Monthly Archives: June 2014

Planning and Carving an Intricate Design

Some people I know always leave a huge bar of soap on their bathroom counter. I offered to make them a soap dish. They made a joke how it’s going to be a “soap dish,” meaning a piece of pottery that you can’t tell what it is, so you just use it as a soap dish. Well, I though, now I have to make an extra nice soap dish!!

I looked on Pinterest for ideas. I knew I wanted to make something with a repeating carved pattern and then found this:

arabesque inspiration

The pattern in that picture is too complex to carve on a soap dish, but I couldn’t get the idea of a vanishing pattern out of my mind and had to try it. The piece isn’t completed yet, so the jury’s still out on whether it’s a success or not, but regardless, I got the technique down for how to get that look, which is what this post is about. How’s that for a long-winded intro?


  • Graph paper
  • Tracing paper
  • Pencil
  • Stencil or any other tool that will help you draw identical circles
  • Dry-erase marker
  • Carving tools
  • Thick pin tool or bamboo skewer (to clean up edges toward the end)


Step 1Set pattern spacing and alignment.
Draw the grid with offset squares and then draw circles centered inside the squares. I forgot to take a picture of that part; my bad. The circles inside should not touch the sides of the squares.</P
Step 1
Step 2: Create the pattern.

Tape on a piece of tracing paper over the gird and draw the desired pattern on tracing paper with dry-erase marker.

Step 2
Step 3: Get a slab.

Roll out a slab that you will be carving into and cut it to the shape/size you need. I did this step first, but it doesn’t really matter. Just make sure the clay isn’t too soft/sticky to carve.

Step 3
Step 4: Transfer pattern to clay.

Apply a SMALL amount of water to your slab and press on the design, dry-erase marker side down, just like removable tattoo. Make sure not to apply so much water that the marker will run. You can see that I made that mistake in a few spots on the left there.

Step 4
Step 5: Remove the tracing paper.

Easy step; you’re welcome!

Step 5
Step 6: Carve!

You can see my clay was probably a little too wet b/c of how messy the edges are. First marked the boundaries with a pin tool and then carved around the marker lines. If I were to do this again, I won’t need the pin tool lines. You really get the hang of it after a while.

Step 6
Step 7: Clean up.

You can see that some of the deeper spaces are a little messy. I went back over those a few times after finishing the carving to clean them up. I also added a little depth to the pattern to make it look like the line is going over and under itself. The bamboo skewer was very helpful for cleanup work b/c it has a relatively fine point, but isn’t as sharp as the pin tool.

Step 7

The last step isn’t photographed, but by the time I was done with all the carving the tile was almost dry. You can see it’s flat, which isn’t ideal for a soap dish. I wrapped it in moist paper towel and plastic to get moisture back into the clay and left it overnight. In the morning I draped the tile over a large bowl to give it curvature.

That’s all! It took about 4-5 hours to complete, but like I said before, If I had to do it again, it would go a LOT faster.




Honey Jar

I have very nice neighbors who raise bees; I thought it’d be fun to make them a honey jar.

The jar isn’t even started, but I’m doing my research ahead of time now! I put together a little collage of beehive-type shapes and honeycombs and sketched out the idea. Since I’m getting a head start on the design before touching any clay, if anyone has ideas about this concept, please please leave me a comment before it’s too late!!

honey collage

honey collage

honey jar sketch

honey jar sketch

Once I get to class, I’ll have to make a few texture samples, varying depth of the honeycomb and beehive textures. It may have been nearsighted to only get one shade of yellow too.




Wedding Vases

My brother and his fiancee requested that I make vases to decorate the tables at their wedding. This is my first “commissioned” pottery project in, like, forever. The dress obviously had to be the inspiration and I thought it might be interesting to share and formalize the design process.


First Idea – turned out to be the winner:

A nice elegant wedding dress for inspiration.
Photo May 18, 12 30 48 PM
Fist sketch. I wanted to create a delicate carved top.

Initially, I was imagining small bouquets with light-colored flowers. After presenting the first design I was told that curly ferns would be used in the vases, so those swirls work out well.
Second Idea – Abby liked it less and it wasn’t my favorite anyway, so we scrapped it:
Photo May 18, 12 37 19 PM (1)
This one was intended to mimic a dress with straps, but it would be too weird to make a vase with straps.

For a setup with puffier flowers like these, a slightly heavier vase with a bow would have probably worked ok.

Another nice wedding dress for inspiration.
Third Idea – I just came up with it while writing this post and I actually like it! I think it looks a little too Victorian/old fashioned for those two, though. Maybe I can use this for something else.

This last one would go great with tiny delicate flowers.
Wedding dress edge lace for inspiration. Photo Jun 06, 6 25 10 PM


I made a couple to try to match the shape of the first sketch. Abby said she liked the one on the left more. I ended up using the one on the right to practice trimming vases and then sliced it in half to check thickness (it was satisfactory 🙂 ).

Photo May 24, 12 02 12 PM

Photo Jun 05, 7 59 46 PM

Leather hard carved vase


Post-trimming, I carved the top with a pin tool first to get the shapes in place, then with a ball point pen tip, then with the end of a brush. I smoothed out the pattern with a wet glazing brush and then carved further in. It’s hard to see in this pic, but parts of that swirl are cut all the way through. The idea is that glaze will be a little translucent there.

Lesson Learned

I found the process of writing out the design ideas very useful. Usually i’ll have something fairly specific in mind and try to make it without drawing or considering variations. It’s easy to say, “I’ll try this technique, aim for this kind of shape, and see what happens because it’s fun.” The piece turns out how it turns out. I’ll do more projects in a more planned, deliberate way in the future. It’s nothing new, of course, since my college professor had the class do it, but a good process to return to.

Uneventful Pottery Day – Exhaustion To Blame?

Today was a very exciting day because I am now a member of the studio, got my own shelf, and my glazes arrived. It wasn’t a good pottery day, though. I spent an hour trying to make vases and only made one. To put that in perspective, I need to make 10. Maybe I was too tired, but the clay would just no play along. I’m covered in mud and not much to show for it.

On the plus side, I made glaze test tiles with a nice variety of texture. Can’t wait to get them fired and get my glazes tested!test tile notes


Glazing and Personal Style

They look much better in this picture than they do in real life.

They look much better in this picture than they do in real life.

Last week it was glazing time and I found myself frozen with indecision. Granted, I had 6 color options (including clear and white), but still. Glazing can really make an ordinary piece spectacular or do the exact opposite. After 4 hours of carving my donut, naturally, I was terrified of f*ing it up with the wrong color/texture of glaze! I glazed the 2 first 2 pots I threw in the first class, trying a couple of techniques. They turned out pretty bad and now I really wish I had spent more time at least practicing different techniques on them. You can see how that went on the right over here. The way my studio works is you can use the basic class colors or BYO. There isn’t much I can do with those 6 basic colors. Well, if I made a point of it, I could, I suppose, but I’d have to make pieces that work with the available colors. Anyway, it was glaze shopping time! I spent a few days of browsing samples in the studio and online glaze catalogs (drooling over every shade of celadon), only to realize that there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of available colors of glazes, underglazes, stains, pencils, pens, colored slips… There is no way to get a good sampling of everything without spending hundreds of dollars. It was time to make a decision and a commitment – to commit to my personal style, what kind of stuff I make, what sort of look I prefer. To use my style to drive the choice of 10 glazes that I can use and not feel limited and boxed in. My style is about simpler shapes, textures, translucent glazes, natural mostly cool colors. Here’s what I ended up with:

glaze palette

My Color Palette
Mostly cool and translucent, with a couple of nice warm colors. All these are great for showing off texture and looking delicate. Opaque glazes are good for hiding imperfections, but they also can make pieces look more bulky. I love me some water resist, too, to create texture.