I have been painting pottery for 10 years now. 10 years! When I look back on some of the pieces I’ve painted, I, well…cringe. Those early days were rough. Thumbing through outdated craft books for inspiration or settling for a good ole polka dot situation, it’s safe to say that I’ve come a long way.
Early on, there were a few things standing in the way of making good work- bad brushes, a lack of understanding about underglazes, being 19 years old- but my biggest issue was that I never went into a project with a plan.
Fast forward to 2018. I was working with my friends at my favorite tattoo shop to make some extra cash. One of the artists, Charles, was using an iPad as a tool to help plan large tattoos like back pieces, arm and leg sleeves, and chest/stomach pieces. I watched him mock up beautiful designs that fit the curves and folds of the client’s body perfectly. And it got me thinking. I scrimped, saved, and used an entire paycheck to purchase my very own iPad Pro and Apple Pencil in April 2019. This tool (combined with the Procreate app) has drastically improved the way I work.
Long blog post short, I sketch designs and do color studies on a picture of a piece of pottery in Procreate using my iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. Read on to learn exactly how (and why) I plan projects this way.
Before Charles changed the way I see planning, I was using a pencil and a notebook to sketch my designs. It was great for getting down ideas quickly, but when it came to execution, nothing was really planned. The scale of the design was off, details weren’t worked through, and colors were haphazardly scribbled around the page. I was basically starting over every time I was ready to actually paint the piece. I realized I needed to be able to sketch directly on the pottery to best understand what could be successful. But working through designs on one piece of bisque can get messy (so much smeared pencil) and convoluted (wait, where did that line come from) quickly. Moving things over to my iPad ultimately made planning and creating faster, more accurate, and overall more empowering.
What I Use (with Links):
So, What Do I Do?
- Take a picture of the piece of pottery you are working with.
- Open Procreate app.
- Click “Photo” at the top right of the app.
- Import photo of pottery.
- In the layer menu, lock the photo. This will keep you from sketching on top of the photo, which makes it hard to erase or make changes.
- Open a new layer.
- Choose your brush. I do most of my sketching with the 6B Pencil.
- Sketch the design.
- Repeat until you have 3-6 designs (each on it’s own layer). The more, the better! They won’t all be good, but they’ll all be helpful.
- Make a new palette and fill the squares with your color scheme.
- Plug the colors into the sketch on a different layer.
- Add any notes about the piece around the sketch.
Occasionally, I feel very connected to the sketch I’ve made and can’t seem to recreate it stroke for stroke onto the pottery. When this happens, I print the layer with the sketched outline and use carbon paper to transfer the exact drawing to the pottery.
When I’m feeling stuck, I revisit the additional sketches I’ve made for other projects to find inspiration. I can’t tell you how many times Past Me has set Future Me up for a great project!
When I purchased my iPad, I spent a decent amount of time scared of it. I’d paint something in Procreate, decide it sucked, and abandon the device entirely. I didn’t start using Procreate to plan consistently until August 2019. One year has passed and I can see how much I’ve changed and grown with Procreate. Last year, I was only sketching outlines, leaving color written in the margins of the drawing. I never planned more than one design per piece, and most designs were super fussy. Now I’m looser, faster, and more confident in my planning. This sets me up to create a pottery project that I’m proud of.
If my planning technique is helpful to you or if you have any questions, please let me know! You can find me on Instagram, Facebook, or email me.