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!

Do You Believe in Sanding?

When most people think of ceramics sanding is not the first thing that comes to mind. Yet, it is really an integral part of the ceramics making process. I have fuzzy memories of the first time I learned about how my work could be smoothed of rough spots, but the first time I ever taught it to my own students is crystal clear.

It all started when one of my students asked about how to prevent the work he was making from scratching his table. I told him I would show him how to correct for that issue in the next class’ demo. I gathered up some of my own work that had recently been glazed fired, wet/dry sandpaper and a big bowl of water. At the time I had three classes back to back and I covered the pros and cons of sanding at each stage of the clay process. Other than making a mental note to include it again in future sessions, I figured that was that.

Boy was I wrong!

Apparently, my innocent little demo on sanding had spread like wildfire throughout the studio. Just like it hadn’t occurred to me before being asked, it hadn’t occurred to any other instructor either to cover with their class. The fact that those of us who sold our work sanded every single piece blew the minds of some of the studio members. Not in my class, these studio peeps didn’t get the benefit of the before sanding and after sanding work I passed around for folks to examine, leading one to ask my student, “Do you believe in sanding?”

It still makes me laugh to this day just thinking about it. The phrasing did and always has struck me as so funny that every time I sand pots I’m reminded of it.

So, why do I (or why should you) sand ceramic pots?

Basically, clay shrinks. My work, which is fired to cone 10 or 2365º, actually shrinks three times. First, during the initial drying process as the water evaporates from the piece before the first firing. Second, during the first firing, otherwise known as bisque, much of the organic materials burn away further condensing the clay. Last, during the glaze firing when the clay vitrifies and any porous aspects of the clay close up. It’s always startling to folks new to the medium how much smaller their work gets.

The shrinkage is important to note because modern clay bodies are typically not a single type of clay, but rather a mixture of various types combined to support easier construction. Oftentimes this mixture includes sand or grog (among other additives) to help provide strength during the forming process. Both sand and grog (which is pre-fired clay ground up) are already shrunk when they are added to the clay mixture. Each successive firing of a piece pulls back and condenses the clay and brings the sand and/or grog to the surface – hence the need to sand what otherwise seemed a smooth surface.

For the ceramic artists out there, here are some tried and true tips for sanding your work.

  • Sanding greenware, or unfired clay, is usually not worth it since the piece is so fragile at this stage. If you feel you must, then the drier the piece the better. Be sure to do it in a well ventilated area, preferably outdoors, wear a dust mask/respirator and use scotch brite pads.
  • Sanding bisque ware is typically only valuable if you notice a previously missed sharp or rough point on your work – remember it’s only going to shrink again in the glaze fire. Wet/dry sandpaper of typically any grit will work and be sure to get the piece and sandpaper thoroughly wet to prevent dust.
  • Another good time to sand bisque ware is if you need to level the bottom of a piece. It is an ideal time since the partially fired work is still soft. Thoroughly wetting the sandpaper and the piece are necessary. Tape the wet sandpaper to a table if you have no one to hold it in place for you and move the piece back and forth to level.
  • After glaze firing, sand the bottom or any raw clay portion of the piece using a rough grit wet/dry sandpaper (the lower the grit number the more rough). Be sure to get the piece and the sandpaper thoroughly wet to prevent dust. I do this even if I’m working outside so I’m not breathing in all of the dust.
  • After glaze firing, sand over a glazed surface using a fine grit wet/dry sandpaper with a grit of 400 or higher. Using such a fine grit sandpaper will allow you to sand the glazed surface without scratching it. Again thoroughly wet both the piece and the sandpaper to prevent dust … did you get that part about preventing dust yet?
  • Technically any kind of sandpaper will work, but wet/dry sandpaper is made to be used when wet and will last longer. Regular sandpaper will fall apart quickly when used wet.

Here’s a little behind the scenes of my own sanding process this week. I use a big five gallon bucket to wet each piece and the sandpaper before sanding and again afterwards to rinse the pots off. I typically let them dry overnight.

See my work all sanded smooth and ready for sale online in my shop!

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!

Its Good to Have Standards

Last fall I worked out and began creating standard sizes for my planters. It makes life so much easier. I no longer have to sit and sort pots by approximate size to figure out the right prices. I no longer willy-nilly cut out slabs of clay and hope that the proportions make sense once I start to form them.

Lots of unexpected things have worked out as a result of this change too. I can easily size up or down my planters with very little effort. Before I would make what I thought were larger and/or smaller sizes only to discover there was not as much variation as I had anticipated. I can also list multiples of the same planter design in my online shop since it has become a no-brainer to re-create the same dimensions.

But the best result of standard sizes? You’ll never guess, but my planters now all nest perfectly inside one another. Isn’t that cool?! I think that’s so cool!

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!

How to Make a Turtle

Just a week ago from today, I was up and about absurdly early in the morning to teach a mini-lesson on clay to some 5th graders in Texas. As I logged into my computer, I gave thanks to the benefits of the virtual world. Not only does the virtual world connect kids learning about clay to folks who work in that world, but the session can be conducted wearing pajamas. I will have you know that I did brush my hair.

In addition to sharing some fun facts about clay, including those I’ve found are most relevant to kids, I offered to make an animal on demand to demonstrate some of the clay construction techniques I had talked about with them.

I thought I’d share a time-lapse video here of one way to make a great turtle!

Custom Clay Ribs

If you’ve been working in clay for any length of time you’ve probably got a favorite rib. In fact, you probably have a couple of favorites depending on what you need to do with them. For me, I love my metal rib with teeth for scoring, my flexible red rib for smoothing and my rounded wooden rib for shaping … that is until I lost my favorite wooden rib. Even though I found a similar one, it didn’t have quite the right curve and size of the one I lost.

That’s when I learned that I could make my own rib out of clay. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try it out. What I found was that I was able to create the exact curved, shaped and sized ribs I had been wanting after losing my favorite one.

I thought I’d share what I learned about making several ribs out of clay for myself.

Tools Needed: Pin Tool, Rolling Pin (or slab roller), Paring Knife, Slab Bevel Tool

Clay: Typically a quarter to half pound of clay depending on size

First, start by rolling out your clay into a slab slightly bigger than the size you want your rib to be. Slab should be rolled out thick – ideally 1/2 inch in thickness.

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Cut the slab into the shape, size and curve you want for your rib. I’m partial to this rounded almond shape for my ribs because I find it gives a nice supporting curve for when I shape my pots. However, you should cut the curve and shape you think would be best for your purposes. That’s part of the beauty of making your own ribs you can experiment with all sorts of shapes and sizes.

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After creating your shape, the next step is to bevel all of the edges. I used a slab bevel tool (pictured) for my rib, but you can use a pin tool or paring knife to cut the beveled edge – a 45 degree angle works best for this project.

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After beveling the first side, flip over the slab and bevel the edges on the opposite side as well. This creates a tapered edge for your slab that is perfect for use in your clay projects while the thickness keeps the rib from being fragile.

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The timing of the next step will depend on your clay’s firmness. Wait until it is relatively firm (like a soft leather hard) and then spend a few minutes softening the sharp edges created in the beveling process.

Next, pick up the rib and press your thumb and forefinger together in the middle of the slab to create an indent for you to hold on to the rib comfortably. You have probably noticed holes and/or curved areas in ribs you’ve purchased for the same reason it gives you a great place to hold on to the tool. Be sure to think about how you would hold your particular rib before placing the indents.

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The last step before firing is to dry your rib flat. I like to sandwich mine between two plaster bats, but you can use anything flat with some weight to it. It is also possible to weigh it down with a heavy object placed on top of a light weight bat or board sandwich.

A lot of times tools made out of clay are only fired to bisque temperature, but for this project it is actually best to fire your rib to the full cone temperature of the clay. This will depend on what type of clay you’re using, but you should take the rib to the highest temperature the clay is meant for – typically the same as your glaze firing cone.

The reason for this is you don’t want the clay to be porous like it would be after a bisque firing. If the rib is still porous then it will stick to your pots (particularly wheel thrown ones) when you use it for shaping. Once the clay is fired and vitrified, it will glide easily like any other rib.

And that’s it! They are so easy to make that you may soon have a whole collection!