I have always admired images of ancient vessels from Japan and Korea that were constructed and decorated using paddles. Wanting to diversify my approach to decorating my own work, I recently started using wooden paddles with various geometric patterns carved into the surface. Removing myself from my usual multi-step process of layering and illustrating with glazes, this method gives me the opportunity to work simply with the raw clay. After testing various clays bodies, I found that a plastic porcelain body with a smooth buttery surface was most suited to paddling.
Cutting Paddles and Patterns
Tools needed to construct the paddles include: a jigsaw, a Dremel rotary tool with a cutting bit, scrap wood, a pencil, and paper. For wood, I used ½-inch-thick scrap plywood (any scrap will do) leftover from building shelves and bats. I like the rough-sided plywood because of the depth it adds as a subtext to the patterns carved into the paddles (see 5).
To make a simple stencil, fold a piece of paper in half and draw an outline of a paddle that is sized to suit your pots and a handle that will fit nicely in your hands. Trace the cutout of the paddle onto the wood and use a jigsaw to cut it out (1). Finally, use a Dremel tool equipped with a cutting bit to carve out a pattern. The Dremel is a tool I always have handy in my studio because of its versatility; for this purpose, I like the roughness and inconsistencies I can achieve in the wood surfaces by cutting freehand. This translates to a more unique and rustic pattern on the surface of the pot. The geometric patterns I’ve chosen are a reflection of old wire farm fencing (2). These images have nostalgic value to me as they invoke memories from my childhood.
Using the Paddle
In my experience, timing is essential with paddling. The first time I tried using a paddle was on a freshly thrown pot still on the wheel—needless to say, it didn’t go well. The paddle stuck to the pot then ripped it in half when I pulled it away. I learned that it’s important for the clay to be leather hard, or at the stage right before trimming, when altering the surface with a paddle. It’s also helpful when throwing the pot to make sure to smooth the surface with a metal rib. This allows for a clean surface for the paddle to engage with. Another handy trick I found was to slightly dampen the paddle. This helps keep it from sticking to the pot. To avoid distortion especially in smaller pots, brace the interior of the pot with your fingers when making contact with the paddle (3). Larger pieces are paddled with the same bracing method, but while still attached to a bat and prior to trimming (4). The thick stationary bottom helps support the wall to leave crisp marks.
Finishing and Firing
I fire my pieces to cone 10 in a salt kiln. The color palette tends to be a nice salmon to cream (5) and sometimes I use a matte black glaze that allows the raised patterns made using the paddles to burn through (6). I have found this process to be a fun and at times a meditative way to take a break from my normal studio practice and hope you will find it enjoyable too!
Matthew Krousey received his BFA in ceramics from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. His work has been exhibited locally and internationally. Throughout the year he finds inspiration fishing the frozen lakes and walking the dense forests of Minnesota. See more of his work at www.mkrouseyceramics.comand on Instagram @mkrouseyceramics.