One of my favorite things in life is being outside in nature. I bring the outside into my work with my choice of clay, the designs I create, and the color of my glazes. Each of my pieces begins as a slab of high-fire stoneware clay, which I handbuild into its final shape. My choice of clay is influenced by my love of being outdoors. My brown clay is reminiscent of fertile brown earth. When fired, it mutes the glazes and creates an aged look in both its texture and color. My buff clay is reminiscent of the color and feel of white sandy beaches. In contrast to the brown clay, the buff, when fired, is more textured and also leaves the colors more crisp and vibrant like the contrast you would see on a white beach surrounded by color. I strive for my work to reflect both nature and the negative space within it. 

Finished platter by Rory Foster.

While drawing my designs I start with a shape or line and develop an idea from there, always with a desire to create movement. Anything from nature—landscapes, sunsets, insects, birds—guides my choice of colors. I leave spaces in between each color because I like the idea of things being singular, both in color and shape. As a whole piece, the colors and shapes merge together to make something that is flowing, mesmerizing, and connected . . . like everything in nature. 

Building the Shape

First, determine a form that interests you, then you need to find a form you can use as a slump or hump mold. I have made my hump mold from a wooden dough bowl. I made my mold from clay and bisque fired it. Clay forms hold up well for multiple use, quickly absorb moisture from the clay, and also allow for easy release of the clay from the mold. The mold I use for this platter is approximately 21 inches (53 cm) long by 14 inches (36 cm) wide (1).

Use about a quarter of a 25-pound (11 kg) bag of clay into a slab that is about 1/4 inch (about 6 mm) thick. Place the clay on a piece of canvas and roll it out so that it is large enough to cover the size of your form. Using a rubber rib (I use the Mudtools blue one), smooth the top of the clay slab. Place your form on an object to elevate it in order to allow overhang of the slab. Carefully lift the canvas and slab and turn them upside down onto the form so that the smooth side is placed onto the form. Peel away the canvas and smooth the clay with a damp sponge and a flexible metal rib (2). Cut away any excess clay around the rim and smooth the cut edges with a damp sponge. If you want to add your maker’s stamp, now is the time to do that (3). Cover the form loosely with plastic to dry until the clay becomes leather hard. 

1 Create bisque-fired molds from a form, like a wooden dough bowl. 2 Smooth trimmed edges of clay with a wet sponge. 3 Before you allow the form to fully dry, add your maker’s stamp. 4 Sketch designs from inside of the form onto the exterior with a graphite pencil.

Once leather hard, carefully remove the clay platter from the form. Place the clay form right side up on a drying board and cover loosely with plastic to fully dry. When the clay is dry, use 220-grit sandpaper and lightly sand any rough edges on the lip of the platter. Carefully remove any dust. Be sure to work in a well-ventilated area and wear a properly fitted respirator when sanding. 

Place the dry clay form in the kiln for bisque firing. I use an electric kiln and fire to cone 06. When the bisque firing is complete, use 60-grit sandpaper to further smooth the edges. Rinse with flowing water to remove any dust.

Creating the Design

I free-draw my designs with a graphite pencil and often start on the inside of the form with one line in the center of the piece. From there I continue drawing, deciding as I go how many lines I will have based on the size and shape of the piece (4). Once I finish drawing the lines, I then add larger graphics to create flow and movement over the entire design (5). Once the interior drawing is complete, I continue the same flow and movement on the underside of the form (6).

5 Completed design on interior of the form in pencil. 6 Continue the movement of the lines onto the exterior of the form. 7 Glazing one line with one color, follow it from interior to exterior. 8 Continue brushing each line with a different color of underglaze.

Glazing in the Lines

To begin the glazing process, first prepare your workspace with underglazes, mixing plates, water, brushes, and a cloth (for dabbing excess water from brushes after cleaning). For this piece, I used a #4 shader brush for the lines and a #10 shader for the larger graphics. Most underglaze colors take two coats, but yellows and oranges usually take three. The underglazes tend to be of different consistencies, so I often add a little water to the jar and shake to mix so that it spreads easier while painting. 

I generally start painting the designs with colors that are straight from the jar as opposed to the colors I mix (7). This is simply my preference because it is quicker than mixing and less cleanup as I go. I create different colors and shades by mixing various underglaze colors. Once I finish one line of color I move on to the next shade and paint the entire line (8). While I am painting I prefer sitting on the floor as opposed to a table because I can be more precise (9). I also like being able to move the form around as I go to see the connections between the lines and colors as they are being filled in with underglaze. I suppose it is a sort of connection that I have to the piece. 

Continue to paint each line until all the lines and each shade is complete (10). While you are painting each line, leave a small gap between the colors. I keep an X-Acto knife handy in case I get a wonky line or edge. The X-Acto knife helps because you can lightly scrape away glaze mistakes easily from the form. I call this step in my process “cleaning the piece.” I figured this out when I used to carve the lines in my pieces. I did not like the sloppy look of the glaze in the carved lines so I would use the tip of the X-Acto knife to scrape it out.

9 Sitting on the floor to hold the platter allows for more precision in making lines. 10 Brush each line of underglaze until complete before moving on to the next. 11 Platter with finished underglaze lines on the bottom side. 12 Paint the larger graphic elements of the design with a similar palette as the lines.

Tip: When working on the underside (11), place the platter on a sheepskin (or similar material) so the underglaze does not rub off around the rim. Also, be careful not to rub any of the underglaze off with your forearm or hand while painting. 

The only glossy glaze I use is white. I like the contrast of the Amaco Velvet matte underglaze with the glossiness of a white glaze. I use the glossy white in most of my designs to add pops of dimension and texture as well as to line the interior of vases, containers, and mugs.

In this piece, the larger graphics are painted in the same shades as in the lines (12). In some of my other pieces, I start by glazing the graphics first and use completely different color shades for the lines. If you have created an edge for the rim, be sure to continue the colors over the edges for seamless flow throughout the surface (13).

Cleaning the Lines

Once the platter is completely covered with underglaze or glaze, go over each line edge with the X-Acto knife. Use the tip to create a more uniform, tidy line (14). Do not rub the flakes away as it will remove the underglaze or glaze material and create patchiness. Caution: Always wear a dust mask during this step. After completing this process, touch up any areas that have lost their color, usually around the rim.

13 Be sure to continue the lines and colors over the rim of the platter. 14 Use the tip of an X-Acto knife to clean up the edges of glazed lines and graphics.

Final Firing

Finish cleaning the underside of the piece with the X-Acto knife and water. Make sure none of the glossy glaze touches the kiln shelf to prevent sticking.

I fire my pieces in an electric kiln either to cone 8 or cone 10. I prefer the look of my finished pieces being fired at cone 10 because it creates a more muted look to the glaze. This piece was fired at cone 8. 

When the final firing is complete, use 220-grit sandpaper over the entire platter to smooth any remaining rough spots, then rinse with water.

Platter, 19 in. (48 cm) in length, Aardvark Clay’s Black Mountain clay, underglaze, glossy white glaze, 2023.

Tray, 16 in. (41 cm) in length, Aardvark Clay’s Black Mountain clay, underglaze, glossy white glaze, 2020.

Rory Foster is a ceramic artist living and working in Austin, Texas. Her work stems from her childhood memories of days spent outdoors in the warm sunshine, playing barefoot in the wild. To see more of her work visit and follow her Instagram @roryefoster.