Cake and flowers – two of my favorite things. It’s no surprise then, that I am particularly drawn to Arthur Halvorsen’s flower bricks. Arthur says that despite not really having a sweet tooth himself, he wanted his work to reference pastries because these treats are found worldwide and are usually associated with fun, playful events. He wanted to make works that would fit in nicely in those settings. And I’d say he’s succeeded.
Today, in an excerpt from the November/December 2010 issue of Pottery Making Illustrated, Arthur takes us through the coil building process he uses to construct these forms. He also shares his recipe for the frosting-like glaze he uses – the icing on the cake, as they say. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.
When I was thinking about a flower brick form, I wanted a shape that would convey my interest in desserts and pastries. I don’t really have a sweet tooth and I rarely eat sweets (if you can believe that!). With that said, I started at the most basic form for desserts and for me that happened to be cake. I love that cakes, pastries, and desserts are found around the world and are most often associated with fun playful parties or events. That’s where I want my work to be; in that setting I feel like my work is most at home.
I use a bisque mold as a template for the bottom, or footprint, of my flower brick. It supports the whole flower brick until the base is firm enough to support the entire piece without cracking or collapsing. I make this mold by draping a slab over a Styrofoam tray (like what you find when you buy steaks or other meats). The slab is removed from the styrofoam form once it is leather hard, then set it out to dry before bisque firing it to cone 04.
Making the Cake
After making the mold, the next step is making the top from a slab of clay so that it has time to firm up while building the rest of the form. I texture the top using an old gift card or credit card that has a pattern cut into it using scrap-booking scissors, but there are cake decorating tools you can use as well. The card is pressed on the slab and dragged through in a wavy pattern (figure 1). This adds interest when glaze pools and breaks over the texture on the top. The top is then put aside on a ware board to set up.
Roll out another slab of clay for the bottom, and press that into the bisque mold. Once you have this slab foundation in the mold, cut off any excess with a needle tool held at a 45° angle to create beveled edges. Before adding the walls, randomly space coils on the inside of the base, so when long-stemmed flowers are added, they have something to support them. Push these coils into place, then pinch them up a little bit to add height and more support for the flowers to lean against (figure 2).
Now the fun begins! To start building the walls, first put the base on a banding wheel. Roll out coils of clay that can stretch the entire way around the edge of the mold. I have a habit of doing this in threes, so I add three coils, blend them all together with a serrated rib (figure 3), and then blend them again with a smooth metal rib to remove all texture and to thin the walls where needed. Use your other hand to support the inside wall while working on the outside.
Before adding the next three coils, be sure that the walls are built up straight and address the top so that it is not uneven. Using a needle tool, and with your elbow locked into your waist to steady your arm, spin the banding wheel to cut off any uneven clay from the top (figure 4). This creates a level platform for the next three coils. Repeat adding coils and blending, until you have about nine coils in all (figure 5). Push in the tops of the wall so that they angle in slightly, to give the piece a more cake-like look and feel (figure 6), then set the body aside to firm up a little.
After the body of the piece has set up, the top slab should also be ready to put into place without sagging. Place it on top of the walls and trace the overhang using a needle tool (figure 7). Use an X-Acto knife to cut out the traced shape. Using a scratch wire brush-type needle tool, score the top of the flower brick and all around the outside edge of the top slab to prepare it for attaching to the walls. Paint a little water or slip on the scored lines on each part, place the top on, and firmly secure it (figure 8).
Icing on the Cake
Once the form is complete, you’re ready to start decorating. Place a coil on the outside of the wall where the top slab meets the wall, and indent it with a repeating finger pattern (visible in figure 9). This coil adds both security and decoration. Add another decorative feature to the top using a long slab cut into a scalloped pattern with an X-Acto knife. Score the area on the flower brick where it’s going to go and use piping slip applied with a slip trailing bottle to attach it (figure 9). Using a white slip instead of a red slip to secure these parts allows you to move on to decorating sooner, without the risk of muddying the white slip coating. Another long, scalloped slab is added to the bottom of the flower brick, just above the seam between the wall and the base.
After finishing with all of the attachments, decorate the whole flower brick by painting it with white slip (figure 10), trailing an additional argyle pattern on the walls to leave a raised texture, and trailing lines to accentuate the scallops (figures 11 and 12). The slip should be thick enough to show some texture but not so thick that it will crack off. The last step is to cut out the holes (five total) from the top slab for the flowers using a hole cutter (figure 13). Use the rounded end of a paintbrush handle to smooth out the openings and remove burrs from the inside (figure 14).
Allow the piece to dry slowly, first out in the open until the slip loses its sheen, then under plastic for a few days before uncovering it and allowing it to air dry. Once the piece is bone dry, bisque fire it to the appropriate temperature for your clay and apply glaze to the inside and outside via dipping and pouring. The piece shown here was glaze fired to cone 04.