I have always enjoyed sipping on a classic martini (with blue cheese stuffed olives, please). There’s something refined and elegant about this cocktail that makes me feel more sophisticated. With the resurgence of craft cocktails, my husband and I have become interested in experimenting with mixing up our own creative martinis at home. One evening while enjoying a lychee martini, I was particularly drawn to the way the foam was leaving little bubbles all along the inside rim of the glass. That moment sparked the idea to craft a ceramic martini sipper with my Art Deco design sensibility for enjoying my favorite concoctions.
Creating the Forms
To create a well-balanced cup that isn’t top-heavy and resists tipping, use the idea of a fulcrum, leaving most of the weight in the center section of the cup where the vessel and stem meet. Making the rim of the cup slightly thinner to reduce weight at the top and keeping the base slightly thicker at the foot give it stability. In addition, I use a short-stem design to keep a low center of gravity.
Nobody wants a teeny martini! To create a properly scaled and generously sized cup (10 oz. after the glaze firing), I use two chopsticks (see 1) secured together in a T shape (electrical tape works well) that are cut to the dimensions I need based on my clay’s shrinkage rate. You can use this tool to gauge both the depth (33/4 in.) and diameter (4½ in.) while throwing. The stem is approximately ¾ the height and ½ the diameter of the cup. Proportionally speaking, the stem height is a little less important than the width at the base. The width needs to be adequate to support the widening V shape so the cup is sturdy and won’t tip.
I work with the classic V shape for the martini cup, which was developed for a few reasons. Since no ice is put in a martini glass, the stemmed design keeps your hands away from the body of the glass, so that the liquid stays chilled longer. The wide rim helps to let the spirit open up (this is more true of gin). And, the steep walls prevent liquids from separating.
Throwing and Trimming
Center approximately 1 pound of clay and open a very narrow, rounded bottom. Gradually throw the wall outward and upward, into a classic martini V shape. Use your chopstick T to check your progress for depth and width (4×4½ inches for my clay body) (1). Once you’re satisfied with the form, refine and compress the wall between two ribs (2). Make sure to smooth away all throwing lines from the inside and outside, and thin and refine your rim. Once your cup form is complete, set it aside for trimming later.
Then, using about 3–4 pounds of clay, throw the stem off the hump. I like an open-bottomed stem to allow for cut feet. The cutouts bring lightness and a detail that continues the surface pattern through the use of negative space. Begin by throwing a bottle-shaped form (23/4 inches in height × 21/2 inches in diameter) with a floor (this will be cut off later), making sure to note where the base begins. These are not trimmed, so throw the walls to the desired thickness and bring up enough clay to create a collar that will be able to hold and accept the cup. Using your metal rib, create and refine the collar (3), taking care to create the proper angle. Using your wire tool or a needle tool, first cut at the base of the stem, then cut below that, between the clay and the wheel head, or if throwing off the hump, cut at least 1/4 inch below the base of the stem to create a pad or disc of clay underneath the stem to help lift it off the hump without distorting it. Set aside until it’s leather hard and then peel off the excess clay pad.
Next, trim away the excess clay on the outside of the cup. I place the cup rim side down on the wheel head and tap it on center. I use only a thin film of water and gentle pressure for suction to secure the pot to the wheel head. Lugs of clay would mar the surface and potentially warp the form. Keeping in mind the fulcrum effect, I leave a little extra weight at the bottom of the cup, where it comes to a point. Use a rubber rib to smooth and compress the tip of the cone and the walls (4).
Assembling and Decorating
My love of Art Deco design and architecture is ingrained in my background as a former art and creative director in New York City. I have had the privilege of working in some of the most famous Art Deco buildings in the world. While these places are a large part of my inspiration, I’m not using literal motifs from that period, but instead letting my mind form patterns and designs based on fragments and details of these locations from my memory.
Attach the cup to the collar of the stem by slipping and scoring. I like to check in two directions that the connections are being made evenly and the cup is level (5). This connection point is the perfect place to add a small detail and to ensure the parts are well connected. Using a dragon-scale tool (designed for texturing clay with scale patterns), I stamp marks in 4 equidistant places around the collar (6). Once the two sections are connected, I handle the martini cup at the base of the cup form, right above the joint. Handle the cup gently at this point to avoid warping or stressing the seam between the cup and base.
My patterns are largely created using 3 points, and triangles are a big part of the way I lay down the designs. Moving to the inside of the cup, I start by creating a circle in the bottom. This will serve as a place to begin the pattern and later as a place to add gold luster. Using a needle tool, map the pattern with key points where the line work will meet. I don’t work with templates. Instead, I mark 4 points on the bottom circle then move up vertically toward the rim and add the mid points between them. I repeat this around the cup, so there is a horizontal band with 4 dots for the bases of triangles, and a horizontal band with 4 dots marking the tips of the triangles.
Using an X-Acto knife, incise the lines from dot to dot until the pattern is complete (7). After carving the design onto the stem, flip the cup over to mark and cut each foot (8). The negative space of the cutout is a continuation of the V shape in the line work and mimics the overall form of the cup. I like to add a detail at this spot to reference the detail added to the connection point on the collar earlier (9).
After bisque firing, I prepare my surfaces for glaze by wet sanding to remove any sharp edges. The cups need to dry thoroughly before proceeding and between each step as they will become saturated. I choose to do my inlay at the bisque stage because I like the clean, crisp lines it leaves. It also affords me the opportunity to play with colors and glazes more. For the inlay, I use slip, underglaze, and glaze, depending on the desired final outcome. For this piece, I inlaid glaze with a mishima technique.
Start by brushing glaze into the lines (10), then use a damp sponge to wipe away the excess (11), revealing the line work. After the cups dry, I glaze the interiors and stems using a lighter shade of the glaze color that was used for the mishima. Pour the glaze into the interior and then pour out (12). Dip the stem into the glaze stopping right at the top of the collar (13). Use a squeeze bulb to put glaze into the underside of the stem and pour out. Finally, dip the cup’s exterior into a white matte glaze (14), and allow the matte glaze to overlap the interior glaze slightly. This creates a snowy effect along the rim reminiscent of the bubbly rim from the lychee martini that first fueled my desire to create this form.
After the cups have been glaze fired, I add gold luster. The luster is carefully painted on using the mishima line work as my guide (15). A final luster firing fuses the gold to the piece. For me, the gold adds a luxurious finish to the pieces, giving a nod back to the bygone era of the Art Deco movement.
Jess Palmer is a studio potter in Port Chester, New York. Her work has been exhibited nationally at various galleries and shows, and select pieces can be found at Clay Art Center. Learn more at www.jesspalmerceramics.com or @jesspalmerceramics on Instagram.