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A Good Stretch: Creating Interesting Surface and Form with Stretched Slabs

Posted By Jim Robison and Ian Marsh On November 17, 2010 @ 9:07 am In Daily,Features,Handbuilding Techniques,Slab Rollers | 18 Comments

Eddie Curtis uses contrasting copper effects for black rim and red reduction glaze over his textured jar. Ht: 30 cm (12 in.). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Ah, clay slabs. Wonderful things, clay slabs. I have been really thinking a lot about doing more with slabs in my work ever since shooting a soft slab DVD (coming soon to the Ceramic Arts Daily Bookstore!) with the lovely and talented Sandi Pierantozzi this past summer.

 

There are so many cool things you can do with slabs, and since they have been on the brain lately, and since the Sandi Pierantozzi DVD is not quite ready for prime time yet, today I thought I would do an excerpt from Jim Robison and Ian Marsh’s book Slab Techniques. In this excerpt, they explain a couple of different ways slabs can be used to create forms with interesting stretched texture. - Jennifer Harnetty, editor.

 

 


One of the magical properties of clay is its ability to stretch and change shape under pressure. This is easy to see when on the potter’s wheel, as the hands coax a hollow mass into an elegant shape, but most of us are less aware of this potential when working with slabs.

 

Thick slabs, cut from a block of clay, may be stretched into thin and surprisingly uniform sheets. To do this, the slab is picked up by one end, thrown from side to side and dropped upon a board or unvarnished wood table. Friction from contact with the table increases the slab’s length through sideways motion. When doing this, it is important to let the trailing edge contact the table first, while you continue the directional motion with the hands. Otherwise it bunches up in a rather interesting fashion – creating more of a lump than a slab.

 

Eddie Curtis rolling powdered clay into the surface.

Eddie Curtis rolling powdered clay into the surface.

Rapid drying of the surface with a gas torch.

Rapid drying of the surface with a gas torch.

Stretching the soft slab causes dry surface cracks.

Stretching the soft slab causes dry surface cracks.

 

A tile detail of a duck drawing on a school sculpture. Photos: Ian Marsh.

Any impressions, drawings, marks or textures made in clay develop an irregular, spontaneous quality when stretched in this fashion. An example of this may be seen in the sculpture done with young schoolchildren. They drew creatures found in the nearby nature reserve on clay tiles. When stretched slightly, the drawings’ linear qualities became uneven, slightly abstract, and I believe this variety makes them all the more interesting.

 

Eddie Curtis creates a fascinating surface by stretching thick slabs. He first dries out one side by rolling it into powdered clay. This side may also be textured before stretching. The slab is then tossed from side to side until Eddie is satisfied with its surface and reduced thickness. These slabs then become the sides and other elements of his dramatic handbuilt pots.

 

 

Eddie Curtis making a slabbed jar. Uniform thickness is obtained by wire-cutting the inverted slab, this preserves the dramatic textured surface. Photos: courtesy of the artist.

Eddie Curtis making a slabbed jar. Uniform thickness is obtained by wire-cutting the inverted slab, this preserves the dramatic textured surface. Photos: courtesy of the artist.

A thrown bowl creates the base of this slab jar.

A thrown bowl creates the base of this slab jar.

Clever use of a soft coil applied to a leatherhard rim allows the pot to be inverted on the wheel for trimming.

Clever use of a soft coil applied to a leatherhard rim allows the pot to be inverted on the wheel for trimming.


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Be sure to download your free copy of the Slab Roller Techniques and Tips: A Guide to Selecting a Slab Roller and Making Slab Pottery. This handy studio reference includes valuable technical references to help you use your slab roller to it’s greatest potential!


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