Perfect Perforations: Drawing Inspiration from the Landscape to Make Slab-Built Ceramic Sculpture

It is no wonder that the natural landscape is a big influence on ceramic artist Elaine Parks. Living in Tuscarora, Nevada, population thirteen, it would be hard not to be supremely influenced and connected to one’s surroundings. In her latest body of work, Elaine has been experimenting with puncturing clay slabs as a nod to the shapes she sees in the landscape around her, from pores in a rock to scar holes from mining, which are prevalent in the area. Today, she shares her slab building process and how she has perfected her perforations. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor

Left: Detail of a punctured, shaped and assembled slab-built earthenware sculpture by Elaine Parks.

“I’m trying to recreate the feeling I get from being in the landscape.”
– Elaine Parks
The Process

1. I start by rolling out two or more slabs between 1/4 and 3/4 of an inch thick on a canvas-covered board.

2. Since I’m making tall forms, I cut out long, narrow rectangles for the cylinder wall.

3. I flip them onto a thick piece of foam.

4. I poke holes into the inside surface using either my finger or a small wooden tool, depending on what size hole I’m looking for. Sometimes, I draw on the front surface with a pencil while the slab is still on the canvas board, then transfer the slab to the foam and push out around the drawn lines.

5. I bend the individual pieces around forms, so they will set up in a curve. I usually use rolled towels and cardboard tubes from rolls of newsprint.

6. After the pieces get to a soft-leather-hard stage, I stand them upright and join them together. I don’t let them get too set up, because I want them to be soft enough to push from the inside when the piece is together. Sometimes this part is a little tricky, getting the cylinder to stand up and get it joined while it’s a bit soft, but I can get a more organic result this way. The curve of the individual piece is helpful. At this stage, I wish I had three hands.

7. To finish, I push the seams together to get them joined well, then I push out and in to get the texture how I want it.

8. After it sets up to firm leather hard, I lay the form on its side on the foam and beef up the seams with coils.

9. Last, I add the foot, which is quite thick. I do this when the
form is upright first. When the foot sets up enough, I put it back on
the foam and push the middle up to form a foot ring. There’s a little
back and forth – upright and laying on the foam – to finish the foot.

10. I dry the piece very slowly and then fire to cone 04.

11. I glaze using a combination of studio-mixed and commercial
low-fire glazes. Some are painted on, and some are layered using a
mouth sprayer. The sprayed-on glazes are mostly layers of very matt

12. Last, I fire again to cone 06.

For great low fire glaze recipes, don’t miss 33 Tried and True Glaze Recipes, one of our free downloadable studio resources. It’s a must for your ceramics decorating arsenal!



  • Ginny C.

    Wow! Very clear, helpful explanations, Elaine. I just found this after googling you when I saw your pot on the download today from CAD. Did nobody really respond to this when it appeared back in 2008? Well, belated congratulations.
    Ginny Clark

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