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Photo of the book Slab Techniques by Jim Robison and Ian Marsh

Slabs can be used to make the most basic of forms to the most complex. This broad approach to slab work shows a wide variety of building methods and illustrates the work of many high-profile ceramic artists using this forming technique. The book explores and explains most of these methods through step-by-step images and text, using a varied range of both pots and sculpture. There are often several techniques that could be used to achieve the same result and this book shows that no one method is correct, but there will be one which is appropriate for you, the clay you’re using and your firing process.
 

Softcover | 112 Pages

Order code CA109 | ISBN 978-1-57498-309-8

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Selecting the right clay

No matter what type of ceramic work you intend to do, selecting the right clay is key. It’s only logical that you have an understanding of both the qualities and kinds of clays suitable for slab building and here you’ll find discussions of smooth clays, plasticity, shrinkage, coarse clay for larger items, porcelain, paper/fiber clay, color and textures. Personality and individual preferences also play their part.

 
Making the slab

Regardless of how a slab is created, the condition of the clay is the first consideration. After instructions on conditioning the clay, several slab-making techniques are discussed including even some you would not normally consider such as those made by throwing or extruding, coils and strips or even using slip.

 
Construction techniques

When it comes to constructing your pieces, many options are available. You can choose from soft slabs or leatherhard slabs, but each requires consideration for the best possible construction method. How do you keep slabs workable, what’s the best way to dry slabs flat before assembly, and information on cutting, joining and mitering are all here.

 

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Textures, impressions, mark-making, color

Soft clay is very receptive to textures, impressions and mark-making. Overall texture is part of the slab-making process itself if the rolling out takes place on cloth or textured paper. Alternatively, it might be an additional application after the slab is made. Either way, this chapter discusses the whole range of options from impressing the clay and using mark-making tools to stretching the clay to alter impressions. Adding color using tinted clays, slips and oxides, and glazes are all covered in detail.

 
The importance of details

What makes a clay piece really good? It’s in the details – specifically in the form and construction. If your constructions have poorly made feet or weak rims, if construction seams are visible unintentionally, or if your work lacks vitality, then this chapter will provide the guidance you need to create works that please both you and the viewer.

 
Going larger

Slab work lends itself to making large work and there are several ways to go about it. One method is to make multiples of similar units and assemble them as a mural, tile installation, or sectional unit. Another technique covered is assemblies and stacking constructions where you can get height beyond anything available in a single piece. And then, of course, there are the single large constructions limited only by your kiln. Each of these construction techniques require certain fabrication and assembly techniques covered here.

 

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Applying the glaze

In practice, there is little difference between glazing slab items and glazing any other form of ceramic object. After bisque firing, most objects are dipped, brushed, poured or sprayed with one or more glazes. Underglaze colors or an oxide wash are sometimes applied prior to glazing. All these techniques are described with special attention given to the peculiarities of slab construction.

 
Drying and firing

You should always be aware of the slab and its treatment from the very outset. The pressure of tolling out seems to give slabs a memory and during the drying phase there is a tendency for clay to try and return to its flat historical roots. In this chapter you’ll discover information on drying during making, rapid drying, drying finished work, repairs and re-wetting, along with tips for bisque and glaze firing.

 

Jim Robison is the author of Large-scale Ceramics, he is very well known as a slab builder, and has made many public works using textured tiles and slab constructions. He is also very involved in the Aberystwyth Ceramics Conference and always hosts many of the demonstrations.

 

Ian Marsh is a ceramic artist, photographer and is chair of the Northern Potters Association.

 

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Review by Patty Osborne
BC Potters Guild

The vigorous forms and textures in the pieces that are featured in Slab Techniques by Jim Robison and Ian Marsh will make potters everywhere want to jump off their wheels (if they’re on them) and start handbuilding. From a honey twirler to a meat tenderizer, from stamps to thumbprints, the tools for creating texture are all around us and the compelling surfaces that result from pressing things into or carving things out of clay invite us to see and feel the world differently. Add to that the voluptuous wave-like forms or strong straight lines (or both) that are features of these pieces, plus the colour that is applied at various stages in their creation, and you’ve got a lot of inspiration in a little book. The accompanying text is wordy and often obscures the steps it is trying to describe, but the photos and captions will tell readers almost everything they need to know to begin experimenting with their own slab creations. However, this is not a book for beginner potters: most of the pieces described are sculptural rather than functional and some require elaborate systems to support the slabs during construction.

 

Review by Sumi von Dassow
Pottery Making Illustrated Nov/Dec 2010

As a pottery teacher, I rely on a few simple slab projects that I teach my beginning students and I sometimes forget to push my slab building further. Slabs are not just for beginners; often the only way to execute a creative idea is to turn away from the wheel and work with slabs. And the truth is, while there are lots of easy and simple things to do with slabs, once I start getting really creative, I find it can be quite challenging to make sheets of a malleable, wet substance stand up and hold the shape I had in mind-which is why I needed to read this book.


Jim Robison and Ian Marsh are slab builders who specialize in large-scale public works, so they have faced many of the challenges slab building has to offer. For instance, how do you make sure tiles stay flat-or conversely, that a curved dish doesn’t sag and flatten when it is fired? A large part of working with slabs involves joining pieces together, and every joint is a potential weak point in a clay construction. You may already know about scoring and slipping, but do you know about “stitching” and “magic water?” (Try it. You’ll like it!) How moist do you want your slabs to be before you try to join them, and how do you dry them uniformly? Once your piece is finished, how do you dry it so it doesn’t crack at the seams-and how do you safely fire it? In fact, sometimes problems with slab work stem from the method used to create the slab, or the tool used to cut it, details which the authors address as well.


One major reason I work with slabs is to incorporate texture into my work. When you work on the wheel, texture is generally added after the pot is formed, while slab building allows you to integrate texture into your piece from the beginning. However, working with a textured slab means you have to learn how to handle the slab and form it without destroying the texture, and Robison offers ideas both for sources of texture and methods of working that will help you to protect your surface. This book also reminded me to think about integrating color into slab construction, including the use of colored clay, slips, and oxides.
Of course, slabs often have to be used to make large-scale or architectural work, and Robison is an expert on these subjects, having written Large-scale Ceramics in the same series of ceramic handbooks. This book describes in detail the execution of several projects Robison and Marsh have completed. I found it interesting to see how the same techniques, textures, and patterns Robison uses on smaller scale work were adapted for use on a larger scale. Naturally it helps to use techniques you are comfortable with when planning larger work, and I found it enlightening to see work effectively scaled up.

 

So who needs this book? At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’d encourage any teacher to get it. If you’re just starting out in clay, you’ll find it useful, especially when wheel work gets frustrating. If you’re absolutely committed to working on the wheel exclusively, you can probably do without it, but on the other hand, maybe you need a change, and you never know when you might want to make something too large to throw. And if you habitually work with slabs, I can guarantee you don’t know everything and something in this book will come as a welcome revelation.

 

Review by Natalie Velthuyzen
The Journal of Australian Ceramics July 2011

Robison is known for his large-scale sculptural work including textured wall panels and public commissions. Marsh produces functional work with strong sculptural elements. Both UK artists work with slabs and extrusions with Marsh also working with the coil technique. Together their wealth of knowledge on slab forming is vast and informative and it’s condensed in the book. The publication coincided with a joint exhibition, Slab Techniques, in November 2010, and displayed work that was included in the book.

 

The chapters are easy to follow with step-by-step guides to the slab-making process, including the importance of detail when creating large-scale work. Good advice is found throughout the chapters, for example, when working on the join of the interior seam, a right angle of stiff card is placed on the outside join as a support to keep the exterior seam crisp and undamaged.

 

One unique surface treatment technique is covered by Roger Lewis. The potter lays two slabs together, seals up the edges leaving a small hole in one seam which to insert a straw, he then inflates the slabs so a pillow of clay is formed. The hole is sealed over and wooden stencils are pressed into the pillow of clay, resulting in a very soft design in relief.

 

Although the Ceramic Arts Handbook Series is aimed at the novice, there is much to inspire the more advanced ceramicist. Slab Techniques is a concise and informative book to have on your shelf for quick reference and as a platform for further research and exploration, with many inspiring photographs accompanying the text.

 

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