Topic: Articles

Hand-Crafted Cuisine

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Above and below: Blue Babe bowls, stoneware, terra sigillata, underglaze, washes, glaze, fired to cone 5, 2015. Photos: Lydia Bungart-Morrison.

 

I began cooking around age eight, when my mother started a job that required her to work second and third shifts. It was during this time that I started experimenting with food. My family emigrated from Turkey to the US several years before I was born. I grew up immersed in traditional Turkish cuisine. My father is a woodworker, so when I was not learning about food and cooking, I was in his woodshop comparing the rough-hewn wood to the geometry, texture, and functionality of his highly crafted and designed cabinetry.

Once I moved out of my parents’ house I began to cook even more. My meals ran the gamut from steamed mussels with a cilantro butter dipping sauce, to the typical college staple of Easy Mac with an added zing of garlic, hot sauce, and broccoli. My eyes were opened to a new language once I incorporated handmade pots with these meals. Each dish, snack, or condiment could have its own specific pot.


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My stacked bowl forms began while I was studying ceramics at Northern Kentucky University. I’ve always been interested in soft curves in form, but I began tweaking them with the addition of harsh angles and lines. Using handmade bisque molds, I work within the constraints of an oval form. This makes a clean undulation on the rim of the pot, which, depending on the angle, can help retain warmth while also showing off the food.


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1 Pound out the clay into a slab then roll it out to ¼ inch thickness.


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2 Trace and cut the slab to fit a bowl-shaped slump mold.


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3 Use a rib to compress the slab into the mold. Mark the half-way point on the slab and trace an oval from point to point.


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4 Apply a small amount of water to the rim, then add a coil to the edge, leaving a bit of the slab overhanging.

Begin with the Base

Begin with a 2-pound rectangular piece of clay. I roll out my slabs using a tip I learned from Jerilyn Virden. She takes two pinch pots, attaches them together to create a smooth, hollow sphere, then fires it to vitrification. Then she uses this sphere to pound out her clay into different formations, rather than using her fist, which can lead to pain in your hands and wrists (see figure 1). Once the slab is about ¾ inch thick, use a rolling pin to smooth away the texture and thin to ¼ inch thick.

Cut the slab using a needle tool or an X-Acto blade held against the rim of a bowl-shaped bisque mold as a guide (1). Place the slab into your bisque mold, using it as a slump mold and begin to work the clay into the bottom using a flexible rib. Once the slab conforms to the interior of the mold, compress the clay. Using a straight edge, mark the halfway point within the mold (2). Draw a curved line from point to point on each side to make an oval.

Note: I use these two points to mark out the ovaled base of the bowl. I don’t like to use templates for this because each time I make them, I’m able to create somewhat different sets of these stacking bowls that have their own personality and flair.

Add Walls and an Angled Rim

Cut away the excess slab from the traced oval and attach a coil around the edge. Leave an 1⁄8-inch overhang of the slab where you attach the coil (3). Note: I don’t score and slip before attaching the coil to the slab because both pieces of clay are still wet.

Compress the interior edges of the coil into the slab. Using a metal rib, bring up the excess slab overhang into the coil. Keeping your hands and fingers at an angle toward the interior of the bowl, pinch the walls up until they are ¼ inch thick. Trim the pinched rim with a needle tool or an X-Acto knife, but keep the undulation created by the oval. When cutting the rim, angle your tool so that you create a beveled edge (4). Let the bowl set up to leather hard.

Use your fingers to clean up the rim to remove any sharp edges (5). At this point you can remove the bowl from the mold and smooth out the exterior edge where the coil was attached to the slab, as this can also be sharp.


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5 Compress the interior of the coil into the slab and trim the rim at a bevel.


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6 Smooth out any sharp edges on the bowl’s interior and exterior.


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7 Apply white slip to the interior, and terra sigillata and underglazes to the exterior.

Finishing Surfaces

Apply a thick, white slip to the interior of the bowl when it’s at a late leather-hard stage. I like to create intentional directional brush marks with the slip, this will be visible after the next step. The brush marks will add rough-hewn texture as the terra sigillata layer is added.
Once the bowl is bone dry, apply various colored terra sigillatas to the exterior (6). To add pops of color, I use AMACO’s Velvet underglazes on top of the terra sigillata. Bisque fire to cone 08.

Next, brush on food-safe liner glazes, then brush a soda ash/borax wash on top of the terra sigillata. The wash fluxes slightly on top of the terra sigillata and adds subtle variation in surface. I use a ratio of 1 part soda ash, 1 part borax, and 7 parts water (by volume). Boil your water and add the soda ash and borax to fully dissolve the raw materials. Fire once more to cone 5.


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Tip: To create a series of stacking bowls, make additional molds, starting with your original slump mold as a base or model. This gives you several different sized molds that all stack.

Didem Mert is currently in her second year in Edinboro University’s MFA program. She received her BFA from Northern Kentucky University in 2014 and was included in Ceramics Monthly’s 2014 Undergraduate Showcase. Check out more of her work at www.didemmert.com.

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