From Slabs of Clay to Vessels

Working with clay is not just about throwing pots with the use of the potter’s wheel. A lot of functional and decorative pots are formed by some basic tools, a good table, and a lot of patience. One of the basics in Hand Building Pottery is called “Slab Making”.

A lot of projects can be made with this technique: plates, platters, vases, wind chimes, pendants, bowls, wall decor, tiles, etc. It is used by a lot of potters around the world because of its endless possibilities in creating a diverse style in making pots and sculptural pieces.

Materials needed: Canvas or “Katsa”, rolling pin, 2 slats of wood, slip, fettling knife or clay cutter tool, and a pin tool or barbecue stick. The cloth is where the clay will be pressed on. The rolling pin is used for thinning out and stretching slabs of clay. Two slats of wood (one on each side of the clay) are used for measuring the thickness of the clay. A pin tool is very helpful for scoring clay. Scoring is basically scratching lines to the surface of the clay. Slip is bone dry clay that is crushed and melted with water. It serves as the binding material in pottery. Slip is dabbed on to the scored surface before putting attachments (spout for teapots, handles, lugs, additional walls for vases, etc).

Clay is being rolled out here with a rolling pin. Making sure that there is no crease coming from the cloth to avoid any crease marks on the clay.

Sandra is going to make six cups out of six slabs of clay. She is using one template so it will be easy for her to make the same size for all cups. She uses one of the wooden slats to cut through the clay with the clay cutter tool.

There will always be extra clay from the whole slab. These extra pieces of clay is placed back in plastic bags. They can still  be used and added to other extra clay from making the whole project. They have to be stored in plastic bags, to keep them from drying too quickly.

Sandra continues to make slabs of clay from the same template for her cups. She will make six of these and use rubber stamps to put texture on her clay. I encouraged her to use different patterns, so it will not look like a boring set with similar prints. They don’t have to look all the same, which is really the beauty of handmade pots.

These cups have similar height. Some are thick. Some are thin. It is her first time to work with slabs of clay. It takes time and a lot of patience to achieve similar thickness with this technique. But the good thing about it is this: The more you do it, the more you will be good at it.

Now this cup is ready to sit on a shelf  to get dry and be ready for Bisque Firing!

Slab making is the third lesson from learning The Basics of Hand Building Pottery. One can come up with a lot of ideas with this technique. Who said that one needs a potter’s wheel to form pots? These cups that Sandra made are saying, “I don’t need a potter’s wheel to be formed. Look at me, I am functional even if I didn’t spin on the wheel!”

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