In recent days, I have been inspired to create utilitarian pottery for celebrations. These celebrations can range from intimate to grand—brunch to banquet. My design concept for a flower brick originated from thinking about dinner parties in particular.
Due to its low profile, my slab-constructed flower brick is a centerpiece that does not necessarily have to be moved when folks gather around the table. It provides the space needed to see one another across the table. It also can be made in various sizes and shapes that spring from using rectangular to hexagonal slabs with exaggerated angles. I envision miniature flower bricks at weddings for every guest to take home as a favor, medium sizes at two-tops in cafés, and longer ones for lengthy dining-room tables.
These bricks are pretty and cheerful with or without flowers. The form provides many opportunities for design, texture, and color. I have found it to be a perfect canvas for my exuberant and playful style. The basic form can also be sized up or down and altered into other vessels, such as salt-and-pepper shakers and butter dishes.
Flower Brick Templates
To create a template, fold a piece of paper in fours to cut sides evenly. Large angles, either acute or obtuse, will cause the form to be more dynamic. You can transfer the shape onto a thin, clear plastic sheet (or other durable material) that will withstand multiple uses with wet clay, as paper will deteriorate after repeated use.
If you plan to add a rim to your piece (this is the decorative area on top of the flower brick that surrounds the cutout openings for the flower stems), you can also create a rim stencil (see 5) with precut holes. Or, you can simply punch out holes either when the body slab is still flat or after it is assembled.
Texture and Glazes
The first thing I like to do before texturing any slabs is to choose a glaze that will show off surface texture and not cover it up. I like how Pete’s Weathered Bronze (see recipe page) breaks beautifully on edges. To fully take advantage of this mid-range glaze, I texture my slabs with various textured rolling tools. These tools are often handmade in clay or plaster and carved with original designs and are bisque-fired prior to use. The combination of the texture and the breaking glaze create a dynamic surface, which allows bright-colored flowers to pop.
Adding Texture to the Slab
To start building your flower brick, roll out five ¼-inch-thick slabs or enough area for the body, base, sides, and rim sections. It’s a good idea to remove any canvas texture or any unintended marks with a soft rib. You want your intended texture to be added to a smooth surface so it’s crisp.
With even movement and pressure, use a textured roller or a stamp to add the texture down the center of the body slab (1). Leave smooth, untextured areas on the ends of slab for future glaze design. Alternatively, the design can also be reversed for glazing work in the center with the texture on the sides. Texture the sides, rim, and base slabs as well, utilizing different texturing tools for varied surface interest (2).
Tip: Spraying a small amount of WD-40 on your texturing tools helps create a crisp transfer and also lets the tool release more easily from the clay.
Assembling the Parts
Place a pre-made template on the prepared body slab, making sure to center it in the textured area so that there are even sides of untextured clay next to the center texture (3). Cut out the flower brick body.
Cut out the rim from the intended rim slab using a pre-made stencil (4). Next, place the same rim stencil on the center of the body slab and mark the area where the rim slab will be attached (5). Score and slip both the backside of the rim slab and the front side of the body slab (6). To protect the rim texture when working on the back side, rest the slab on foam. Lay the scored rim slab on scored body slab and attach the two.
Once the rim is attached to the body, but before it is formed into a flower-brick shape, you can cut out openings for the flowers. A cookie cutter is a good tool for this. Place the rim stencil with precut holes over the attached rim slab again, then cut out the holes for the flower stems either with a cookie cutter or an X-Acto knife (7). Be sure to penetrate through both slabs, then clean up the edges of the cuts (8).
Next, while the combined rim and body slab is still soft, lift and lay it on a cylindrical form, such as a foam roller, to create a rounded shape, making sure the rim is on top and the sides are evenly draped (9). Watch that your cylinder is secure and doesn’t roll on its side or off the table! Pinch up the divisions between the openings to form an undulating rim (10). Set the form aside and allow it to stiffen up.
Once the form can stand on its own, remove it from the cylinder. Now you can add the base and sides. Score and slip the body to the slab base and cut off extra clay around the base. Use a ruler to make sure both end widths are the same before permanently attaching (11). For added strength where the slabs meet, work small coils into the interior joints (12), before attaching the sides. Attach one side at time, using the foam once again to protect any texture (13). Cut off any extra side slab clay and, if needed, use a Surform to make the sides flush with the body (14). Clean up the Surform marks by using a soft rib and a sponge. Let the formed flower brick dry very slowly to prevent cracks at the joints, then bisque fire the piece.
Decorating the Surface
After years of drawing literal flowers, I started abstracting more and now just use dots, lines, circles, amorphic blobs, and spirals to reference nature. When glazing on bisque, use a slip trailer to apply thick lines that will shift nicely in the final glaze firing. Trailing allows many colors to co-exist on the same piece. Cover the glaze trail with wax to keep glazes from layering (15).
After the glaze trailing and wax lines have dried at least overnight, dip the piece in the Pete’s Weathered Bronze glaze. Waxed lines can then be sponged when the wax is dry to remove unwanted glaze. I fire the dried form to cone 6 in an electric kiln.
All photos: Caryn Leigh Posnansky Photography.
Eve Behar is a professional ceramic artist living in Sag Harbor on the eastern end of Long Island, New York. She is a former president of The Clay Art Guild of the Hamptons. She continues to be involved with her clay community by teaching classes and volunteering when she has time away from her practice, and her boy band consisting of her husband, son, and dog, Jack. She can be found at evebehar.com and on social media.