Dinner parties and social gatherings are the perfect time to bring out and use those dishes you’ve been saving for a very special occasion. You know, the ones that are too bold or eclectic for everyday use, but would elevate your finger-food display to the next level at the party. In my own practice I try to design pieces for this type of situation. I enjoy the fun challenge of trying to design tableware that is not only functional but is also still exciting and funky enough to want to save for special occasions.
Start by rolling out two slabs: one 12 × 8-inch slab at ⅜ inch thickness; one 14 × 14-inch slab at ⅛ inch thickness. Compress both slabs with a rib. Leave the ⅜-inch slab out to firm up until it reaches a medium leather hard, since this will be used later for the handles and flat body of the snack caddy.
Using the ⅛-inch slab, trace a template for three small oval bowl forms (1). My template for the bowl forms has two parts: one for the bottom of the bowl, and another for the walls.
Templates can easily be made by either tracing an existing bowl or printing one off from the Internet. I freehanded most of these templates and tinkered with them to find the shape and size I wanted. Handbuilding from templates will help you achieve the same size and shape for all three bowls.
Next, use an angle-cutting tool to bevel all the edges and ensure that all the seams join well together. I prefer to cut a 60° edge instead of a 45° edge (2). This makes the forms a little more rounded and less square when the edges are joined together.
To assemble the slab bowl, attach all the pieces together (3), and compress the outside of each seam with a red rubber rib. Then, use a rounded wooden knife to seal the joins of the interior seams (4). Once you have finished assembling the three bowls, set them aside for a bit until they reach a medium leather-hard state.
The Big Assembly
When your bowls and ⅜-inch slab have dried to a similar hardness, you can cut the ⅜-inch slab for the body of the caddy. For this I also have a template that coincides with the small bowl templates, but you are free to choose whichever shape suits your wish.
I have already drawn the placement for each bowl on my template. By tracing a dull knife across the drawn lines on the template over the slab, you can transfer the cut lines onto the slab.
I chose to build this caddy upside down because I believe it’s easier to keep the flat body slab straight. You aren’t working against gravity as much when building it upside down.
Instead of attaching the bowls to the body slab using a miter joint (so that the lip of the bowl and the body slab form a corner), attach the body slab ¼ inch down the side of the bowl. By working this way, the rims of the bowls are slightly raised above the slab (after flipping it over), bringing more attention to each bowl form visually. To do this, lay the leather-hard body slab across a few paint sticks (see 5). When the bowls are attached, their rims will sit slightly above the body slab.
Attach the bowls to the body slab starting with the one in the middle, then move on to the bowls on the left and right. First, though, cut along the transferred lines at a slight angle to mimic the angle of the bowl’s outer side—remember, the sides aren’t perpendicular to the bottom because of the 60° joint cut. Next, score, add slip, and slide the bowl into its cut-out space (5). For an object with as many attachments as this, always seal the seams with a coil and compress it into the seam with a round wooden knife (6). This gives some added strength to all the seams and leads to fewer cracks. Repeat this process until all of the bowls are attached to the body.
Flip and Refine
Now it’s time to flip the caddy from upside down to right-side up. The easiest and most stable way to do this is to lay a board on top of the piece so that it is sandwiched between two boards, then flip it over quickly and remove the top board. You want to avoid picking up or moving the piece unevenly as it will add more stress to your connection points and could encourage warping during the firing. Using the two-board sandwich system ensures that the weight is distributed evenly.
Because I use earthenware with almost no grog, slumping is always a concern and very likely during the drying and firing. To prevent this, after the flip add small stumps of clay under the base slab to help support the weight of the handles when they are added in the next step (7).
Now that you can see the top of the caddy you may notice small gaps in the seams around the bowls. Flood these seams with slip and press along the inner lip of the bowl to close the seams. Then, just as you did on the underside, gently press a coil around the seams and compress and blend them in (8).
Handles will be the last attachments made to this piece. Take this step to be expressive. Playful handles can bring a lot of attitude to a pot. Alter the cutouts from the body slab to create handles so that they mimic the shape of the bowls (9).
Dry fit (10) then mark the placement of the handles. Score the area of attachment, add slip, and join the pieces at a slight angle on each side of the end bowls. Repeat the coiling process around each attachment.
Finish and Fire
Slightly bend the edges of the tray upward and curve the handles slightly outward to further prevent any warping.
To finish, wipe over the whole piece with a coarse sponge and then again with a finishing sponge to get a clean surface. Be sure to let the caddy dry slowly to prevent further warping or slumping.
Taylor Mezo is a ceramic artist from Illinois, currently living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She works primarily in red earthenware clay to create sculptural yet functional wares. To see more, visit Instagram at @tayloramezo.