Just Desserts: Thrown and Altered Pottery as Delicious as the Treats Inside

Desserts are indulgent, sometimes even decadent. Deb’s pedestal-footed dessert boats make it even more delightful.

You might recall a recent CAD video in which Deb Schwartzkopf demonstrated one of her sweet little dessert bowls. In today’s post, an excerpt from the January/February 2012 Pottery Making Illustrated, Deb expands on that demonstration to show some variations on that form.

If you find a little time to experiment, you’ll see that the possibilities are endless with this technique. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor. 

Like the sweet ending to a much enjoyed meal, I chose to top off my residency at Pottery Northwest in Seattle, Washington, with a farewell show featuring serving and individual dishes for dessert. This show, entitled “Just Dessert,” focused on decadence.

During my residency, I worked hard to stretch my form vocabulary and surface options. Tiered profiterole servers, coffee sets, cake stands, cookie jars, and dessert boats came to mind as a concluding challenge. They were forms I had tried, but not polished. While I was working out technical building issues, I also contemplated qualities that would heighten the indulgent nature of serving and savoring delicious desserts.

I came up with a list of desirable features for the dessert dishes. I wanted seductive surfaces, with the exterior bringing to mind crystalline frosting, and the interior contrasting this with a juicy finish. I wanted the forms to feel elevated. A simple pedestal foot gave a simple bowl a sense of lift and regality. Luscious surfaces, lifted, capricious contours, and handles reminiscent of old-fashioned pulled candy signify decadence.

The dessert boats are complex yet still approachable. The techniques used in their construction can be easily transferred for use with other forms. Within the dessert boat form there are three major parts or building blocks: the thrown and altered wall, the trimmed base, and the thrown foot. Changing the proportions of any of the three offers totally different shapes to discover.

Start at the Base

Begin by throwing a one-pound ball of clay to form a shape that resembles a doorknob, with a distinctly undercut base that flares out a bit as it rises and forms a dome (figure 1). Creating this undercut at the start of the throwing process helps me leave less clay at the bottom. This piece will be trimmed to a point and the foot added later, so the less clay at the bottom, the better.

Open the ball of clay, pressing in at an angle to create a cone. Check the distance to the wheel head and try for a bottom thickness of 3/8 of an inch. Once this is set, compress the rim and redefine the undercut at the base. As you pull the walls up, also pull them out at an angle. Leave the rim a bit thicker since it stretches greatly as the diameter widens (figure 2).

Continue angling the walls as you pull and thin them. As a final touch, smooth the interior with a rib, align the corner of the rib with the very center, then support and press the thrown form from underneath, pressing gently into the rib (figure 3). This helps to totally flatten unevenness in the surface and define the slanted wall.

Clean up the foot using a rib and make an undercut groove or line at the bottom for a wire tool to follow. This helps avoid cutting too high into the form. Set the base aside to dry to leather hard before trimming, and prepare the walls while you wait.

See video demonstrations of Deb’s dessert bowl, plus other great forms, in her new DVD Pieces and Patterns: Complex Forms from Handbuilt and Wheel-Thrown Parts, which is available in the Ceramic Arts Daily Shop.


Throwing the Walls

Use sections of a bottomless thrown cylinder for the wall (vertical portion) of the boat. Throw low, wide cylinders for this so that you can create walls for multiple pieces from the same cylinder.

Center a 1-to 2-pound ball of clay and open it all the way to the bat. Next, widen the opening in the clay to three to four inches (figure 4). When doing this, compress with the side of your right hand. My hand starts on the inside, pushing down and out. It then rotates to the top and around to the outside. Meanwhile, my left-hand thumb and index finger compress the clay at the base.

Continue this process of widening the low, bottomless cylinder outward, compressing out from within and then flattening down the wall, and compressing the base to make sure it stays sealed to the bat. Remember that as the wall’s diameter increases the amount of clay available to pull up into a wall decreases. So, the wider the diameter, the shorter your walls will be.

When the diameter is wide enough, pinch the wall up and define the rim (figure 5). A decorative flange can also be created using your fingers or a rib to change the profile of the inside or outside of the wall. I usually throw the wall as wide as I can so that I can get more that one dessert boat wall off of one bat. Once I finish throwing, I run a needle tool under the wall from the inside to separate it from the bat.

Form the Foot

Trim the bottom of the base when the clay is a hard leather hard. All thickness should be trimmed away from the form, leaving only a nickel-sized flat area to attach a coil of clay around (figure 6). There are many variations possible as far as finishing the trimming with added texture or faceting. Figure 7 shows variations on the base before the thrown foot is added.

After the base is trimmed, score just outside the flat area and prepare a doughnut of clay to throw into a foot (figure 8). This is important! When preparing the doughnut, start with a ball of clay (a little smaller than a golf ball) and poke a hole through the center of it. If you use a coil and attach the ends, the attachment will be a weak spot and make it very challenging to throw.

Slip and score the doughnut, then gently place it on the freshly trimmed base. Slowly rotate the wheel and press the clay down. Next, seal the doughnut to the base on the inside and outside with a smooth tool (figure 9).

Note: Compression is essential before starting to throw the foot. Use as little water as possible so as to not weaken the base. I pull the foot ring up and angle it out (figure 10), then slice off any unevenness with a needle tool. After the added foot is finished, the completed base is left to firm up upside-down.

Attaching the Wall

If you’re concerned about symmetry, draw a halfway line across the diameter of the base, bisecting it visually, then decide how you want the walls to move around the form and draw lines where you will cut away from the base. If you want the two sides to mirror each other, cut out one side and use the cut shape as a pattern for the other side.

For an asymmetrical shape, begin with light surface drawings and cut wherever you think the walls would make interesting shapes. I’ve learned that the more the wall moves toward the center of the base, the greater the curve along the top of the rim as the wall dips down towards the center.

I use sections of the thrown cylinder to create an undulating vertical wall (figure 11). This is slipped and scored into place beginning with the larger pieces. After the wall pieces are all attached, compress from the inside defining the seam and smoothing the outside (figure 12).


To create handles, begin with one long, thin pulled handle. Start at the bottom and work your way up as you thin and stretch the clay, rather than trying to have longer pulls that move the whole length. Lay these handle blanks flat and allow them to dry just to the point where you don’t leave fingerprints on them when you touch them, then cut them into small sections. Slip and score each one into place. This technique allows you to make handles for multiple pieces at once.

I sometimes create spiraled handles. When the clay is just dry enough to touch without getting fingerprints; it’s still very flexible and can be formed into a spiral. I start with a looser curling piece, and then tighten it in (figure 13). As I work, I can create a variety of handles for differently shaped forms (figure 14).

Allow the dessert boats to dry slowly before bisque firing. The changing angles and planes of the forms, as well as the desserts that they are intended for, help to define the glazing possibilities.

Deb Schwartzkopf is a studio potter and educator living in Seattle Washington. To see more of her work visit http://debspottery.com.

For more fabulous forming techniques, be sure to download your free copy of Five Great Handbuilding Techniques: Variations on Classic Techniques for Making Contemporary Handbuilt Pottery.

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