbrushes, forks, knives


Underglaze (black/dark colour)

Clear glaze

Carving Tools: exacto knives, nails/ paper clips clay and woodblock carving tools

Intro Project

In-class demo on building a slab box

Create measured templates for boxes (6 panels) or vessels (5 panels)

Considerations for dimensions: How should it sit against the wall?  Stand?

Start planning design -draw on to tracing paper or create stencils

Create Imagery/Sgraffito Info


White image on black – carve away from the underglaze to reveal the bare clay

Black image on white – draw image on bare clay and paint in with underglaze, carve outlines and details. OR carve away the background, leaving the image in black underglaze.

Shaded/Textured (block print type look) – carve away parts of underglaze and leave some textured areas to indicate shading.  (Use block-printing/ ink drawing type techniques to create shading).

(Imagery must be ready for Day 2)

Day 1

Roll and cut slabs

Start with 1 inch high shaped piece of clay – must be at least as wide as panel template width as it will spread mostly in length

Place between two canvas pieces (white, not red, clay sides facing inward to slab)

Roll to ~ ¼ inch slabs (just over – and be sure to set both sides)


Can smooth clay with dry finger after slab-roller (don’t use water)

Ensure box won’t be completely enclosed – one side open, or a hole punched in one panel

Slip and score to join

Lock joints

Last panel can be joined at the end of class to allow hardening (to prevent sagging)

Be sure to really slip and score this panel well is it cannot be locked from the inside.

Carve full name on hole side (back) or bottom for vessels

Set aside to dry to leather-hard stage

Day 2


Underglaze Projects – one coat – let dry

NO GLAZE ON ONE SIDE (back [hole side] for boxes/ bottom for vessels)

Draw design on to underglaze by tracing/freehand

Carve out design using appropriate tools/techniques for your desired effect.

Let dry about a week before firing.

 Post-Kiln Firing

(Once projects have been fired)

Clear glaze over top (if desired)

2 thick or 3 thin even coats  (change brush stroke direction per layer)

Set aside for firing.