On Saturday mornings in the studio, I play PBS food shows. They are in the background of whatever I’m working on, but every now and then, they cook something that catches my attention, and I stop and watch how they do it. One Saturday, they were making soft-boiled eggs. Simple: boil water, add eggs out of the refrigerator, boil for 6 minutes, and they are perfect. I tried it and yes, they were. But the egg cups they were using on TV looked boring and I thought that I could throw those fairly easily, plus make them more interesting.
I have a number of clay friends who have chickens, which made me consider the egg itself when designing my egg cups. Not only are there great colors of eggs—white, green, blue, brown, and speckled—but they also can vary quite a bit in size and shape from small to extra large.
The first group of egg cups I made were for the wood kiln. I made them from cone-10 stoneware, I carved them a bit and finished them with a shino glaze. Although they worked, I wasn’t fully satisfied with them. The cup part wasn’t quite deep enough and a runny yolk could drip down the side. I wanted the next group to be better designed to hold various egg sizes without any potential mess.
I rarely try to make items that are all the same size when throwing, so the balls of wedged clay for the egg cups varied in weight from less than 1 pound to just over a pound. I used Amaco’s A Mix #11, a cone 5–6, white, mid-range clay. The slightly different weights and sizes of clay change what’s possible with each piece: more clay equals taller stems and/or wider tops and bottoms; less clay equals shorter and smaller shaped pieces. It pushes me creatively to find what is more pleasing to my eye.
Start with a bat on the wheel. I use a smaller bat, which allows the bottom to be moist enough to wire the piece off in the following morning and then trim. While centering the clay, cone it up and back down a couple times before leaving it in the cone shape (1). Using your thumb and index fingers from both hands, gently squeeze from both sides to shape a stem while leaving enough clay on top to open and create a cup shape (2). Be careful to not squeeze too hard or fast or you will rip the solid clay top off from the stem.
The bottom can be shaped at this time, giving various thicknesses to the base (see 2). I make the bottom wider than the top cup to make it more stable when spooning out the egg from the shell. Pull up the sides to create the cup shape you want (3). I added a flared rim so that a runny egg yolk doesn’t make a mess down the side of the cup. Remember to consider the shrinkage of the clay body when forming the cup size. Once the cup shape is formed, finish shaping the stem. Be mindful that the top cup may go off center when shaping the stem and will need to be recentered.
Next, use a clay shaper or wooden tool to create a designated line so that the glaze will break or a change in glaze color can be made (4). At this point, you can carve or stamp the piece to create more interest in the surface (5, 6). Once you’re done, keep the cup attached to the bat and set it aside to firm up.
Once the top is drier than the bottom, wire the form off the bat. This allows you to turn it upside down, secure it to the wheel (I use a Giffin Grip), and trim some of the weight off the bottom. While drying, some of the pieces can move slightly off center, so I use a Mudtools Do All Trim Tool to hollow out some of the base while holding it still in my other hand (7). After trimming, use your thumb to smooth out any rough ridges, then set it upside down to dry. This allows the thicker bottom to dry without cracking in the center (8).
Firing and Glazing
Because the bottoms and stems are thicker than the top cups, I want to ensure they are totally dry, so I place the dry egg cups into the kiln, preheat it to 180°F (82°C) and hold it there for a couple hours before proceeding with a slow bisque firing to cone 04.
Most of the cone 5–6 glazes used on these pieces were fired to cone 6. They are mostly newer Amaco Cone 5–6 PC glazes and the Celadon series made for brushing. Experimenting with these glazes is fun, and they can look different depending on thickness of application and whether you fire them to cone 5 or 6. Some move when on vertical surfaces. It’s always best to test (9).
Once I had the egg cups out of the kiln and on my kitchen table, it just seemed perfect to put apples and avocados in them for storage off the table surface. So, the latest group really changed and evolved. The cup size became larger and flatter to accommodate oranges, limes, lemons, peaches, garlic, etc.
While throwing one of the wedged clay balls that was larger than one pound, instead of making it into an egg cup, I shifted focus and made a stemmed drinking cup with a base, something that I have never made before. Even after decades of working in clay I still find it interesting and challenging, and may start off with one idea that evolves into something else that I hadn’t expected.
David L. Gamble is contributing an educational focus at Skutt Kilns and Pottery Wheels. He thinks of his current ceramic work as paintings that happen to be on clay.