Potluck, Party, and Picnic Perfect

 

I cringe when I attend a party or potluck and see a salad that should be kept cold left out without ice or refrigeration. Granted, it can be a little clumsy to arrange a plate of food on top of a platter of ice, and it’s far from elegant to plop a bowl of chicken salad on top of a couple of blue ice packs. That’s why I came up with the potluck/picnic set, which is basically a covered bowl that nestles inside a bowl of ice. When it isn’t needed to serve a cold salad, the covered bowl becomes a casserole dish and the ice bowl can be used as a serving bowl on its own, making this a versatile set that stores easily and looks nice on the buffet table.

My potluck/picnic set consists of three pieces: the ice bowl, the food bowl, and a lid. The lid is optional, but it’s nice to have when it’s really warm out, there are bugs swarming around, or you have to transport the food. Begin by weighing out three lumps of clay: 3 pounds, 2½ pounds, and 2 pounds.

1 Center and flatten 3 pounds of clay into a disk. Open the center to a thickness of about ¼ inch.

2 Pull up slightly rounded walls, smooth and compress the floor, inside, and outside of the walls. Smooth the rim.

3 Measure the inside diameter of the rim with calipers and use a ruler to measure the depth of the bowl.

 

Ice Bowl

Start with the 3-pound piece, and throw a flat-bottomed bowl that’s about 9 inches wide, 3 inches deep, and ¾ inch thick to form the ice bowl—the bottom piece of the set. It’s a simple form, completely flat on the bottom so there is no need to trim a foot (figure 1), with walls just slightly rounded so that the rim angles inward just a bit (figure 2). This means there will be a little air space around the inner bowl to help insulate the contents.

Flatten the clay with the heel of your right hand, anchoring it on your left hand (use opposite positioning if the wheel is spinning clockwise) and swiveling out from the center toward the edge. Lean your hand against the side of the disk of clay and brace your wrist on the splash pan. Open up the center and measure the thickness before widening the opening. You want the bottom thickness to be about ¼ inch so you won’t have to trim. With your right hand, pull the floor out wide and flat. Use your left hand to compress the clay as it moves out. Use calipers to measure inside the rim of the bowl (figure 3) and use a ruler to measure the bowl’s depth.

4 Throw a disk narrower than the caliper measurement. Make a flat-bottomed bowl and bring the walls up.

5 Smooth the walls and rim with a rib. Use a rib to pull the rim out wider to form a gallery for the lid.

6 The calipers should fit inside the gallery. The height should be at least ½ inch shorter than the ice bowl.

Salad Bowl/Casserole Dish

Next, I use the 2½-pound lump of clay to throw the salad bowl or casserole dish. It should come out just under 9 inches wide and a bit less than 3 inches high. The calipers, with the measurement from the ice bowl, should fit (not too tightly) around this piece from the foot to just below the rim, since it will have to fit inside the ice bowl (figure 4). The rim will rest on top of the ice bowl’s rim. It also has a flat bottom that won’t get trimmed.

When you have opened up the centered clay to create a wide flat floor, pull up the walls to form slightly rounded walls. Use a rib to smooth and compress across the floor and inside and outside the walls. Trim the rim if necessary and use a chamois to smooth the rim. Use a soft rib to widen out the rim so that it fits on top of the ice bowl and holds a lid. Pull the top ½–¾ inch wider, creating a comfortable gallery (figure 5). The calipers should fit around the outside of this bowl below the gallery, and the same caliper measurement should fit inside the rim, becoming your lid measurement (figure 6). I measure with a ruler from the foot up to where it starts to widen out. This measurement should be at least a ½ inch shorter than the depth of the ice bowl to leave room for ice.

7 For the lid, make a shallow bowl slightly smaller than your caliper measurement. Flare the rim and trim it to fit the gallery.

8 To trim the lid, center it, and brace it with foam to keep it from collapsing when you add the knob.

9 Add slip to the center of the lid, and attach a small cone of clay to form the knob then center it.

 

The Lid

The 2-pound lump of clay is reserved for the lid. Throw a very shallow bowl or saucer form, with a slightly curved bottom instead of completely flat. It takes almost as much clay to throw the lid as it does to throw the bowl because the lid will need to be trimmed to reflect the slight curve across the bottom. If you do make the lid perfectly flat it won’t be as attractive, but even worse it’s likely to slump when fired. Tip: The curve is a much stronger form—just as an arch is a stronger architectural form than post and lintel construction.

To avoid making the lid too dome shaped, I use my rib to lay the outer rim of the lid flatter—not quite horizontal and still slightly curved (figure 7). I use a needle tool to cut the rim to fit just inside the caliper measurement. Thus the profile of the lid is composed of two gentle curves, keeping it from collapsing when it’s fired, and following the slight gentle curve of the ice bowl. When the three pieces are put together I want the whole thing to look slightly puffed out and generous.

To trim the lid, place a sponge under the center to keep it from collapsing when you add the knob. If the sponge is too flat, put a small disk of clay under it (figure 8). After you’ve trimmed the excess clay from the lid, use slip or magic water (Editor’s Tip: Lana Wilson is the originator of this easy to make, highly effective solution, the recipe is: 1 gallon water, 3 tbsp (9.5 g) liquid sodium silicate, and 1½ tsp (5 g) soda ash), to attach a small cone of clay to form the knob (figure 9). Center this small cone and throw it into a knob (figure 10).

Trim the other two pieces as needed and put the set together and dry it slowly. Drying the pieces together helps keep them fitting together rather than warping and losing shape. Since the salad bowl rests on the rim of the ice bowl, leaving the foot of this inner bowl unsupported, you might want to put a dry sponge under the foot of the salad bowl so it doesn’t sag and crack while drying.

I don’t put handles on the other two pieces, because there isn’t really any need for handles on the ice bowl, and there’s no room for them on the salad bowl. However, I try to make sure the rim of the salad bowl protrudes from the rim of the ice bowl enough to make it easy to grip and pick up.

10 Throw the cone into a knob. Trim the other two pieces as needed, assemble the set, and dry slowly.

11 The finished set. The bowls are both glazed in jade green with the rims dipped in white, so they match when together.

 

Finishing Steps

Glaze fire each piece separately, including the lid, so the bowls don’t have unglazed rims. This makes the pieces more attractive when they’re used separately, but it does present some risk that the pieces may warp and not fit properly together. I try to alleviate this risk by making the pieces with a slightly looser fit and by making a few of the same size at the same time and glazing them with the same combination of glazes. At the worst, if one of the sets doesn’t end up fitting together, you still have a useful bowl and casserole dish.

Both the ice bowl and the salad bowl are glazed in jade green with the rims dipped in white, so they match when put together. The lid is glazed in jade green (figure 11).

To use this set, put your cold salad or dip in the lidded bowl, and put a generous layer of ice in the base of the ice bowl. Place the lidded bowl on the ice, and don’t worry if it doesn’t nestle down onto the rim of the ice bowl right away—when the ice melts, it will settle down, and some of the ice water will rise up to fill the gap between the sides of the two bowls helping to insulate the food.

You can also use this set to keep food warm, using hot water instead of ice, but to keep the food warm for very long you’ll need to frequently replace the hot water.

Sumi von Dassow is an artist, instructor, and regular contributor to Pottery Making Illustrated. She lives in Golden, Colorado. Check out Sumi’s new book, In the Potter’s Kitchen, available in the Ceramic Arts Daily Bookstore, https://ceramicartsnetwork.org/bookstore/in-the-potters-kitchen.

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Liquor Service, 12 in. (30 cm) in length, porcelain and earthenware, porcelain bisque fired to cone 06 and glaze fired to cone 9/10 in reduction, earthenware single fired to cone 04.

Sipping Service by Mike Jabbur

Making a set is always a complicated, challenging task. You must consider the relationships among various elements of a single pot, relationships between pots, the finished presentation, and the processes and materials that best convey the idea of the set. I enjoy this task; it allows me to orchestrate function and consider my pots in a sculptural sense. While every pot has a sculptural presence, working with multiple components challenges me in a unique way that often leads to less obvious compositional solutions.

Throwing the Pourer

When centering clay on the wheel, I always cone the clay to allow for even water distribution and a more centered ball of clay—centering throughout the entire ball of clay, rather than just centering the outside of the clay. Pots that will have a trimmed foot are always opened with a bowl-shaped bottom, creating an inverted arch that provides support for the finished piece during the firing process. After opening the clay, push the thick wall and rim into a cone shape, preemptively countering the centrifugal force that occurs when throwing on the wheel. With each pull, raise the clay, straightening the walls. Because I stretch my forms from the inside, I prefer making the basic shape (prior to altering) more of a cooling tower form rather than a straight-walled cylinder.

After pulling the cylinder, rib the wall, first with a wooden rib, then with two different ribs. I do one pass with a rubber rib on the inside and a flexible steel rib on the outside, and then one or two more passes with one rubber rib on the inside and one on the outside. This process allows me to compress any throwing rings and to create a tight, skin-like surface on the outside of the form, a surface that I find ideal for dramatic stretching.

Once you have a smooth surface, create a band at the bottom of the form, then use a soft rib to make a severe spiral that will gradually become subtler through the stretching process (figure 1). I find that throwing lines and rib marks on the same piece often compete with one another, and I generally prefer one or the other (and in the case of my work, I prefer the mark of the rib). As you stretch from the inside, follow the pattern of the rib mark while remaining aware of the overall composition and gesture of the form (figure 2). For this pourer, cut the rim with a cheese slicer to create a dramatic, meandering line (figure 3), then soften and round the cut with a sponge and chamois.

Trimming and Assembling

Trim the pot once it’s leather hard (figure 4). I trim nearly every pot I make on a bisque-fired chuck with a leather-hard coil of clay on the top rim. After centering and securing the chuck and pot, apply downward pressure while trimming to keep the pot sealed to the chuck. Because I always leave a section of the pot unglazed, I create clean lines when trimming, which gives me crisp edges to follow when waxing and glazing.

After articulating the foot ring and matching the curve of the inside of the foot ring to the outside wall to assure even wall thickness, I cut three pieces from the foot to echo the gesture and movement of the rest of the pot. The three cuts create a tripod of sorts, providing movement at the bottom of the pot while maintaining stability. Flatten the foot slightly with the edge of a fettling knife, then polish with a soft rib.

Next, I compress and blend a coil to the inside of the clay wall, (figure 5). This addition allows me to add a bowl-shaped slab top, creating an enclosed form (figure 6).

Tip: Good scoring and a little bit of Magic Water (3 grams soda ash, 9½ grams sodium silicate, 1 gallon water), applied with a dropper, are ideal for making all attachments with porcelain.

1 Compress and smooth the cylinder then make a spiral on the bottom half.

2 Stretch the form from the inside until it is near the point of collapse.

3 Cut the rim with an up-and-down motion using a cheese slicer.

4 Small trimming tools help create crisp, clean lines and transitions.

5 Score the inside of the pot, attach a coil of clay to create a flange.

6 Stretch a slab top into a shallow bowl shape and add it to the flange.

 

Use a slightly moist sponge to compress and blend the seam between the slab top and the pourer. Excess water at this point encourages cracking as the pot dries.

I usually pull handles directly from the pot (figure 7). With this technique, I can visualize the proportions better than when pulling the handle first, then attaching it. Score the top and bottom points of attachment to make sure there is a strong connection that will resist separation due to the porcelain’s high shrinkage rate.

Next, throw and attach the spout. I like to attach spouts when they are still fairly wet so I can shape them to match the contour of the pot. Use a rib to shape and compress, then make a small dent with the edge of a wooden rib and stretch from the inside with a blunt tool on the opposing side to create a gesture in the spout that relates to the rest of the pot (figure 8). Push the spout back in the middle (on the dented side). Then, supporting the middle, push the top of the spout forward to create an S-curve that you find both visually and functionally successful. Use a make-up type sponge to remove fingerprints and to shape the clay without otherwise denting or distorting it.

After cutting a hole in the pot for the liquid to pass through, wire the spout off at an angle (figure 9) and remove extra clay from the inside. Clean the cut edge with a fettling knife and then use a soft rib to roll and smooth the edge. Hold the spout up to the pourer, trace the edge with a needle tool, and cut away excess clay from the hole to about 1/4 inch inside the traced line. After scoring both surfaces and applying some Magic Water, attach the spout (figure 10).

To make the stopper, throw a small, steep-sided bowl shape off the hump. Cut the rim then smooth it in the same manner as the rim of the pourer. Shape the outside with a soft rib before cutting the stopper off the hump using a needle tool.

Alter a coil for the knob using the edge of your thumb, and cut the top at an angle with a sharp knife. Score the end of the knob and the interior of the stopper then attach them together (figure 11). Bend the knob into an S-curve. Add a small lug of clay to the back of the stopper to prevent it from falling out when pouring (figure 12). Cut a hole in the top of pourer to accept the stopper, soften the edge using a little water, and cut a notch from the back of the hole to make room for the lug (figure 13). Apply a couple of strategically placed slip dots to visually key the two parts together (figure 14).

7 Attach one end of the handle to the top, pull and attach the other end.

8 Stretch the back of the spout using a blunt tool.

9 Cut the spout from the hump at an angle with a wire tool.

10 Score the clay and carefully attach the spout to the pourer.

11 Score the knob and the inside bottom of the stopper then attach.

12 Add a small lug to the back of the stopper to lock it in place during use.

13 Notch the back of the hole to accommodate the lug.

14 Apply two slip dots to visually key the pourer and stopper together.

 

When throwing the shot glasses for this set, I always use small, individual balls of clay rather than throwing off the hump, to prevent S cracks.

Firing the Vessels

I bisque fire my porcelain to cone 06 and glaze fire to a flattened cone 9/soft cone 10 in a reduction atmosphere. I leave some surfaces—such as the spout, knob, and handle—unglazed. I sand these unglazed surfaces at the bisque stage with drywall and fine-grit sandpaper, then again after the glaze firing with wet/dry sandpaper.

Designing the Display

Presentation is important and I create customized displays for my porcelain sets out of a contrasting earthenware. I begin by making a poster-board full-scale model of the pedestal, or cabinet for the pouring set, using the already high-fired porcelain pieces for my measurements. A flexible curve helps create graceful and perfect mirror image curves (figure 15). The poster board templates are carefully cut out, as they will later be traced onto clay slabs. Since I build the pedestal using earthenware, I find that I don’t really have to account for shrinkage (but I build just a little larger than my measurements to be safe and to ensure a comfortable fit). The maquette is useful for visualizing the finished piece (figure 16), and once I disassemble it, the parts are used as the templates for the earthenware slabs (figure 17).

Roll out a large slab from groggy earthenware, and trace templates onto the slab with a sharp knife. As I trace, I score halfway through the slab, then tear the rest of the way through the clay to create a ragged edge that contrasts the smooth, refined edges of the porcelain pieces. Center the slab for the base of the cabinet on a drywall board before cutting it out. From this point, the base is not moved until the finished piece is leather hard. For the other parts, lifting the cut slabs and poster board templates from the drywall together reduces stretching and distortion of the slab. Assembling this cabinet on drywall helps with the drying of the piece; the absorption of the drywall aids in even drying from top to bottom (figure 18).

Having already made the maquette to scale, I simply reassemble the original design using clay slabs (figure 19). Slabs are put into place, traced, removed, then scored for attachment. Using a ruler helps maintain even spacing—a slight error in spacing can become a major problem later. The slabs are still very soft at this point, so it helps to build the form in a sequence that supports the vertical walls. The attachment of all slabs is done with a slight back-and-forth motion to work the scored areas together. The top front edges of the cabinet are stretched upward so the cups fit in and out easier, as well as to break up the static horizontal line. The back column becomes a closed form. A small hole pierced into the bottom once the piece reaches a stiff leather hard to allow air to escape during the firing.

15 Measure and lay out the templates for the cabinet using already high-fired pieces and a flexible curve.

16 Construct a maquette from the templates to help visualize the finished clay piece, then disassemble it.

17 Cut all the pieces for building the cabinet using the templates before assembly begins.

18 The top slabs should be stiff enough not to slump into the empty spaces, but soft enough to manipulate later.

19 Add a small dome to the top of the column. Cut a hole to prevent trapping air between the two slabs.

 

Finally, the porcelain pieces are put in their places as a last chance to make sure everything fits correctly. Dry the cabinet slowly over several days. Cracking is less of a concern with a groggy earthenware body, however slow drying is still important and helps dramatically with any warping issues that often occur with flat-slabbed pieces.

After the cabinet is single fired to cone 04, the set is ready for presentation. n

Mike Jabbur received his BA in graphic design from Virginia Tech University, was a resident artist at Red Star Studios in Kansas City, Missouri, and received his MFA in ceramics from Ohio University. He is currently the Studio Director at Santa Fe Clay in Santa Fe, New Mexico. To see more of his work, visit www.mikejabburceramics.com.

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