Sanded Smooth

I don’t think many folks realize that any handmade (or I guess even mass produced) work is generally sanded smooth prior to being sold.

You see, clay shrinks as it dries and gets fired something that quickly can get discouraging when starting to learn building with clay. As the clay shrinks, particles like sand and grog (pre-fired clay that has been ground up) that don’t shrink get revealed causing a roughness in the finished piece.

Check out my quick overview on sanding below! For even more sanding fun, take a look through my past post on the subject here.

I love to use wet/dry sandpaper in a variety of grits for my sanding and prefer to grab a multi-grit pack. The other tool I find useful (although I didn’t need in this demo) is a smoothing stone.

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Reaching Up

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It still amazes me.

I can spend all sorts of time on a texture pattern getting it just right as is with no color introduced. Then days pass as the piece dries and goes through its first firing.

That second time a piece is in front of me I’m removed from the pattern creation process and have to confront the work from almost a coloring book perspective. Similar to a coloring book there are an infinite number of ways I can go. Some are good choices, some are bad choices and all are removed in some way (big or small) from the pattern creation.

Completely transforming the work. Every. Single. Time.

It will always amaze me.

Learn more here

Home Depot Love

It’s Friday and time for a field trip! Today we’re headed to one of my absolute favorite places – The Home Depot, and yes, there is a “The” in their name we, or at least I, just never use it! Imagine my surprise when I went to take a picture of the front entrance of my local Home Depot and discovered it there!

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Prior to working in clay, I never really had any need to go to any type of home improvement store for the simple reason that I rent. My first several trips resulted in strange looks and panicked expressions from employees.

Pro tip – the worst thing you can tell a home improvement store employee when they ask what you need assistance finding is that you’re an artist and you’ll know it when you see it.

The more comfortable I’ve gotten with the layout of my store (and really all of them – they are all basically the same) the fewer sideways glances I get. I’ve even managed to meet some extremely helpful employees who, after explaining what I was looking for, have helped me search out and evaluate items from several sections across the store for just the right item.

Let’s go inside and take a look around at all the obvious, and not so obvious, things available for clay use at Home Depot.

Welcome to the garden section of the store. This is a great place to start! Typically housed in a fenced-in outdoor area adjacent and connected to the main part of Home Depot. It is open year-round and offers some great things for clay projects, alternative firings and art fair booth displays.

The very first aisle features clay pots of all kinds. I like taking a look through these for inspiration. You can get a great idea of what constitutes the pinnacle of functionality when examining commercial products. If a commercial product doesn’t have mass appeal and superb functionality it won’t sell – period. Be sure to check out drainage hole size and placement as well as shapes of pots and water catchers.

Ever wonder why so many planters are made out of terra cotta or earthenware? Well, when fired to temperature that particular clay never quite vitrifies and therefore remains porous making it great for allowing plants to breathe. If you’re partial to glazed planters then one solution is to forego glaze on the inside of the pot.

Lastly, take a look at the prices – this will help you gauge your own prices when making planters. While your prices won’t be exactly the same, it will give you a starting point.

Around the corner from the ceramic planters are ones made out of plastic. This aisle is a gold mine of forms of all shapes and sizes for molding your own planter and/or other projects. Since they are lightweight and non-breakable (and cheap!), you’ll be able to get great supports for creating larger forms.

Pro tip – Be sure to grab the corresponding water catcher if you’re form – ahem, planter – comes with one. Often they are molded to have a snap in place feature that is detrimental to using it as a mold for clay (see the two right-hand pictures above for without and with the catcher). If there isn’t one or if even the water catcher has raised parts too then simply fill that section in with clay until level before placing a sheet of plastic over the whole thing to make your clay easy to remove once set-up.

The garden section is all purpose when it comes to clay. Also near and around the planters is a whole area devoted to plant food. For the ceramic artist on a budget, these are great solutions to purchasing many of the minerals and heavy metals that are used in alternative firing options like pit fire. Miracle-Gro, in particular, is a great one to try out.

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Before leaving the garden section be sure to stop by the trellises. They come in all sorts of sizes, shapes and materials. They are great for art fair booth displays if you have tiles or wall pockets, etc to hang. I’ve even used them with fabric tacked on with upholstery tacks for a more finished look.

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On your way out of the garden center, you’ll find displays of seed packets of all kinds. Be sure to pick up a few, along with some good soil, to make seed bombs! Its guerrilla gardening at its finest! Once made, you can throw seed bombs into vacant lots, by the side of the road or anywhere that needs a little sprucing up.


A perfect project for kids and the kid-at-heart, all you need are seeds, good soil and clay. First, create a mixture of soil and seeds and add a little bit of water – just enough to get it damp and you don’t overwhelm your clay. Then get a ball of clay and start to wedge in the soil/seed mixture. There are no right or wrong proportions here as long as there is enough clay to hold the ball together. I would recommend avoiding larger sized seeds as they tend to create cracks after the clay dries. Once dry, your seed bombs are ready to be used (no firing!).


Seed bombs work because the clay gives them heft to be thrown and protection from being eaten. Rain slowly disintegrates the clay while giving time for the seeds to sprout. Its a lot of fun!

Pro tip – Be sure to pick up seeds for wildflowers and grasses native to your region of the world.

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Adjacent to the garden section are lawn mowers, outdoor grills and other yard appliances and power tools. A quick look through shows us a few great texture making purchases!

One of my latest favorites in the studio’s found object collection for texture is an air filter! While these are available in many stores and places, here are a couple for lawn mowers that are a nice, not too big, size. The best use? Personally, I like to roll my coils into them (any direction works) to create texture coils to use as handles for mugs. I’ll be featuring my favorite texture making tools throughout, but I encourage you to explore on your own as well. I always find something new when I visit.

Next up is lighting! This section can get a little overwhelming. The most important thing I’ve learned is to ignore the actual lights and focus on the lighting hardware.

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This rather fuzzy photo (sorry!!) is of a lamp making kit. These are great for ceramic artists. First, it makes you realize how absurdly easy it is to actually make a custom lamp. Second, most of them, like this one, come with rubber cylinders to help you fit the lamp kit securely into the top of your lamp. In this kit, you can see them in the upper right hand corner.

How do you make a lamp out of clay? Make a form – it can be literally anything – that meets the following criteria:

  1. Some height is necessary to balance out the lamp shade. I would recommend a minimum of eight to ten inches
  2. Some weight is necessary. Lamps can get bumped and knocked over. You’ll want to make sure that your base is not so lightweight that it can’t take normal wear and tear. Stable is a word that should come to mind when creating your lamp base.
  3. There needs to be a small opening at the top no bigger than 2 inches in diameter. Don’t get too caught up in precise measurements since that’s why kits have rubber fitters.
  4. There needs to be a hollow path running down the interior of the lamp to hide the cord. Typically, this is a no-brainer since good clay construction practices encourage hollow interiors.
  5. Lastly, you’ll need an exit hold near the bottom and in what you consider to be the back of the base. This allows the cord to exit so the lamp can be plugged into the wall. It should be approximately 1/2 inch in diameter to account for shrinkage.

That’s it. It seems so simple after all, doesn’t it. It makes you wonder why everyone isn’t creating lamps!

Pro tip – Look for lamp shades at thrift stores, discount home good stores like Ross or TJ Maxx before trying other places. You might find a great bargain!

Next up in lighting, you’ll want to check out all of the electrical gear. There are some really cool and unusual textures to be found.

First up, these metal tubes (no, I don’t know the real name) are for corralling and protecting wiring – they are great for rolling into clay. They come in several different diameters and can be cut up into smaller more manageable pieces if necessary. Sometimes it helps to bring a friend or two with you on a texture shopping excursion to split the cost and materials!

Second, another, and recent, favorite of mine are outlets. They look kind of boring from this side, but if you turn them over the imprint they leave is really cool. The examples are all bolted to the shelves and the ones to purchase are packaged, so I don’t have a picture of it for you. Prevail on a friend who is a handy person to see if they have one you can take a look at the back.

Pro tip – I strongly discourage you from taking part your outlets at home. There are safer ways to take a look at the back of an outlet.

Alright, on to our last stop in lighting – electrical tape! Electrical tape is a wonderful material. Its flexible, water tight, hard to rip and cuts cleanly making this kind of tape perfect for glaze experiments.

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Electrical tape can be applied to bisque ware as a removable resist for glazes and stains. Once the glaze or stain is applied and before it gets too dry (the glaze will flake if too dry), remove the tape for super clean resist lines. Feel free to experiment and apply the tape over a stain as well. I suspect that it shouldn’t be put on over a glaze as it mostly likely will remove the glaze with it. Auto detailing tape can be substituted if you’d like instead of electrical tape.

Wow! This post is getting rather lengthy and we’re not even a third of our way through the store yet! I’m going to pause here in our visit. Stay tuned next Friday for some more Home Depot Love!

The Good &%^*

Hello, my name is Jillian and I am a pack rat. This is especially true when it comes to clay tools and materials.

Do I need 30 wooden paddles?

Do I need the box full of found objects for texture?

Probably not, but I’m incapable of getting rid of them. It’s all too easy for me to think that someday I’ll need any one of the tools and materials that I’m saving for that special project.

Among my stash are two containers of dried up glaze I’ve had since about 2011, 2012. The first is a lovely yellow matte glaze manufactured by Laguna Clay Company that has since been discontinued. Since it was sold already mixed, I don’t know the glaze recipe to recreate it. The second is a truly amazing Amber Celadon glaze that flashes blue. Unfortunately it contains a material that is no longer mined.

072Once these two containers are used up – that’s it, they’re gone. No more lovely yellow matte, no more flashes of blue in amber depths. So, I’ve been sitting on them for years waiting for a special project. A body of work worthy of using up the last of these two glazes.

The Studio Director at AMOCA and I were reminiscing earlier this week about when the studio first opened. There were significantly fewer people using the studio and we had time to do all sorts of crazy projects … among them was trying to recreate that discontinued yellow matte glaze.

It was during this conversation that all of sudden it hit me … NOW was the time I had been waiting for to use these two glazes.

For those who haven’t heard, I’m currently working on a body of work for my first solo show that will open on August 8th. If my first solo show wasn’t a “special occasion,” then I don’t know what else could qualify.

I wrapped up the glazing of my work for my show this past weekend and loaded the first batch of pieces into the kiln with the hoarded glazes on them yesterday. I can’t wait for them to come out of the kiln!

Come see my hoarded glazes yourself on August 8th from 6-9 pm when my show, “GEARED,” opens at The Studio Artists’ Gallery at AMOCA.

Did You Wax Your Hair?

At the studio where I create my work and where I teach an adult handbuilding class, we have a closet door literally covered in small pieces of paper.  Each scrap features something that someone said that taken out of context is rather … well, strange and maybe, just maybe a little bit funny.

The other week in my class there were so many, “That’s one for the door” statements that I thought I’d share a few of them (recent and past) with you.  Don’t worry, I explain them too!

“Make Sure to Put a Hole in Your Head” – When creating hollow forms, e.g. heads, it is a good ceramics practice to have you pierce the form to allow the trapped air to escape.  Air expands when its heated, so if the air has nowhere to go when it expands (see science in action!) during firing the piece will explode.  Yep, that’s right explode.

“Wipe Your Bottom” – A classic usually heard when glazing a piece.  It refers to the need to have no glaze, at all, on the part of a piece that will touch the kiln shelf during firing.  Glaze is glass, so any remnants will fuse the piece to the shelf destroying the art work.

“Butt Hole” – Truly PG, well, mostly PG, it is a common practice to place the hole for a hollow form somewhere that makes sense in the form.  In the case of an animal sculpture this sometimes means that the animal gains a butt hole.  One never really outgrows potty humor.

“Did You Wax Your Hair?” – Melted wax is an extremely useful tool in ceramics.  It can help keep your bottom clean when glazing.  (See!  That’s exactly how it happens!)  Wax can also keep delicate portions of a piece, e.g. hair, from drying too quickly and cracking off.

“Just Write a Note That Says, ‘Please Fire on Chuck'” – I got no end of razzing the first time a student heard this one from me.  A “chuck” is not a person, but instead a somewhat cylindrical form used to trim the bottoms of narrow neck vases on the wheel.  Since they are made out of clay, chucks can also be used to fire work that needs a broader base to support the piece.

“You Need a Cookie” – Nope, it’s not a chocolate chip cookie.  This type of cookie is a flat piece of clay with a layer of kiln wash on one side.  Cookies are used to prevent rogue glaze drips from making it to the kiln shelf.  They also make it easier to fire super delicate work since the person loading the kiln can pick up the work by the cookie instead of a breaking off a delicate piece.  It throws new students all the time.  Fun fact – the penalty for failure to use a cookie under a glazed pot that sticks to the shelf is to bring the Studio Director a batch of homemade (real) cookies!

There you have it.  A little bit of ceramic humor to brighten your Monday!