Used indoors or out, candle lanterns and votives offer soft light and protect the flame from breezes. My lantern design is a twist on the old-school paper lantern project—some of you may remember those! The lighthouse lantern has four parts. Its base is a separate piece, and the candle is set on the base with the lantern top placed over it.
Making a sturdy, multi-use template is essential to many handbuilding projects. I cut my templates out of tag board or old file folders using the following dimensions:
Lighthouse Lantern = 3 paper templates (1)
Body: 101⁄8×8-inch rectangle
Base: 4 inch-diameter circle
Top: 4 inch-diameter circle with a wedge cut out of it
1 strip of clay that is ¼ inch wide × 15 inches long, no template needed
Prepare the Slabs
Begin by rolling a slab of soft clay 3⁄16–¼ inch thick and roughly 15×9 inches. Use a firm rib to compress the clay on both sides. The goal is to compact the clay, not stretch it. If it starts to stretch or you’re leaving significant marks in the clay, you’re pressing too hard.
Cut the Parts
With the tag-board templates placed on the compressed slab, cut out the shapes with a sharp knife. There are three clay pieces made from the templates, plus the ¼-inch wide strip for the flange for the base of the lighthouse lantern.
With your finger, compress all the cut edges of each piece of clay. Flip each piece of clay over and repeat this process. Compressing the cut edges heals micro tears created when cutting the clay that can lead to cracks later. Wrap the flange strip in plastic and set it aside.
Form the Body
Place the rectangular clay piece with its long side horizontal to you. Use a 1⁄8–¼-inch-diameter dowel to gently compress the clay, creating a line just above and below where you want to cut slits in the clay later (2). This is a crack prevention step to keep the cut slits from continuing farther into the lantern body. Be careful to apply less pressure at the edges of the clay slab than in the middle. Then, if you care to decorate the lantern body with textures or impressions, make these above and below the two impressed lines you created with the dowel (3).
Place a 1-inch dowel against the short end of the rectangular slab and roll it over ¼ inch of the clay edge to create a 45° angle. Carefully flip the rectangle over and repeat this on the other edge to create two complementary beveled edges that will form a strong and stretchable seam. Score both bevels.
Roll one layer of paper towel or newspaper around the exterior of a cardboard tube that’s 3 inches in diameter and at least 8 inches in length, then roll the rectangular clay piece around the tube (4). Note: The long edge of the rectangle goes around the tube. Stand the tube with clay wrapped around it upright. Put slip on the scored, beveled edges, score them, then tack and seal the seam together tightly (5). The cardboard tube creates resistance so you can make a tight seam. Slip the cardboard tube out of the clay cylinder. Gently remove the paper towel from the inside of the cylinder. Use the rounded side of the wooden spoon to gently compress the seam inside the cylinder. Set the clay cylinder aside. Don’t let it get leather hard. You want it to be quite pliable, but a little firmer than when you made the cylinder.
Create the Top
The circular piece of clay with the wedge cut out will form the conical top of the lantern. Use a ¼–½-inch-diameter piece of metal tubing to punch a hole in the center of the circle (6). The punched out circle of clay will have a small section of the cut-out wedge shape in it. Then, using some tubing again, punch a few additional holes of any size in the circle to serve as heat vents (7). With your finger or a small tool, bevel the cut edge in the circle to a 45° angle. Flip the clay piece over, and bevel the complementary edge. Score both beveled edges, add slip, then seal them together to form a cone (8). Set this aside.
Slit and Belly the Body
Set the lantern body on a banding wheel or a piece of paper you can turn easily. Position yourself so that the cylinder is at eye level. This makes cutting much more accurate. Start cutting beside the beveled seam in the cylinder (see 5), placing the knife’s point just below the upper impressed line on the cylinder. Carefully reach the fingers of one hand inside the cylinder to feel that the point of the knife is cutting completely through the clay (9). Repeat this with each slit you cut. Cut straight down (or if you want to get fancy, cut in a curve) to just above the lower impressed line. Make slits around the entire cylinder.
Now place your hand or the back of a wooden spoon inside the cylinder and gently push the slits slightly outward so that they separate. Do this as evenly as possible. If some slits stick together, gently separate them with your knife. Once they’re all separated, place the palm of your hand over the rim of the cylinder. Keeping your palm on the rim and moving your wrist only, rotate light pressure around the rim and the slits will bow and separate farther (10). Continue this until you get the desired shape. Turn the form to make sure the slits are bowed out evenly and adjust as needed. Warning: Add pressure bit by bit because once the clay has bowed out it can only be straightened back a little and if you go too fast or press too hard, it can collapse. Allow the bowed form of the lighthouse lantern to set up.
Create the Base
The lighthouse lantern is open at the bottom. The base is a separate piece. Unwrap the 15-inch clay strip made earlier. This will serve as a flange attached to a slab that will hold the lantern in place and designates the spot in which the candle will be set. Coil the strip into a circle that is smaller than the base, making sure to consider the thickness of the lantern body wall so that it will fit around the flange. The flange should sit at least 3⁄8 inch from the edge of the base to assure the top fits over it easily. Cut the flange to size by making a diagonal cut through the coiled clay. Remove the extra pieces of the clay strip, score, slip the diagonally cut edges of the flange, and join them. Score the bottom side of this circle and adhere it to the base (11).
Add the Conical Top and a Final
Once the lantern has set up firmly enough to hold some weight, you can add the top. Take the conical form that you made and score just inside its rim. Also score the rim of the bowed cylinder, add slip, and adhere them together.
Add the final touch to make your lantern unique. Make a decorative finial, then score, slip, and attach it over the center hole in the top (12).
Dry and Fire the Lantern
Dry the lantern on its base slowly. If there are any clay crumbs in the slits, clean them off when the piece is dry or after it’s bisque fired. Lastly, one tip about firing—fire the lantern top on its base. Carefully wax and clean the lower edge of the bowed cylinder, leaving at least ¼ inch glaze free to be sure that glaze won’t run or stick to the base. Leave the base unglazed. To assure the lantern won’t scratch a tabletop, put plastic or cork pads, available at hardware stores on the underside of the base, or use wet/dry sandpaper to sand the bottom after both the bisque and glaze firings.
Marion Angelica is a studio artist and teacher at the Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. To see more of her work, visit www.marionangelica.com.
Subscriber Extras: Archive Article and Images
Click here to read Soft-Slab Flower Basket by Marion Angelica, which originally appeared in the November/December 2012 issue of Pottery Making Illustrated.