Clay Sketches and Templates: Methods for Transforming Ideas into Objects


summerfield_largeI’ve been great admirer of Liz Zlot Summerfield’s work since I first saw it a few years back. Perhaps it’s because she draws her inspiration from shapes of vintage aprons, round barns, antique kitchen appliances, breadboxes and other old things (which I have confessed to being a big fan of in this very blog). I also identify with her philosophy on function – that an object doesn’t have to be utilitarian in the strictest sense of the word to function.


I was excited to learn that in the upcoming April issue of Ceramics Monthly there is a full-length feature article, which discusses this philosophy in detail (and has lots of pics of her gorgeous pots!). Today, we’ll give you a sneak peek of the work you can expect to see in the article and share a little bit of Liz’s handbuilding process. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.



“Function is not just making something that pours. I believe a pot is ‘functioning’ even if it is completely empty sitting on a shelf next to other objects. Collecting things in a space that doesn’t demand use of the objects lets them function in an emotional sense as well.” – Liz Zlot Summerfield



summerfield_01The basic shape of my work originates from simple paper templates (like the one shown at the left). I create my templates from craft paper, file folders or tarpaper depending on their use. Tarpaper will not absorb moisture over time, so it is the best choice for long-term use. My forms are usually bottomless, so this allows me to create any shape I desire. I stretch, cut, and pooch out the clay to create the volume within the pot.


My process starts from a loose drawing of the form that I intend to make. At this point I am thinking about proportions and scale, especially if it is a form specific to function such as a butter dish. Next, I create a clay sketch, working directly from the drawing. This allows me to begin to work through the formal issues before I even start to work on paper. I really take advantage of the clay’s properties, altering the form quickly by pinching or cutting away. The clay sketch is cut flat into one or more pieces, enabling me to trace the form directly onto paper. This tracing becomes my master template. This master usually gets slightly altered after I have made a few pots

This was excerpted from the article “Working Backwards: Liz Zlot Summerfield,”
by Katey Schultz, in the

April 2009 issue of Ceramics Monthly:
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It doesn’t take many templates to create several different forms. I often cut my templates in half or turn them upside down in order to create new forms from my originals. Also, my copy machine has enabled me to alter my templates quickly if I want to keep the same proportions, but change the scale.


To learn more about Liz Zlot Summerfield and see more images of her work, visit


  • Kathy M.

    I never even thought to make a bottomless template piece. This is great info. I am teaching an upcoming adult handbuilding class and will incorporate this technique. It will be a lot of fun. Thanks, Kathy Meuse

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