A Lesson In Ceramics

I have been working on a new form for a few weeks and it has encouraged me to think about process. Not “The Process” of making work, rather, my process. It happens like this sometimes:

A thought occurs to me… “Gee, I haven’t developed a shaker for my new body of work. Here are examples of shakers that I used to make…


Sometimes I would put them on a tray…


They went quite well with my previous body of work. Remember?…


But that style of shaker certainly wouldn’t fit with my current body of work, now would it?

For me, “The Big Picture” can come first. Easily. I knew what I wanted it to look like. How it would feel in the hand. I had an idea and began my process to get there.

Throwing on the wheel comes rather naturally to me. Hand building is more challenging. More work.


So I chose to hand build. That process intrigues me, challenges me. They are rather handsome I think…


Wait! Did I say “they”? Turns out this proved to be a very challenging form. Would you think it? Such a simple looking form. The sizing is tricky. And I want the details “just so”. There is a bevel on the top edge of the roof. There is a “raised floor” at the bottom…


Over a short time I worked those things out. But I was blind sided by the seeming simplicity of the form. Five out of six cracked. Not at a seam, the seams held. But right down the front. The thing about clay is that when two parts are put together, they need to be together to make it. It’s not hard, all they have to do is sit still and dry slowly. Porcelain is very particular about that. Knowing this, I dried them very, very slowly. It never surprises me when something dries unevenly and cracks. One part gets ahead of another and tension is created. But this? I thought I had set it up for success.

Super thin slabs. Precise cutting and beveling. Exemplary joining. Slow, even drying. And still, a crack that is inherent to the process. Something else is going on!

There comes a time when a potter gives up on a form. I considered that. Briefly. I have a general belief that success comes to those who don’t quit. As a ceramic artist, what I want most is to create something that is the best it can be. I find my perfection in perfecting. Once in awhile I pull a piece out of the kiln that is “perfect.” Doesn’t happen often and is always a treat. That fact doesn’t curb my enjoyment of what I do.

So I ended up with only one shaker. I decided to use it to practice my most recent surface technique. I apply a pattern with a small brush dipped in acrylic medium. This acts as a resist and when it drys I sponge away the exposed clay at the surface. That creates a raised pattern surface that catches transparent glazes well. Like this…

DawleyTaraGI 4

When decorating the form I quickly realized that it had been designed in a way that was perfect for the patterning. That technique is tedious yet this task was so easy. Imagine that.


This captured my imagination and encouraged me not to give up on the shaker form. Still, the cracking issue loomed.

While making some cups last week, something happened. My handles have a “plugged on” look. Not blended in.

I could go on an hour about a cup handle. If you are one of many who has seen my handle demo, you know this. But you do not know this! I have a new trick! A handle trick that I have never seen done before! Can you believe that?

Plugged on handles have a tendency to separate from the cup. Like this…(You might need to hit your < "back page" after clicking on…)


Well, kinda like that. That is a cartoon. Geez.

I pay close attention to the wall and handle thickness and dry the cup slowly. An acceptable success rate but I do experience occasional losses. Now after I make the handle I add one extra little step that seems to have resolved that issue for me.

Thinking about that shaker while making cups…something clicked. So I’m going to stick with it, the shaker. Work, finding pleasure in the process. With a little luck the shaker will go along for the ride.



3 Responses

  1. I enjoyed your post, Tara, and I learned a couple if things, too! A great blend of insight and humor 😉 Enjoy your day.

  2. Your work is so beautiful. I think it is a great idea to go through the process Online, whether it is your process or whatever. This will certainly inspire other ceramists but also all of us non-artist that want to buy every single thing that you make. You got some talent, girl.

    • Thanks, Shannon. I must admit it is nice to receive comments on a blog post. Sometimes I wonder if anyone sees them. Later, gator…

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