Vases are fun to work on because the possible shapes and sizes are nearly limitless. This can also make it slightly daunting to start on one—there are just so many options. I like to think about the form as an object that can stand alone, being visually interesting without a floral arrangement. At the same time, when it is showcasing flowers, I want the form to do just that— showcase the flowers. This brick vase is inspired by all the beautifully sporadic roadside weeds and wildflowers that I see on my daily neighborhood walks. These plants shoot off flowers and branches in all directions. I wanted to create a vase that helped keep the flowers looking wilder and more variable than manicured and arranged. The form’s contour also references neighborhood yard items like mailboxes and clothespins.

Design Details

This vase is made with a simple yet satisfying four-slab construction. The slabs themselves are soft enough to bend but firm enough not to be overly tacky or flimsy. I find that once I have rolled the slabs out, waiting about 10–20 minutes before beginning to work with them makes for a cleaner construction. 

Getting Started 

First, construct the paper templates that you will use to outline and cut your slabs. The nice thing about starting with paper is you can measure, fold, and tape it to exactly demonstrate the scale and dimensions of the vase before working in clay. The templates can be repeatedly used, and will help you know how big of a slab you need to start with. 

Next, roll a slab large enough to make several vases. For these flower bricks, I use a rolling pin and ¼-inch slats as guides. Compress and smooth the whole slab with a metal or soft plastic rib. Then, place and trace the templates (1). After removing the templates, follow the traced line with a knife to make the cut. Allow the slab time to set up before you begin construction (2). 

Construction 

For this vase, bevel all the edges at a 45° angle as they all meet at a right angle (3). A beveled seam is important because it allows a slightly bigger connection surface and creates a stronger bond. One important point to make is, as you are beveling you need to be careful not to reduce the overall dimensions of the piece. In other words, make sure that as you bevel, the start of your bevel is at the edge of the clay slab and not cutting into the footprint of your clay slab. 

1 Roll out a 1/4-inch (6.4-cm) thick slab large enough to cut pieces for several forms. Use the surface area efficiently to avoid waste. 2 Lay out all of the components for one vase to slightly set up the form before beginning construction.

3 Bevel all the sides of the top and bottom pieces. I use an angled wire tool for more consistent beveling. 4 After scoring the beveled edges, smear the thick mortar slip on top of the scored areas of one slab. I use a chopstick.

Now, it is time to slip and score the connecting edges. For this vase, start with the main body and the bottom of the vase. Slip and score only the edges that you will be connecting next (4). Using a chopstick that is lathered in slip, run it across the edge of one of the slabs. Only apply the mortar-like slip on one of the slabs, and as you bring the clay slabs together, make sure the slip gets solidly compressed in the seam. You know you have used enough slip when there is a slight bead squishing out at the edge (5). 

Then, take a firm tool and smooth the bead of slip alongside the seam (6). Repeat these steps until all the sides of the vase are connected (7). The small exception is the last slab that closes off the form. You will be able to clean and compress the bead of slip of this connection after you cut the opening into the vase. 

5 While supporting both slabs, press the slipped pieces firmly together until a bead of mortar slip oozes from the seam. 6 Using a right-angle-edged wooden tool, smooth and blend the excess slip on the interior of each seam.

7 It is important to clean and compress the seams before enclosing the form with the last slab.

Just as I like to give time for the slab to set up in the beginning, the same is true now. The seams are much wetter than the slabs, and if you were to try and work on the vase and clean up the edges now, they would move around too much. Generally, I am working on a series of four or five vases at a time. After I construct the last vase, the first vase is ready to start the finishing steps. However, if I am only making one or two, I would work on something else and come back to this piece after at least 20–30 minutes, providing enough time for the seams to firm up. 

Finishing Touches 

After the vase has had time to set up, true the corners and smooth the surface of the vase with a metal rib. Clean up any marks that look overly messy and create edges that are straight and clean (8). If something coarse in my clay happens to catch my rib and drag across the surface of the slab as I am cleaning it, I decide then if I like it or want to smooth it out. I like to leave some marks that speak to how the vase was being handled as it was being made. 

8 Score, slip, and attach the final slab. True the edges and clean the outside of the form with a metal rib. 9 Using another paper template as a guide, trace the shape that will become the opening of the vase.

After the form is clean, cut the opening. Just like cutting the slabs with a template, cut the opening of the vase using a template as a guide (9). By outlining the template first, it will help keep the cut lines straight and precise (10). After you have cut the opening and removed that section of the slab, clean and compress the connection of the last slab. 

Because the opening in this vase has a severe point, it is also important to go back and compress or soften that point. If you don’t, that could be an easy spot for a crack to begin (11). Give the piece a few more once overs and, if satisfied, set it aside to fully dry. 

10 With a sharp knife, cut along your marked line keeping your tool perpendicular to the clay surface. 11 When creating a sharp angle, compress the points with a needle tool edge, as cracks may develop when drying.

Firing 

I fire my work in a wood-fueled train kiln and actively cool the kiln in reduction. I keep the atmosphere in the kiln in reduction by adding small amounts of wood and eliminating as much air intake as possible by closing and mudding all the air ports, closing the damper, and mudding the door. I continue to add wood until the temperature drops down to roughly 1600°F (871°C). It is this reduction-cooling technique that keeps the vases looking very dark, sometimes shimmery, with flashing in darker red tones. I find these darker clay tones contrast beautifully with flowers. 

Arranging 

Along with thinking about how the vase will hold and showcase the flowers, I also like to consider how the vase could be arranged in a series (12, 13). How it might fit on a table or window ledge, be part of a table setting at home or in a café, or even be presented in a gallery. How the flowers through the seasons can dramatically change the possibility or arrangements. Each of these situations changes the context of the vase and offers variations on how it is visually presented and perceived. Like the wildflowers and weeds it holds, the idea of the vase itself will grow and change with time. 

12 Give your finished forms a once over and refine or compress any edges or surfaces that need more attention. 13 Working in multiples allows for a variety of potential final arrangements as well as efficiency in the studio.

Letter Vase, 5 in. (13 cm) in length, iron-rich stoneware, 2023. Grouping of four flower bricks, photographed from above.

Lindsay Oesterritter is currently a full-time studio potter in Manassas, Virginia. She is a co-president of the Studio Potter Board and co-organizer of the Southern Crossing Pottery Festival held in her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. In 2020 she published her first book, Mastering Kilns & Firing. She has had the opportunity to teach and lead workshops, curate exhibitions, lecture and exhibit nationally and internationally, and is continually inspired by the craft community. Learn more at loceramics.com and on Instagram @alindsayo