Festive Flower Bricks: Coil-Built Forms Fit For a Party

Cake and flowers – two of my favorite things. It’s no surprise then, that I am particularly drawn to Arthur Halvorsen’s flower bricks. Arthur says that despite not really having a sweet tooth himself, he wanted his work to reference pastries because these treats are found worldwide and are usually associated with fun, playful events. He wanted to make works that would fit in nicely in those settings. And I’d say he’s succeeded.

Today, in an excerpt from the November/December 2010 issue of Pottery Making Illustrated, Arthur takes us through the coil building process he uses to construct these forms. He also shares his recipe for the frosting-like glaze he uses – the icing on the cake, as they say. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.


When I was thinking about a flower brick form, I wanted a shape that would convey my interest in desserts and pastries. I don’t really have a sweet tooth and I rarely eat sweets (if you can believe that!). With that said, I started at the most basic form for desserts and for me that happened to be cake. I love that cakes, pastries, and desserts are found around the world and are most often associated with fun playful parties or events. That’s where I want my work to be; in that setting I feel like my work is most at home.

Prep Work
I use a bisque mold as a template for the bottom, or footprint, of my flower brick. It supports the whole flower brick until the base is firm enough to support the entire piece without cracking or collapsing. I make this mold by draping a slab over a Styrofoam tray (like what you find when you buy steaks or other meats). The slab is removed from the styrofoam form once it is leather hard, then set it out to dry before bisque firing it to cone 04.

 

Use the cut edge of a plastic card to create texture on the top of the flower brick.

Fig.1 Use the cut edge of a plastic card to create texture on the top of the flower brick.

Fig.2 Attach coils to the base as flower supports and pinch them up to create additional height.

Fig.2 Attach coils to the base as flower supports and pinch them up to create additional height.

Fig.3 Blend the coils to form the walls of the flower brick using a serrated metal rib.

Fig.3 Blend the coils to form the walls of the flower brick using a serrated metal rib.



Making the Cake
After making the mold, the next step is making the top from a slab of clay so that it has time to firm up while building the rest of the form. I texture the top using an old gift card or credit card that has a pattern cut into it using scrap-booking scissors, but there are cake decorating tools you can use as well. The card is pressed on the slab and dragged through in a wavy pattern (figure 1). This adds interest when glaze pools and breaks over the texture on the top. The top is then put aside on a ware board to set up.

Roll out another slab of clay for the bottom, and press that into the bisque mold. Once you have this slab foundation in the mold, cut off any excess with a needle tool held at a 45° angle to create beveled edges. Before adding the walls, randomly space coils on the inside of the base, so when long-stemmed flowers are added, they have something to support them. Push these coils into place, then pinch them up a little bit to add height and more support for the flowers to lean against (figure 2).

Now the fun begins! To start building the walls, first put the base on a banding wheel. Roll out coils of clay that can stretch the entire way around the edge of the mold. I have a habit of doing this in threes, so I add three coils, blend them all together with a serrated rib (figure 3), and then blend them again with a smooth metal rib to remove all texture and to thin the walls where needed. Use your other hand to support the inside wall while working on the outside.

Fig.4 Level the top with a needle tool and straighten the walls.

Fig.4 Level the top with a needle tool and straighten the walls.

Fig.5 Scratch the top of the coils, add more, then blend the top coils together with a serrated rib.

Fig.5 Scratch the top of the coils, add more, then blend the top coils together with a serrated rib.

Fig.6 Push in on the tops of the walls slightly, creating an angle.

Fig.6 Push in on the tops of the walls slightly, creating an angle.

Before adding the next three coils, be sure that the walls are built up straight and address the top so that it is not uneven. Using a needle tool, and with your elbow locked into your waist to steady your arm, spin the banding wheel to cut off any uneven clay from the top (figure 4). This creates a level platform for the next three coils. Repeat adding coils and blending, until you have about nine coils in all (figure 5). Push in the tops of the wall so that they angle in slightly, to give the piece a more cake-like look and feel (figure 6), then set the body aside to firm up a little.

After the body of the piece has set up, the top slab should also be ready to put into place without sagging. Place it on top of the walls and trace the overhang using a needle tool (figure 7). Use an X-Acto knife to cut out the traced shape. Using a scratch wire brush-type needle tool, score the top of the flower brick and all around the outside edge of the top slab to prepare it for attaching to the walls. Paint a little water or slip on the scored lines on each part, place the top on, and firmly secure it (figure 8).

 

Fig.7 Trace the profile of walls onto bottom of top slab to get the shape needed, then cut it out.

Fig.7 Trace the profile of walls onto bottom of top slab to get the shape needed, then cut it out.

Fig.8 Place the cut out shape on top of the walls, sealing off the form.

Fig.8 Place the cut out shape on top of the walls, sealing off the form.

Fig.9 Place a coil over the seam and add a decorative scalloped trim to the top and bottom.

Fig.9 Place a coil over the seam and add a decorative scalloped trim to the top and bottom.

Icing on the Cake
Once the form is complete, you’re ready to start decorating. Place a coil on the outside of the wall where the top slab meets the wall, and indent it with a repeating finger pattern (visible in figure 9). This coil adds both security and decoration. Add another decorative feature to the top using a long slab cut into a scalloped pattern with an X-Acto knife. Score the area on the flower brick where it’s going to go and use piping slip applied with a slip trailing bottle to attach it (figure 9). Using a white slip instead of a red slip to secure these parts allows you to move on to decorating sooner, without the risk of muddying the white slip coating. Another long, scalloped slab is added to the bottom of the flower brick, just above the seam between the wall and the base.

</p> <p>Fig.10 Paint the completed piece with white slip, to echo frosting on a cake.</p> <p>

Fig.10 Paint the completed piece with white slip, to echo frosting on a cake.

Fig.11 Slip trail patterns onto the bottom scalloped skirt of the flower brick.

Fig.11 Slip trail patterns onto the bottom scalloped skirt of the flower brick.

Fig.12 Trail a white slip line on the top of the scalloped edge for added decoration.

Fig.12 Trail a white slip line on the top of the scalloped edge for added decoration.

After finishing with all of the attachments, decorate the whole flower brick by painting it with white slip (figure 10), trailing an additional argyle pattern on the walls to leave a raised texture, and trailing lines to accentuate the scallops (figures 11 and 12). The slip should be thick enough to show some texture but not so thick that it will crack off. The last step is to cut out the holes (five total) from the top slab for the flowers using a hole cutter (figure 13). Use the rounded end of a paintbrush handle to smooth out the openings and remove burrs from the inside (figure 14).

Fig.13 Cut holes for the flower in the top slab using a hole cutter.

Fig.13 Cut holes for the flower in the top slab using a hole cutter.

Fig.14 Round out and smooth the edge of the holes with a paintbrush handle.

Fig.14 Round out and smooth the edge of the holes with a paintbrush handle.

Allow the piece to dry slowly, first out in the open until the slip loses its sheen, then under plastic for a few days before uncovering it and allowing it to air dry. Once the piece is bone dry, bisque fire it to the appropriate temperature for your clay and apply glaze to the inside and outside via dipping and pouring. The piece shown here was glaze fired to cone 04.

 


To see more of Arthur’s work: http://arthurhalvorsenceramics.com/; www.arthurhalvorsen.etsy.com. You can also find him on Facebook by searching for Arthur Halvorsen Ceramics.


Icy Blue Glaze Recipe Cone 04
Gerstley Borate 25.0 %
Lithium Carbonate 4.0
Frit 3124 29.0
Nepheline Syenite 19.0
EPK Kaolin 5.0
Calcined EPK Kaolin 5.0
Silica 13.0
100.0 %
Add: Copper Carbonate 0.4 %
This glaze works best when it is not too thick. If the glaze application is thicker than normal (more than the thickness of a dime) it runs excessively. Recipe adapted by Kari Radasch from a Woody Hughes recipe.

Comments
  • I like your idea for displaying flowers, and as an ikebana instructor, I have a couple of ideas I’d like to suggest. The issue is access to clean out the plant debris that inevitably collects inside vases. This debris decays and causes current and subsequent flower arrangements to wilt faster due to the bacteria that forms to compost the gunk. As constructed, a bleach and water soak between uses could help if no stems or leaves get stuck in the interior. A slight alteration in design is suggested: make the top portion a lid instead of attaching it to the upright walls. The addition of a deep flange on the interior of the lid would insure stability if the arranger wished to tilt the floral, greens, or branching materials rather than display them upright. When adding fresh materials, be sure to trim off any small leaves or offshoot stubs from the stems before inserting them through the holes in the lid. Thanks for your post.

  • So Cute! I am new to ceramics (and used to teach cake decorating lessons) and definitely want to give this a try! Sadly I only have an 8″x8″ kiln…guess I’ll have to make a cupcake version!!!

  • I teach middle school and am going to try this with my 8th graders, I think they will really like it! I think I will try it as a box, which will be more versatile, and now I can cover quite a few techniques in one project, thanks for the ideas!

  • I like the idea of the coils in the bottom to help the flower stems stay in place. I may use this idea in some of my thrown vases.

  • I know many people/cultures do coil building out of tradition and for some projects it works really well (i.e. large wheel piece additions) but this could have been created really easily with a slab roller.. seems like a lot of extra work.

  • As a flower grower and cut flower vendor I agree with the posts about being able to clean a flower holder thoroughly. Bacteria is the biggest culprit when it comes to shortening the keeping time of cut flowers..ignoring clean- ability is making it basically non-functional for real cut flowers.. no doubt, needs a removable top

  • Being a “process person” I enjoy the different ways people come at a project. There are as many ways as there are people to create this type of project. The way you enjoy your work or play may be entirely different and if you are strictly a “product person” you will look for the easiest way since you will be doing this many times instead of the single work of art.

  • What a lovely piece! Does it hold water tho’? Literally, for the sake of the flowers I mean! Is there some glaze on the inside the pot or will it still hold water without? Thank-you for showing us your techniques and I also love the glaze.

  • Great idea. I’m thinking this will be popular in my clay classes. I like the suggestions people have added as well. My addition would be to make the top as a separate lid to facilitate cleaning. I like the idea of a grid on the bottom, but again, I might make that removable to make it easier to clean. It wouldn’t have to be clay — a nylon screen would give sufficient purchase, or maybe a plastic cross-stitch canvas or similar. We all know how cruddy the inside of a vase can get after several days of holding flowers.

    I love the square shape, and also the idea of making it look like a frosted cake. It’s so amazing to see the creations of different people. Everyone here has such unique and imaginative style. Thanks!

  • I like the idea of the brick shape for flower display and suggest two additions: a removable lid for easy and needed cleaning — and put a ball of clay in each corner about an inch above the bottom to support a removable cut-to-size piece of small grid hardware cloth (galvanized metal) thru which flower stems will easily fit and reach water in bottom of brick. No mention of glaze on the inside, but needed for easy cleaning of the slime from organic decay of flower stems.

  • The flower brick is a great way to display flowers or weeds. The addition of a one inch grid on the bottom inside of the brick allows the stem ends to have a purchase. Without this the stems often do not stand erect. Obviously, the grid is invisible to the outside viewer.

  • Oh yes . . . one more thing. If you wait until the clay is leather hard, it’s easy to drill as many holes as you like, any size you like, with a hand-held electric drill. I use this method for colanders and teapot strainers, too. If you do it at the right stage (hard leather hard), this is the best, cleanest and easiest hole-making tool I’ve ever found.

  • Great post, Arthur… got a lot of great ideas and can’t wait to try them.

    As for all the commentators, I’d just like to mention that Arthur is sharing with us his own personal method and creative process, bombarding this post with a bunch of “I know better” revisions is, frankly, rude.

    Not everyone works the same way… one reason, for instance, that I use coil method as opposed to slab (which I also use when appropriate) is that coils are a lot more manageable than slabs, which can be kind of unruly in some vertical applications. Another reason, they allow you to create shape more intuitively as you go. Another reason, they leave more of an impression of the hand that made them (if you want them to) in the final product. Fourthly, they run less of a risk of cracking. Fifthly, you can work more continuously with coil than slab, where you have to let it set before adjoining more pieces. Does that answer that question?

    The point about cleaning flower debris is a good one though and an interesting problem to try an solve.

  • I didn’t think these comments were rude at all. The people seem merely interested in the project and are making suggestions. I liked them all.

  • Great idea, especially for beginners. Lots of learning techniques!

  • Sally, I agree, the comments and suggestions aren’t rude — they’re an indication of how well this fun and imaginative project engaged the readers and made the gears start turning in their own creative brains. Way to go, Arthur! Your flower brick rocks!

  • Ah, you have inspired me to finally get around to making my own flower boxes. Thanks for sharing your process!

  • I like the whole project very much, particularly because the flower brick is one of those pieces that makes your phantasy go into a dozen of different directions and ideas. I also agree with the removable lid for practical purposes. Actually I have made a similar project a few years ago and it was a round cake, fully decorated and I just made a circle of holes in the middle of the cake. My form was made closed and now it makes sense to make a removable lid with an about 2 inch flap hanging in the inside of the brick/cake to keep the vase sanitary for the safety of the lid while arranging the flowers on top. I also would consider then to glaze the inside, because of the ease of cleaning the inside of the container and to keep those nasty bacteria out as much as possible.
    Thanks for showing this project to all of us.

  • Hi again, I do like the idea of spreading rather large holes all over the surface of the lid because you can arrange the flowers in a much more natural way.

    Thanks again to all you “posters”, lots of good comments.

    And thanks to the presenter of the project!!

  • I love this idea, this is definitely on my “must make” list. Thank you for sharing!

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