The audio file for this article was produced by the Ceramic Arts Network staff and not read by the author.
My work explores moments of connection and intimacy while celebrating femininity and craft found within domestic spaces. I believe pottery plays an important role within our society as it enriches everyday objects with purpose and beauty. I strive to make functional pieces that are elegant, yet inviting to the touch and can be easily woven into the lives of others. Various textures and floral patterns that are often found within domestic spaces are used throughout my work to evoke a sense of joy and comfort, while small hidden details are intended to draw you a little closer.
Creating a Template
Drawing inspiration from feminine crafts within the home, such as sewing, I create templates for each form. The combination of slab building and template making allows me to reference the idea of fabric more closely. When I am creating a form, such as the puff plate, I question how that form would look if it were sewn from fabric. Where would the seams be? What sections of the form would be filled to create more volume? I am constantly thinking about how the material would move and interact with our touch if it were not clay.
Each form is first built with paper and assembled with masking tape. This allows room for error and can simply be taken apart, adjusted, and reassembled. Once I have a form that I like, I transfer the template onto tar paper to increase its durability (1).
As I was creating the template, I incorporated a scalloped edge not only to add movement to the form, but to also add indentions for your fingers to rest comfortably when holding the piece.
Building the Form
When I begin building the form, I roll several ¼-inch slabs and cover them with plastic until they are ready to be used. Covering them in plastic is essential for the process as the clay needs to be wet in order to add texture and be manipulated. The puff plate is broken into four sections: the bottom slab, the top slab (minus the center), the center circle, and the foot.
Once the slabs are prepped, I trace the outline of my template onto the clay and cut out each shape (2). To give the plate a slight curve, lay the bottom slab inside a draped cloth (3). It remains in the draped cloth while I work on the other sections of the form. The top slab is then pressed and lightly rolled onto a plaster texture plate that has been molded from textiles, such as various upholstery fabrics, knitted garments, and corduroy (4). After the texture has been transferred, it is placed on a flat surface and small sections are smoothed back out. These smooth sections are where I will add the decals after the piece is glazed (5).
Continue by pressing the small circular slab onto a rounded hump mold to create a concave slab (6). Make sure to smooth and compress this well with a rubber rib so that it holds its shape. This piece will become the center plane of the plate. Once this circular slab reaches the leather-hard stage, and working from the wrong side of both the top textured slab and the concave circular slab, I attach the two so the circular slab fits into the top slab. Reinforce the attachment with a coil to ensure the seam stays together (7).
It’s time to attach the top and bottom together. With the bottom slab still resting inside the draped cloth, cut a 45° angle on the edge before attaching the two slabs (8). With the scallops aligned and the edges scored and slipped, I begin to attach the outer seam. I stretch and puff out the clay from the inside, creating additional volume (9). After the seam has completely adhered together, I wait until the plate is leather hard before poking a small hole in the form. The air pressure inside the form helps maintain the volume. If the hole is poked too soon, the plate can deflate and begin to flatten out, losing the puffiness that I am trying to achieve.
Tip: Use the back of an old earring to poke your hole. A hole, regardless of the size, will allow airflow. Place the hole in an area with texture or along the seam so it isn’t noticeable.
Constructing a Textured Foot
I consider the foot to be just as important as the rest of the form. Although the puff plate has the option of being hung on the wall, and the foot may not be seen often, I enjoy having the texture continue to the bottom.
I begin by rolling a ¼-inch slab that is 1 inch wide. The length will be determined by the size of the plate. I roll the texture onto one side of the rectangular slab and slowly curl the edges up to mimic a taco shape (10). Once it is curved upward, I gently press the edges together, creating an oval tube. The textured tube is then scored and slipped to the bottom of the plate (11). This process allows the foot to remain textured on both the inside and outside, while the trapped air adds volume to the foot that matches the rest of the form.
When using this technique, it’s important to not apply too much pressure while attaching the foot to ensure the tube and texture don’t become flattened. I also go back and check that the foot is taller than the bottom curve of the plate. If the foot is too short, it can be pinched slightly to add height, making sure your plate sits flat against the wall and doesn’t wobble on the tabletop.
Each plate is further embellished with sprig-molded buttons and cording (12, 13). Before it is left on the shelf to dry, I use a tracing wheel to create small stitches around the seam, adding another layer of detail to the surface.
I drape loose plastic over the plate for several days of drying before loading it into the kiln to be bisque fired. Hollow forms take longer to dry, especially in more humid environments. After firing to cone 06, I spray several thin layers of glaze onto the surface, being careful not to lose the detail within the texture. I then soda fire each piece to cone 10 (14). Cracks and subtle drips are often created due to the extreme conditions in the kiln. Rather than hiding the imperfections, I am interested in drawing attention to them. These give the piece room to breathe while allowing it to represent an item from within the home that has been used and loved.
I find that I am often drawn to the small, imperfect details that surround us—a stitch that doesn’t align properly, the frayed edge of a tablecloth, or even a small stain that has been partially covered by a piece of furniture. Flaws carry memory and tell a deeper story as they speak to the life of the object and the hidden history of events that each generation inherits.
Decorating the Surface
Each plate is decorated with a variety of decals (see 15). I use a combination of vintage decals that were printed in various countries from the 70s to the 90s, as well as decals that I design and print myself.
Depending on where the plate is placed in the kiln and how the soda is sprayed, I can get a lot of variation within the glaze that I use. When I begin decorating, I have an idea of what I want on the surface, but I allow the variation within the glaze and subtle mark making from the kiln to dictate where I place the decals and how they are arranged.
The decals are printed on water-slide paper and laminated to keep the pigment in place. I cut each decal into smaller segments and piece them together to create unique compositions across the surface. Once I have the decal laid out for a particular area, they are soaked in warm water to activate the adhesive. The decal is then slid off the paper backing and onto the glazed surface. Air bubbles are removed with a rubber rib to ensure the decal is properly adhered.
When air bubbles are not removed, the pigment can burn away during the firing, leaving a small hole within the imagery. While this may be undesirable to some, I intentionally leave air bubbles to create a worn look on the surface, leaving the surface with pieces of something that was once whole.
After the decals are added, embellishments such as buttons and cording are painted with gold luster. The puff plates are then fired again at cone 018 to set the decals and luster on the surface.
the author Marissa Childers was born in Florence, Alabama. She earned her BFA from the University of North Alabama and an MFA from University of Oklahoma. Childers was a Ceramics Monthly emerging artist in 2022 and is one of the 2023 NCECA emerging artists. She is currently a full-time artist residing in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Visit her website at www.marissachilders.com to learn more.