Growing up in northeast Oklahoma, my introduction to art came in quiet moments of curiosity: looking over my grandmother’s sewing table, fumbling around in her embroidery projects, and cleaning hobby pottery with my aunt during each summer vacation. My paternal grandmother, the mother of two boys, sparked my love for heirloom quilts and in my undergraduate studies, my work explored ideas of women’s work, feminine symbolism, and matrilineal transmission of tradition.
Using clay reminiscent of Oklahoma red dirt, inscribed with traditional quilt patterns, I build vessels meant for daily use. Borrowing template methods from sewing, pattern inspiration from quilt blocks, and soft-sanded surfaces, my practice transports me from my studio to my grandmother’s garage-adjacent sewing room—surrounded by stacked patterns and soft fabrics, and observing her hands hard at work. Quilts and dishes often represent a matrilineal inheritance of family heirlooms and traditions while connecting loved ones across time and table. Interlacing drawing with tactile handbuilding techniques in the vessels that I make allows me to participate in that ongoing conversation at my table as well as in other homes where my work is found/used.
Consistency with Templates
Tar paper is an essential part of my practice as it offers form consistency while still leaving room for individuality in each piece. As an inexpensive, flexible, and durable material, it’s perfect for making reusable templates for your forms. While there are many ways to make a template, from using pencil and paper to using Papercraft software (www.papercraft3d.com), the website templatemaker.nl is a great free resource for simple forms like this pitcher.
Handbuilding the Pitcher
To begin, roll out a slab roughly ¼ inch thick that is large enough for your tar-paper template and a circular slab for the base. Rib the slab on both sides to compress it. Place the tar-paper template on the slab and cut out around the edges.
When cutting out your shape, hold your knife at the same 45° angle, while cutting both sides of the vertical wall seam as well as the bottom edge (1). By beveling the edges, you increase the surface area of your seam, making the join more secure.
Next, use your finger to press a soft bevel into the shorter top edge—this will become the rim. Score the two wall seams, then apply your slip of choice (I use vinegar). Stand your pot vertically with the bottom edge up, and press the seams together (2). Support the seam from the inside of the pot with a long, flat surface (I use a Kemper RB00 tool, but a wooden ruler or paint stirrer would do the trick), and use a pony roller to compress and secure the seam (3). Level out the bottom edge with a knife if needed, then flip the pot rim side up. Tip: Inserting a round cookie cutter that matches the diameter of the opening keeps the edge true and offers stability while working (see 8). Next, using a flexible rubber rib, smooth the interior and exterior of the seam and upper rim. Once the vertical seam is no longer visible, flip the pot upside down and prepare to attach the bottom slab.
Roll out a coil that is pinky-finger-sized in diameter and long enough to go around the interior of the base. Using your pointer finger and thumb, press the coil into a triangular profile. Score one of the short edges of the coil and the interior of the base, apply slip, then join the coil just below the bottom rim, leaving enough room to fit the circle-shaped slab (4). Next press a bevel into the outer edge of the circular slab, score the beveled edge as well as along the outer edge, apply slip, and attach the slab to the coil and the wall of pitcher (5). Gently tap the bottom slab with a wooden paddle, before scoring the mitered edge with a serrated rib, and compressing surfaces with a rubber rib to smooth and finish. After flipping the pot right-side up, clean up the interior of the base by smoothing the coil edges into the join.
Fashioning a Spout
Next, create a gentle spout by pulling the rim into a teardrop shape using your pointer finger and a rubber rib edge for support (6). Define the V shape of the spout’s profile using the flat edge of the same rib on the exterior surface by supporting the rim while moving the rib in a diagonal downward motion (7). On the interior surface, compress the spout’s interior V shape. Reinsert the round cookie cutter in the top rim to bring it true after manipulating the rim (8).
Crafting a Handle
For the handle, take a ball of clay about the size of a lime and pinch it in the middle while rotating to create a finger-bone-shaped form (9). Next, using the table surface as a base, begin pinching at one end, working your way toward the middle (10). Continue pinching on each side until a tapered arch forms (11).
Set the handle aside to stiffen a bit and prepare the vessel by marking the center of the pitcher on the opposite side of the pour spout. Score a spot the size of a quarter near the top rim and another directly below, near the middle of the pot’s vertical height. Remove any excess clay from each side of your handle at the connection points using angled V cuts (12). These cuts provide ample material for smooth handle-to-pot transitions as well as additional surface area for a sturdy connection. Score and slip to attach and then compress, smooth, and refine with a rubber rib (13, 14).
Applying Surface Decoration
Using mishima-inspired inlay techniques, you can inscribe a drawing into the surface of your vessel. After allowing the pot to firm up to hard-leather-hard, begin mapping out your design. I define the patterned portion of my vessel using a sharpened needle tool (15). Tip: I keep my needle tools sharp using a handheld Dremel outfitted with a 932 grinding-stone bit. The sharper your tool and the drier your clay, the more delicate and detailed your lines become. Bone-dry clay is not preferred as it is fragile and prone to chipping. I would encourage you to play around with different tools to determine what line quality suits your work best.
Once you have determined your pattern area, begin to draw your grid. Start with vertical lines, creating an even number of sections. Next, bisect your drawing area with a horizontal line level with your handle point, and then draw evenly spaced parallel lines above and below to create a grid. My decorative inspiration is rooted in traditional quilt patterns, which provide structure while offering ample opportunities to play with line, scale, composition, and orientation. Like any quilt, start with one block (16), and work in steps to complete the drawn pattern (17).
Traditional mishima inlay occurs during the pre-bisque-firing portion of a pot’s life, but because white underglaze can be tinted by the moisture remaining in red clay, I opt to apply underglaze after the bisque firing. Before doing so, wet sand any area that was drawn on with 220-grit sandpaper to smooth any burrs pulled up during carving. Using a hake brush and working in small sections, apply underglaze (18). Depending on the opacity of the underglaze and the preferred effect, one layer will be enough, but if you want a level fill like in traditional mishima, additional layers may be necessary. I use one layer of Amaco LUG-10 or a thickened layer of Amaco V-360. Next, remove the excess underglaze by scraping with a rubber rib, placing the excess back into the underglaze container to reduce waste (19), then use a damp sponge to remove the remainder from the clay surface (20, 21).
Visually and haptically, my favorite stage in the ceramic process is when the clay is leather hard. So to give my work that sense of touch, warmth of tone, and a slight sheen, I apply a lithium and Gerstley borate wash to the exterior of my pots. Brice Dyer’s recipe (shown below), when applied in one to three thin layers, is the perfect solution for me.
Preferring to use a simplified glaze palette in harmony with the rich clay of the exterior, I typically use a clear gloss glaze for the interior of my vessels. Depending on the form, I may use a white or black liner glaze, but my go-to clear glaze is Kitten’s Clear. I have found it to be relatively foolproof, regardless of thickness or application technique, and it offers a high-quality gloss.
After graduating with a BFA in printmaking from the University of Oklahoma, Margaret Kinkeade earned an MFA in ceramics from Pennsylvania State University. Upon graduation, she relocated with her family to Kansas City, Missouri, to teach ceramics and establish a home-studio practice. To see what she’s working on, visit www.margaretkinkeade.com and follow her on Instagram @ohmargie.