In the Studio: Pot Paws

In addition to being a potter, I’m also a keen hobby gardener, growing both vegetables and flowers in my garden. In the time I’ve spent gardening, I have noticed some problems with outdoor plant pots. Even if they have drainage holes in the bottom, the excess water might not run off if the pot is placed on a flat surface such as a concrete slab or wooden porch. This can cause problems like the soil in the pot being too wet and the pot leaving ugly marks on the surface it is sitting on because there’s constantly moisture underneath it. Placing a deep plate under the pot means you have to remember to empty it after it rains or after watering, and unwanted ants and slugs like to find a cozy hideaway in the tiny space under pots. The solution I’ve found involves elevating the pots on individual feet. These raise the pots half an inch or so off the ground, just enough to create an airy space under the pot.

I had seen homemade solutions for this problem, with pots standing on wobbly pebbles or wooden sticks and also some variations on clumsily designed loose feet made for elevating flowerpots, but never any handmade ones. My version of pot paws will fit many different styles and sizes of pots. The feet are used in sets of three, a number that helps stabilize most pots. I’ve chosen to leave them unglazed to show the beautiful shades of the local Swedish stoneware clay I use (see 6).

Throwing the Paws

The throw-and-cut technique used here was inspired by some handles I made many years ago when I also needed a sectional shape to be attached to a round thrown object. Start by throwing about 4 pounds (2 kg) of clay into a thick, massive ring on a big bat. The outer diameter of the ring measures about 12 inches (30 cm). Next, press down the inner part of the ring to create a ledge. The shape seen as a cross section should resemble a slipper with a rounded toe. Make sure the inner part, where the pot will rest, is horizontal. A rib will be helpful with shaping the ring (1).

1 Working on a bat, throw the clay into a large ring. Create a lower inner lip by pressing down with a rib.

2 Trim the underside of the ring smooth. Then, using a loop tool, carve out two equal grooves.

Trimming the Paws

The trimming takes place when the clay ring has dried to almost leather hard. The clay must still be moist enough to be shaped with fingers or by pressing a tool into the surface. That means that trimming is done when the clay is a bit softer than normally preferred. Turn the ring upside down on another bat and take it back to the wheel. Use a loop tool to trim the underside smooth and carve out two grooves. They serve both to make the feet lighter and also to minimize the contact area with the ground under pots. Avoid making the grooves too deep. The feet must still be sturdy enough to bear heavy pots on them (2).

When the clay ring has been turned upright again, cut it into sections with a thin cutting wire. To get the desired size of the feet, cut about eighteen pieces from one ring. I stretch the wire and aim for the center of the bat with my inner hand every time to get a nice, uniform shape for the feet (3).

3 Use a wire to cut the ring into sectional pieces. Keep one hand aiming for the center of the bat.

4 Use the edge of a wooden stick to press two indented lines into the piece, from bottom to top. This creates the three toes.

Making Alterations

To make a paw, use a square wooden stick with slightly rounded edges. This very simple tool is one of my favorites. Press the corner of the stick against the front of the piece to create the toes. Two parallel rounded movements, pressing the stick into the clay from bottom to top, will create two grooves that divide the curved front of the foot into three toe sections (4).

A light pinch between your thumb and index finger around the top of the foot will push the grooves a bit closer together at the upper end. This gives them a more dynamic feel and they tend to resemble a real paw (5).

5 Pinch together the top of the toes with your thumb and index finger. 1–5 Photos: Thorbjörn Söderqvist.

6 Three fired stoneware pot paws, each 1½ in. (4 cm) in length, ready to be placed under a pot.

I smooth the edges of each foot and remove marks using my fingers and a moist sponge. Lastly, I press my maker’s mark on the surface where the pot stands and make sure they are stable and flat. The feet tend to warp during drying and firing, so before they are loaded into the bisque firing, rub the underside against a fiber-board table to once more make sure they are even and level. Fire the pieces to the temperature recommended for your clay body (6).

Kajsa Leijström lives and works in Kivik, Sweden. To learn more about her work, visit www.kajsaskeramik.se or follow her on Instagram @keraleij.

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