I am a garden studio potter who, when not teaching, flits between making simple, functional pottery and more whimsical pieces such as wall plaques, bookends, and games. I love surface pattern and working with slips and oxides and am able to use these materials to get creative with the paintbrush when making my clay games.
For both my solitaire board and dominoes, I use a smooth white stoneware and fire to cone 9 in an electric kiln.
There are so many possibilities for these in terms of shape, color and decoration. Roll out a slab of clay about 5mm thick on fabric, using wooden thickness guides, and after letting it dry somewhat, use a biscuit cutter to cut the individual dominoes, 28 in all. It is wise to also make some spares (1). Leave them to dry a little, sandwiched between two MDF boards to prevent warping.
Once stiffened a little, use a damp sponge to smooth any sharp edges and then take a fine paintbrush and decorate with a mix of cobalt and manganese oxides to create the stripes and dots (2). Place the pieces back between the MDF boards until they are bone dry. A bisque firing follows.
Next, dip the top surface in a glaze of choice. The oxides will burn through the glaze during the final firing. For these dominoes, I used a matte white glaze and then used a brush to add a dash of transparent watery blue.
After the glaze firing, use a small diamond sanding pad to smooth the sides and bases of each piece. Caution: Always wear a mask and sand in water to keep the dust at bay.
Handmade dominoes make a lovely gift in a ribboned box, and the final addition is to tie on a dominoes tag, created from an extra playing piece with a hole carved in it and the word “dominoes” printed using rubber letter stamps (3).
To make the board, throw about 4½ pounds (2kg) of stoneware on the wheel, flattening it out with your fist and leaving a rim of clay at the edge. In the center of this rim, press a groove that is wide enough to hold the marbles. The final outer diameter is 12 inches (30cm), the diameter to the midpoint of the groove is 10½ inches (27cm), and the inner circle is 9¾ inches (24cm) (4).
The next stage is to draw the marble grid on a piece of paper. In case your dimensions vary from the ones I’ve given, the best thing to do is to cut a piece of paper that fits within the inner playing circle and draw a grid that sits comfortably within this. The grid forms a cross, with three marble runs forming each bar of the cross. There should be 33 points on the grid. Dampen the paper and overlay it centrally onto the board. Then, using a needle tool, pierce the paper at each intersection on the grid and gently mark the clay (5). Remove the paper and use a small, rounded pebble, dipped in water, to gently twist a round indentation at each point on the grid (6). Be sure to make this deep enough to hold a marble in place. The board can then be set aside to slowly dry to leather hard.
To make the marbles, weigh 40 balls of clay that are 7g each and roll them to a smooth and rounded finish (7). Tip: I made a rack to hold the balls during the glaze firing. Obviously you only have to make this once as it can be used over and over again. This is simply a flat slab of clay with marble-sized indentations made with the same pebble used previously.
Back to the board. Once leather hard, trim the bottom of the board and create a foot ring. Alternatively the base and any jagged edges can simply be smoothed with a damp sponge. Then, use slip to decorate the playing surface (8) before allowing the board, marbles, and marble rack to dry fully before bisque firing.
Once fired, paint wax resist onto the base of the board and apply a shiny transparent glaze on the playing surface. I half dip each marble in a range of complimentary glazes to add interest. These are then prepared for the kiln by setting them back on the marble rack, glaze side up to prevent sticking (9).
Once fired, all raw clay surfaces get a fine sanding with a diamond sanding pad and water, while wearing a dust mask. The solitaire board is then complete.
Jess Sarson lives and works from her garden studio based just outside the famous rowing town of Henley on Thames in Oxfordshire, UK. She teaches regular classes and sells online as well as at local art-weeks and craft fairs. Learn more about Jess’ work at www.jesssarsonpottery.co.uk or on Instagram @jesssarsonpottery.