Deconstruct and Reassemble to Discover a New Form

Yonic Double Seed Server, 21 in. (53 cm) in length, red earthenware clay, layered slips, terra sigillatas, and glazes, fired to cone 03 in an electric kiln, 2017. Photo: Kathryn Gremley. Courtesy of Penland Gallery.

 

My Yonic Double Seed Server evolved from thoughts about seeds, their inner and outer hulls, and the shapes of seed chambers in green beans and peanuts. In the vessel, I reference the fecundity, virility, and the sensibilities of plant growth and reproduction. Initially wheel thrown, this vessel began as an exploration of making a larger form using smaller wheel-thrown parts. Essentially, by cutting the form in half and reassembling, I can double the length of the horizontal form. Workshops with Mike Vatalaro, Neil Patterson, and Jane Shellenbarger clued me in to the technique of deconstructing something wheel thrown and reassembling the parts into a new form.

Getting Started

I take 4 pounds of red earthenware clay, and on a plastic bat, throw a bottomless cylinder into a peaked closed form, shaped like a bullet, and cut the form free from the bat with a cut-off wire.

I let the closed form dry overnight uncovered, except for a small piece of plastic over the top to prevent it from drying too much. The plastic bat prevents the form from drying too much from underneath.

1 Use a ruler to help make a straight cut on the closed-off cylinder.

2 Using a fettling knife, cut the thrown form in half.

3 Lay both halves cut-side down on a long board.

 

Altering the Form

Using a ruler or straight edge, I roll a straight mark up the side of the form (1). This line guides me as I take a fettling knife and slice the form in half (2).

I lay down the form horizontally on a rectangular board, cut-side down (3), and slip and score the edges that were the bottom when the piece was upright. I slide the slipped and scored edges together and wiggle them to help the score marks grab on and hold onto one another. I blend the seam together with my fingers (4) and then smooth the joint with a flexible rib.

After joining and smoothing the seam, I flip the form over with the curved side down and the cut side up. I take pieces of foam and wedge them in place to support the upward curve of the ends of the joined form. I pinch and blend the seam inside of the form, making sure to compress and join the seam thoroughly (5). I like to leave a raised bead of clay where the seam meets, which hints at seed chambers within a nutty shell.

Adding a Foot

I take a sheet of plastic that is much larger than my rectangular board, lay it down on the board and then flip the form back over and place it (cut-side down) onto the plastic. The plastic helps keep the cut edge moist, so I can add a rim later.

I cover the form with plastic overnight and then uncover it the next morning. After the piece dries to a stiff leather hard, I roll out a thick coil and form it into an oval that fits the center of the curved form (6). I miter cut the ends of the coil for a stronger joint. After getting the coil centered and situated, I use a needle tool to trace the outline of the coil. I remove the coil, slip and score the body, and score the bottom of the soft coil. I then join the scored surfaces, blend the seam (7), and pinch a tall, oval foot.

4 Use your fingers and a flexible rib to blend the outside seam together.

5 Pinch, then smooth the inner seam with a flexible rib, leaving a ridge at the joint to reference seed chambers in a nutty shell.

6 Roll out a thick coil for the foot.

7 Blend the seam into the body of the form.

 

After the foot has stiffened, I cut a seagull-shaped notch out of the center of the longer side of the oval foot (8), and smooth the cut edges. The wide-to-tapered, curved notch fits the sensibilities of my piece, with its floral and plant life references. A V-shaped cut or U-shaped cut would not have the same reference. The shadow inside the cutout draws the viewer’s eye to it.

Building a Rim and Handles

I flip the form over onto the foot, place it on a bat or board, and level the top by pushing gently on the form. I roll out two thick coils that are longer than each side of the rim, using a string to help get the right measurement. I lay the coils on the rim, (9) place the ends one on top of the other, and cut through both coils at the same angle to get a mitered cut. I score the coils, lay them off to the side, slip and score the top cut edge of the form, then attach the two pieces together.

Working with the piece on a banding wheel, I take the coils and place them firmly on the scored rim of the piece and pinch and blend the seam. After joining the seam and blending the connection, I slowly start pinching the thick coil up (10), trying to maintain an inward motion so that the rim doesn’t spread out as I pinch it into a taller wall.

After the wall sets up, I make two puffy seed-pod handles out of pinch pots, one for each point of the elliptical form. These hint at functioning handles, but I use them to continue the line of the rim and draw the viewer’s eye into the space around the form. I trace their outline, slip and score the pod and its resting place, then attach and add texture (11). I cover the whole piece overnight with plastic and let all the parts equalize in moisture to prepare for slip decoration the next day.

8 Cut a curved notch out of the foot.

9 Lay out thick coils on the rim, slip and score both the rim and coils.

10 Pinch and compress the coil to the rim of the form, then pinch the coil in to make a tall rim.

 

Applying Slip Decoration

I tend to approach slip decorating as a call and response, dipping or pouring slip onto certain areas of the form and responding to the mark that the form and slip create together. One approach is to pour white slip inside the form, pour it out, and then sponge off any excess. Sometimes, I take a short-bristled, stiff brush and wipe away lines or circles (12) to create graphic marks that I can exaggerate later with terra sigillatas. Another approach is to dip each end of the elliptical form to highlight the points of the ellipse, then wipe away either lines or circles, or leave the dipped edge for further surface treatment later.

Now, I let the piece air dry. Once it is bone dry, I add slip-trailed textures or patterns on the areas of white slip and brush terra sigillatas on areas of bare clay (13). The slipped areas are nice, bright backgrounds for my glazes and the terra sigillatas give a smooth, waxy surface, which is a nice contrast in texture to the shiny, slick glazes.

Now it’s time to bisque fire the piece. I bisque fire to cone 06, usually over a 10–12 hour period.

11 Using a thick, sharpened dowel, impress dimples into the pod, which also helps compress the seam to the rim.

12 Using a stiff, short bristle brush, wipe circles or lines through the wet, fluid slip.

13 Brushing blue terra sigillata onto the wiped lines.

 

Applying Glaze and Resist

Once the piece is cooled and out of the bisque kiln, I start finishing the decoration with wax resist. I apply detail glazes to certain areas (14), including the pod handles, and then wax those areas. I paint  wax over surfaces that have terra sigillata applied to them; smaller areas like circles and lines are completely waxed out, and larger areas are activated with waxed patterns of dots or lines (15). Applying a wax resist allows the terra sigillata surface to be seen after the glaze firing. Often, terra sigallatas can be absorbed into the glaze melt if they are completely covered in glaze. They are not as tenacious as slips or underglazes, unless you use Mason stains to color your terra sigillatas.

After waxing any areas where I do not want glaze to soak in, I determine whether to dip the piece in a large bucket of glaze or brush on glazes, depending on which seems quicker or an easier clean up.

14 Glaze trailing black and white glaze dots on the rim over the bisque-fired orange terra sigillata.

15 Waxing lines on the bisque-fired terra sigillata surface on the outside of the form.

 

After applying a base glaze (Faux Lead Amber and Faux Lead Hulk Smash Green), I’ll brush a second glaze, most often a crawling or lichen-type glaze, over areas that have terra sigillata with a waxed pattern covered by the base glaze (16). This gives a nice, earthy color and matte surface that contrasts the brighter, shiny glazes over the white slipped areas.

When I have finished glazing (17), I put small balls of clay on my waxed foot ring. These wads are soft clay and stick to the waxed foot. They help elevate the piece slightly so that the underside can get some heat and a better melt. My kiln shelves are peppered with glaze drips and drops, and these wads also help protect my foot from sticking to my untidy shelves. My experience with salt/soda/wood firing, where wadding is most times a necessity, led me to wadding in my electric kiln.

16 Brushing Lichen glaze on top of a layer of Faux Lead Hulk Smash Green glaze.

17 Finished, glazed form ready to go back in the kiln.

 

Once glazed and wadded, I load my pieces directly into my kiln. The lichen glaze that I apply shrinks and cracks as it dries and comes loose very easily if disturbed, so getting the piece into the kiln quickly is a must.

I glaze fire over a 10–12 hour period to cone 03. The cooling takes about 12 hours as well, if I can resist the urge to peek and open the kiln for a quick cooling. After the firing, I sand or grind any sharp edges created by the lichen glaze.

Yonic Double Seed Server, 21 in. (53 cm) in length, red earthenware clay, with layered slips, terra sigillatas, and glazes, fired to cone 03 in an electric kiln, 2017. Photos: Kathryn Gremley. Courtesy of Penland Gallery.

Yonic Double Seed Server (alternate view), 21 in. (53 cm) in length, red earthenware clay, with layered slips, terra sigillatas, and glazes, fired to cone 03 in an electric kiln, 2017. Photos: Kathryn Gremley. Courtesy of Penland Gallery.

 

the author Ronan Kyle Peterson maintains Nine Toes Pottery in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Along with Amy Sanders and Liz Zlot Summerfield, he is organizing the Red Handed Symposium, a conference focusing on red earthenware, for Memorial Day weekend 2018 at the Clay Lady’s Campus in Nashville, Tennessee. He regularly exhibits work at Penland Gallery, Charlie Cummings Gallery, Cedar Creek Gallery, and also sells his work through www.ninetoespottery.com. Check out @caterboy on Instagram and @ninetoespottery on Facebook.


Subscriber Extras: Video

 

How to Mix and Troubleshoot Terra Sigillata

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