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Published Oct 12, 2011

To many of us, surface texture is an afterthought. We throw or handbuild our pottery and then stamp, scratch or carve texture into the surface. And while we have an idea of how we would like the texture to work with our pot's design, the two parts of the process (design/construction and surface decoration/finishing techniques) are often separate.

Today potter Dan Gegen explains how he begins working with texture before the construction process even begins, and therefore makes it integral to the design of the pot. He also shares the glaze recipe for the lovely celadon-esque glaze featured on the pot to the left. As Dan explains, all sorts of fun things can happen when you design with texture! Take it away Dan! - Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor

One of the greatest challenges for a potter who decorates their work is finding an image or texture that fits the form of the pot. For the past thirteen years, I've taught my students to use texture as a design tool. Recently, I started using textured plaster slabs as a way to apply decorative surfaces directly to the clay before the construction process begins. Interesting things happen when the textured surface is manipulated into a vessel form. Textures can overlap one another to create contrast or add visual tension. The result is similar to the way patterned fabric looks when it is made into clothing, except that I am more interested in how the patterns don't line up on the seams. Often I push the slabs out from the inside of the vessel to create volume, which softens and distorts the surface texture as well.

Begin by flattening and rolling your clay using a rolling pin and wooden slats or dowels to create an even thickness. I used 1/4 inch-thick slats for this project. Flip the clay over repeatedly after each rolling so it doesn't stick to the canvas.Use a template cut from card stock to cut out two hourglass silhouette shapes. Use heavyweight paper so that you can save and reuse your patterns.

Tip: To create symmetrical templates, fold the paper in half and cut out the shape. Place one of the hourglass shapes on a textured plaster slab and tamp into place. Use a rolling pin to press the clay firmly onto the texture, and bevel the edges using a pony roller. Repeat this step using a contrasting texture for the other half of the vase.

Lay the textured clay shapes onto a rolling pin. Gently start forming the curve of the oval vase. Let stiffen until the two halves can stand on their own. Stand the two halves up and score the inside surfaces using slip to join them together. The seams can fall on the sides of the pot, but I place the seam in the middle of the form to create an emphasis on the two different textures. Gently press the two halves together, slightly overlapping, taking care not to distort the texture.

Blend the seams on the inside, but leave the external seams visible if you want the viewer to see that the vase was constructed by hand from slabs. Attach a slab bottom (texture also could be applied to the bottom slab). Cut the bottom slab 1/8 inch larger than the vase. Bevel the bottom and top edges to give a more finished look.

Create the looped handles by rolling out a 3/8 inch-thick coil of clay. Lay the coil in between two soft cloths. Flatten the coil between the cloths using the ridge in your palm. The cloth will soften the edges and help create a half-rounded effect to the handle. Use a sponge to moisten the clay so that it can be bent without cracking. Cut the handles to the desired length and fold the ends toward each other creating a loop.

Attach the handles by pressing in on the base of the loop while supporting from the inside. Carefully soften any rough edges with a damp sponge. Cover the finished form with plastic and let it dry slowly to ensure that the seams stay together.

To learn more about Dan Gegen and see more images of his work, visit

**First published in 2011.