Designing With Texture: Using Textured Plaster Slabs to Incorporate Surface Detail into Pottery in the Design Stage

To many of us, surface texture is an afterthought. We throw or handbuild our pottery and then stamp, scratch or carve texture into the surface. And while we have an idea of how we would like the texture to work with our pot’s design, the two parts of the process (design/construction and surface decoration/finishing techniques) are often separate.

Today potter Dan Gegen explains how he begins working with texture before the construction process even begins, and therefore makes it integral to the design of the pot. He also shares the glaze recipe for the lovely celadon-esque glaze featured on the pot to the left. As Dan explains, all sorts of fun things can happen when you design with texture! Take it away Dan! – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

One of the greatest challenges for a potter who decorates their work is finding an image or texture that fits the form of the pot. For the past thirteen years, I’ve taught my students to use texture as a design tool. Recently, I started using textured plaster slabs as a way to apply decorative surfaces directly to the clay before the construction process begins. Interesting things happen when the textured surface is manipulated into a vessel form. Textures can overlap one another to create contrast or add visual tension. The result is similar to the way patterned fabric looks when it is made into clothing, except that I am more interested in how the patterns don’t line up on the seams. Often I push the slabs out from the inside of the vessel to create volume, which softens and distorts the surface texture as well.

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Begin by flattening and rolling your clay using a rolling pin and wooden slats or dowels to create an even thickness. I used 1/4 inch-thick slats for this project. Flip the clay over repeatedly after each rolling so it doesn’t stick to the canvas.

Use a template cut from card stock to cut out two hourglass silhouette shapes. Use heavyweight paper so that you can save and reuse your patterns.

Tip: To create symmetrical templates, fold the paper in half and cut out the shape.

Place one of the hourglass shapes on a textured plaster slab and tamp into place. Use a rolling pin to press the clay firmly onto the texture, and bevel the edges using a pony roller. Repeat this step using a contrasting texture for the other half of the vase.

Lay the textured clay shapes onto a rolling pin. Gently start forming the curve of the oval vase. Let stiffen until the two halves can stand on their own.

Stand the two halves up and score the inside surfaces using slip to join them together. The seams can fall on the sides of the pot, but I place the seam in the middle of the form to create an emphasis on the two different textures. Gently press the two halves together, slightly overlapping, taking care not to distort the texture. Blend the seams on the inside, but leave the external seams visible if you want the viewer to see that the vase was constructed by hand from slabs.

Attach a slab bottom (texture also could be applied to the bottom slab). Cut the bottom slab 1/8 inch larger than the vase. Bevel the bottom and top edges to give a more finished look.

Create the looped handles by rolling out a 3/8 inch-thick coil of clay. Lay the coil in between two soft cloths.

Flatten the coil between the cloths using the ridge in your palm. The cloth will soften the edges and help create a half-rounded effect to the handle.

Use a sponge to moisten the clay so that it can be bent without cracking.

Cut the handles to the desired length and fold the ends toward each other creating a loop.

Attach the handles by pressing in on the base of the loop while supporting from the inside.

Carefully soften any rough edges with a damp sponge. Cover the finished form with plastic and let it dry slowly to ensure that the seams stay together.

Weiser Blue Cone 10
Barium Carbonate 4.6%
Colemanite 11.9%
Whiting 7.8%
Frit 3110 2.7%
F-4 Spar 36.5%
Grolleg 3.7%
Flint 31.9%
Tin 0.9%
Total 100%
Barnard 2.3%
Bentonite 2.0%

To learn more about Dan Gegen and see more images of his work, visit

**First published in 2011.

    Am sitting here with my hand in plaster, after 40 yrs of wheel work. Hopefully will be back on wheel in 2 months. Can’t wait to attempt
    this project and share with my students Meanwhile will make the plaster slabs. Dee – South Africa

  • Ella M.

    So nice! And looks easy. I recently damaged a vase made of slabs. Because there were 6 slabs and when I tried to connect them they collapsed…

  • Gloria N.

    As a potter who works with leaf textures I was shown a way to always have leaves even in dead of winter. Lowe’s Home Improvements or any hardware store carries Plasti Dip. It was intended for the handles of screw drivers and such to be able to hold on better when gripping. Press your leaf or design in clay that has been slab rolled and set for half hour or more. Roll impression into clay leave for half hour to hour, remove and then paint the impression with nummerous coats of Plasti Dip. Make sure you have enough coats to fill depressions. Let dry at least 3 to 4 hours remove and wash off. You will have a very durable and longlasting rubber texture or shape mold to use especially with hand building.

  • Jo-anne F.

    Thanks for the great discussion on this – deceptively simple and yet opens up the opportunity for unlimited complexity.

    What’s OM4?

  • Love this project! Thank you! Can’t wait to try it!


  • Daniel G.

    Thanks for all of the possitive responses! Now to answer a few questions. The work was fired in reduction to cone 10. I am currently looking for cone 5 glazes and will try the one that was posted above. I created the original textures in plaster. The textures can now be purchased through a few different clay suppliers. I have had some luck creating these forms in porcelain but I do slow the drying down quite a bit. My students love doing the textured slab projects and they are very excited with their results.

  • Katrina L.

    Hey Dan
    Love the process thanks. Not too sure of Ed.
    Always someone ready to spoil a good thing.

  • Janet R.

    So many things to try, so little time , but what fun having clear instructions to follow even for a beginner.
    The only problem I see is in the the design of the very delicate looping handles that could be knocked off in use.

    Thanks Dan

  • Alexandra P.

    Christy–I have a fake celadon for cone 6 oxidation, and it should be fine at cone 5 as well. It’s called Chun Clear, and I got it out of The Ceramic Glaze Handbook by Burleson.

    F4 feldspar 38
    Whiting 14
    Zinc Oxide 12
    OM4 6
    Silica 30
    Copper Carb 2 for fake celadon

  • I absolutely loved this posting and am going to do it asap. Thanks.

  • Subscriber T.

    it works with porcelain very well, just get the dryness right as it wants to crack. Lovely process!
    Su in Hampshire, England

  • Christy V.

    Great process and information on how to do it. I have the same question posted by another…is that glaze reduction or oxidation? I am looking for a nice very light green celadon glaze that can be fired to cone 5 in oxidation. Thanks

  • Genevieve N.

    To Ed up above
    Why is it byzarre to quote Colemenite in a glaze recipe ? I can still buy it easily where I live (Japan) or in UK and Australia. What is wrong with it ? I guess quoting Gerstley Borate might me more bizarre, but I even ordered a 50 plbs bag of it from America the other day without any problem. Some people still produce it or stock it. Apparently.
    Please be so kind as to explain your comment. Thanks.
    PS. To me it’s more bizarre to see Barium carbonate ( a very dangerous material) being used frequently in all the recipes given online, here and other places.

  • Cecilia F.

    Will this recipe be the same if Strontium is substituted for the Barium?

  • good article,lots of good ideas.I will try this project and will use the rolling pin for forming the pieces.

  • Beautiful! My students are going to love this project!

  • Nancy F.

    Do you fire in oxidation or reduction atmosphere, and to what temperature?

  • Robin M.

    Wonderful project, clear, concise instructions! Thanks for posting!

  • Scott M.

    Do you make the textured plaster slab or buy it???

  • Try using a plastic table cloth for the template. They don’t tear and they last a long time.Dollar store table cloths are thin and very handy.

  • Mariam C.

    What a wonderful idea – I cannot wait to try it – I wonder if it will work just as well using porcelain?

    Mariam Cullum, Suffolk, England

  • So bizarre to see a recipe published today listing Colemanite. The article is great otherwise!

  • This is a great post. I am going to try this with my students. We have use a variety of techinques to add texture but I really liked the template idea. Thanks.

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