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Published Sep 7, 2021

Potter Joan Bruneau wanted a little more lift from her thrown vase forms, but pesky old gravity was keeping the bottoms looking static. So she started to think of other ways she could make more gestural forms and came up with what she calls her "cut and paste" technique. Today, Joan shares that technique with us. –Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

Stamen Vase, by Joan BruneauMy pottery forms and surfaces take cues from various cultures and periods in ceramics history, natural phenomena, and ornament. Shapes and surfaces may evoke a season, landscape, architectural detail or flower. The pots function as decorative objects that are activated through use. Interaction with the viewer/user completes their aesthetic potential as they contain, deliver or present food or flowers.

The combined throwing and handbuilding process I use can be described as a “cut and paste” procedure. It’s a technique often characterized by gestural throwing lines, dynamic volumes, and structural seams.

The Pedestal

Gravity is one of the challenges faced when it comes to thrown forms. A thrown and altered shape may have a dynamic profile from the waist up while the foot often remains static and gravity bound. This issue can be resolved in a few different ways.

Starting a piece by throwing it up-side down allows alteration to the foot and the opportunity to create a dynamic negative shape under the base. Then, designing pieces so that the shape and surface decoration directs the viewer’s eye over the contours of the vase and under and around the base of the pedestal in a continuous circuit, rather than creating an abrupt stop at the table surface, helps to give the piece visual lift.

To begin the pedestal, throw a tapered cylinder with a ¼-inch thick floor. Shape the rim when it is still soft but no longer has a sticky surface (figure 1). When the cylinder is leather hard, turn it over to start the process of throwing the other side. Center the piece on a bat, then secure it with wads of clay. Score the pedestal’s outer inch on the top and apply a thin film of slurry. Attach a 1-inch thick coil to the scored surface (figure 2) and throw it until it is integrated and shaped into a finished rim (figure 3).

After this rim has dried slightly but is still soft and pliable, you’re ready to alter the shape. Using the bottom alterations as a guide, make a mark on the rim above each indentation. In the piece demonstrated, four marks were made, so that the rim of the pedestal could be divided into four lobes.

Figure 1 Figure 2Figure 3

Cut into the rim on either side of your mark using an X-Acto knife, making an arced, V shape. Bend the sides of the rim inward, creating the curves for each lobe. Next, score, slip, and attach them to the top of the pedestal. Shape and smooth the cut edges with a damp chamois and reinforce each seam with a thin, soft coil that is blended into the surface with a damp sponge. Finally, bend the tabs  of the V shapes inwards so that they direct the eye back into the piece, rather than out and away (figure 4).

Following your design ideas and sketches for the finished piece, complete any slip-based surface decoration. For the piece shown, two coats of white slip are brushed onto the top of the pedestal and on areas of the walls where translucent glaze will later be applied after the bisque fire. Black vitreous slip, trailed onto the pedestal walls, creates leaf shaped panels which will be covered with a matte glaze after the bisque. The vitreous slip contains a frit and a variety of oxides that cause the slip to melt slightly and fuse into the glaze.

Figure 4Figure 5Figure 6

The Vase

The vase is thrown in two parts. Throw the bulbous vase body and flared neck using equal amounts of clay. Throw the body first, and measure the outside edge of the rim opening with calipers. When throwing the neck, center the clay so that the outside diameter is just slightly larger than your caliper measurement.  Throw the neck as a bottomless form, opening the clay all the way to the bat. Widen the bottom until the diameter matches the caliper measurement to ensures a close fit  and smooth transition when attaching the parts.

After the parts have set up slightly, yet are still pliable, shape the shoulder of the vase into four lobes by stretching out the wall using a damp sponge (figure 5). Stretch and shape the lip of the neck to echo the shoulder lobes (figure 6).

Score, apply slip, and attach the neck and body when the base firms up enough to hold the weight of the neck (figure 7). Blend and smooth out the seam on the inside of the vase then clean up the outside.

Figure 7Figure 8Figure 9

While attaching the two parts, use a flat board and a level to ensure the pieces sit level on the table (figure 8).

Finish any necessary trimming by turning the leather-hard vase over onto a foam covered bat (the foam is 1/2 inch thick and secured to the bat with carpenter’s glue) and finally cover the entire inside with an even coat of white slip. This can be applied by pouring slip into the vase, then rotating it as the excess is poured out to ensure all areas are covered.

Next, throw or roll out solid, cone-shaped, decorative handle forms and cut them to fit along the base of the neck. Attach them by scoring and applying slip after they have set up (figure 9).


**First published in 2014