Published Jan 2, 2023
In today’s post, I am sharing an excerpt from Gary’s article in which he shares some texture ideas and his simple process for making ceramic wall sculptures. - Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor
P.S. Read the entire article in the March/April 2016 issue of Pottery Making Illustrated to learn on how Jackson finishes his textured wall sculptures with flashing slip, tips on drying and bisque firing, and his glaze inlay process. Jackson also covers how he wads the bottoms of the pieces for the soda firing and useful information for hanging the wall sculptures after they come out of the kiln.
Throwing the Base Ring
Start by throwing a bottomless cylinder on a plastic bat. Throwing on a bat is important with a bottomless form to avoid distortions when you remove it from the wheel. Throw the walls of the cylinder to about an inch in height. As I refine the side walls, I keep a little ledge of clay along the inside bottom. This will act as a small catch lip when you’re hanging your form on the wall with a nail or screw.
Next, while the wheel is spinning, press in a few indentations with a rounded wood tool onto the exterior wall. This adds visual continuity that will help group pieces together as a set. It also gives the glaze and slip a place to pool and flash.
Wire cut the ring off the bat, but don’t remove it. Allow it to stiffen up a bit. Be careful not to let it dry completely. If you want to alter the shape of the ring into an oval or square, do so at the soft leather-hard stage when the clay is still malleable, but not soft and squishy.
I throw slabs directly on my wedging table, stretching the clay into a slab by pulling it on the table. Gravity and momentum do most of the work. Lift the slab gently from the far edge, with fingers under the slab and thumbs on top, then swing the slab up, out, and away from yourself so now your fingers are on top. Then throw it down on the table at an angle coming back down and toward your body. Focus on that angle and having the back end of the slab touch the table first.
Once you have your slab stretched to a ¼ inch thickness, smooth it out with a rubber rib to remove any canvas texture and compress the clay for less warping or cracking.
You’ll want to texture a section of the slab that is larger than the diameter of your thrown ring. I use a lot of handmade stamps in my work. Simple coils of clay that have patterns carved into both ends and have been bisque fired. When pressing the stamps into the clay, be sure to be committed and consistent to achieve a deep and clean impression. I’m drawn to the repetition of a single stamp and how it makes a whole textured pattern (1). I frequently combine stamped patterns with grooved lines for a varied design. Consider your design options and combinations before diving in.
You can use any multitude of items and objects to make texture impressions, from a plastic trowel (2), to a cheap PVC tube with patterns drawn on with a hot glue gun (3). There are tons of items in your studio, kitchen, or garage ready to help make a good impression. Make some stamps of your own, and start a good collection of texture tools.
Leave your slab sitting out to firm up to leather hard, as you refine and trim the base ring.
Trimming and Fitting the Ring
When the base ring is a soft leather hard, run a wire between the bottom and the bat to separate them again, and flip it over gently by sandwiching it between two bats. This way you’re never picking up the clay ring itself and potentially altering the shape. Trim and refine the bottom of the ring, then flip it back over, again between bats. Let it stiffen up a bit more.
Carefully place the ring on top of the textured slab. Look through the ring and decide which pattern layout looks best. Make a cut around the ring with a quarter-inch margin. Remove the excess clay (4).
Slumping the Slab into the Ring
Carefully place the textured slab upside down on top of your base ring. Gently press it into the ring to slump. You want to create a gentle, curved slope with the slab. Leave it sitting in the ring until it stiffens up and retains its curved shape. Keep checking your slab so it doesn’t dry out too much.
Attaching the Slab to the Ring
Gently flip the domed disk over (5) and rest it on the top of the ring. Center it as best you can, then trace around the underside of the slab to match the ring. This will become your guide line for scoring.
Carefully pick up the domed disc, flip it over, and score just inside of the guide line. Score and slip the top edge of your ring. Gently place the dome back onto the ring so that your scratched areas match up. Apply a little pressure to the outer edge of the ring to press the slab in place. Be careful not to press too hard, which will distort your textured pattern. Once the domed slab is attached, cut off the extra clay with a sharp knife, then use a stiff rib to scrape off the excess, refine the top edge, and burnish the seam smooth (6).