Teapots are one of my favorite things to make. They always have been. These teapots are slab built with eighteen separate pieces. That’s a lot of pieces to play around with, and playing around with them is what gives the teapot its personality and makes me a happy potter. I like all those parts to be evident too—either sharpened with a rib or defined with a wooden tool. The seams become the lines that define a change in plane and become the drawing that defines the shape of the pot. I also like what a teapot implies: A social event where you get to share tea with others. A mug is more intimate and I love mugs too, but a teapot symbolizes getting together, getting warm and comfortable, and having a good chat.
With complicated forms like teapots, I find that three is the magic number to make at the same time. It allows one part to set up while I work on another, but it also allows for play because, with more parts, I can interchange them between forms to get the look I want. If I try to make more than three, I lose engagement with each individual pot and that time and attention to each pot is important to me.
Soft Slab Building
I use soft slabs because the finished pot ends up with a soft quirkiness that appeals to me. Slabs should be soft enough to wedge back up again, but stiff enough that they won’t collapse. If they’re too stiff, I get cracking or rigidity in my work. I use a commercial, finely sieved, mid-range red stoneware. The result is that the unglazed areas are rich in color due to the high red-iron content, but satiny soft to the touch because the clay is so fine. At the beginning of my day I roll out a stack of ¼-inch-thick slabs and smooth out unwanted textures with a soft rib. It’s always more fun to make slab work if you have a pile ready for your next step.
I love texture, the way glaze breaks over it and the feel of it when I am holding a textured pot. It’s one of the reasons I transitioned from throwing to handbuilding. I make my own stamps and texture rollers (figure 1), which lends an idiosyncratic, handmade, quirky appeal and imbues personality into my work.
My texture rollers are simply ceramic cylinders with various lines, dots, textures, or stamps pushed into them, then bisque fired. They are super fun, simple, and addictive to make. My stamps are more time-consuming as they are meticulously carved out of leather-hard clay with tiny trimming tools. The tricky part is deciding which areas will be positive and negative because the end imprint will be reversed. Which parts do I want raised for the glaze to break over or imprinted for the glaze to pool into?
The Body: Texture and Shape
Transfer a large slab onto cement board (such as HardieBacker® Cement Board) (figure A), and roll or stamp in texture (figure 2).
Measure and cut two rectangles for each teapot. The dimensions of the rectangle really affect the personality of the pot, so I like to play around with these dimensions. These slabs are around 4½ inches (12 cm) tall by 10 inches (26 cm) wide. Always over bend a slab to give it that bendy memory and avoid tension at the seams because slabs like to open up as they dry. For this I use a large-diameter pipe and simply drape the slab over the curve (figure 3). (Note: I use the slabs immediately, while they’re still soft. I just use the pipe to create a bend. If I were to make the curve without the pipe, the slab would collapse.) Stand the two curved slabs upright and score and slip the end seams together (figure 4). Puff out the walls by gently sliding your fingers up the inside for extra volume.
Cut two leaf shapes to form the top. Score, slip, and compress the joins with a rib or brayer being careful not to damage the texture on the sides (figure 5).
The Collar and Lid
I make the collar out of a short and wide cylinder, squeezed into an oval, sometimes with more texture or another texture altogether (figure 6). Before joining the seam, I soften the cut edge by gently rolling a brayer at a 45° angle along the cylinder’s length. This gives the rim a finished look. Cut the base of the collar to fit the undulating top form of the teapot. Add a lid seat with another narrow slab then attach. So many bits!
Okay, now for the lid. For this you’ll need leaf shapes again, but this time, little round leaves. Make another small cylinder with the top edge cut at 45° and bottom edge softened for that finished look. Join this cylinder to the under side of the little leaf cup and make sure the lid fits the teapot (figure 7).
I have used templates to make spouts, but I really like to wing these so that I am looking at the personality of the pot I am working on, not the one I designed the template for. Make a bunch. Play around with fatness and length. What works with this form, with this texture, may not work with another. Play with multiple textures on the same pot. Look at placement for function. Imagine the water-level line in the pot and how it will move as the teapot is tipped. Make sure the spout is high enough that water won’t come out of it when you fill the pot, but not too high that you have to almost flip the pot over to pour the tea out.
To make the spout, cut out a pentagon shape with one corner elongated. With the longest point facing toward you, fold the two topside edges together and join (figure 8). An optional dart cut from the middle of the pentagon forms a nice little paunch. After you’ve formed several spouts, hold them up to the body and determine which one you like best with the form (figure 9). Mark the outline of the spout at its eventual attachment place (figure 10), fill in the outlined area with multiple holes ¼ inch in from the line, then score, slip and attach the spout.
The Bottom and Feet
At this point the base form should be just stiff enough to flip over, carefully. Use coils inside the form like caulking to strengthen any seams. The bottom of the teapot is yet another leaf. Mark the outline of the body on a slab, cut it out, then score and slip both edges and join (figures 11–12). Step back and decide whether the teapot needs feet. For footed teapots, I roll the base so the bottom curves out into a nice belly (figure 13). Doing this gives the teapot more volume both visually and literally. Let the pot set up a bit, upside down, before adding little feet—I take time for a tea break, to check emails, and to feed my Instagram addiction.
To make the feet, squish four balls of stiffer clay into little pyramids. Add the feet (figure 14), flip the pot over, and gently place the teapot back on the cement board to level it. The cement board will quickly absorb moisture out of the feet, making them firm enough to hold their shape.
Next, make a bunch of knobs of different shapes and sizes, and again, hold them up to the form to see which ones work best. Make the lugs out of short coils that narrow in the middle and curl them around the handle of a paintbrush. Place lugs and knobs on the teapot before attaching to ensure everything works together (figures 15–16). Attach components and make any small refinements such as sharpening a convex seam with a rib or a concave seam with a softly pointed tool. This highlights and compresses the seams, which prevents cracking.
Clean up any chunky bits and sharpen the spout for better pouring by trimming a sliver of clay from the lower edge of the spout’s opening.
Dry, Fire, and Glaze
After the pot dries and has been bisque fired, line it with a food-safe glaze and wipe off any drips from outside. Let the liner glaze dry. Holding the teapot from the rim in one hand and covering the opening of the spout with the other hand, so no glaze pours in, dunk the teapot into glaze up to rim (figure 17). Add color to the lugs and the knob to embellish if you wish. Wipe the feet bottoms clean. Simply dunking my pots in a single glaze allows the form and texture to do all the decorative work; the glaze just accentuates it. My glazes are predominantly satin in surface. The high-iron content in the clay bleeds into the glaze, especially in the thin areas where the glaze breaks over texture or sharp edges. The glaze emphasizes the texture and the satin surface speaks to the softness of the clay in its moist state. Subtle textures and lines can get lost in the reflections of shiny glazes. Sometimes I highlight the knob or lugs with a little extra color, further defining the different parts.
Reclaimed Wood Handles with Steel Wire
I make my handles out of reclaimed hardwood garden tools (figure 18) and 12-gauge steel ceiling-hanger wire. I cut up the broken wooden handles into various sizes, finish the ends with a router, drill holes through, then use a natural tung oil to finish the wood. These wooden handles feel soft and warm in the hand. For the wire part, after I feed the steel wire through the hole, I bend it into shape with pliers, measuring the bend points with a ruler so each side of the handle is symmetrical. This wire is very stiff and hard to bend, but because it’s designed to hang a ceiling, it’s strong and will hold its shape well over time.
Sarah Pike makes pots in Fernie, British Colombia—a sweet little ski town in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, where it can get very snowy. She studied at the Alberta College of Art and Design, the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. To see more, check out, www.sarahpikepottery.com, and follow her at www.facebook.com/sarahpikepottery, and Instagram @sarahpikepottery.