The representation of humanness and connection has always been important to me in my work. I illustrate these things through the use of color, pattern, and texture. It began with the use of lace and stitches, and then on to the inclusion of plaid. While they are visibly very different, I’m drawn to use both plaid and lace because they both represent a diverse range of associations across subjects of emotion, people, and history.
Building and Design
I love the utility of a cup, and it’s one of my favorite forms to make. Start by rolling out a slab of a commercial dark stoneware that’s about ¼ inch thick. For my whiskey cups, I use a template made from an inexpensive, flexible cutting mat that is a 10×3 ½-inch rectangle (1). Tip: Rough up the mat’s surface with sandpaper so it doesn’t stick to your clay. After the rectangle is cut out, drop it a few times to make it slightly irregular. Then, run a finger across the top edge to gently bevel what will become the lip of the cup (2). Slip and score the shorter edges that will overlap. I use this seam as part of my design, so I don’t smooth it out. When the cylinder is formed, use it to cut a rough circle out of a second slab of clay for the bottom. Score and slip the bottom edge of the cylinder and delicately press it onto the bottom slab. Gently smooth the edges, then push the clay up around the cylinder (3).
With the initial form built, gently distort the cylinder by pinching around the surface to add some curves to the form (4). A rubber-tipped tool is useful to clean up around the seams. I use a drill bit held at an angle to remove some clay where the stitches will go so they are recessed into the clay and not just sitting on top (5). Roll out small, even coils and gently tuck them into the drilled holes with a metal modeling tool (6), then go back again with a rubber-tipped tool to clean up the area around the stitches.
Laying Out the Pattern
After the cup has been bisque fired, lay out the plaid pattern. I use 2-mm graph paper to determine my line proportions and then transfer them to the pot (7). I was having a hard time holding my hand steady enough to get the lines as crisp and as straight as I wanted, but found that a few decks of playing cards could solve this problem. The playing cards allow me to increase the distance between lines in very small increments. I hold my pencil steady on the cards, then turn the cup to create the horizontal lines (8). You get a much better line with a sharp pencil, so I like to have a bunch of sharpened pencils ready to go. After the horizontal lines are drawn on, use the same proportions for the vertical lines, this time using a drafting triangle to get the straight edge (9).
Before beginning the plaid, glaze the interior and allow the cup to dry for a few hours. I don’t brush my underglazes on, but instead use small squeeze bottles to fill the areas. First, fill in down the diagonal with the base colors—red, yellow, and blue in this case. This diagonal pattern will repeat all the way around the cup (10). Next, fill in the additional areas where same base color rows and columns intersect (red/red, yellow/yellow, blue/blue) (11). Then, fill in where different colors intersect (red/yellow, yellow/blue, blue/red) (12).
For the most part, I use a 50/50 mix of the base colors to create the mixed colors: for example, mixing 50% red and 50% yellow to create orange rather than using a pre-made orange. Some colors are more intense than others, so testing is always a good idea. I mix the blends in bottles as opposed to overlapping the colors on the surface.
Make a small set of test tiles to better see the tints and shades of the colors used most, and to also see how many color options there are. This is just the range available for 6 colors in 10% blend increments with black and white (13). When you do the same tests between colors, the color options are infinite, even with a very limited palette. I rarely use colors straight out of the bottle, preferring to mix up specific batches of colors for a certain series and then trying another batch of colors. I love seeing how differently the plaids can turn out with the exact same colors, just arranged in different ways. Try to stick to four base colors per series. The more colors you start with, the more color combinations you will have to have, and it can get confusing when you have 20+ colors.
After the piece is fired to cone 5, I wet sand the plaid surface to expose the dark clay body and knock back the intensity of the underglaze. You can see the difference on the left vs. right side of the cup shown (14). I finish my cups with a light coating of a commercial clear glaze, then they are fired again, this time to cone 05.
Jillian Cooper lives and works in Plano, Texas, where she is currently the ceramics lab coordinator for Collin College. She earned her MFA from Texas Tech University in 2015. You can see more of her work at www.jilliancooper.com or on Instagram @toberninejilly.