When looking at intriguing pots, we are often caught wondering, how is this made? It is delightful to witness the cleverness and ingenuity of the potter. I have that same feeling of wonder when looking at Mandy Henebry’s work. She fearlessly takes up the challenge of applying stencils and slip decoration to any functional form she can imagine. Having an affinity for structure, clean lines, and repetition, Mandy’s work closely reflects her life-long attraction to patterns.
Recently having relocated from Denver, Colorado, to Boise, Idaho, Mandy had the opportunity to oversee the building of her ideal studio. She has chosen a well-ventilated and well-lit space set off from the main portion of her garage. Much like her work, the space is well defined, clean, and cleverly designed.
Bored with the dip-and-layer process of cone-10 glazing and firing that she had been using, Mandy found herself wanting a more precise and predictable outcome. Through much trial and error, she began using stencils and slip decorating on wheel-thrown and handbuilt forms. She uses both purchased and self-designed stencils that create an interchangeability among pieces, allowing versatility. The joyful challenge for her work now is designing pieces that are functional and driven by the decoration.
Creating Initial Forms and Decoration
Mandy’s process for making salt-and-pepper shakers is multilayered. She begins making the sets by using a 2½-inch square, hollow extruding die to extrude the bodies of the shakers (1, 2). Once leather hard, she marks 3-inch increments on the extrusion, then uses a laser level to project a straight red line on the extrusion to cut the pieces to the correct size (3).
With her slab roller set at ¾ inch, Mandy rolls out a slab to make the tray for the shakers, with the clay sandwiched between canvas and ½-inch-thick pieces of drywall. After removing the canvas texture with a metal rib, she places a stencil on the clay and uses the small end of a pony roller to press the stencil into the clay, thereby decorating what will be the back of the tray (4). Using a 9×5½-inch tarpaper template, she cuts out the tray (5), then flips it over onto a 1½-inch-thick piece of firm upholstery foam.
Driven by the goal of developing an aesthetically pleasing and balanced design, she creates two-color panels by placing two separate stencil patterns on the top of the tray. She applies a thick layer of colored slip over the stencils (6).
Tip: Mandy’s slip recipe is simply three pounds of yogurt-consistency reclaimed clay, plus 3 tablespoons of Mason stain that is mixed into the slip with an immersion blender.
Once the slip has dried, Mandy presses the double-recess form in the shaker tray. She makes the indentation by using a tool she made by gluing two 4-inch-square GR Pottery Forms hump molds side by side on a piece of wood. She carefully centers the wooden form onto the tray and presses the form down firmly, causing the tray to seat down into the foam and the sides of the tray to rise up evenly (7). The tray is now set aside to dry before the final cleanup.
Adding Tops and Bottoms
The tops and bottoms to the shaker bodies are formed from another slab that’s slightly thinner than the tray slab. Mandy cuts out the tops, leaving a generous amount of excess clay around the edges. The excess clay is crucial as it helps prevent cracks or separation of the slabs from the extruded body. She then scores the top of the extruded bodies and applies ample amounts of attaching slip. To give herself a reference for scoring the slab to be placed on the top of the shaker, she stamps the small slab with the outline of the scored and slipped top of the shaker, then she scores and slips the slab along the outline and joins the body with the slab using a firm downward pressure.
Mandy then paddles the slab in place to create a faint outline of the square, ensuring that the clay is firmly attached. Placing the stencils on the attached slabs, Mandy applies decorating slip (8). Using a paint brush, she cleans up the interior joins before reaching her hand inside the shaker body to gently push the top up to create a dome (9).
Mandy repeats the process of cutting out slabs for the bottoms as she did for the tops. Next, she places a ¾-inch-high and 5-inch-wide wooden stick against the bottom four sides of the shakers, then traces a faint line across the top of the stick (10). She cuts a half circle out of the foot on all four sides, bringing the top of the cut to the faint line, creating a consistent arched look to the foot. She then deeply scores and applies slip to the bottom slab and the shaker bodies, paddling them in place (11).
Wetting her index finger, she uses a circular motion in the middle of the foot and gently coaxes the soft clay to dome upward. She then presses the slab into the half circle cutouts (12), finishing the foot with a dimple at all four inside corners (13). She cuts all excess clay off with an X-Acto knife.
Preparing the shakers for their final slip decoration, Mandy has a unique system to smooth the sides so they are perfectly flush. Placing a textured, black Plasti-Bat bat on the wheel head, she splashes a small bit of water on the bat, places the shaker on its side holding it down firmly with the bottom facing to the left, then spins the wheel counter clockwise, being cautious not to smudge the decorated top of the shaker. Slip collects at the bottom of the shaker foot—this is why the shaker is placed with the foot to the left and the newly decorated top is facing to the right. The process is repeated on all four sides of each shaker. After wiping the sides with a white Mudtools finishing sponge, she applies stencils and slip to each side (14).
When sanding at the advanced leather-hard to bone-dry stage, Mandy has found that 3M Scotch-Brite 7447 pads are tougher and last longer. Wearing an N95 dust mask to protect her lungs, she softly sands the edges of the tray, and the corners and top of the shakers using a small, dry square of the pad.
In a corner on the top of the shakers, she drills three holes in the salt shaker, and two holes in the pepper shaker with an ⅛-inch drill bit (15), finishing each with a countersink bit. The bottom holes, which hold a #1 rubber stopper after firing, are drilled with a ½-inch spade drill bit (16). Mandy carefully shakes out all of the clay bits that fall into the interior of the shakers during drilling.
The greenware pieces (17) are bisque fired to cone 04, then she wipes each piece thoroughly to remove all dust and shakes out any errant chunks that may be left over from drilling the holes. The pieces are then glazed in a commercial semi-opaque white glaze that softens the stark contrast between the clay body and the slip decoration. After the glazing is complete, she uses a small round file inside the holes to make sure they will not fill up with glaze during firing. The pieces are then fired in an electric kiln to cone 5.
Mandy Henebry has shown nationally and participates in several juried sales throughout the year. She has taught at a private high school in Denver, Colorado, and in community studios. View more of her work at www.mandyhenebryceramics.com, on Instagram @mandyhenebryceramics, and purchase on Etsy at www.etsy.com/shop/mandyhenebryceramics.
Dandee Pattee owns Sanctuary Pottery Studio in Casper, Wyoming. She received her MFA in ceramics from the University of Florida, and an MA in critical studies from the Maryland Institute College of Art.