Life can be rough. We all have our coping mechanisms. Humor, junk food, ceramic pots, and pets are a few of my personal favorites. With my work, I combine elements of these forms of coping, along with a charmingly rendered sense of foreboding, resulting in an unnerving yet inviting presence—aka “ugly cute” (thanks, Melissa Cinelli).
Begin with Sprinkles
My Melting Poodle Ice Cream Cup begins with making sprinkles. Mix up whatever combination of colored porcelain you prefer using roughly 6% Mason stain. Use a hand extruder with a small, circular die to extrude as many colored coils as you need (1). You can store these for future use so it might make sense to prepare an abundance of them at once. Allow the coils to dry thoroughly. Now the fun part! Break up the coils until they are reasonable sprinkle sizes (2). You can mix up the colors—just like the real multi-colored sprinkles you find in the baking aisle!
Creating the Cup
To begin construction of the cups, roll out a slab of fairly soft porcelain to 1/8–3/16 inch thick. In order to keep the cups relatively the same size, I made a template for the cone portion of the cup wall by cutting a 7 7/8×2-inch strip out of a flexible cutting board. I cut it to this size because it will line up perfectly (accounting for overlap to line up the pattern) with the circumference of the 2 5/8-inch-diameter circular cookie cutter that I use to cut my bases. Use your template to cut as many cup walls as you’d like (I typically work on 8 at a time). Cut out just as many bases using the cookie cutter. If you plan to stamp and carve your signature on the bottom, now is the perfect time to do so.
Next, place a freshly cut slab on top of a waffle-cone bisque mold (3). Tip: I made my mold by gently pressing a thick slab of clay onto a large piece of plastic mesh. If you can’t find an object with a similar grid pattern, you can simply roll out an even, thick slab, measure out a grid, and press the side of a ruler or paint stirring stick into your grid measurements. Allow the slab to dry slowly and bisque fire it on grog to prevent shrinkage cracks. To add the waffle texture to the cup, lay the slab down diagonally on the mold and gently press the clay into the texture, working your way from one end of the slab to the other. Attach the cone portion of the wall of the cup to the base by scoring and slipping. Add and blend a small coil around the seam for a clean transition from the base to the wall.
I coil build the top portion of the cup. A personal rule is that the height of the tops of the cups should be around 1½ times larger than the cone base. Add and pinch coils to build the remaining height of the cup. About 1½ inches down from the top of the cup, create a ridge around the circumference by gently holding a wooden knife against the outside wall, while pushing out the top section. Press from the inside as you rotate the piece, pushing out right above where the knife touches the cup. This ridge distinguishes the sections of the poodle’s hair from its face (4). Push out individual puffs (like the hair of a poodle) by gently rubbing a moist fingertip back and forth from the inside, while bracing from the outside with your other hand (5). Alternate a pattern of rows of puffs around the entirety of the cup.
Creating the Poodle
For the ears, cut two ovals (1½×2 inches) out of a ¾-inch-thick slab. Place one of the slabs on a scrap piece of upholstery foam (memory foam works best). Using the end of a small wooden paintbrush, gently push out the ear puffballs into the foam, starting from one end of the oval and working your way to the other side (6). Be careful not to push the paintbrush all the way through the clay. Note: Brace the side that has been puffed out as it is fairly delicate at this stage. I make multiple ears, noses, and eyes at once (7) and store them in a mini damp box made from an old coffee can with about ¾ inch of plaster poured in the bottom. Keep the plaster moist and the lid on the can in order for it to work well. For eyes, roll 2 small, equally sized balls and cut them in half. For the noses, I make a rounded-off diamond shape then cut it in half. Attach all of your parts by scoring and slipping.
Decorating the Cup
Now, it’s time to paint the cone. I do this now so I don’t have to paint in between the drips later on. I primarily mix underglazes for my colors and, for the cone, mix white, brown, and yellow. I prefer Amaco Velvets, but any underglaze will do.
Paint the ice cream portion to match whatever flavor you’re going for. While the underglaze is still wet, sift the sprinkles onto the surface (8). Use a large container or sheet underneath your cup during this stage to easily gather up the stray sprinkles when finished.
Next, I add the melty drips. I use my throwing bucket slip, or slake down about 2 pounds of clay. Add about a teaspoon of Epsom salt (to flocculate and thicken the slip) and blunge it to mayonnaise consistency. Funnel the slip into a condiment squeeze bottle. I start by adding a band of drips around the entirety of the cup, right where the cone meets the ice cream. Then I go back in and add drips on top of the sprinkles to really layer up the surface (9). I blend the tops of the drips into the cup using a damp paintbrush. Once the slip sets up, paint it to match the ice cream flavor beneath, and use an underglaze applicator filled with black underglaze to add the graphic outlines around the facial features and drips.
Leave the cup to dry slowly as the slip is very prone to cracking. Once finished, the cups are bisque fired to cone 05, then dipped upside down in Jeff Campana’s clear glaze. Note: Use a different container than your glaze bucket to avoid stray sprinkles falling into it! I dip the cup up to the point where the drips meet the cone, and hand paint the drips that flow onto the cone, leaving the cone itself unglazed. I typically like a white interior to a cup, so I pour the same clear on the inside since it’s porcelain. The cups are then glaze fired to cone 6 in oxidation.
Ashley Bevington has a BFA from Columbus College of Art & Design and an MFA from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. She currently lives in Nashville, Ohio. Find more of her work at www.ashleybevington.com and follow her on Instagram at @ashleybevington.