I am often asked about my process. I am thrilled when someone wants to learn how I work because my process is quite different from most potters. I do not work at a wheel, which is called “throwing”. I work at a bench. I’m what’s called a “hand builder” and a “slab builder”. I roll all my slabs by hand using an old-fashioned rolling pin. I assembled my vessels free form, meaning without molds or supports. And I use only the simplest tools. The only electric or automated part of my process is the electric kiln.
The result of my method is that no two pieces are identical. They may be similar, but they will never have the exactness that wheel thrown pots or vessels will have. Each piece is unique.
When I glaze I am not spraying or dipping my pieces, which would be a relatively fast way to apply the glaze. I am hand painting with brushes.
Once a piece has been formed it spends many days, sometimes weeks, drying. Try and think of clay as little more than mud. It needs to be worked and dried in order to take a form, and then it must dry very slowly, over time, to become stiff enough to continue to work with it. Seams must be sealed, rims leveled, edges firmed up and polished, etc. One must wait patiently until the clay is fairly stiff and hard before the form can be handled.
Once the piece is dry enough and it’s been worked to the point where I’m satisfied with the form, I let it completely dry out to a bone-dry state. At that point it will be fired. This is the bisque firing. After the piece has been bisqued it’s ready to be glazed, after which it is fired one final time.
Making a piece can take anywhere from four to eight weeks, depending on the size and density of the vessel. The larger the piece, the thicker the clay, the more drying time it will require. The longer and slower a piece dries, the more it is safe-guarded from warping and cracking during the firing process.
Below are some examples of forms that are wet clay, drying and leather hard clay, and bone dry clay. There are some examples of how I assembled my slab-made forms since I am often asked how I build free-form. And finally, there are also some examples of pieces painted with slip and glaze.
If you have any questions about any of these forms please let me know. There’s a “Contact Me” form on the site that you may use to send me a message and I’d love to hear from you!
Examples Of Works In Progress
(Don’t forget to double click to enlarge individual photographs.)
My workspace in the studio.
Working with slabs is a long process, but one I enjoy very much. The slabs are rolled out by hand, measured, cut, smoothed, compressed and then usually I texturize them. They are then laid out to dry and firm up. After two to three hours they are ready to handle and I can assemble the piece.
The following illustrates how I attach each slab, free form, to build the piece.
Once the piece is fully assembled it is wrapped in several layers of platic and placed on a shelf to dry. The clay is still very wet and must dry, slowly, before I can handle. Once the clay has reached the leather hard stage I can smooth the bottoms and rims, seal the seams and level the top.
It’s fun to see the difference between wet and bone dry clay. The first two pictures show the below bowl in an almost leather-hard state. The third picture show the same piece when it’s bone-dry. The clay lightens up a lot as the moisture escape and the clay dries.
Glazing can be fun, but it’s also a challenge. When I glaze textured pieces I am painting in small spaces, wiping away excess colour, and then applying more glaze. This mug is an example of this, before the clear glaze is applied over top, covering the entire vessel.
This mug is ready to be bisqued. An underglaze of bright yellow was applied. The first picture is of the leather hard clay with the underglaze. The second picture shows what the final product looks like.
As you can see from all the pictures I’m posting, working with slabs is what I love to do. And mugs are one of the vessels I enjoy making the most. It starts with a slab to which I then add texture. Even the handles and the base are cut out or carved out of slabs. Next, once the slabs are firm enough, I form the mug.
Below is a pictograph, from start to finish, on the making of a platter. From slab to texture to creating the form, this illustrates the many steps and stages. It took hours to get to this point, and I am nowhere near finished. The clay is still wet, even once the platter is formed. It will need to dry very slowly, under six layers of plastic, until it’s firm enough to be handled.
Here’s a great example of how I construct a slab-built bowl, from beginning to end. First, I roll out the clay into slabs. I create a base and then measure out the slabs that will form the walls of the bowl. I cut all the slabs, smooth the edges and texture the slabs. Then they dry and firm up so I can construct the vessel. While the clay is firm enough to handle, I have to be quick and gentle because the clay is still quite wet. Once constructed the piece is covered in plastic and I allow it to dry for at least a week. Once the clay is firm enough I invert the piece and seal the bottom. Then I seal the inside seams and I smooth the rim and top edges. Then more drying. Once the piece is bone dry it is bisqued, which is the first firing. Afterwards I begin to glaze. First I inlay colour into the texture. The piece must dry and then I cover it in its entirety with clear glaze. Then it’s off to the kiln for the final firing.
And sadly, sometimes this happens. Actually, it happens more often than I’d like to admit. Pieces that go into the kiln looking beautifully formed and shaped often will emerge warped, with cracks, or completely cracked into pieces. It’s all part of the process.