A Love Letter to Milk and Cookies
An invitation to participate in the exhibition “Decadence of Display: Ceramics for Dessert” at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, in January 2017 provided a sweet distraction from my production work. When prompted with making tableware fitting of confectionary delights, my insatiable sweet tooth went into a tizzy as I started to mentally catalog my favorite sweet treats. Visions of sugary, satin-glazed cake stands, fancy-footed ice cream boats, and sleek parfait ramekins bounced around in my brain. Then it hit me.
Small, flat, and sweet, cookies are the perfect miniature dessert. With endless varieties, there is a cookie for every mood and motivation. One of the simplest recipes in a baker’s repertoire, cookies are nostalgic: reminiscent of childhood, holidays, and the taste of home. From this stream of thought I asked myself a question, “How can I design a vessel that celebrates and elevates the down-home, unpretentious approach of a cookie into a decadent dessert?” A simple plate just wouldn’t do.
Let Decoration Lead
To create a cookie tray, first prepare a pattern stencil. Tyvek is the perfect material for stencil resist on clay slabs. The synthetic material is waterproof and can be reused. I use a KLIC-N-KUT die cutter to digitally design and print stencils out of Tyvek. Alternatively, an X-Acto knife and cutting mat can be used to cut a design. My patterns are inspired by recurring motifs I observe in my environment. Patterns are all around us. Wallpaper, concrete screens, manhole covers, and security envelopes provide rich source materials reminiscent of the marks people make on the world.
Next, roll out a ¼-inch-thick slab of porcelain measuring 12 inches long by 7½ inches wide. Place the Tyvek stencil on top of the slab and rib the sheet into the surface of the clay, ensuring the sheet is stuck and the edges of cut-out shapes are adhered (1). Paint three layers of underglaze on each shape (I use Amaco underglazes). Alternate colors so that there is a distinct structure to the color placement in the pattern (2). Dry each coat for 10 minutes before adding the next one. Wait 10 minutes after applying the last coat to let it set up then peel up the stencil from one corner to the other (3). Set the printed slab aside for approximately 1 hour until the underglaze is no longer reflective on the surface.
In the meantime, to build a bowl for dunking cookies to accompany the cookie tray, roll out another slab measuring 6 inches square, and center it on the milk-bowl hump mold. Note: I make custom hump molds by pouring #1 Pottery Plaster into thrift store dishes. The milk-bowl hump mold measures 1½×4½×3½ inches. Apply pressure, forming the slab to the curve of the bowl. Use a soft, flexible rubber rib to compress and remove all texture (4). Elevating the mold above the work surface makes it easy to trim the rim evenly by running a blade beneath the edge of the mold. Set the bowl aside until it releases from the mold freely.
When the underglaze on the printed slab is no longer shiny and is dry to the touch, flip the slab upside down on the cookie-tray plaster mold. The tray hump mold measures ½×10¼×3½ inches. Be precise in the placement of the slab on the mold on the first try. Adjusting the orientation can lead to smearing the pattern. Using a printmaking brayer, compress the slab against the mold to contour the form (5). Depending on the moisture saturation of the hump mold, the slab can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours to release from the mold. Carefully monitor the drying process and don’t allow the clay to sit on the plaster too long, as cracking can occur as the tray shrinks around the mold. When the milk bowl separates from the mold, use a Surform to level and round the edges (6).
Next, cut 2 half-moon shaped handles from a slab that is the same thickness as the body of the tray and bowl. Reserve one under plastic for the tray. Bend the second slab handle to fit one of the rounded corners of the milk bowl. Slip the edges of the bowl and the handle with Stinky Linky Joining Slip (made from 50% of my clay body (Laguna WC-617, #16) and 50% white distilled vinegar), then attach the two. Work the seam together to ensure a strong connection (7). Refine the connection line to a seamless finish.
Create a matching handle accent by decorating the interior and exterior of the handle with the same pattern that you put on the tray. Note: For three-dimensional forms, paper sticks better to leather-hard pieces than it does to dry greenware, since it can be stretched or folded slightly to accommodate the form when wet. Tip: Alternative fiber papers like bamboo or sugarcane offer a more complex structure that holds up to saturation. Wet the paper stencils by submerging them in a dish of clean water for a few seconds. Affix the stencils on the interior and exterior curve of the handle, pressing each into place. Give the paper 5 to 10 minutes to dry before applying layers of underglaze to prevent color bleeding. Paint 3 layers of the same color palette (8). Remove the stencils after 5 to 10 minutes. Don’t wait too long to remove the paper. If the underglaze dries to the paper, the design might lift off with the stencil.
Next, place a hand on either side of the cookie tray and mold, flipping the plaster side up. Place the tray flat on the table and lift the plaster mold by holding the exposed edges. Keep the tray flat on the table to decrease the likeliness of warping. Refine the edges with a flexible rubber rib to simultaneously compress and round the edges. Score, slip, and attach the other half-moon handle to the cookie tray (9). Be careful not to smear the underglaze design when refining the seam line.
Cookies Straight Up
Next, add a framework to the tray, creating a cookie rack (similar to a toast rack) to stand several cookies on their side. Extrude colored-clay porcelain coils and cut them to uniform lengths. Immediately form the pieces into arches and let them set up to a little less than leather hard (10). They still need to be flexible because the pressure of attaching them often causes cracks at leather hard. They are thin and therefore fragile. Measure the spacing evenly between the rack pieces, calculating for thickness and quantities of cookies, as well as clay shrinkage. The number and placement of rack pieces can vary on each tray. Dot each connection point on the tray with a dollop of colored-clay casting slip for a strong bond. Attach the arches one by one, keeping each perpendicular to the tray (11). Once constructed (12), cover both pieces in plastic. Dry slowly over at least three days to keep the tray flat.
Adrienne Eliades lives and maintains a studio in Vancouver, Washington. She teaches at Portland Community College and leads workshops around the country. See more of her work online at www.adrienneeliades.com.