A Good Stretch: Creating Interesting Surface and Form with Stretched Slabs

Eddie Curtis uses contrasting copper effects for black rim and red reduction glaze over his textured jar. Ht: 30 cm (12 in.). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Ah, clay slabs. Wonderful things, clay slabs. I have been really thinking a lot about doing more with slabs in my work ever since shooting a soft slab DVD (coming soon to the Ceramic Arts Daily Bookstore!) with the lovely and talented Sandi Pierantozzi this past summer.

 

There are so many cool things you can do with slabs, and since they have been on the brain lately, and since the Sandi Pierantozzi DVD is not quite ready for prime time yet, today I thought I would do an excerpt from Jim Robison and Ian Marsh’s book Slab Techniques. In this excerpt, they explain a couple of different ways slabs can be used to create forms with interesting stretched texture. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.

 

 


One of the magical properties of clay is its ability to stretch and change shape under pressure. This is easy to see when on the potter’s wheel, as the hands coax a hollow mass into an elegant shape, but most of us are less aware of this potential when working with slabs.

 

Thick slabs, cut from a block of clay, may be stretched into thin and surprisingly uniform sheets. To do this, the slab is picked up by one end, thrown from side to side and dropped upon a board or unvarnished wood table. Friction from contact with the table increases the slab’s length through sideways motion. When doing this, it is important to let the trailing edge contact the table first, while you continue the directional motion with the hands. Otherwise it bunches up in a rather interesting fashion – creating more of a lump than a slab.

 

Eddie Curtis rolling powdered clay into the surface.

Eddie Curtis rolling powdered clay into the surface.

Rapid drying of the surface with a gas torch.

Rapid drying of the surface with a gas torch.

Stretching the soft slab causes dry surface cracks.

Stretching the soft slab causes dry surface cracks.

 

A tile detail of a duck drawing on a school sculpture. Photos: Ian Marsh.

Any impressions, drawings, marks or textures made in clay develop an irregular, spontaneous quality when stretched in this fashion. An example of this may be seen in the sculpture done with young schoolchildren. They drew creatures found in the nearby nature reserve on clay tiles. When stretched slightly, the drawings’ linear qualities became uneven, slightly abstract, and I believe this variety makes them all the more interesting.

 

Eddie Curtis creates a fascinating surface by stretching thick slabs. He first dries out one side by rolling it into powdered clay. This side may also be textured before stretching. The slab is then tossed from side to side until Eddie is satisfied with its surface and reduced thickness. These slabs then become the sides and other elements of his dramatic handbuilt pots.

 

 

Eddie Curtis making a slabbed jar. Uniform thickness is obtained by wire-cutting the inverted slab, this preserves the dramatic textured surface. Photos: courtesy of the artist.

Eddie Curtis making a slabbed jar. Uniform thickness is obtained by wire-cutting the inverted slab, this preserves the dramatic textured surface. Photos: courtesy of the artist.

A thrown bowl creates the base of this slab jar.

A thrown bowl creates the base of this slab jar.

Clever use of a soft coil applied to a leatherhard rim allows the pot to be inverted on the wheel for trimming.

Clever use of a soft coil applied to a leatherhard rim allows the pot to be inverted on the wheel for trimming.


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Be sure to download your free copy of the Slab Roller Techniques and Tips: A Guide to Selecting a Slab Roller and Making Slab Pottery. This handy studio reference includes valuable technical references to help you use your slab roller to it’s greatest potential!

Comments
  • Jacqueline M.

    When you say “throwing from side to side”, do you mean picking up a side and throwing it down (far end hitting first) and then moving to another side and throwing it down?

  • Subscriber T.

    A video of the throwing technique would really be helpful. Some of us are visual learners!

  • Kenneth K.

    When I do this, I throw the slab in a diagonal direction rather than straight down. The “back” end of the slab should hit the table first so the front end can slide and stretch. If I want the slab to be both wider and longer I rotate the slab 90 degrees between throws.

  • i am working the same way as Anonymous, whoever you are. i first make a random pattern on the rather thick slab for that, i use a fork or a comb to draw lines. after each throw the lines open and make a great pattern. I use this method mainly when i made Baku fired vessels. this firing method compliments the uneven rough curves caused by the throwing.

  • Great technique, love doing it too… and what a great red glaze, anyway of getting the recipe? Joanne Leclerc

  • I agree – a video would be great – best way to learn is to see and hear

  • I know this slab stretching method as “skittering” . Because of the configuration of my work space I am able to fling my slab out in front of me instead of side to side. I find I get an easier and more even swing of the slab. I still have the far end of the slab hit the table first so that friction helps the slab stretch out. When describing skittering to students I have often likened it to shaking out a rug and dropping it as you swing it back toward yourself. If your intention is to stretch a slab and not to preserve a texture, you might flip the slab over end to end from time to time to help even the slab. And turning your slab 1/4 turn will allow you to stretch it into a more rounded or wider shape.
    Toby Rosenberg

  • Dr. David S.

    No matter how many words are used it won’t become clear to me until I see it. You know what they say about a picture and a thousand words. I am looking forward to the video being available.

  • Barbara R.

    For you visual learners, there is an older video of this technique at /pottery-making-techniques/handbuilding-techniques/how-to-make-a-handbuilt-textured-ceramic-hors-doeuvres-tray-using-just-your-hands-a-lump-of-clay-a-spring-and-a-sponge/

  • Richard W.

    Katie and Joanne, the red glaze appears to be a regular copper red glaze fired in a reduction (gas) kiln. I don’t know if there is anything like it that can be achieved in oxidation in an electric kiln. The form of that jar is beautiful and the copper red glaze with the black wash rim really sets that piece on top.

  • thanks. could it be tom colmans vagus red?

  • Mary C C.

    Love the idea of stretching the clay to get more abstract figerative pieces but seeing it demonstrated would be great!

  • Barbara M W.

    I do this flinging thing onto a very textured old piece of wood, an old railway sleeper actually. And only use the sleeper for the final fling! Then I drape it over a variety of supports. These become the form ononto which I adhere fish shells birds etc ( made of clay) for wall plaques. OXidised and rubbed back sparingingly adds depth to the sculpture. Also these slabs are great for constructing ‘humanist’ forms careful not to touch teh outside when constructing.

  • Richard W.

    A “railway sleeper” in the UK is the same thing as a “railroad tie” in the US.

  • I am having problems with flat rolled out signs, cracking, mostly in high fire oxided firing and two recently cracking in the biscuit. Cracks appearing from the edge in towards the middle about 2″. Some signs have extruded borders attached. I cannot understand why this is happening, has not always done this. Is it possible that a draft into the gas kiln via the port hole is getting in? At top temp, 1280 I turn the gas off then turn the gas regulator off. There is a gap in the window next to the back of the kiln. Any suggestions would be great.

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