These simple tree decorations look especially good in groups of different sizes and proportions. They look lovely as festive table centre features or simply sitting on window ledges or shelves at any time of the year
You will need:
Clay of choice – earthenware, stoneware, porcelain – preferably white
Rolling equipment – pin, plastic sheet, roller guides 3-5mm thick
Texture stamp of choice
Glazes in shades of green to suit your clay type
Draw three circles in increasing sizes on a large sheet of paper.
I’ve used my trusty plastic lids to draw around, but you can use a compass just as easily.
Cut out the circles carefully with a sharp knife, then cut each one in half.
Curl one of the cut halves of each circle into a cone shape to test the size.
If you feel the cones need adjusting in size, you can cut the half circles into quarters to test again. It may be that some need to be quarters – others full halves or something in between but testing in this way will resolve the size issue before you commit to clay.
Fix the paper cones in the sizes you want with some masking tape to hold the shape. Test them on top of each other to see how well they balance in proportion – make adjustments until you’re happy with them.
Mark the point of overlap with a pencil, inside and outside of each of the cones.
Now remove the masking tape, open out the cones and cut off the excess paper, allowing a 5mm excess from the marked line for joining.
On a plastic sheet, roll out a slab of clay between your roller guides.
Smooth over the slab with a rib once rolled, to compact the clay.
Place the paper templates on the slab as economically as possible to save as much slab as possible for later use. Cut them out carefully.
Decorate the surface of each section with a texture stamp of your choice. Try to avoid distorting the shape as you do this.
Curl the top section of the tree carefully into a cone shape then score the joining edges with a serrated kidney.
Apply a little slip to one of the scored edges then close the ends together, pinching the clay between your fingers and thumb to ensure the seal is good.
When you’re sure the ends are securely joined, smooth over the surface with a kidney to remove any bulk or lumpy areas.
Re-impress the stamp detail where there are gaps. You will need to hold the cone with a finger inside so that you have some resistance as you press into the clay – otherwise it will distort. Each section will need extra stamp detail adding after joining.
Repeat the exercise to complete all three cones, testing the fit, one on top of the other, after making each one.
The middle and base cone must have a hole at the top to avoid trapping air between the sections when they are joined together. You can make the hole simply with a pin.
Sit the middle cone on the base cone and mark the position with a pin, as shown.
Score the area above the marked line on the base cone and a 10mm band inside the middle cone.
Apply a little slip to the scored areas then fit the sections together pinching the clay gently until the surfaces seal.
Repeat the exercise for the top cone, marking, scoring and slipping the joining surfaces before fixing it in place.
You can consider the tree finished at this stage if you like. Made in varying sizes in this way is the simplest option, but you can also make a trunk and base, as shown in the following steps.
To elevate the tree on a trunk, you will need a short length of 10mm-diameter dowelling rolled in newspaper which is secured at each end.
From the remaining slab, cut a section long enough to fit around the dowelling and wide enough to fit inside the tree with some extra to elevate it – how much extra is your own choice.
Roll the slab around the dowelling and mark where the end meets.
Unroll the slab a little and cut away the excess, leaving just a little extra over the marked line for the ends to overlap.
Bevel the joining edges by laying a ruler 5mm from the edge then cutting the clay at an angle, as shown.
Score the bevelled edges when cut.
Join the scored edges together after applying a little slip.
Paddle the joined edges with a wooden spatula to make sure the seal is good, but don’t be tempted to roll the join because it will increase the size of the tube and thin the clay.
Remove the tube from the dowelling and stand it on the work surface. Cut four small V shapes from the top, as shown.
Apply some slip to the cut edges then sit a thin length of dowel (or a pencil or thin paintbrush handle) inside the tube and close the cut edges together. The trunk must have a hole for the same reason as the tree sections.
Score the inside of the tree at the top end where the trunk will fit and the narrowed top of the trunk itself.
Cut out a disc of clay using something like a cookie cutter which has approximately the same circumference as the bottom of the tree.
Sit the trunk centrally on the disc and mark its position with a pin.
Score inside the marked area and the underside of the trunk.
Returning to the tree itself, apply some slip to the scored area inside it and the top end of the trunk.
Fit the trunk inside the tree making sure it sits straight, and the surfaces seal together well. You can reinforce with a thin coil of soft clay if you feel it’s insecure.
Finally, apply some slip to the underside of the trunk and the scored area on the disk then fit the two together.
Neaten around the join to remove excess slip when you are sure it is secure.
Make a pinhole in the underside to allow for the release of air from the trunk and body to finish.
Allow the finished tree to dry very slowly before bisque firing.
After bisque firing, decorate the tree in green glaze and fire to your clay’s optimum temperature.
These trees look really great in groups when glazed in varying shades of green.
This project first appeared in issue 21
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