Polychrome pottery is created when 3 or more mineral colors slips are used to decorate a hand built ceramic. The base color of the pot sometimes is thought of as the third color. The slip may be:
(1) painted directly on the pottery surface, or
(2) may be used on the raised carved surface, or
(3) may be used to color an “incised” or the bottom of a carved surface.
I use process 2 and 3 separately or in combination, depending on the design. Using process 2 and 3 together, or 3 by itself, is generally not done (to my knowledge) on Pueblo pottery. Use of 1 or 2 by themselves is common in Pueblo pottery. The colored surfaces may or may not be stone polished. The most common technique is to polish the flat or raised surface. A “matt” background or colored design element is fairly common.
I use a carved surface (common) or a raised surface (repousse’ technique….not common), and in the more complex designs an “incised” or 3rd lower surface (not common) as part of the design. The combination of colored carved and incised lower surface is not common, if done at all. Also, not so common is the way I “frame” an area to be decorated. This “framing” can be rectilinear or curvilinear. I am also using ancient designs adapted to my style which may not be familiar.
What is different about my polychrome color technique? I am painting individual or whole sections in a “gradient” of color. For instance a feather design may vary from a very dark brown into a red-brown to red, then to red-orange, to orange, to yellow-orange, to yellow, and even to a light green (see “Atzlan”). This gives a kind of “rainbow” effect. I am not aware that this has ever been done in Pueblo pottery. To accomplish this color gradient I must brush on multiple layers of varying color slip to create the “gradient”. That is fairly “tricky” and must be done using “false color” painting. “False color” because the slips’ color fires a different color than the natural color of the clay used to make the slip (slip is a thin solution of clay that acts like a paint). Also, there is much testing of the mineral colors as they may not adhere well to the base clay of the pot.