Hand-building pottery using slabs of clay is an exciting way to create shapes that could never be produced using a potter's wheel or that would be difficult to achieve even with coiling. Slab pots are being produced by contemporary potters in a selection of styles and techniques.
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Slab Building, Ancient to Modern
Slab building techniques were used extensively by Mesoamerican Pre-Columbian potters with some beautiful results. Other than these potters, though, slab pots were only minor players in the hand-building playing field of other ancient cultures across the globe.
Today, slab pots and slab-building techniques are experiencing a renewed popularity. Modern potters and ceramic sculptors have embraced the slab, creating works using both soft slabs and stiff, leather-hard slabs.
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Slabs can be made in a variety of methods. The most common method is to roll out the slab by hand using a rolling pin. Other methods include using:
- Slab rollers, which are large pieces of equipment that enable potters to roll large slabs to uniform thicknesses rapidly.
- Extruders are extruded pipe that can be cut through the middle to form a slab.
- Hand Tossing. Slabs can be formed by tossing the clay onto a hard surface at an angle. The resulting slabs are not uniform in thickness and can give an... organic feel to a piece.
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Soft Slab Construction
Many potters have developed a style that uses slabs that have just been freshly rolled out and are still damp. These soft slabs can be formed into lovely, flowing structures often reminiscent of leather. They can be used with slump molds or draped over hump molds to create repeatable forms, leaving the potter to concentrate more on finishing the form with surface textures, decorations or firing effects. Slabs can also be formed while soft and then incorporated into a larger piece after they have... stiffened to leather-hard.
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The stiff-slab method is more appropriate for architectural and geometric forms. The slab is rolled and then allowed to slowly dry to leather-hard stage before being cut and joined with other stiffened slabs to create the form.
Stiff slab shapes can be merged with other leather-hard clay components, such as stiffened slump-molded slabs, thrown components or pinched components. For example, a soft slab may be slumped into the opening of the stiff slab pot as part of creating a lid for the pot.... Another example is the addition of a foot to a stiff slab pot by joining an open-thrown ring to the pot's bottom.
The possibilities are nearly endless. If you haven't made a slab pot before, check it out and let your creativity guide you.