Finished wine cup by Ali Schorman

As the daughter of an architect, I have always had an affinity for geometry and design. From a young age, I remember being completely drawn in by the geometric patterns I discovered in the world around me. I am continually fascinated by how the repetition of simple shapes can produce a beautiful complexity. 

I choose simple forms for my pieces to balance the lavish decorations that adorn them. The subtractive nature of carving combined with the raised slip dots produce a rich, tactile experience that is just as significant as the visual one for the user. The bright, candy-colored glazes emphasize the texture and delight the eyes. My goal in creating these pieces is to light up the brains of others, sharing the joy that pattern, color, and texture have brought me since childhood.

Casting the Form

I begin by casting a simple stemless wine glass shape with Laguna Clay’s Glacier White porcelain casting slip in a plaster mold (1). The duration of the cast is dependent on many factors including humidity, temperature, and desired thickness. The slip is poured from the mold and the mold is left to drain for several minutes. The mold is then righted and the excess slip is cut from the top with a rigid plastic tool (2). After the form has set up in the mold, it is released for cleanup. The seams are gently scraped with a metal rib (3) and sponged with a white Mudtools’ finishing sponge, which smooths the surface but doesn’t introduce excess water. Center the form on a slightly damp banding wheel and smooth the top edge with a yellow throwing sponge while spinning the wheel (4).

1 Pour casting slip through a sieve into a plaster mold for a cup shape. 2 Cut the excess slip from the rim using a rigid plastic tool.

3 Once removed from the mold, use a metal rib to scrape the seams of the cup. 4 Smooth the rim with a sponge while spinning the piece on a banding wheel.

Transferring the Design

Planning a complicated design on a three-dimensional form is greatly simplified by marking a grid onto which the drawing can be transferred. Center the form upside down on a banding wheel with a DiamondCore Tools trimming spinner disk centered on top. Line up a vertical laser level with the desired demarcation on the disk—in this case, the form is divided into twelve sections. Using food coloring on a fine brush, follow the laser to make a vertical line (5). I use food coloring because it is easy to apply and see, doesn’t leave behind scratch marks, and burns out in the bisque firing. Continue until all vertical lines are in place. To make evenly spaced horizontal lines, a scrap of paper is folded into four sections, which are then marked on the piece (6). With a steady hand and a spinning banding wheel, paint on the horizontal lines where marked. 

When planning designs for my pots, I draw in a bullet journal with dots placed on a grid. I draw dots on the initial design that will correspond to the grid laid out on the pot, simplifying the transfer of the design onto the voluminous form (7). I then paint the design onto the form with food coloring (8). 

5 Following a laser level, paint vertical lines that correspond to drawn marks. 6 Use scrap of folded paper to determine the spacing of the horizontal lines.

7 Draw designs on dotted paper corresponding to the grid on the pot. 8 Paint the design over the grid on the pot with food coloring and a fine brush.

Carving and Carving Tools 

To prepare the piece for carving, gently stuff it with plastic bags and a foam circle cut to fit within the rim. This stabilizes the form and the rim to prevent cracking and warping. 

I use DiamondCore Tools’ P1 Carver tool exclusively to carve. This is mainly because the Glacier White casting slip, although beautifully white and translucent when fired, is not very plastic in its leather-hard stage and needs a very sharp tool for a successful line quality. Carve the piece while it is leather hard, following the lines painted on in the previous step. A little practice is essential to get a feel for how the tool performs with your clay body. Use an even pressure to lightly drag the tool across the surface of the clay, using a spare finger to stabilize your hand against the pot and pivot when the line curves (9). Starting and ending each stroke with lighter pressure gives an elegant line quality, and moving the piece with your supporting hand as you carve aids in a more fluid gesture. Training your eye ahead of where you are carving helps keep the tool on track. After completing your carving, use a damp paintbrush and white Mudtools’ sponge to clean up any remaining clay burrs and soften carved lines (10). 

9 Following the lines drawn in food coloring, carve the design into the surface. 10 Smooth the edges of the carved lines with a damp paintbrush.

Using an Airpen to Slip Trail 

The slip-trailed dots are made from the same slip with which the piece was cast. Mason stain is added if colored slip is desired. To achieve the correct consistency, the slip is made more viscous (flocculated) with the addition of Epsom salts dissolved in water. A dollar store ketchup bottle is ideal for storing slip, as it enables you to shake in the Epsom salt solution and refill your slip trailer easily. Tip: Slip consistency is very important—if it is too thin, the slip will run off the pot. If it is too thick, it will not dispense easily and will form stiff peaks on the dots. 

I use an Airpen dispenser, which uses an air compressor to dispense the slip, saving my hands from repetitive-use injury. However, any type of slip trailer, such as a bulb syringe or bottle with a needle attachment works just as well. Beginning with the largest dot in the series, slowly dispense the slip with the needle tip held close to the pot until the desired size dot is formed. Continue down the line, making each dot successively smaller (11). After all the dots have been applied, leave the piece to air dry until the dots firm up. If the dots have a point after drying, they can be easily smoothed out with a damp throwing sponge (12). Bisque fire the piece to cone 06 once it is bone dry. 

11 Slip-trail dots of slip in various sizes with an Airpen. 12 Smooth dots with a sponge if points have formed after the piece has dried.

Using a Spray Gun for Ombré Gradients 

The three-color ombré effect in my work is achieved by spraying glaze from different angles with a Paasche 62-2-3 Sprayer affixed to an air compressor set to 45 psi. When spraying glaze, it is crucial to wear a properly fitted respirator or N95 mask and to work in a well-ventilated area (preferably a spray booth) to prevent breathing in dust or glaze particles. 

For the majority of my glazes, I use a clear cone-5 base that is colored with 7% Mason stain at dry weight. Add a support to the bottom of the piece so that glaze doesn’t accumulate on the bottom, then center the piece upside down on a banding wheel. All spraying should be done while the piece is spinning. Spray the middle layer first, aiming for the center of the piece at a 90˚ angle until enough glaze has been deposited (13). Switch the glaze color, spraying the bottom layer from above (14). Flip the piece right-side up with a support underneath and spray from above with the top glaze color (15). Lastly, spray the inside of the piece. 

13 Spray the middle glaze color at a 90º angle while spinning on a banding wheel. 14 Spray the bottom of the piece from above with a second glaze color.

15 Flip the piece then spray the top from above with a third glaze color.

Finally, clean the underside of the pot and fire to cone 5. After glazing, the foot is sanded with DiamondCore sanding pads up to 1500 grit for a buttery smooth surface. 

Assortment of four finished cups by Ali Schorman

Ali Schorman works as a glaze tech and arts educator at the Mesa Arts Center. She earned a BFA with a concentration in drawing from Arizona State University in 2002. She lives with her husband and two boys in Chandler, Arizona. To see more of her work, visit alischorman.com or follow her on Instagram @ali_schorman.