Outside Inspiration: Appreciating our Polishing

Jill Kollmann, a talented polymer artist and contributor to The Polymer Arts magazine, was at the Bowers Museum this past week for an exhibit and sale. In addition two artists were giving demonstration of their technique for polishing the surface of their pots. Their technique gave her pause.

“What they called “polishing” or “buffing” was actually burnishing with a highly polished very small smooth rock.  After the plain pot is cured, they coat it with their favorite oil and let it soak in, then began the burnishing process.  I watched one of them working and figured that it would take at least 3 hours to burnish the entire ‘average’ sized pot. It creates a high shine, even glassy.  I will never complain again about sanding!  The painting is done by hand with brushes made of a few strands of human hair, and no template or stencil.”

Below is a piece by Pabla Quezada using the techniques Jill saw at the museum. The sheen is amazing and the painted matte lines seem impossibly precise. A definite testament to perfecting skills and working patiently.


Such results aren’t impossible with polymer. In actuality, buffing with denim or using a buffing wheel does the same basic thing as rubbing the surface down with a smooth object. Both approaches use friction to reform the surface, essentially smearing the materials by force and heat until the material lies smooth. You can burnish polymer with any smooth hard tool. This approach can be used in areas that the buffing material can’t reach such as in a recess formed from stamping or the sides of a raised area. It will take time and patience to rub these small areas down but if these potters can do it, so can we.


One comment

  1. Cool! The town of Mata Ortiz, Chihuahua is only about a half-day’s drive from my house, and I own lots of this beautiful pottery – none by any members of the famous Quezada family, but many beautiful pieces by other artists who’ve joined this revival of a pre-Columbian tradition. It truly is amazing the amount of work that goes into these pieces. Often it’s a family enterprise, where one person specializes in molding the vessels, another does the painting, and others do the firing and polishing.

    I never thought of applying the Mata Ortiz artists’ burnishing technique to cured polymer, but I’m definitely going to try it!

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