Published Sep 4, 2023
In today's post, Lyla takes us step by step through her process, starting with throwing the pieces on the wheel and finishing with her colored slip and sgraffito decoration (which would also work well with commercial underglazes). –Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor
The act of drinking from a cup with a saucer is a different experience than drinking from a cup alone. It can be slower and more contemplative. The saucer enhances the significance of the cup by elevating it off the table and giving it a place to return to.
My cup and saucer forms reference cups and saucers that became popular in 17th and 18th century Europe. I enjoy making these pots that can function independently, and come together to form a relationship. My pieces also contain an ongoing investigation of decoration. Through the use of color and line, the cup is united to the saucer through shared decorative patterns that convey a sense of movement. I incise drawings of plants and flowers through brushwork on the outside of my cups and saucers. Layering the pieces with colorful slips and glaze adds depth to the surface.
My cups start as small low bowls with a tall foot. Begin with a 1 1⁄4–1 1⁄2-pound ball of wedged clay. Place a bat on the wheel head and center the ball of clay to the approximate width of the desired cup form. With your middle and index finger, open the ball (figure 1) and establish the interior floor of the cup. Be sure to leave enough thickness in the floor to trim a 1⁄4–1/8-inch foot. Define the interior curve using a small rib and compress the floor as you move from the center toward the walls. Use one hand on the interior and one on the exterior and push fingers towards one another to pull up the walls (figure 2). Compress and steady the lip in between each pull (figure 3).
When the walls are the appropriate thickness and height, use a stiff rib against the interior floor and wall to add volume to the inside. Take a measurement of the untrimmed foot with a pair of calipers. Push the calipers in slightly smaller to gauge the width of the cup’s trimmed foot. Hold a wire tool taut between two hands to cut the cup off the bat.
Throwing the Saucer
For the saucer use another 11⁄4–11⁄2-pound ball of wedged clay. Again using a bat, center the ball of clay, keeping it slightly smaller than that of your desired saucer form. Open the ball up by pushing down in the middle and pulling clay from the bottom exterior up and outwards. Form a low sloping curve. Pull again until you have formed a small plate with a good thickness in the floor to trim a foot. Reference the measurement from the calipers to gauge the diameter of the space where your cup will sit. To open this seat, use your pointer and middle finger starting in the center and pull the clay towards yourself until you’ve reached the measured size. Use a rubber rib to smooth this seat to a flat horizon. The seat should have a similar depth to the height of your cup’s trimmed foot. Rib the surface of the plate into a low curve (figure 4). Hold a small piece of chamois or thin plastic bag and, while the wheel is in motion, cup the lip of the saucer to compress the lip (figure 5). Use your wire tool to cut the saucer off of the bat.
When the cup and saucer have dried to a leather-hard state and the rims are no longer tacky, they’re ready to trim. Turn the cup upside down and tap the side of the cup or use your pointer finger to put the cup on center. Secure the cup in place with three coils of soft clay and use a trimming tool to remove clay from the outside of the cup (figure 6). Start at the top and move down along side the cup towards the wheel head. Change the angle of the tool to come inwards and take off clay between the bottom of the curve and the beginning of the foot. After you have trimmed the outside of the cup, move to the inside of the foot ring. Trim away a line that marks your outermost point. Hold your trimming tool horizontal and take away clay from the center to your established line. Repeat this trimming procedure with the saucer.
Pulling a Handle
Wedge or roll a small ball of soft clay into a carrot shape with two flat sides. Hold the thick end of the carrot in one hand and with your other hand, put your index finger and thumb together creating an almond or eye shape. Wet this hand and pull on the carrot form, keeping your hands in this position. You will form a piece that serves as a skeleton of your handle. Cut the thick top end of the form across and pat flat with one finger. Hold the handle skeleton to the cup and decide the two spots where you would like the handle to attach. Use a needle tool to mark these areas. With a scoring tool, score and slip your marks. Score and slip the flat part of the handle.Push the handle onto the cup, supporting with one hand on the interior. Wiggle in place to secure the connection. Use your index finger to smear down the clay from the handle along the seams.
When the two are connected, you may begin pulling the handle off the cup (figure 7). Hold the cup, handle facing down in one hand. Get your other hand wet and begin pulling the handle gently while orienting your hands in the eye or almond shape. After a few pulls, the handle will move fluidly. You can orient your fingers in different positions to create a flat handle with tapered edges. When the handle reaches the desired length, cut a clean edge with a knife. Gently but firmly secure the bottom of the handle in place. Place the finished cup onto the saucer to check fit, scale, and proportions (figure 8).
Slipping the Pieces
Slipping your pieces successfully depends upon the thickness of the slip and the dryness of your pieces. I slip my pieces when they are nearly dry but still have some moisture in them. You can also experiment with different thicknesses of slip. A skim milk consistency will break on edges and lines on the piece. A heavy cream consistency will cover more of the red clay body. Be careful because a thick application of slip means more water and a higher chance of your piece caving in or cracking.
Hold your cup in one hand and, with a measuring cup, pour slip into the interior of the cup (figure 9). Rotate your hand and wrist as you pour the slip back out. Hold the cup by the foot and dip it into the slip bucket to coat the outside. Hold for three seconds, pull it out and carefully set it to dry. To slip the saucer, hold it by the foot vertically in one hand. Use the measuring cup to pour slip in one spot on the saucer as you rotate it with your other hand. When the saucer is lined, dip it into the slip bucket to coat the back.
Decorating the Surface
Decorate with colored slips when the white slip has set up and is no longer tacky (figure 10). For my colored slips, I mix Mason stains in the white slip base at approximately two percent. Mixing colored satins, varying percentages, and experimenting with other pigments can also be great ways to acquire a palette of colors. Consider how the decoration and color choice can unite the cup and saucer. Use a brush to paint a pattern or image onto your cup and saucer.
Let the piece soak up the slip, and then use a dull needle tool, pen, or carving tool to carve a line drawing on top of your painting (figure 10). After carving your lines, do not touch the piece. Wait until it is bone dry and ready for the bisque, at which point you can lightly rub the carved edges smooth. I bisque at cone 04 and apply a clear glaze then fire to cone 1.
Lyla Goldstein is a studio potter living and working in Carbondale, Colorado. She received her BFA from New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University and exhibits nationally, currently showing in the ArtStream Nomadic Gallery and The Clay Studio of Philadelphia.