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Blurring the Line: Larry Elardo’s Slab Coil Pottery


Refining a process often leads the way to artistic and financial success. For Larry Elardo, developing a more effective method for creating his highly-textured containers posed an interesting challenge.


“When I got back into clay about ten years ago, I was building in the traditional coil method,” he explains. “Then I started calculating how much time it was costing me and how much I’d have to charge when selling the work. I realized I’d have to figure out a quicker way to do this.” By experimenting with different methods, and using engineering tools to assist him, Larry found that handbuilding upside down, combining slab and coil methods, and beveling edges considerably reduced the time he spends making each creation. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.



A New Direction


“Working upside down over a form provides me with several advantages over traditional bottom-up methods: it allows me to work with very wet clay, so that I can really push the clay around when joining the slab coils; the form provides a hard, resistant surface against which I can press as hard as I want in order to create very deep impressions; and the clay molds easily to the form I choose so that I have much less of a struggle with gravity,” he says.

Finding or creating the form to build over is the first and most defining step in the process. When building with forms of any kind, Larry always uses some type of release between the form and the clay. He has used everything from WD-40 to cornstarch to plastic bags as release agents. To create an elevated turntable for supporting the form, Larry attaches an inexpensive metal turntable to a square of plywood. He secures a 2×4 wooden block to the plywood and attaches a cardboard tube (used for concrete forming) to the center block. Larry lays non-slip shelf lining to the top of the tube and then rests the form on top. Of course, using an upside-down form without the turntable works too, but this tool provides easy access to all sides of the project and allows the mold to turn as he builds, again conserving time.



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Slab Coil Construction


To make this planter, Larry uses a form with a 6-inch circular base and a 20-inch diameter rim. He covers the mold with a plastic bag to facilitate its removal later. He begins by rolling the cone 4 earthenware clay using 5/16-inch thick boards. He rolls several slabs to provide the coils, base, and rim of the pot.

Using drafting dividers (or a compass), Larry measures the circular base of the mold and cuts the clay to the same dimension (figure 1). Using the dividers automatically bevels the outside edge of the circle at an angle, so that the first row of slabs lays flat against that surface. The hole that remains in the middle of his 6-inch circle assists in centering and can be filled in later or left as the planter’s drain hole.

From another slab he then cuts 2¼-inch-wide strips that are up to two feet in length. Each strip is cut in half at a 45° angle (figure 2), minimizing the cleanup needed on the inside of the bowl and allowing for a wider area of contact between slab/coils. The slabs are scored, spread with slip, with the square edge overlapping the beveled edge of the previous slab. The process of putting the slab coils together creates the lapped pattern (figure 3). Larry finds that these visible construction methods yield intriguing design elements. He selects various stamps to press, adding texture and strength to each row (figure 4).

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Creating the Base


Building this large pot takes less than an hour, since each slab coil equals about three to four traditional coils. After smoothing edges with a flexible rib, Larry allows the bowl to dry upside down on the mold while creating the base.

He rolls and cuts four equal trapezoids from a rolled slab. Each one measures 4 inches wide at the top, 6 inches wide at the bottom, and 6 inches in height. He bevels the side edges to optimally fit together. A stencil cut out on the bottom edge of each base piece creates the look of four legs, rather than a solid square bottom (figure 5).

Larry presses various stamps into the four base pieces, creating a flower pattern, and allows them to reach a leather-hard state. He then scores and adds slip to the edges of the four pieces and attaches them to form the base (figure 6). A reinforcement coil is added to the inside of each joint and smoothed. He stamps additional designs on the edges of the base to decoratively bond pieces together.


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Joining Forces


Next, he planes the narrower top of the base to ensure good contact with the bowl. Scoring both the bottom of the bowl and the top of the base, he joins them with slip (figure 7).

Reinforcing coils are added. The coil along the outside of the base and bowl provides extra strength. Stamping this outside coil secures it in place while adding visual interest (figure 8).

Once the base is strong enough to support the bowl, Larry carefully flips the piece right-side up (figure 9). He gently removes the mold and slowly peels the plastic bag from the inside of the planter. The beveled edges of the slab coils leave a fairly smooth interior to the bowl, requiring minimal time smoothing with a rib (figure 10).

Larry adds a rolled coil to the inside top edge of the bowl, establishing a wider lip to support the rim. The rim is composed of four 11/4-inch wide strips that are about 2 inches longer than one quarter of the circumference of the opening (figure 11). When laid end to end, they completely cover the rim and allow for some decorative flair that echoes the shape of the base. He gently curves them into the approximate arc of the opening and allows them to dry until firm, but still workable.

Completed garden planter, 17 inches (43 cm) in diameter, earthenware clay, sprayed cobalt glaze, fired to cone 4 in an electric kiln.

Larry joins them, one at a time, to the top of the bowl, scoring and slipping the underside of each one to attach. Each of the four arcs receives two cuts on one end, and these are curled up into three “feathers” (figure 12). Using a rib, Larry smooths the top rim carefully. After bisque firing, Larry sprays on his glaze and fires to cone 4 to complete the piece.

Larry Elardo teaches pottery at Essex Art Center and Two Rivers Ceramics in Massachusetts. To see more of his work visit www.mstreetpotters.com. Gale Batsimm is a freelance writer and arts enthusiast who lives
in Massachusetts.



For more interesting handbuilding techniques, download your free copy of Five Great Handbuilding Techniques: Variations on Classic Techniques for Making Contemporary Handbuilt Pottery.