Generating New Ceramic Forms with Slab Pottery Templates


Using templates for slab pottery is a great way to consistently build a form over and over again. But there are more benefits than just that. Andrew Avakian makes templates to help generate new slab built forms. Andrew creates maquettes of possible new pieces using tagboard and then tweaks them until he creates the desired form. Then he builds the piece in clay.

In this post, an excerpt from the May 2017 issue of Ceramics Monthly, Andrew shares how he makes a box that he developed in this way. –Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

PS: Check out the May 2017 issue of Ceramics Monthly to see Andrew finish this form and learn how he refines his surfaces and adds color to the piece.

Using Templates for Slab Pottery as an Idea Generator

The Process: Slab Prep

The template for a box is relatively simple because the sides have no curvature. I like to make the top of the box larger than the bottom so that the sides gently slope downward at a slight angle. I start by deciding the proportions (H × W × D) of the top and bottom of the box and draw the template for the sides to match (1).


1 Measure and cut thick paper templates.

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Assembling the Form

I assemble the slabs to form the bottom and sides of the box using slip (2), and rib the joints together on the outside of the box using a serrated rib (3). Next, I add coils to the joints on the inside of the box and smooth the coils using my finger and water. I place the slab that will become the lid onto the walls of the box and rib it into the form, smoothing and rounding it to create a domed lid (4). I allow the lid to set up, wrapped in plastic, overnight or until it holds its convex shape when flipped over (see 5).


2 Add slip to the scored edges, then begin to assemble the box.


3 Use a serrated rib, and press the joints together so they are secure.


4 With the main form of the box created, begin to shape the lid.


5 After the lid has slumped slightly in the box and firmed up enough to hold its shape, flip it over and attach it to the box form.

Next, I take the lid off the box, lay it on a piece of foam, and score the edges. I flip the lid over and attach it to the top of the walls (5) with slip and rib the sides of the lid to round them into the body of the box. If needed, I add a coil to fill in any gaps between the lid and sides (6). I blend the coil into the surface, then texture the entire surface with a serrated rib. I blend the coil into the surface, then texture the entire surface with a serrated rib (7).


6 To retain a smooth connection between the lid and the box form, add a coil to the seam.


7 Blend the coil into the box.

Cutting the Lid

Now I can decide on the size of the lid and make a template out of tag board to help draw a straight line around the box. I use a sharp knife to make a 45° incision into the box along the line. Using a banding wheel, and keeping the angle of the knife consistent, I follow the line until the top is separated from the bottom (8). I flip the lid upside down onto a piece of foam, and roll out a coil to finish the joint inside the lid (9). Next, I use a serrated tool to refine the newly cut edges of the lid and box. I use newspaper to keep the lid and box from sticking together and leave the lid on the box until bone dry.


8 Now that the surface of the box has been created, trace a line for the lid with a template.


9 Take the newly separated lid off of the box and add a coil to the joint inside the lid.
  • Love this box. I am a beginner and am going to try it. How thick do you think the clay slab is? And is the clay terracotta?

  • I see many American potters referring to using tar paper as reuseable template material. Does anyone know if I can get tar paper in Australia? or is there a preferred alternative to tar paper ……what makes tar paper ideal for this purpose?

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