A number of the Spanish plates I have investigated appear to have some sort of relief. Figure 1 shows two different styles, the image on the left (1a) showing how the relief has been highlighted using glaze which pools further highlighting the depth while the image on the right (1b) shows more of a ridge shape which while it resembles some of the pattern, doesn’t appear to have been followed.
Figure 1: a) Front of plate with depressions where glaze pools, some indication of imprint on the rear of the plate (Triana, 1525-1550, V&A Museum), b) Front of plate with ridges under the glaze, no indication of ridges on rear (Triana, 1525-1550, V&A Museum).*
*A lot of the earthenware produced in Triana between 1500-1550 appears to utilise relief.
One of the major problems I am having with remote research (creating a database of images from museum websites) is that I cannot get the angles and the light as I would wish, not are the item descriptions as detailed as I would like. Thus on some images the difference between a ridge or a depression may be a trick of the light. I have examined the back of a number of plates and some, like Figure 1a show depressions in the rear of the plate which appear to line up with the relief on the front of the plate. Some plates, like Figure 1b, show no such depressions. Without a massive background in earthenware I suspect there are two ways to make such plates; while they are wet gouge a pattern into them or use a mold to create a plate with ridges. The mold system would make creating sets much easier but I don’t know what sort of technological level is required for this. Gouging or pressing of objects into wet clay however has a long history as a decoration method.
As I am still in the early stages of learning this craft, I do not produce my own plates. Instead, I purchase them as bisque so that I may experiment with glazes and decoration without having to learn the entire craft at once. As they are ‘off the shelf’ I cannot create ridges however I can create depressions. Plate number 4 was all about experimenting with relief.
Bisque is very hard and reasonably brittle. I tried many different methods to carve smooth depressions into the plate. Tools experimented with included a wood chisel, laminate carving tools, a screwdriver, an awl and yes, a scalpel. Increasing the sharpness of the tool’s edge didn’t seem to produce better results and what seemed to work best was abrasion. I probably could have kept at it with the chisel but it was slow going (well, if I wanted control over the tool and all my blood to stay inside my body).
Ultimately I found the tool that worked the best was modern: the humbled (and my beloved) Dremel. I used three heads, a cone-shaped diamond burr for outlining, a large round diamond burr to hollow out the shapes and finally a course nylon brush to wear down some minor lumpy imperfections.
Figure 4: a) Initial ‘scratching’ with hand tools, b) smoother result results from dremel.
Figure 5: The whole plate carved out. Even with this image it is difficult to determine if the leaves in the bottom left are depressed or raised.
Once glazed and fired the plate looks great! The glaze pools in the base of the depressions similar to Figure 1a. It has also smoothed out some of the minor lumpiness in the base of the carvings. Looking at Figure 6a, even though I know I carved the rim, I find it difficult to determine if this is a ridge or a depression. Quite happy with how this experiment turned out.