As a pottery teacher, I’m always on the lookout for simple, cheap, and readily available items for my students to use as molds when handbuilding. Styrofoam balls have been a favorite of mine lately; they are versatile and can be easily cut to create a variety of altered shapes. My students are always asking for new projects they can make that can be used in the kitchen or to be given as gifts, so I began experimenting with Styrofoam to see what was possible. These fun salt and pepper shakers are the results of one of my experiments.
To prepare the Styrofoam balls for use as hump molds for the salt and pepper shakers, you need two 3-inch diameter Styrofoam balls, a serrated knife, and sandpaper. You’re welcome to use whatever size of Styrofoam ball that you like. If you’re using something relatively large, like the 3-inch diameter ball, you need to cut it to reduce the volume of the form, so the finished shakers won’t bee too large. This is an opportunity to create a flat plane to contrast the curved form. Lay down a trash bag to catch all the shavings, then use a serrated knife to slice away sections until the flat surface measures 2½ inches across. Caution: Use a respirator to avoid inhaling the Styrofoam shavings.
To make a template for the salt and pepper shaker base, you’ll need a pencil, paper, a ruler, and scissors. Place the flat sides of the Styrofoam balls side by side on a sheet of paper so that there is a ½-inch gap between them. Add ½ inch around the outline of the two ball halves to form an oval shape. Mark it with a pencil line (1) and cut it out with scissors.
1 Place Styrofoam balls on paper a ½ inch apart. Trace the perimeter. Cut out the resulting template.
2 To create the shaker body, drape a clay slab over one of the plastic wrapped Styrofoam balls.
3 Use a needle tool or sharp knife to trim the excess clay from the bottom edge of the Styrofoam ball.
4 Cut remaining clay from the bottom edge so it’s flush with the ball. Add a coil to any thin edges. Remove the Styrofoam ball.
Shaker Body Construction
Roll out a slab, compress it with a rib, then cut out a 7-inch square. Cover the rounded side of the Styrofoam ball with a small piece of plastic wrap. Place the wrapped ball flat-side down on top of a small kiln stilt. Place the ball and stilt on a banding wheel, then lay the slab over top of the Styrofoam (2). Mold the clay down over the curved ball. With your needle tool, trim the excess clay from around the perimeter of the Styrofoam ball, making sure that you don’t trim above the base of the Styrofoam (3, 4). Lift the clay form up and soften the edges of the rim. Take the ball and plastic wrap out and let it stiffen to leather hard. Repeat this process for the body of the second shaker.
To close up the body of the shakers, roll out and rib a slab that is ¼-inch-thick and about 3 inches in diameter. To aid the slab in drying flat, place the slab on a bat or piece of drywall, place a second bat on top of the slab, place a weight on top of the bat, and allow it to stiffen up to leather hard.
Uncover the leather-hard slab and place it on the banding wheel. Center the rounded clay form on top of the slab and lightly mark where the edges touch (5). Score both the rim of the body and marked areas on the slab, add slip, then join the two pieces together. Trim the slab to the edges of the curved body and seal the join (see 6). Turn the piece over and soften the edges.
5 Trace the shape of the base onto a slab, then score, add slip, and attach the shaker body to the slab to close the form.
6 Repeat these steps to make the second shaker. At this stage, make sure the shakers are the same height.
7 Make a foot by shaping a rectangular slab into a cylinder and attaching the ends. Attach the foot to the shaker body.
8 Use the wider end of a tapered cork to measure the size needed for the salt/pepper insertion hole.
Fill and Shaker Holes
The fill-hole size depends on the cork or stopper you plan to use. I use a tapered cork. Decide where to put the fill hole. Use the wide part of the cork or stopper as your template for the hole (8). As the clay shrinks in the kiln, the cork will fit perfectly. Mark the cork on the shaker body, cut the hole, and soften the edge.
Place the smaller shaker holes opposite the fill hole. If you’re planning to use regular table salt and pepper, make three holes just a little bigger than the tip of a needle tool. If you’re using bigger salt and pepper flakes, adjust your holes to be slightly larger (9). Cover the shakers with plastic so they dry slowly.
9 Opposite the insertion hole, make three exit holes. They should be a little larger than the thickness of the needle tool.
10 For the shaker tray, roll out at least a ¾-inch slab. Place the base template on top of the slab and cut it out.
11 Space and center the shakers on the slab. Trace around the salt and pepper shaker feet, then remove the shakers.
12 Use carving tools to cut excess clay from the foot holes so the shakers easily fit into them.
Constructing an Elevated Base
Roll out a ¾-inch-thick slab and compress it with a rib. Place the slab on a ware board or bat. Place the oval paper template on top of the slab and cut out the shape (10). Use a wet finger to soften the edges of the oval. Place another bat or ware board over the top of the base and put a weight on the top. Let this dry until it reaches leather hard.
When the slab base is leather hard, center the salt and pepper shakers, foot-side down on top of the slab base. Make sure there is room between the shakers so your hands have room to pick it up. Mark where the slots will be carved (11). When you carve, be sure you make the circular mark slightly larger than the foot for easier placement of the shakers. I prefer using the Zebra (CI Products) carving tools (12). I use a combination of the U-tip and V-tip carver to get the vast amount of material dug out. I then use a square-tip carver to achieve the flat surface for the foot of the shakers to sit on. Carve the slots about ¼–½ inch deep, depending on your preference. Soften the edges of the slots using your fingertips or a rubber tipped modeling tool.
After carving, place the shakers into the slots and make sure they fit snugly, but not tightly. Let the shakers and the base dry together. Bisque fire them together when completely dry.
Notes on Decorating
The overall goal when decorating my functional pieces is to create a tribute to parenthood. Typically, I gravitate to the images of adult birds, baby birds, bees, flora, and sometimes I include a man-made object. The parent birds are hand drawn and shaded more maturely and completely. The baby birds are drawn more crudely like the images in a child’s coloring book and colored in with various colored glazes. The bees are drawn with a bit of whimsy, adding a dimension of imagery related to reproduction, fertility, and even utility. The flora is a reminder of the nature around us. At times I choose flowers with specific symbolism attached to them such as poppies to represent peace or sleep. The man-made objects are symbols that the world is larger than just our families.
These salt and pepper shakers, with their flat tops, lend themselves to a wide variety of surface decoration and glazing opportunities. Have fun!
Ann Ruel is a frequent contributor to Pottery Making Illustrated. She has her own studio, Little Street Pottery, in Suffolk, Virginia, and teaches pottery for the City of Norfolk. She has exhibited her pottery in shows and galleries all around the country. For more information visit: http://littlestreetpottery.faso.com, http://artaxis.org/ann-ruel, and www.etsy.com/shop/LittleStreetPottery.