Here’s is a favorite butter box, slightly grimy from sitting around my studio with other pieces I like too much to sell. I do like to make boxes. Hand-building is is a guilty pleasure for an impatient person like me who sometimes doesn’t love the many steps of wheel thrown pottery in my process. Thinking about it now, I realize that it’s probably just as complex if you take righteously prepping the clay into account.
I am very particular about readying my slabs for hand building. I do have a nice slab roller, which speeds the process and yields up perfect slabs of various thicknesses. For the butter boxes, an extruder prepares the molding which forms the lid seat. Here’s a picture of the extruder die; it’s cut from sheet pvc and supported during extrusion by the round die shown beneath it. Much trial and error in designing this extrusion… Here’s a bunch of extrusion prepped for box building. It dries out – DIES! – super fast, so I put it on plastic as well as under plastic. The boxes are just little rectangles. I have sheet pvc templates that I use to build them. Sheet pvc is a great material for repeated-use patterns in studio. Mine is salvage from a local electronics manufacturer – it’s used to ship exotic films for chip building – but you can buy it on line or a good craft stores. There are several thicknesses; it takes serious shears or snips to cut the good stuff. Here’s a set of little boxes ready to receive their lid-seat extrusion. As you all know, the most important thing about joining hand built pieces is keeping all the components at the same stage of dryness, er more correctly, wetness. A condition were there is no color change; the clay remains easy to score and “goop-up” with a serrated rib; but is no longer flexible is just right for this clay, a slightly gritty cone 10 stoneware. As you can see, I don’t perfect the base boxes at this state. That is so much easier to do hours later, when the piece is ready for final carving. Here’s extrusion going on. I use a little 6″ ruler to measure each piece individually. There is always a little bit of variation 1/8″ off can spoil the box… careful! I do not use any joining slip, magic water, or any other such stuff. If the clay is correctly conditioned none is necessary. I cut a tiny miter freehand… decades of sewing prepared me for clay work… and I can hit it right on every time. You might like to use a tiny plastic right triangle until you are confident. So… all the boxes are built; and some have stamping or texture applied in the “flat state” that will be part of the surface.
Now, the tedious part begins – or USED TO begin – the building of dinky lids from four little triangles of clay. I had thought for sometime that I could press a nice little lid onto a form, but how should I make the form? Gotta be quick; just a trial, of course. Wood is a possibility, bisque of course, but how about that crazy pink foam? I have gained a new appreciation of the stuff because of what my sweetheart Steve makes from it. Check this out! Never want to run into the rest of this critter….. I still have pink foam in studio from days of experimenting with hat-making, to which I will return someday, of course…. Here’s the first whack at a form for the lids. Consultation with Steve makes sandpapering the form down a bit the next step… Wearing a respirator would be a good idea; fine particles of this pink stuff are a respiratory hazard, and a potential mechanical irritant to the surface of the eye. Pretty dang nice! Took about 10 minutes, mostly because I don’t measure or overthink. No drying time, bisquing, or other fussing. Can’t wait to slap some clay onto it…. Here’s a first lid. I like a very soft rib to smooth stuff; perfect to contour the clay down to the form. Impatient Ginger! pink crumbs all over my work area! My little Chinese wire tool is perfect to trim the slab down to size. I anticipated that I would do some further fitting, with a small Surform plane tool, so the lid block is a little bit oversized. The lids are perfect first time through, yippee! I will dry these boxes under plastic for a few days, and then do final surface design on them. Production time reduced by the lid form by at least 25%…..
Can you see the lid seat on the box on the right above? I ran out of extrusion and had to build the lid seat from strips… I will round and smooth the edges later and they will be just as nice. So it can be done if you don’t have access to an extruder…
Reading over this post before I hit the button and launch it into the world, I realize that what I want to do next is make the series of little architectural stamps that I have been imagining…. little windows and doors, arches and cupolas; all related by scale, Ooooohh!