Carving pottery is made by an incising decoration technique in ceramics that consists of cutting, scratching, marking the walls of soft clay with a sharp instrument, such as a pointed stick, a knife blade or a piece of flint, as our ancestors used to do.

A design is incised or engraved by cutting or scraping on the surface of the clay in any state of drying, although with hard, dry clay such as bone, more precise lines are obtained; however, we must be very careful with the pressure we exert to avoid breakage.

Ceramic incised decoration

Unos bonitos cuencos con incisiones

© SoSo Cerámica



This technique is also used to scratch and join different pieces. For example, to add or join a handle to a vase already worked on the potter’s wheel.

It is done as part of the joining of the clay pieces, and before applying the clay and joining the pieces together.

A common task is to attach a handle to a cup or pitcher, to attach a relief decoration to a piece of work, or to attach pieces made separately. It is possible to join them simply by physically mixing them together while the clay is still soft and wet, but if they are not firmly joined, they can fall apart when drying or firing in the kiln. Attempting to join them together can also warp them, which is especially a problem for more delicate handles or decorations.

Instead, you can form the pieces separately and then use the technique of scratching and using engobe to join them together while they are set in shape and still wet enough to be incised or scratched. Engobe is a mixture of clay and water that is used to glue the joint. The piece will dry thoroughly before bisque firing.



Incising tools made especially for pottery can be purchased. However, you can use any sharp object to score. You can use a needle, a pin, a hairpin, a fork, a comb, a pencil, a chopstick…, anything!

For small objects, you can even use a toothbrush to scratch and apply the engobe at the same time. You simply need a tool that makes deep enough scratches to absorb the engobe and allow the pieces to bond firmly after they have dried and fired.

Here is a video about making carved pottery



This term, which would be applicable to bas-relief, is used when the technique is performed by cutting strips or shapes from the surface of soft clay before firing. The resulting hollows, notches or cavities were often filled with a whiter clay to contrast with the dark surface of the vessel.



It is all that in which we have engraved a design by cutting or scraping into the clay surface at any stage of drying, from soft to bone dry. This technique comes from the beginnings of pottery, since it is primordial and one of the simplest to use, so there are examples of it since the beginning of art. The use was not only ornamental, but also extended to symbolize scenes of daily life, religious, etc. The incision not only in clay but in other materials, was one of the most used forms of writing.

Cup made with incised clay

Cretan Neolithic piece with ornamental incisions