How to make a ceramic leaf bowl.

I often wonder, how do others regard ‘handmade’?  

What I mean by this is, do you think of ‘handmade’ as something knocked together by your granny, who lives by the make-do-and-mend mantra (which I agree with to a point), or do you see it as something handmade with love by an artisan and which is truly unique? I think both points of view exist, especially in different parts of the country, and the world.

I usually fall on the side of the artisan as I know first hand how much skill and passion goes into making things from scratch. I also appreciate the hand patched apron that granny might wear as I was raised to not be wasteful. 

For those who don’t see the skill and passion involved in artisan hand-crafted items I’m going to take you on a journey through how I make one of my ceramic leaf bowls. 

How to make a ceramic leaf bowl using the slab building technique

How to make a ceramic leaf bowl. 

How to make a ceramic leaf bowl using the slab building technique
Greenware stage of making a leaf bowl.

Each piece of the bowl shown above has first been handmade (and there’s that word again!) from earthenware (raw unfired) clay. The clay was rolled out and each leaf was individually made with the slab technique.

In this case I have a useful cutter and vein stamp that save me a lot of time but I don’t always have them depending on the design. Each leaf is hand cleaned to prevent any rough edges forming as we don’t want that.

I start from the base, which is in this example is a circle that I have precut, and assemble the leaves in an overlapping formation. This is important as I need to join the individual leaves to each other with liquid clay (slip). Each leaf is ‘scored and slipped’ to join them together. Slip is like a clay glue. I use a bowl to form the shape of the leaf bowl as at this stage the clay is still wet and doesn’t hold its shape.

The layers of leaves are built up to the required shape and size. For this bowl I added two little butterflies, which I think bring the piece to life. Here’s a close up. 

How to make a ceramic leaf bowl using the slab building technique
Close up of the butterfly detail.

Now the bowl needs to be left at least a week in a cool place so that the clay can dry out. This is what we call the ‘greenware’ stage before firing. 

Once the bowl has dried thoroughly it is ready to be fired in a kiln up to temperatures of approximately 1050 degrees C. My garage gets rather warm! 

Did you know that I named my kiln? Well, I’m daft enough to do that sort of thing. I named him ‘Kenny’ so that I can say, ‘Oh my god, I’ve kilned Kenny!’ That’s for the South Park fans out there. I do however, omit the last line as I could do without L’il Miss Ty Siriol learning that!

Anyway, this is a photo of the bowl after it has been ‘bisque fired’. The clay at this stage is called ‘bisque’. See how it’s now a lovely white colour. This is when you truly see what the colour of the clay is and there are many different clays available.

How to make a ceramic leaf bowl using the slab building technique
The leaf bowl after bisque firing.

The next stage is the painting. With this example I used a blend of pinks with a few glazes.

How to make a ceramic leaf bowl using the slab building technique
The first coat of pink glazes.
How to make a ceramic leaf bowl using the slab building technique
A second coat of the darker pink was blended in to intensify the colour at the leaf tips.

Once I was happy with the colours I had painted, bearing in mind that the colours will intensify in the kiln, the next stage was to paint on a 2-3 coats of clear glaze. The make I like paints on a pale green colour and looks like this. It is a pale green, promise. 😀 

How to make a ceramic leaf bowl using the slab building technique
The leaf bowl with 2-3 coats of clear glaze. It is now ready to be fired again.

I like to leave the glaze coat overnight before being fired again to make sure that it is fully dry and no bubbles occur. The bowl went back into the kiln for a glaze firing of temperatures up to about 1020 degrees C. I don’t like to look too closely at the electric bill! 🙂

I love the next bit best. After leaving the kiln to cool overnight it is time to crack it open and see what delights are in there. I never know firstly, if my items will survive the firing, as some things can explode if they are not dry enough, and second, what the colours are going to look like. It’s like Christmas Day every time I open the kiln and thankfully I’ve usually been a good girl and things survive. 🙂

How to make a ceramic leaf bowl using the slab building technique
The leaf bowl in the kiln after glaze firing. It survived!!

I am extremely pleased with how this bowl came out. I was also very happy as it was commissioned and I don’t usually do these on commission due to the failure rate in the kiln with so many small pieces joined together. 

Here is a close up of the detail and colours after the final firing. So there you have it, how to make a ceramic leaf bowl! 

How to make a ceramic leaf bowl using the slab building technique
The end result of many weeks work and ready for its new owner.

I have never tried to do this with polymer clays but I can’t see why it wouldn’t work so long as you have a good enough ‘glue’ for the pieces. I guess you would need a good make. Maybe that’s something that I will have to try and get back to you about. They beauty, of course, with polymer clay is that it is available to everyone as you bake it in a conventional oven. Hmm, my cogs are turning… If you work with polymer clay, what do you think? Would this technique work?

I hope you enjoyed reading this post and now have an insight into what it means when you buy something ‘handmade’. I might not like everything I see, as we all have different tastes, but I can see the work and passion that has gone into making these bespoke pieces. I have a huge admiration for artisans and many have become good friends over the years.


If you also do crafts of any kind I’m sure you already knew how much love and skill go into ‘handmade’ pieces though. 

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6 comments

  1. Ty Siriol says:

    It's definitely worth showing how things are done. As you know as well, there's a lot of love and attention in each and every piece. You don't find that with mass produced.
    Cath x

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