Jar, Giyan IV type, Western Iran, 2500-2000 BC, earthenware with slip-painted decoration
Charger with Charles II in the Boscobel Oak, English, c. 1685. Such large plates, for display rather than use, take slip-trailing to an extreme, building up lattices of thick trails of slip.

Slipware is pottery identified by its primary decorating process where slip is placed onto the leather-hard clay body surface before firing by dipping, painting or splashing. Slip is an aqueous suspension of a clay body, which is a mixture of clays and other minerals such as quartz, feldspar and mica. The slip placed onto a wet or leather-hard clay body surface by a variety of techniques including dipping, painting, piping or splashing.[1]

Principal techniques include slip-painting, where the slip is treated like paint and used to create a design with brushes or other implements, and slip-trailing (or barbotine decoration), where the slip, usually rather thick, is dripped, piped or trailed onto the body, typically from some device like the piping bag used to decorate cakes.[2]

Often only pottery where the slip creates patterns or images will be described as slipware, as opposed to the many types where a plain slip is applied to the whole body, for example most fine wares in Ancient Roman pottery, such as African red slip ware (note: "slip ware" not "slipware"). Decorative slips may be a different colour than the underlying clay body or offer other decorative qualities. Selectively applying layers of colored slips can create the effect of a painted ceramic, such as in the black-figure or red-figure pottery styles of Ancient Greek pottery. Slip decoration is an ancient technique in Chinese pottery also, used to cover whole vessels over 4,000 years ago.[3]


A coating of white or coloured slip (sometimes called by the French term engobe in American English) can be applied to the whole body of the article, or just one part, such as outside or inside of a cup or jug, to improve its appearance, to give a smoother surface to a rough body, mask an inferior colour or for decorative effect. Slip can also be applied by painting techniques, in isolation or in several layers and colours. Sgraffito (or "sgraffiato") involves scratching through a layer of coloured slip to reveal a different colour or the base body underneath. Several layers of slip and/or sgraffito can be done while the pot is still in an unfired state. One colour of slip can be fired, before a second is applied, and prior to the scratching or incising decoration. This is particularly useful if the base body is not of the desired colour or texture.[4]

Chinese pottery also used techniques where patterns, images or calligraphy were created as part-dried slip was cut away to reveal a lower layer of slip or the main clay body in a contrasting colour. The latter of these is called the "cut-glaze" technique.[5]

Slipware may be carved or burnished to change the surface appearance of the ware. Specialized slip recipes may be applied to biscuit ware and then refired.


Many prehistoric and historic cultures used slip as the primary decorating material on their ware, especially in early periods. These include most prehistoric cultures of the Middle East and much later Islamic pottery, cultures in many areas of Africa, most pottery-making cultures in the Americas, early Japanese (and later Onta ware) and much Korean pottery. Much Mycenean ware, Ancient Greek pottery and Ancient Roman pottery used slip, as did pre-industrialized potters in many areas of Europe, including Great Britain, most notably Thomas Toft in the Staffordshire Potteries.[6]

Later potters mostly combined or replaced the use of slip with ceramic glazes and pigments offerig a tougher finish and a wider range of colours. But a variety of slipware techniques were revived by various studio pottery movements from the 19th century on. In England Bernard Leach and in America Mary Louise McLaughlin were among the leaders of these revivals.[7]

See also


  1. Osborne, 746-747
  2. Osborne, 746-747
  3. Vainker, 17, 22-23
  4. Osborne, 746-747
  5. Vainker, 116-117
  6. Osborne, 746-747
  7. Osborne, 747


Media related to Slipware at Wikimedia Commons

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