Love the Slab You’re With, Part Two


You’ve got a batch of wet colorful, marble-y, strata-fied  slabs now,  as a result of trying the underglaze decorating methods outlined in the previous thickly illustrated post, which is naturally titled LTSYW, Part One. What oh what can you do with them?

I have a hunch we have all  just begun to see what. For that reason, I plan to relate the paltry few things I’ve done and noticed when I tried, and leave it at that. There really aren’t any appropriate Do This and Then That instructions from here on out, because the technique is wide open to expression and experimentation.  I’ll throw down a few dots, but you get to connect them any way you discover. Lana Wilson – the source of this technique for me –  says the same in her handouts: “Play.” “Experiment.” “Play. Play. Play.” I, too, learned by playing and wish that fun for you!



Before I leave my dotted breadcrumb trail,  let’s take up what I think Lana is getting at when she calls herself “The Queen of Low Standards.” First, it infuses a workshop atmosphere with relaxation, fun and the gifts of imperfection. She says it more than once in the course of several hours, for tension-releasing laughs, for instant forgiveness when a demo goes awry, for purposely scrambling off the pedestal of know-it-all ceramic expert which some might have placed her on. Yet Lana is clearly conversant in the technicalities and artistry of her field. Her fingers move deftly and with intelligence. She’s as comfortable presenting a full day of hows and whys and stories to match as she is forgetting the specific word for a glaze fault. And if the audience can’t supply it, she pops it out sometime later. A clear pro at work.






There is no Fourth Wall with Lana, though; you’re in the soup with her.  Pretzel logic. Crazy Wisdom. Magnetic PERMISSION. She actually handed out strips of paper with the word “Permission” on them and invited us to write down what we wanted permission to do or think or try. And voila!, we had the Permission Slip for it. The Queen is benevolent! But about those Low Standards? My guess is that keeping the way into the work accessible unlocks the largest amount of joyful possibilities and provides access for the diverse pantheon of Muses, not just those of Ultimate and Objective Perfection (if they even exist beyond our timidity!) Once we’ve allowed ourselves to play in that way, THEN we can begin to sharpen our skills, get technical, learn from our mistakes, become conversant with how this method works for us.

Back to those slabs!  Here are some things I’ve learned about them when I played around.

Good to Know:

There are all kinds of ways to amend  your patterns while the clay is still flat.

You can add more color if you like, probably not too wetly.

You could stamp light textures, carve lines, or roll thin scraps on top to emphasize areas.

You could even carve out “worms,” turn them over,  switch them around (on both sides!) (Lana’s fun idea; she calls them fossils.)

Rolling your added textures and additions smoothe is a good idea. It sets the designs and creates a unified surface.

There is range of optimum workability when the clay still bends without cracking: pretty darn wet to “mozzarella” hard.

Thinner rolling = more stretching/fading/abrading of colors.

Patterns or templates for your planned creations might be a good idea. Lana used a tile cutter with an ejector!

It’s good to work rather deftly – ala Lana, with a light-handed clarity of purpose. What do you like to do with slabs? Try it!

Simple joins, overlapped or beveled, pressed and perhaps lightly paddled are good. Add water before attaching, if you’re so moved, but that’s it.

You might need to support your creations’ seams and walls until they set up.

Excess handling, too much water or tooling, fussy appendages: all impact the still-damp patterned underglaze and can smear, erase and create an overworked feel.

You can paint bare cut edges, say at the top of a cylinder, with a line of underglaze to complement your marbling. Lana showed us black edges which are snappy.

Alternatively, make some very thin strips and create a rolled edge. Attach with water, press well.

Dry slowly, bisque slowly, just ’cause.

You can amend with more color and washes after bisque, when the first colors are set.

Clear glaze, especially a transparent matte, looks great.

I’ve also used colored pencils, Pitt ink pens and clear acrylic satin medium to seal non-functional and purely decorative work.

All your remaining wet clay scraps have interesting new possibilities too.

Enjoy this process and make fun stuff! Happy New!


~Liz Crain, who’s found a jazzy new way to play with clay –  and since her word for 2013 is “Synthesis” is excited to see what comes about when she incorporates it into the vintage faux metal work she’s done for several years now.





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Love the Slab You’re With, Part One


Sometimes an activity you encounter meshes with your essence and you melt away into it. A friend explains the basic golf swing and just like that you’re sailing the ball 350 yards at the driving range and they’re saying, “It’s not supposed to be that easy!”

You find your bliss in the swimming pool, the computer lab, a knitting circle: all wonderful fascinations.  You sync with what you already know and scaffold from there, unstoppable in your  heedless avidity.

It’s precisely what happened after I spent a Saturday early last November at the Richmond Art Center with ceramics maven Lana Wilson as she demonstrated her method for coloring and collaging clay slabs and then making stuff out of them. It’s fresh and fabulous and lets the clay be clay and me be me.

When I returned to my studio and fooled around, working from my woefully unreadable notes and her handout, I was simultaneously back in Ceramics 101 trying to wrangle wet-out-of-the-bag clay and was also thrust forward into the freshest color and design possibilities I’ve seen in years. It was unadulterated infatuation and I could not stop my hands.

A bag and a half of clay later (37.5 pounds!) I’ve come up for air. Wow.

This method is clearly about staying in the moment. Loosely intentional. Intentionally loose. Don’t be fooled, though, it’s not necessarily easy. Even though Lana calls herself “The Queen of Low Standards, ” I will explain why that’s a canny ruse in the Part Two post. In the meanwhile, Part One will cover the slab-making.

The Black Side

Take a bag of clay  -a white clay is used here, but there are no rules, you get to decide what you like – slice off thick 1″ or so slabs from the long end and throw them down on your working surface sideways to stretch and thin them,  some or a lot, you decide. Or alternatively roll them out on the slab roller. Paint with 1-3 coats Black underglaze,  letting each coat get ‘unshiny’ before applying the next and brushing in alternating directions for evenness.















I need to tell you black is not required! Feel free to use any color(s) you enjoy!


When you’ve got enough coats and they’ve nearly dried, try a bunch o’ textures. You know what you like. My favorite from this array was the squares/alligator roller tool (a tenderizer?) but all of them were pretty wonderful, because they retain their character when they’re manipulated, which is coming.






















The Colors Side

When your Black Side has set up enough, (or even not…..random markings and unmarkings are most welcome) flip everything over and pick out some underglaze colors to play with.  One to three  coats again, maybe not all the same, depending on what you think you might do for patterning in the next step. You don’t necessarily need to know anything about where you’re headed, though. Adventures for everyone!














I want to speak to the Controlling Ceramics Perfectionists in the audience – and you KNOW who you are: this process is worth the price of being messy and unclear. (What you might think is evidence of Low Standards is actually a wicked plan for unexpected beauty.) There is no possible way to make a mistake here, so own it: goofs are in your head. You are officially freed from your need to get it right because there is no wrong. OK, end of message.

Now, add more colors, thickly or thinly, with or without patterns. Know that they will change mightily as you work, so you don’t need to commit or invest or even pay exact attention. On this slab, I was playing with round, target-like circles and complementary colors, that’s all.


















You can also do more texturing and carving as in the black side….I just didn’t here.



Tossing and Rolling

Yes, this is the same slab as the last photo! Gone are my precious quasi-intentional markings.  I threw it out more on the work surface, and it got abraded and messy, even a little more smeary than I expected. (My next batch of slabs was thinner to start with….so there was less smearing as I thinned them. Good to know.)





















You also can use a rolling pin to thin your slab. Lana  used newspaper between roller and slab. I did a little and then did not. The transfer of colors with both the newspaper and roller is interesting. See what you come up with. You still are doing great.


Cutting and Recombining

Now it’s time to cut the slab apart and  flip some of the pieces. Cut any old way…this just happens to be pizza wedges, because I’m a radial symmetry aficionado. Try stripes or puzzle pieces. Flip, overlap and roll together again, creating an entirely new collaged slab. The clay itself is still floppy wet and takes to this technique without any resistance. If it got a little dry, just brush each seam with clear water  before rolling.




































The parallel scratched looking area on the lower left is from inadvertent markings from my smaller roller and/or handling. if you don’t want that, roll lightly.


Cutting and Recombining Again

You can stay with the above pizza-like slab, but you are also free to cut/tear and recombine at will. And it only gets better in my book. Here is a variant, including  thin twists rolled flat at a few of the seam areas. It makes the slab absolutely unique each and every time.



This is the first post about this process. Look for a second post on how to form work from these amazing slabs sometime after the new year!

~Liz Crain, who was as surprised as she could be about this new ceramics method and the freedom it afforded her to reinvent herself and her ceramic process, once again.







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