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Behind the Scenes of Handbuilding Ceramics: The Power of Slip and Score

I first set foot in a ceramics studio in late 2021 when I attended Queens College in NYC as a Studio Arts major. Everything was unfamiliar, from the small carving tools to the large gas kilns. The first few projects I learned to create in my hand-building 101 class were pinch pots and slab mugs. This was my first introduction to the mighty efforts of slip and score, especially when creating fundamental projects by hand.

By the end of the semester, I had trained my hands to effortlessly apply slip and score to even my more significant pieces, which ended up being a 12-inch vessel dedicated to Betty Woodman. To this very day, I continue to advance my handbuilt works using techniques like slip and score. Otherwise known as “scratch and attach” in my classroom lessons here in Oak Park.

So what is slip and score for those who are new here? First, this technique is essential for any beginner, intermediate, or advanced ceramics artist. In ceramics, slip and score allow you to combine two clay pieces. Although it might sound as easy as sticking the clay together and moving on, the technique requires more elaboration.

To slip and score clay, a potter scratches or scores marks on the clay using the scoring tool (this tool looks like a tiny rake). Then, the potter applies a slip (a sticky liquid mixture of clay and water) onto the scored surface. It is important to note that both surfaces must be slipped and scored before attaching. My tip is to let the slip set between the scratched surfaces for about 2 minutes before going back in and smoothing the surfaces.

What are your thoughts on the technique? Any advice for beginners?

The few projects I made in my first ceramics classes were rattlesnake ornaments inspired by indigenous fruits from Southeast Asia.

I ended the semester with my final project of a hand-built coil vessel inspired by the works of Betty Woodman. I would not have gotten a piece this big without slip and score!

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