I am a ceramic artist based on the West Coast of Ireland. My current body of work came about when renovating a 100-year-old cottage. All the layers of paint, wallpaper, and varnish that I peeled away inspired me to create a story with age, texture, and color on my work.
Creating the Various Jug Parts
Most of my forms, including this jug, begin with a rolled slab of clay (I use a grogged red earthenware.) Begin by cutting a circle from a clay slab that is slightly larger than the template or mold being used for the bottom of the jug (1). The excess clay will be pinched and used to attach the base to the main body of your piece.
For my jug forms, I wanted the bottom to be elevated and took inspiration from those old glass jugs that seem to live in everyone’s homes in the back of a cupboard somewhere, similar to the cone-shaped ones often filled with juice that toddlers use. So to create lift, I used one of GR Pottery Forms’ smaller (5-inch) plate molds. Place the mold on top of an elevated object (I use a pint-sized glaze jar), then press the clay circle over the mold to shape it (2). Leave the base to set up while you move on to the next step.
Next, prepare to make the body of the jug. Place a 3×9-inch, cone-shaped template on a second clay slab and cut out the clay (I use heavy watercolor paper for my templates) (see 1). The wall of the cone needs to be around ¼ inch thick and the diameter should be smaller than the circular base slab, as you will be pinching out the clay to size. With your piece cut, gently curve it to form a cylinder and press the clay on both sides to stretch it slightly, leaving the top and bottom a bit thicker (3).
Forming a Mug Shape
Next up is beveling, scoring, and attaching, so you end up with a mug shape. With the base set on the bisque mold, pinch from the edges of the pot upward to widen the rim of the base. (4). Allow the base to firm up enough that it can support the weight of the body of the jug.
Next, score and apply slip to the bottom of the cylinder, then flip the cylinder upside down and attach it to the base (5). Push and pinch the two joints together with equal pressure from the inside and outside (6). I find my fingers are the best tool for this job as I can sense the thickness of the piece. Once the two pieces are joined together, smooth and refine the inside of the jug with your finger and a damp sponge.
Then, begin to shape the form. I like to push out the bottom slightly using my fingers to create more of a belly on the jug. I use a bisque mold to round the rim of the form (7). The top of the form can then be trimmed to ready the piece for adding coils. If needed, use a heat gun at this time to stiffen the clay slightly or leave it to set up under a loose plastic sheet for a couple of hours or overnight.
Once the form has dried to a near leather-hard state, use a pony roller on the seam around the base to reinforce the seal, then refine the join on the outside with a pointed wooden tool.
Flaring the Mug Into a Jug
Now start adding coils of clay. Press out a coil that is as long as the measurement of the rim’s circumference and about an inch high. Score, attach, and then pinch the coil onto the form (8). Smooth the coil into the body and pinch the coil up to add a little height but do not overly thin the top (9). The number of coils added depends on the desired height of the final piece.
Next, get a small ball of clay and pinch out a rough, oblong shape for a spout. I use a 5-inch round template and cut it to make it oblong in shape. Holding this against the pot, figure out where you want your spout to go, then use a wooden tool to mark the outline of the spout so you know where to cut out clay for the attachment (10). Cut a slightly smaller oval shape from the jug (11). Thin out the attachment area by pinching, then score and add slip. Attach the spout to the body of the piece, using a rib to get a firm join (12). Pinch up and refine the spout using a finishing sponge, then remove any unwanted clay with a rasp once it has set up a bit. Finally, shape the lip of the spout using the thumb and forefinger of one hand to hold up the spout while you pull the edge down slightly with the forefinger of the other hand (13).
Refine and blend the spout seams into the main body of the jug to create a smooth join. I have added little nubs of clay here for a bit of contrast (these will be a different color) (14).
Adding a Handle
Allow the jug to set up to leather hard before adding your handle. My handles are made from a stubby coil that I can attach and pinch in situ, so I can figure out placement. I roll a coil around 5 inches long and pinch it so it has a ridge along the middle. Score and attach the top of the handle first to make sure you have a length you are happy with prior to cutting the extra from the bottom. When deciding on placement, I try to imagine pouring the jug and how it will feel in someone’s hand (15).
Applying Surface Decoration and Firing
Now, you can start decorating. I use a mixture of cut paper shapes made from Isla Transfers (www.islatransfers.com) to create organic patterns in different colors (16). I use mainly the Grande Lunares and Stripes patterns. The shapes I cut tend to be curvy and organic, forming imaginary landscapes on my work.
Apply slip on the jug where you want to place the cut-shape transfer, then apply slip on the transfer itself (over the colored decoration) (17). My slip is an 80:20 mix of Hyplas ball clay and EPK kaolin with 2% Zircopax added for opacity. I like my slip thick—the best way to describe it would be like thick Greek yogurt. I like to apply the transfer while the backing slip and the slip on the jug are still wet (18), and leave it to set up on the pot overnight. This way, when you peel off the transfer, it has dried a bit and you don’t get a completely clean image, which adds to the aged appearance of the pot. You can always rub the paper as you lift it off if too much of the transfer is not adhering. This technique creates a surface reminiscent of old wallpaper or flaking paint.
Once the transfers are placed, paint the inside of the pot with a colored slip and the handle in a contrasting color. Then, paint the other areas of the piece. I like to use thick slips to create movement and texture (19). When you peel back the transfer, make sure to smooth down any loose or bubbly bits of slip with your finger or they will pop off in the kiln during firing.
Next, I use a dressmaker’s tracing wheel to apply more texture and outline patterns on the pot (see 20). Then, I apply slip dots using a precision tip to complete the piece and add more texture and visual interest (20). Finally, I add a terra-sigillata wash (I use a red terra sigillata made from my clay body) to the base, which provides a bit of sheen. Allow the slip to fully dry, then bisque fire the pot to cone 04.
Glazing and Firing
After bisque firing, I apply a black-iron oxide wash over the painted areas, then sponge it back. It will catch on the craggy parts to add to the weathered surface (21). This gives a beautiful aged effect when fired with my clear glaze. I glaze by dipping my pots into a commercial clear glaze, then fire the dry jug to cone 1.
As you can see, you can achieve various heights of jugs using my method and myriad surfaces with various layers and techniques. Happy mud messing.
Dee Quinn currently lives in Enniscrone, Ireland, where she works in her home studio. She returned to clay ten years ago after working as a chef for over ten years. She originally did her apprenticeship back in 1995. You can find her on Instagram @DeeQuinnCeramics.