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Great Idea for Teachers: A Simple Lesson Plan for Slab-Built Plates with Textured and Stenciled Decoration

Making slab plates is a great way to develop basic slab techniques, and using Chinet® plates for forms makes this an easy project. They also make perfect surfaces for exploring decorating techniques.

Making slab plates is a great way to develop basic slab techniques, and using Chinet® plates for forms makes this an easy project. They also make perfect surfaces for exploring decorating techniques.

Most of us non-teachers, probably are under the assumption that teachers just kick back and relax all summer long. But if you talk an educator, you will probably get a different story. The summer is really a time of regrouping and planning for the next year (hopefully after squeezing in a much-needed vacation first!).


So today, I thought I would highlight a section of Ceramic Arts Daily that might help them in these efforts: our revamped Education section. This section is filled with resources for teachers such as lesson plans, project ideas, how-to videos, downloadable charts, handouts, visual aids and other useful materials for teachers and students alike. I have presented an example below, in which Amanda Wilton-Green explains a cool, simple slab building project that could really be adapted for any grade from kindergarten through high school. What’s more, you don’t have to have a lot of expensive materials to do it – a huge bonus with a tight budget!  – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.



Making a set of ceramic plates can be fun for the beginner, but is also easily adapted for the more-experienced student. This project presents a direct and fresh slab-forming approach resulting in plates that become great canvases for surface decoration. Materials are simple, inexpensive and readily available.


After only a few hours of work, you can learn how to roll out a good, even slab, and can experience different stages of plastic clay and what the clay is capable of at each stage. You become familiar with simple slump molds and start to consider the form and function of your work. Most importantly, you learn how to handle clay in a direct and intentional way.


These plates become a wonderful surface for finishing, embellishing and glazing. I have expanded this project to include experiments with paper stencils and slip decoration, but that’s just the beginning. Try underglaze design work and glazing methods with this project as well. When the project is completed, you’ll have a set of plates to use in you home or to give as gifts.


This post is excerpted from Ceramic Projects: Forming Techniques,
which is available in the Ceramic Arts Daily Bookstore.

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Fig.1 Using a Chinet plate as a template, cut circles in the slab.

Forming Plates


Roll out a slab to a desired thickness of ¼ to ½ inch. When rolling out a slab, start by throwing it across the table in different directions until it is somewhere close to 3 inches thick. Use a slab roller or a rolling pin to continue rolling the slab to the desired thickness, taking care not to roll over the edges. Roll two or three times on one side. If you’re working on canvas, you’ll notice that the clay stops stretching after the first few times because the clay holds onto the texture of the canvas. Carefully lift the slab creating as much surface area with your hand as possible, and leave the slab to stiffen to a soft leather-hard stage. The clay needs to be able to bend without cracking, but you don’t want fingerprints to show as you manipulate your clay.


Fig.2 Remove excess clay from the rim.

Choose the size of your plate. Chinet® brand has dinner, salad and dessert-sized plates as well as an oval platter. Place the plate upside down to use as a template for cutting the slab (figure 1). As you cut, keep your needle tool or fettling knife perpendicular to your work surface to create a square rim.


Remove excess clay and smooth out the rims. Slide your finger across the edge of the rim with firm and consistent pressure (figure 2). The sharp corner of the rim softens without flattening the edge. A damp sponge, chamois or a small piece of a produce bag also works. Stamp or sign the underside.


Flip the clay slab, smooth the top edge then place it into the paper plate, lining up the edges (figure 3). Experiment with pressing the clay into the paper plate with your hands or sandwiching your clay between two plates (figure 4). The clay will have a different character depending on your chosen method.


Allow the plates to dry to a firm leather-hard stage in the bottom paper plate. Remove the clay from the mold to check to see if the plates stack nicely and sit on a flat surface without rocking. Take a moment to look closely at the rim of each plate to do any final shaping they might need.


Be sure to cruise over to the Education section for more lesson plans,
and check back often because we’ll be adding more!

And, if you have a lesson plan or project idea you would like to share, email it to editor@ceramicartsdaily.org.


Fig.3 Flip the slab over and place it in the plate.

Decorating Plates


These plates are adaptable to all sorts of decorative techniques at the leather-hard, greenware and bisque stages. The flat surface lends itself to painterly and expressive underglaze or glaze work. These slab plates are simple enough for very young students and satisfying for the adult student.


Slip decoration gives dimension to the plates and students draw on their own creative design ideas for the work. Textured dessert plates with slip inlay use found and inexpensive materials to create a design and a slip in contrasting color to further highlight the design. Paper stencils used with decorative slip can make bold, graphic borders or motifs for your set of plates (figure 5). With a little experimentation and practice, you’ll come up with wonderful results.



Fig.4 Press the clay with your hands or press with another plate.

Making Sets


When you handbuild a set of plates, every artist approaches each plate with a slightly different perspective. The experience of making the first plate, bowl, mug or tile influences the next, as do things as simple as body position and energy levels. We’re thoughtful and inconsistent creatures and we can use these characteristics to great benefit when done so with intention. A set of plates can be tied together with a theme, color, position of image, size or concept. Because we’re used to seeing sets coming from a factory, the default definition in our minds can be limited to identical objects.


Textured Dessert Plates


Roll out ¼ to ½-inch-thick slabs. Before cutting out the plate, place textured material along one side of the clay slab and gently roll into the clay. Once the material is flush with the top of the clay, peel it away. Clay is great for picking up the most delicate details and is quite beautiful at this stage.


With texture along one side of the slab, place the paper plate templates so that the location of the design will be pleasing on a plate. Remove excess clay and smooth the rims of the plates, working on the top edge and then flipping the clay to finish the bottom edge of the rim. Sandwich the clay between two paper plates and press the clay into the bottom corners of the lower plate. Remove the top plate and paint a generous amount of contrasting slip over the textured area. Leave the clay in the bottom paper plate and let dry until it is a very stiff leather hard. The amount of time varies depending on climate inside the studio. At this stage, use a metal rib to scrape away the top layer of colored slip leaving behind only what is inlaid into the textured areas.



Fig.5 Decorate using any method such as this stencil technique for example.

Paper Stencils


Use paper stencils on leather hard clay after clay is placed into the paper plate mold. Each paper stencil can easily be used twice, and with care, up to four times. Keep a copy of the original design. I recommend you prepare by cutting as many stencils as required before beginning the slip work. Trim stencils so that there is about 2 inches of paper around the design. Soak the paper stencils in water until wet but not soggy and then set onto paper towel to remove excess moisture. Position stencils and press down with a damp sponge. Paint slip over the design then remove the paper stencil. If the stencil is too dry to adhere to the next plate, repeat soaking. Sometimes the stencil can be directly transferred to the next plate and pressed with the sponge.




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!


Equipment and Tools


  • Large rolling pin
  • Cut-off wire
  • Sponge
  • 25 lbs of clay with sand or grog to reduce warping
  • Fettling knife or needle tool
  • Chinet® paper plates.


Note: Chinet® plates do not have a plastic coating
and absorb moisture from the clay. Avoid coated and plastic plates.

Interesting Texture Materials


Texture Ideas


Gently roll the following into your plate with a rolling pin:


  • Corrugated Cardboard
  • Bubble wrap
  • Lace remnants
  • Mesh produce bags


Stamping Ideas


The following items can be pressed like stamps into the clay but don’t do well under a rolling pin:


  • Small plastic toys such as animals
  • Beaded necklaces (I like the bathtub drain chain, but be careful not to go too deep with this or it can act like a perforation and give your plate a long crack.)