Twenty years came and went teaching at a small liberal arts college, Muskingum University, in eastern Ohio. We had built a studio on campus and managed to fully furnish it with all the raw materials and equipment necessary to operate a quality program. With the stress of academia, it eventually became clear that it was time for me to do what I wanted to do with clay. I set up my own studio in my pole barn and debated as to what type of forms I would make. I coil built forms that looked like organic bags. I was able to get into juried exhibitions at several ceramic centers with these types of forms, but I was not satisfied.

Then I had a thought. I had made several large molds (20×3 inch and a 16×2 inch) prior to leaving teaching and decided to make platters. Technical questions came to mind when making the platters. Would I glaze these platters for function or would I display the work on a wall? Could I fire these platters without them cracking in the kiln? I’ve always been drawn to utilitarian work, but found it was not as rewarding as ceramic sculpture. Then, I realized that I needed to overcome my anxiety and just make good ceramic art. My answer to what to make became obvious. Use the molds in an inverted manner to make curvilinear forms that were both functional and sculptural at the same time. This was the beginning of my wall-clock series.

Pressing the Form

Begin with a clean, dry slump mold (I used a 15½-inch-round  plaster mold) (1). Take a clean, damp sponge and wipe down the mold. Roll out a large circular clay slab (I use Laguna #75 clay body), to be 2 inches larger than the mold. I use a slab roller, but always finish thinning the slab to ⅜ inch thickness with a large rolling pin. With the clay stuck to the canvas, transfer the slab to your mold. Use your hand to press the slab into the mold (2). Trim away the excess clay on the outer edge of the mold using a wire tool (3). 

1 Start with a 15½-inch-diameter × 2-inch-deep plaster mold.2 Roll out a slab to ⅜ inch thick and press it into the mold with your hands.

3 Cut away the excess clay around the rim with a wire tool.

Score the outer edge of the form. I use various types of tools to do this, including an old plastic comb broken into smaller sections. Then I make a slurry mixture (made from my clay body) in a blender—yes, I do go through multiple blenders. Using a 1-inch brush, coat the scored area before attaching a coil. I make the coils by rolling them with my hands to a ½-inch thickness. Once you have one coil attached, add another and then another until you’re walls are 3 inches high (4, 5). Make sure your coils are well joined, then push the entire coiled wall to a severe slant, and make sure the clay is an even ⅜ inch thickness. 

Place a 10-inch bat on top of the coiled wall (6). You can then use a needle tool and cut around the bat, making a clean edge. Allow the form to stiffen for about 24 hours, then smooth the form with a damp sponge (7).

4 Put slurry on the slab rim, then add coils. Blend the seams with a wooden tool.5 Add another coil, then blend and smooth to achieve a similar thickness throughout.

6 Place a bat on the coiled back and cut around it with a needle tool. 7 Smooth the interior and the edge with a wet sponge. Be sure not to push down the coiled edge or overload it with water.

Next, take newsprint and roll it into a coil. Place the paper coil under the slanted wall, pushing it into the space between the wall and the slab for support (8). Allow some drying time before you flip the inverted form over onto a wooden bat, so the curved form is facing up. Center the inverted form on the bat. Now, use a series of Surform rasps, soft plastic ribs, drywall sanding sheets, and a damp sponge to achieve a smooth surface (9). 

8 Push a coil of newsprint between the slab and the edge of the coiled back for support when inverting the mold onto a large bat.9 Trim the form. I use a Surform rasp, soft ribs, and a damp sponge to smooth it.

Designing the Surface

Leave the form on your wheel and find the center at the top of the curve. Push the tip of a needle tool into the clay on center so you know where to make a hole for the clock stem. Use a ⅜-inch drill bit to make the correct size hole for the clock kit (10). 

Now for the design. I like to create multiple lines on the surface that mimic the shape of the form. Do not press the tool too hard, it could cause the piece to warp and crack as it dries and fires. You can draw your design on paper and transfer to the clock face, but for me, I enjoy making a design where I find radial balance asymmetrically (11). 

Once you have created a linear design and the form has dried to leather hard, apply an overall base color. I use a jet-black underglaze for this (12). I begin by coating the carved lines using a small brush. Then I use a 3-inch foam roller and cover the entire form. Let the underglaze dry to the touch and add a second coat. I have always loved putting color on a black surface, but you can choose the base-coat color that’s appropriate for your design. Allow the form to dry for several days at this point. Do not cover with plastic to hamper shrinkage. 

10 After smoothing the form, drill a hole for the clock stem using a ⅜-inch drill bit. 11 Add a design using a needle tool. Remove any clay bits in the lines.

12 Apply multiple coats of black underglaze. Let dry, then paint in various colors of underglaze throughout the design. 13 After applying multiple coats of underglaze, add a layer of dots in other colors over the painted sections.

Next, gather various colors of underglaze and a long, soft-bristled artist paintbrush. No matter the color, make sure you put multiple coats on each area (see 13). When using a light color, such as a yellow, paint the specific area many times until it looks opaque. Once you have covered your design, let the underglaze dry to the touch. 

For the next step, I use small plastic bottles with metal tips (16 and 18 mm) filled with underglaze to add a layer of colored dots on top of the color swatches (13). Make sure the consistency of the underglaze is thick. If it is too thin, it can run into unwanted places. The amount of underglaze you use can vary. Place dots of a color on the form until you’re satisfied. Tip: I tend to lose the tips for the bottles. After I apply color on my form I put a pin with a plastic round head in it. This keeps the tip from clogging by preventing the underglaze from drying.

Loading and Firing

One of the best things about my method is that you can single fire your forms. To aid in the firing’s success, roll out a slab that has a similar thickness to the form. Cut the slab into pieces and place them in the kiln (14) under the form (15) as it fires. I find this works well to provide support while firing. If your clay support slabs are not of the same thickness, the piece could crack as it fires. 

14 Flatten firing slabs on a kiln shelf to make sure they are the same thickness. 15 Let the form dry, then place it into the kiln on top of the small firing slabs.

When firing the forms in an electric kiln, load the ware and fire to about 300°F (149°C) on a slow ramp. Shut the kiln off and close the lid. This allows the forms to dry thoroughly before the actual firing the next day. On the next day, crack the lid fully and fire on a slow ramp until 300–400°F (149–204°C). Close the lid and allow the temperature to rise slowly. When the kiln is approximately 800°F (427°C), turn the kiln to a medium ramp. Once the kiln is at 1200°F (649°C) and is showing color, change the setting to a fast ramp. Reaching cone 3 takes about 6–8 hours in my kiln. When the firing is complete, allow the kiln to cool until cold to the touch. You can crack a piece if you open the lid too soon.

Assembling the Clock

If you’re making a clock with your form, you can order parts from multiple sources. I have purchased from Amazon and Klockit ( Place the motor stem, which holds an AA battery, through the hole in the clock and secure it using the provided washer and nut. Remove the plastic coating on the hands and place the hour hand or short hand on the stem first. Then, place the minute hand, followed by the second hand. 

16 Assemble the clock parts, including the hands and the battery-powered motor. My New Mexico, 16 in. (41 cm) in diameter, Laguna #75 clay, Amaco underglazes, single fired to cone 3, clock parts, 2021.

Use a nail or screw placed into a stud in the wall to hang the clock. The clock will hang on the clay wall built on the back side.

Life after teaching has been very satisfying. Making forms in my studio each day has changed me. I find new directions in design and my stress levels have diminished.

Eyes, 20 in. (51 cm) diameter, Laguna #75 clay, Amaco underglazes, single fired to cone 3, clock parts, 2021.

Ken McCollum lives and maintains his studio in New Concord, Ohio. To see more, visit