Casita Shrine Shelf, 8¾ in. (22 cm) in height, porcelain with grog, underglaze.  Casita Shrine Shelf, 8¾ in. (22 cm) in height, porcelain with grog, underglaze.

We all need a place to go and take a break from our busy minds. Taking time for myself can be challenging. That said, the prettier I make a space, the more motivated I am to spend time in it. One of my favorite handbuilding projects is my ceramic casita shrine shelf for this very reason. I love that these tiny homes can bring dimensionality to a wall and add decoration while serving a purpose. They designate a special space in your home that you can visit whenever you need to escape, meditate, or give energy to a person or idea that’s been on your mind. I hang these shrines around my house, giving my tchotchkes a home within my home, where they can live happily and contribute to my comfort and enjoyment. These shrines are a place where you can breathe life into whatever item or idea you want to provide with energy and head space.

Altars have roots in religion, and while I am not a religious person, I do find we have much to gain from routine and ritual. Something as simple as lighting incense or a candle on a shelf can shift my feelings and put me at ease. It’s like a miniature celebration of that moment and the permission I gave myself to stop and smell the roses. What I wasn’t anticipating was that the process of making these shelves would become yet another ritual, where my hands connect with clay to create a form I can then decorate with my own expressions. It’s cyclical: art inspires ritual and ritual inspires art.

I have a background in textile design, and I’ve always gravitated toward folk art. Nothing is more exciting than looking through a vintage store full of handcrafted rugs, weavings, quilts, and ceramics. These are the things that come with their own past story, give us great comfort in our nests, and create new stories for the generations to come. I love the idea of combining folk art with a sacred space, all in one ceramic form. I encourage you to create a pretty space of your own that you can return to again and again for serenity and inspiration. 

Creating the Design Template

The first step in making a shrine shelf is to close your eyes, take a deep breath and remind yourself to have fun! Keep an intention in your head or drift into the ritual of making this special nook! Now let’s make a template. 

I love creating templates for my work because it allows me to envision a sample model before proceeding with the real deal. I can make changes or corrections to my pattern and have a record of the exact shapes before they go through the drying and firing process. If I like the end results, I then have a template to return to again and again. 

Using a piece of plain letter paper, draw the shape of the back of the shrine to approximately 8×10 inches. I do this by drawing half of the shape on a folded piece of paper and then cutting it out for symmetry (1). You can take some creative liberties here or follow along with my design shape. This back part will sit against the wall and includes a hole centered toward the top that can be used to hang the piece on a nail or screw.

1 Fold a piece of paper, draw half of the shape for the back, then cut it out. 2 Do the same thing for the shelf, so you have symmetrical pieces.

Next, make a shelf at least one inch smaller than the width of the back piece. Start by taking another sheet of paper and drawing a 7-inch line using a ruler. This is the length of the shelf. I like the shelf shape to be complementary to the back, but for simplicity, you can always make it a rectangle or arc. Now, just like the back piece, fold the paper in half, measure 4 inches out along the folded edge, perpendicular from the first line (this 4 inches will be the depth of the shelf), and draw a shape for the shelf. Then cut out the folded halves along the lines to get a symmetrical template (2). 

Finally, draw the side brackets (that sit on each end of the shelf) on a sheet of paper. These should be 2 inches tall and 1½ inch long on the bottom edge (3). The contour can be any shape you choose. These brackets support the shelf and prevent items from falling off the sides.

3 Make the shelf side brackets/supports template 1½×2 inches. 4 Once you have cut all the paper pieces, you should have 4 templates.

When you are happy with the shapes and all the paper pieces are cut out (4), trace these pieces onto craft foam, card stock, or a manila folder to keep for multiple uses. At this point you can hold the template up and imagine what the shrine will look like when constructed (5). Label each piece, including where you will make holes to hang the shrine from (½ inch down from the top in the center) and where the shelf attaches to the back.

5 Trace the shapes onto card stock/cardboard, then cut out and label each piece.

Rolling and Preparing Slabs

I love using a clay body that can show off my surface decorations. I think of the clay body as the ground color in a painting. For an earthier look, go with a warm speckled body or red clay, and for bright popping underglaze colors, choose a white clay body. My favorite clay bodies are porcelain hybrids that have a bit of grog in them. The white clay allows for the colors to pop and the grog helps bond the attachments. 

First, roll out ⅜-inch-thick slabs using a slab roller or rolling pin. Allow slabs to dry to about leather hard. Smooth the slabs with a rubber rib. This also helps strengthen and compress the clay. Carefully flip and repeat the ribbing on the other side of the slabs. Bear in mind while handling slabs that clay has memory and any warping that happens while handling your clay has the potential to return during firing. We want the backs of the shrines to dry flat so they can sit flat against the wall. Another tip that helps avoid warping is to dry your pieces slowly and evenly, covering up your work in progress while you proceed through the steps.

Cutting and Attaching Pieces

Using the templates, cut 1 back piece, 1 shelf, and 2 side brackets  from your slabs (6) using an X-Acto knife or a sharp-edged tool. Try to use slab pieces that are the same thickness for even drying and consistency in look once the shrine is complete. 

6 Using your templates, cut out the pieces from a leather-hard slab. 7 Score and slip the edge of the brackets and shelf, then attach together.

Lightly mark where the shelf will sit on the back piece, score the edge of the support brackets and shelf, add slip to the scored areas, and then attach them together (7). Wait a few minutes for these to harden and then score and apply slip to the back piece (8) and back edge of the shelf and brackets. Attach the shelf to the back piece (9) and smooth all edges with your finger or tool. Roll out several coils, then reinforce all the seams where the shelf connects to the back piece. Press the coils along and into the seams using your finger, smoothing the edges together until the seams are no longer visible (10). Finish by smoothing all the edges using a sponge. Cover your shrine with plastic for one day. 

The next day, or when your piece is just past leather hard, bore the center hole at the top about ½ inch down using a hollow, round hole maker (11). Leave your shrine loosely covered with plastic for at least a day, then remove the plastic and let it dry to bone dry. The slower you dry your shrine, the better.

8 Score and slip the back piece and back edge of shelf and side brackets. 9 Attach the shelf to the back piece and smooth all of the seams. 10 Reinforce the seams by pressing coils into them and smoothing them over. 11 Make a hole in the back piece about ½ inch down from the top and centered.

Surface Decorations

Now it’s time for my favorite part: surface decoration! There are endless surface-design techniques, so this is where you can take some creative liberties and make your piece unique to you. Feel free to explore sgraffito techniques, glazes (bisque fire first), or stains. I love a matte finish, so I use a variety of underglazes in my favorite colors. Using a pencil, sketch a design (12) directly on the dry clay. I like to make a little door or portal and decorate it with flowers while imagining a little painted house. The great part about sketching your idea in pencil is that if you don’t like something, you can wet a sponge and wipe it away to start over. 

Once you are happy with your design, it’s time to pick a color palette and start painting. I brush on my designs using a paintbrush (13) and a somewhat heavy application of underglaze (14), so I do not have to repeat layers (15). Let the underglaze fully dry.

12 Using a pencil, do a preliminary sketch of your design directly on the surface. 13 Pick underglaze colors and start to paint the design using your sketch as a guide. 14 Apply three thin coats of underglaze or one heavy application, filling in all the drawn areas. Use thinner brushes for fine lines. 15 Once color is added to all areas of the design, allow the underglaze to dry before bisque firing.


I bisque fire to cone 04 and then do a second firing to cone 6. Mid-range temperatures or lower work best to preserve solid, opaque underglaze colors. Some underglaze colors can burn off, leaving a more translucent and brushstroke look if fired higher. I single stack my kiln, making sure the back of the shrine is flat on the shelf and there is no weight on top of the piece that can create stress during firing. The second firing is done without applying any glazes first. This creates an earthy matte finish that I really like, but feel free to experiment with glaze applications.

Now it’s time to enjoy the fruits of your labor! Place a small nail or screw into your wall, hang your piece, and adorn with your favorite plants, candles, crystals, or photos. 

Corinne Lent is originally from New York, where she studied fashion and textiles. She is now living and working in Portland, Oregon. Her work combines illustration, ceramics, and textiles. She is inspired by travel, collecting oddities, and the occult, as well as folk art, vintage relics, flowers, and animals. To see more, visit