A bisque template is an incredibly useful tool for the quick production of slabbed dishes. The potential to create unique and exciting shapes is endless, giving you an opportunity to develop your own signature range of wares
You will need:
Clay – any type will work as it will only be fired to a low bisque
Cutting tools – knife/scissors
10mm thick roller guides
Cut out the outline shape of your dish from a sheet of foam.
Try drawing some rough outlines on paper first, to create a shape you like, then draw half the outline on a folded sheet of paper. Cut around the drawn outline then open out the paper to reveal a mirror image of the shape. You can do this freehand or in a more measured and planned way – these details will make the shape unique to you.
Transfer the outline to the foam sheet and cut it out. Foam is harder-wearing than paper, so you’ll be able to use this outline template for years.
Using thick, 10mm roller guides, roll out a slab of clay on a sheet of plastic to the approximate shape of your template.
The slab needs to be thicker than normal because you’ll be applying considerable pressure when you use the template to make your dishes later, so it needs to be sturdy.
Smooth over the surface of the slab with a rib to compact the clay.
Place the template on the rolled slab and very carefully cut around it using a sharp knife.
Turn the template over onto an absorbent board and remove the plastic sheet.
Smooth over the surface of the template again with a rib to compact the clay – this is especially important if the clay’s heavily grogged.
Roll a thick coil of clay – 30mm diameter minimum. Keep the coil round by twisting it periodically as you roll it – this will also give it added strength.
Place the coil on the foam template so that it runs along the length at the centre, then cut it to size, 10mm short of each end.
Lift the coil off the foam then drop it onto the work surface so that it flattens along one side, as shown. You need to be careful to keep the coil straight as you do this.
The coil will form a handle for the template, but to make it easy to grip, make a long groove along the length of both sides. Wet your finger and thumb then, starting at one end, pinch the clay and hold the position as you draw along the length of the coil. You will need to repeat this several times, but you’ll know when it’s right because your fingers and thumbs will fit the grooves easily, for good purchase.
Place the coil on the clay slab along the length and mark the position with a pin.
Score the marked position on the template and the flat underside of the coil handle.
Apply slip to the scored surfaces then fix the handle in place.
When you’re sure the handle is secure, remove excess slip with a modelling tool or rib. Spend some time neatening up – even though this is just a tool, it is still a work of art and deserves to be finished off to the best standard possible. It will also last much longer if it’s well-made.
Cut the ends of the coil at an angle to improve the shape and remove sharp edges.
If you want to make the template your own, you can impress your maker’s stamp or a small detail in the angled end to finish, but this is purely optional.
The template is now finished. Allow it to dry very slowly, preferably on a wire rack to allow a free flow of air around the clay as it dries to prevent warping OR weight it down with blocks of wood, as shown here, with a heavier weight on top.
When dry, low bisque-fire the template to 960ºC. This will make it absorbent enough to prevent it sticking to the clay when you use it to make a dish.
Before using it, soften all sharp edges with sandpaper, remembering to wear a dust mask as you work.
This project first appeared in issue 14
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