Cutting and Layering Clay Slabs to Create Organic Texture

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Jeremy Wallace used to throw and carve his textured pots, but he discovered that slab building them in layers gave him a more organic quality, which was the look he was after.

In today’s post, an excerpt from the April 2016 Ceramics Monthly, Jeremy shares how he makes a textured slab-built cylinder. It’s a great slab clay project that could be turned into a mug, a vase, a jar or any other vessel you can dream up! – Jennifer Harnetty, editor


 Slab Building with Layers

by Jeremy Wallace

For as long as I have been making pots, I have been interested in creating vessels with multiple components. The potter’s wheel was my introduction to clay, and most of my early works were wheel thrown and altered. My decision to start handbuilding exclusively was the result of both a natural progression from throwing and altering as well as my desire to incorporate more surface texture in my work. As this texture was originally influenced by the way clay stretches, cracks, and tears along the edges of a freshly rolled slab, the transition to slab construction came naturally to me. Handbuilding with slabs allows me more opportunities to experiment with form and work with various processes. New forms and adjustments in the scale and proportion of classic vessels have evolved from keeping a regular studio practice and my desire to constantly revise and make better functional pots.


Not only can you read all the great articles from the April issue of Ceramics Monthly, but you can also access ALL back issues from the 63 years CM has been in print in the online archive. All access also includes a fully optimized HTML web version that looks great on a phone, the Ceramics Monthly Tablet Edition (in the App Store and Google Play), and the beautiful Print Edition that we all know and love! All this for just $49.97! ($104.93 when purchased separately).


Preparing the Slabs

To make the tea jar, I begin by rolling out two slabs measuring about 15 inches square and ³⁄8-inch thick. Then, using three templates made from tar paper, I roughly cut out all ten slab components (1). The large rectangular template, measuring 7×9½ inches, is used to cut the four slabs for the sides of the body of the jar. The long, narrow template (2×9 inches), is used to cut two slabs that join the two sides of the body together. The four slabs cut from the third template (6 inches square), make the base, feet, and lid of the jar. After the slabs have been cut, they are compressed on both sides with a wooden rib. This compression removes any canvas texture left from the slab roller, ensures sturdy construction and reduces cracking during drying and firing.

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 Texturing and Constructing the Body

To construct the body of the tea jar, I begin by adjusting the thickness of the four large rectangular slabs with a rolling pin. The goal is to end up with two slabs that are about ¼ inch thick to form an inner layer and two outer slabs, about 1⁄8 inch thick, which will be attached to the inner slabs. These outer slabs are textured by cutting and tearing away negative shapes using a wooden rib (2). Special consideration is given to the variation of the sizes and shapes of the marks as well as their directions. It is important to keep in mind how these marks guide the viewer’s eye when observing the piece. For example, for more upright forms I prefer longer, vertical marks to shorter, horizontal ones. When I am happy with the composition of the texture, I join the slabs by misting them with a spray bottle while they are still soft and laying the textured outer slab atop the plain inner one (3). The two slabs are then compressed using a pony roller and cut to a more accurate size with the large rectangular tar-paper template (4). Once I have repeated this process with the other two rectangular slabs and they have stiffened up to soft leather hard, I shape and compress them using a square bisque mold (made from a bottomless cylinder thrown on the wheel and squared off) and a pony roller (5).

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These two side components are slipped, scored, and joined securely down the middle with the two narrow slabs, and are then compressed using the pony roller and the bisque mold (6). The top of the vessel is trimmed evenly with a knife, and one of the three square slabs is marked off, attached, and compressed to form the bottom of the pot (7).

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