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.

Long Live Sloils!

Excuse me while I geek out for a moment, but the other day I got the opportunity to meet one of my all time favorite ceramic artists – Fred Yokel.

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Fred’s work is mainly figurative. What really stands out and separates his work from others is the expressions and movement incorporated into each piece. Fred draws his inspiration from cartoon characters he doodles – typically in action. I love the absolutely love of life and humor that comes through with each piece. They say that all art is a self portrait and after meeting Fred, I can absolutely see his personality shining through his work.

I first encountered Fred’s work several months ago on my never ending quest to find new inspirations and projects for my adult hand building classes I teach at AMOCA. I immediately felt drawn to Fred’s work, but what sealed the deal, so to speak, about including him as an inspiration artist for my class was his construction technique.

Fred uses a coiling technique to create his work that he refers to as sloils – that is a flattened (like a slab) coil. Slab plus coil equals sloil in Fred’s book and it is a term that my students have since adopted as their own. In fact the other day they debated the merits of constructing with coils vs sloils. It made my day!

Fred’s sculptures, which he appropriately calls “Jestures,” have resonated with my students as well. A few of them were there the weekend Fred was at AMOCA for a workshop and they were as thrilled as me to meet him in person! I think we embarrassed him a little bit.

Be sure to check out his website and work for yourself! It is not to be missed!!

Trying Out New Textures

I always on the hunt for new texture makers for my work. I pick up random things, and I do mean “things” since I’m not even always sure just what they are, when I’m out walking. I buy crazy parts from dollar stores, auto supply stores and home improvement stores. I make a large number of my tools as well, like my roller stamps, from impressions I collect or carve into clay.

IMG_4538I found a really different object last week while I was out walking. I have absolutely no idea what it is and, yes, I washed it thoroughly before trying it out.

It was perfect timing to try it out on some plates I’ve been working on the past few weeks. I love getting new texture makers especially ones like this that have the possibility to create so many different pattern options.

I’ve tried using my latest acquisition in a couple of different ways and thought I would share my favorite mark I’ve made with it so far. Check out the time lapse video below to see it used on one of my plates in progress. In addition to my new found object, I use one of my texture rollers, one of my handmade stamps and the bottom of my paddle handle. See if you can spot them all!

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!

 

 

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.