When I’m in a studio slump, I focus on working on a form or vessel that will be instantly useful in my home. This sets up a task with distinct parameters, within which I can warm up my hands, work out ideas, and play with possible solutions—all at low risk. With soup season upon us (and after some time away from clay), I decided to make a canister to hold spatulas, spoons, tongs, and a ladle close to the stove and at the ready. While those implements were already on the counter in a ceramic pitcher, I wanted to make something custom fit to the narrow free space between my stove and blender, and rectangular instead of round. To prevent the tools from falling to one corner and crowding in a hard-to-pull-from mass, I thought a lobed or scalloped bottom would function well, as the sections would allow some spacing between tools. This presented an extra challenge for me, since I’ve never been quite satisfied with my previous attempts at attaching bottoms to slab-built forms. With these points in mind, I roughed out the footprint of counter space in paper and set to work. 

Start with a Slab

To make a canister, make a slab that measures at least 10 inches high and 16 inches long. I make slabs by evenly compressing a block of clay with the heel of my hand, throwing to stretch and thin the resulting slab, and rolling it with a rolling pin to compress. Use metal and rubber ribs to compress both sides of the slab (see 1). 

1 Start with a slab that is 10×16 inches and about ⅜ inch thick. 2 Carefully stand the slab up, and shape it into a rough oval.

Use a ruler and an X-Acto knife to cut the two long sides of the slab parallel and flat, 8½ inches apart (1). Grasping the short ends, carefully but swiftly stand the slab up into a loose oval (2). Once standing, the slab should be fairly stable. Move the ends to overlap less or more depending on the size of the container desired. Place a spare piece of wood or 1×2 inside the form directly behind the overlapping ends. Stand a ruler or straight edge on the outside of the ends, firmly sandwiching the clay between the two tools. Next, cut through both layers of clay at an angle, following the straight edge and using the wood for support (3). 

Remove the excess clay, score both beveled cuts, apply slip or vinegar, and press the ends together. I chose to place this seam in the center of one long wall of my rectangular form—it’s more accessible from the inside and will therefore be easier to blend. While blending this seam with a serrated rib, metal rib, then a rubber rib, be careful to avoid bowing the wall. Use the same piece of wood to counter pressure applied while refining this seam, both on the interior and exterior of the form. 

3 Cut the overlapped slab ends at an angle, using a stick and ruler for support. 4 Square the short sides of the oval by defining the interior corners.

Square the short ends of the oval with your hands and the piece of wood. With the wood support on the outside of the short wall, use your index and middle fingers to press the interior corners, working from the bottom to the top (4). Do this gradually in order to keep the form symmetrical, repeating the motions on the opposite short wall. Refine the exterior of each corner with a red Mudtools rib. 

Scallop the Bottom

To cut a lobed bottom, fold a piece of paper that matches the width of the form into thirds, then cut a semicircle along one edge. Unfold the paper and test it against the form (5). Measure up from the bottom of the form to the height at which to align the template—this ensures level and symmetrical cutting on both sides of the vessel. Line up the template with the marks, trace along the lobes with a needle tool, then repeat on the other side. Cut along these lines with an X-Acto knife, then use a ruler to guide straight cuts along the short walls to connect to the curve of the scalloped edges (6). 

Roll three balls of clay (about ¼ pound each) into chunky coils (7). Slightly flatten each segment by tapping it with the heel of your hand against your work surface, then begin to pinch the flattened piece into an elongated arch (8). Using the lobes of the canister form as reference, continue pinching to curve each segment. They need to be even and about as thick as the wall of the canister. Test the fit of each on the form and adjust as needed. Be sure that each segment overhangs the sides of the canister. 

5 Make a paper template the same length as the vessel and cut to shape. 6 After cutting the lobes on both long sides, cut straight across the short sides. 7 Use three balls of clay of equal weight to roll into chunky coils. 8 Pinch and thin each coil into an arch-shaped slab.

To avoid a sharp, acute join where the lobes meet, use a knife  to slightly expand and round out the V-shaped points on the canister form. When satisfied that the arched segments and lobed edges match well (9), join the three segments together by scoring, slipping, and compressing to create the bottom piece. Allow this to firm up slightly, then attach it to the canister. Score the areas to be joined, add water or vinegar, then compress into place. Trim most of the overhanging clay from the bottom piece (but leave about ⅛ inch to blend later). Let the piece stiffen.

Once leather hard, clean up the bottom seam, blending the remaining excess clay down into the wall of the form using metal and rubber ribs. Refrain from cleaning up or smoothing the bottom too much at this point to avoid bending it out of shape, but do gently drag a rubber-tipped sculpting tool along the seam between each lobe arch to compress it slightly to help prevent cracks from forming. 

9 Test the fit of the arched, segmented bottom, then attach. 10 Use an X-Acto knife to cut the rim to the desired height. 11 Once the piece is leather hard, refine the bottom as needed. 12 Allow the piece to dry slowly, shown here with foam to keep its shape.

Refine the Rim

Flip the form right side up, cut a fresh rim to even out the top and achieve the desired finished height (10). Use your index finger and thumb to pinch the rim to a soft, inward-sloping bevel. Note: Keep the edge of the rim at least 3/16 inch thick to avoid chipping. Clean up the corners of the canister at the rim and the interior bottom seam with a long-handled paintbrush or sculpting tool, then cover the form in plastic to homogenize in moisture content overnight. The next day, flip the canister onto foam and refine the bottom as needed (11). 

Allow the piece to dry slowly (12). After bisque firing, glaze the interior and exterior of the form, using the paper lobe template to offset and echo the scalloped edge in glaze. I used a commercial, low-fire satin glaze. Fire once more, then fill with your go-to kitchen utensils. After some use, I’ve decided to place a strip of felt in the bottom of the canister to soften the drop and clatter of tools as I search for the right spoon. 

Katie Sleyman is the acquisitions and content editor for Ceramics Monthly, Pottery Making Illustrated, and Ceramic Recipes as well as the books manager for the Ceramic Arts Network.