How to Roll a Clay Slab (No Slab Roller Needed!)

One of the first things you miss as a hand builder when transitioning to a home studio is the slab roller or, at least, it was for me.

I pulled together my tips and tricks of rolling a slab at home for you in this video. Do you have any tips of your own to share? Let me know!

My go-to tools for rolling a slab!

  • Canvas or duck cloth – available wherever fabric is sold and inexpensive. Get a few yards and then cut to fit your needs.
  • Wooden trim – available at any home improvement or hardware store. Be sure to get 2!
  • Rolling pin, extra long!
  • Even Dough Bands

Thank for checking out my latest video! Like the rest of my tutorial videos, it is me raw and unedited.

All tools noted above are my own personal preferences for my studio practice. Purchases made using the links don’t add any cost to you, but do provide a small amount to me in support of my blog and videos.

Feathers

I love crazy coil pots. Really and truly – to me they are the easiest way to be completely free in my creative process. I love using them as both a coil construction project, but also a creativity project with my students. That’s where this little bird came from – a class demo with my beginning students this past session. I had no idea I would end up with such a definitive subject matter for this pot when I started, but that’s what I love most about them!

Check the usual type of planters I create for my online shop here while I contemplate figuring out how to spend more time playing with coil designs!

Repeating Stamps

As some of you may know, I hand make a lot of my texture tools from clay. Among my absolute favorites are the stamps that can be used both as a single impression and as a repeating one that creates an entirely new pattern.

I love when I learn that one of my stamps is capable of creating a pattern or two. For those who don’t work in clay, it’s not possible to fully test a new stamp until after it has been fired. It can be like Christmas getting new stamps back for their first impression testing and not all of them make the cut let alone the creating a new pattern cut.

I thought I’d share one of my favorite pattern creating stamps with you today! I created this one using a plaster carving technique to achieve fine lines in the stamp.

First, a single impression of this stamp.

Now, here is the start of building the pattern. First, I did a row of the stamp all oriented in the same direction across the length of the slab. Then, I flipped the orientation 180 degrees to create some great rounded rectangles in the negative space.

I really like when I figure out great patterns like this one to create with my stamps. I love using the positive and negative space to leave some parts of the pattern bare clay and some parts glazed. Sometimes I alternative which parts are glazed and which parts are bare clay. It really gives me so many opportunities from a single stamp!

Check out my Squares series in the planters section of my online shop to see this stamp in action and glazed!

Here are a few behind the scenes shots from my photo shoot of my stamped pattern! This is my baby boy Bennie! He is 15 years old and loves being a studio cat!

Thinking About Drainage

Every time I share my planters with plant people I learn new things about drainage. I’m always happy to hear feedback on how to make my planters better homes for the plants that grow in them.

I will admit that sometimes I struggle initially with the feedback and how to incorporate it into my planters in the most effective way. There are lots of factors to consider from maintaining even, consistent wall thickness and other structural considerations to aesthetic considerations like continuing my personal style in the final form.

One such challenge revolved around adding additional drainage in the feet of my signature planter form. As you can sort of see from this angle, the method I use to form my planters’ feet creates low points in the pot where water can collect and cause root rot.

Here is a view of the planter upside down before any drainage holes are added.

The challenge was to decide the best way to avoid the low point.

Do I fill in the inside with additional clay? Well, that adds weight to the pot and the potential for uneven drying which can cause cracks.

Do I put in a thin layer of clay on the inside suspended over the low point? Then I create a hollow section in the pot and trapped air can cause explosions in the kiln during firing.

Do I fill in that part after the planter is completely fired with some non-clay material like caulk or silicone? I tried it on some pots I had already created and it works, but needs a lot more caulk, etc than it would appear. In addition to the added cost of the filler, the end result doesn’t look great.

In the end it was my second idea above that actually gave me the best solution. To release the trapped air in the pot I tried that idea on, I put holes in the bottom of the feet. The minute I did it, I realized, “Duh! Just put holes through the feet.”

It turned out to be the easiest, simplest solution and has the added benefit of being virtually invisible unless you look inside the pot or turn it over. So, now all of my planters from the very smallest to the largest have a minimum of five drainage holes (as pictured below).

At a recent show I learned that all of my drainage holes in my feet are actually helpful if the pot is used to plant bonsai since the initial planting requires the bonsai tree to be wired into the pot for security while it roots. So, there you have it! Two solutions in one – prevents root rot and allows for wire!

Looking for a great planter with absolutely fabulous drainage? Then be sure to check out my Etsy shop!

Pulled From A Pocket

When I first started creating my textured bottles, I created the designs free-hand from whatever struck my fancy that day.  Given my tendency to pull from nature inspired themes, its no surprise that they tended to be oriented in that direction featuring lots of floral and leafy images.

As I’ve been creating them, its like my mind has been given permission to run rampant in the texture department.  I’ve always created my own stamps in addition to hoarding interesting found objects for texture designs, but now I’m using my collection more and more than ever before with my bottles.

Enter a friend who is a huge wrist watch and pocket watch collector.

I’ll admit to never giving watches – wrist or otherwise – much thought.  There was certainly a time in my life when I wore one before the popularity of cell phones for the purest of functional reasons.  So, my recent exposure to a myriad of vintage time pieces has been eye opening.  The inner workings are beautifully crafted and could be works of art in their own right standing still … wound, they rival any intricate dance with their movements.

My original thought, before I knew much about watches at all, was to maybe find a broken one to use the parts inside as texture tools.  As I learned more about watches, particularly the ones that look like those pictured above, I changed directions and decided instead to use the watch images as jumping off points to guide some of my texture designs.

I’m actually really enjoying this new direction.  I feel like it gives me the ability to put my own, more organic, spin on what is a rather precise mechanism.  I’ve even started looking for other sources to use as jumping off points to inspire my texture designs.

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!

Five Things That Define My Teaching Style

My students have been cracking me up the past week in class with their spot-on descriptions of me and my teaching style.  Even the first timers in my class already have me pegged.  So, here is what my students already know, but you may not, about me.

1) “Sure!  Of course we can do that!”

My typical response to almost every project suggestion or idea my students bring up to me.  I’m a firm believer that things are never as complicated as they seem and nothing is out of reach to achieve.  It might not be the easiest thing they’ve ever done, but its important for everyone to know that they can create whatever they set their minds to making.

2) There are no rules.

Well, okay, there are some rules around good clay construction practices.  However, my classes are not about doing exactly what I do.  I teach techniques and methods.  Then I give my students the freedom to translate it into their own ideas.  In fact, nothing makes me happier then seeing them create something completely their own.

3)  I’m a little bit, okay a lot, cheesy.

Part of that is simply my personality, but the rest is about creating a safe and comfortable environment for my students.  I want them to feel they can have fun and take risks.  In addition to telling bad jokes, I take them on field trips and organize crazy events like clay pumpkin carving contests and plein air underglaze painting.

4)  I’m fearless.

This statement is in fact a direct student observation.  Pretty on the mark though.  I don’t worry about something not going right in a demo or demoing on demand in response to a question.  I think showing that its okay to take risks and its okay to fail is important.  Its a good reminder that perfection is not the goal.

5)  I love doing new things.

This shows up most frequently in my project lists each class session.  I work really hard to not repeat a project.  It works out great for returning students because it allows them to continue to grow in their clay skills, so we all benefit.

So, there you have it.  My teaching approach summed up in five statements.  Thinking about taking one of my classes?  You are now forewarned and forearmed!  : )

Wondering how cheesy I can be?  A cheese cheese tray from a demo the other day.

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Those Who Teach, Can

I began teaching handbuilding classes to adults about a year and a half ago.  Since that time I’ve taught clay techniques to all sorts of people from as young as six up to as wise as eighty.

The decision to teach is, and was, an easy one.  My past corporate life gave me tons of teaching, or training as we called it, and course development practice.

Yet, despite how easy it was to begin teaching, a niggle of doubt pokes up it head up every once in awhile.  “Those who can’t, teach” says that voice inside.  An old saying, so old there is no way it can be untrue says that voice.

It’s a voice that never reared its ugly head when I was in human resources.  Teaching was just one aspect of my job.  Being good at it wasn’t even a critical criteria for achieving good performance reviews.

Everything is different now.

Teaching clay feels like an admission of failure.  Instead of being one aspect of my job (and an aspect I thoroughly enjoy), it feels like I’m giving up on selling my own work or not selling enough.

The reality?  I sell more of my work now then I did before I started teaching.

Teaching students stretches me constantly.

It reminds me of techniques I’d let fall by the wayside and renews my enthusiasm for them.  (My students would be shocked to learn I’ve only recently become a coil building fan.)

It exposes me to new methods and ideas … construction methods I would never have before contemplated, mediums I wouldn’t have sought for inspiration.

It deepens my own knowledge of clay construction tips and tricks.  I learn new ones during every single class session.

It reinforces the playful side of clay and pulls me out of the “blinders on” of production.

In short, it takes everything I thought I knew and turns it upside down.  All of this, and more that I probably don’t even realize, is reflected in the work I create now.

I would assert that the saying really should say, “Those Who Teach, Can”

 

 

Here I Go A Paddling

2013-12-31 12.45.25I love clay tools.  I, like many potters I know, collect various clay tools like they are going out of style.  I have three, no maybe four pin tools.  My ribbon and loop tools number close to the double digits.  The tools I use most frequently are kept in an old clay cylinder too small to really be practical.  Not to mention the, um … well, shelves of templates, stamps, forms and lesser used tools on my cart at the studio.  One could even say that I have a tool collection problem.

The funny part?  I don’t really need any of my fancy, more expensive tools.

2013-12-28 12.11.04One of my favorite tools is my paddle.  I have three paddles. Oops!  I just remembered the red one, so I have four paddles.  Well, okay, I actually own close to ten if you count the ones I purchased for the traveling supplies box I use when I teach clay in non-studio spaces.  I did say I had a problem.

Paddles are universal wonders though!  They can round and shape a form; remove divots, folds and other unevenness; and create all sorts of really wonderful textures.  I use my paddle, you got me paddleS, for almost every piece I create.

That being said, I do feel that people often overlook the usefulness of a paddle in the clay world.  People are always surprised to hear that I got a certain texture or effect using a bamboo spoon I got two for a dollar at the dollar store.

Don’t believe me?

I’ve been making honey pots for a few months now.  I actually use a paddle in three ways to create these fun little jars.  First, the main body of the jar is two pinch pots joined together and paddled to perfectly round smoothness!  Second, I use the side edge of my paddle and hit against the body to create the squash or onion look.  Lastly, I make the lid out of the piece of the body I cut out for the opening.  The textured cut out is paddled smooth and thinned on a form before I trim it and add the knob.honey pot paddle collage

Custom orders can often generate some great new ideas for my work like this mortar and pestle.  I used a paddle in two ways for this mortar.  First, I created a pinch pot and then paddled it to a smooth inside and out on a form.  Second, I used the corner of the bottom of the handle to create partial rectangle indents all over the mortar bowl.  I could have probably have used the paddle to round the pestle end as well, but I rolled it on the work table instead …. hmm … how did I miss that!  Oh, well next time!mortar collage

A few other examples to wet your imagination.

Slab cylinder tea bowls with a paddled round bottom and distinctive paddle handle indents.

A dinner ware set I made for my brother and his girlfriend.  Texture was hit into strips of clay and then paddled into the edge of each piece to create the trim.

Hopefully, I’ve inspired my fellow ceramic artists out there to start their own paddle obsession and given my customers and fans a little more insight into my process.