Cacti and succulents look fabulous in these little planters, especially when grouped together. They are quick and easy to make so you should be able to turn out your own little arrangement in no time at all
You will need:
Clay of choice – stoneware if planning to put the planters outside
A small amount of an alternative coloured clay – red, white or black to contrast with the body colour you are using. However, the contrasting clay must be the same type (earthenware/stoneware), as used for the body. Note, the key is firing temperature, so porcelain, for example, can be inlaid into stoneware because they mature at the same temperature for the most part
Tiny-headed modelling loop tool
Pronged tool – fork, onion holder, deep serrated kidney, etc
Coloured glazes – one for each pebble
Begin by weighing two equally sized balls of clay – the weight is your choice and depends on what size pebble you want to make but also how much you can successfully pinch – trial and error will dictate what you can manage.
Holding the first ball in the palm of one hand, push the thumb of the other hand down into the centre of the clay until you can feel the pressure from it in your palm.
Carefully start to pinch out the wall between your fingers and thumb – work in small even pinches around the clay beginning at the base because this will be harder to reach as the size increases.
To avoid the shape flaring outward at the rim, maintain an inward pinch with your thumb as you reach this point.
The clay should be about 5mm thick throughout when finished.
If the clay seems a little floppy, firm it up with a hairdryer until the shape holds.
Pinch the second ball in exactly the same way as the first.
Check the size of the opening regularly against the first half and continue to pinch until they are equal.
Score the rims of each half with a serrated kidney, before applying slip.
Join the sections together, holding them in place for a few seconds to ensure the bond is good.
Reinforce the join with a coil of soft clay – blend it in well with a finger or suitable tool.
Smooth over the reinforced join with a kidney, removing excess clay as necessary, until the surface is even and neat.
Paddle the surface of the form with a wooden spatula to improve the shape and compact the clay, then, if the clay seems a little floppy firm it up with a hairdryer until it holds without distorting or marking with the fingers as you handle it.
At this point, the air inside the form is acting as a resistance to maintain the form so in order to manipulate the shape you must make a hole with a pin at one end to allow for the release of some of the air.
Paddle the clay again to create a more pebble-like shape.
You can sit the pebble on a board to paddle it if preferred – this will establish a flat underside.
Plug the hole to prevent further air loss when you’re happy with the shape.
Using the loop tool, carve out a circle on one side of the pebble as shown. This can be in any position – it doesn’t have to be at one end and will form the striations in the surface of the pebble.
Carve out a second circle, 10mm from the first then before continuing to make more striation lines, score the position for the opening with a pin. From this point, your lines only need to follow up to the opening.
Now carve out as many more lines as you want around the pebble, working up to the opening.
Fill in the carved-out lines with thin coils of your alternately coloured clay. Press the coils in firmly with your fingers but try not to smudge the colour too deeply into the surrounding clay.
Allow the inlaid clay to firm up to leather hard, then carefully scrape the excess away with a metal kidney to reveal the striations underneath.
Firm the form up again with a hairdryer if you feel it necessary to maintain the shape.
Using your chosen pronged tool (an onion holder was used here – never used for onions but used extensively in the studio!) texture the clay between the striations. You can crosshatch as in this example, or score lines that follow the striations.
If you crosshatch the surface, don’t brush away the burrs that form but paddle them back down gently. As you do this, you will find the burrs flatten out to create another dimension to the texture, which is very pebble-like.
The spaces between the narrower striations can be quite tricky to texture so take care. The danger is that you can drag the coloured clay out, so avoid scoring over them as far as possible.
When the texturing is complete, cut out the opening of the pebble with a sharp knife.
Neaten up the opening by cutting away thicker areas of clay on the underside as shown.
Having opened up the pebble, you will be able to see the join of the two halves on the inside, so work over the area with a finger to blend the clay together until the join is no longer visible.
Neaten around the opening with a kidney, then run your finger over the clay to soften and round off the edge.
IMPORTANT- if you intend the pebble for outside, make a couple of drainage holes in the underside so that water can freely drain away. This is especially important in colder weather because frozen water expands and can crack the form.
Allow the pebble to dry slowly before bisque firing.
Paint over the surface of the bisque fired pebble with a coloured glaze of choice – one layer only is required.
Avoid painting over the striations – this is a little fiddly but possible.
If working on more than one pebble, glaze them all in the same way, using different coloured glazes for each if possible.
The planters shown here don’t have drainage holes because they are made for indoor use to be planted with cacti and succulents, which need little water and almost thrive on neglect!
You don’t have to glaze the interiors of the pebbles because they won’t be seen, but if the clay isn’t fired to vitrification, you may get water seepage, in which case you are advised to glaze inside. Earthenware clays can seep, so be warned.
WEARING A DUST MASK, sand back the surface of the pebble until the glaze remains in the texture only.
Very carefully brush the excess glaze off the surface of the pebble onto a plastic sheet before disposing of it (or reconstituting it – you can add water to the dry material then sieve it through a fine mesh to remove clay dust and then use it again).
This selection of pebbles have all been finished in the same way and are ready for firing. Even though stoneware clay has been used to make these and they will be fired to a high temperature, they will be supported on tiny bar props to avoid glaze firing onto the kiln shelf. Although this is not generally advised because stoneware clay can slump at higher temperatures if propped, it seems to work in the case of these forms with no ill effect.
The fired pebbles before planting up. Two have been glazed internally to show the difference – two remain unglazed, but all have been fired to 1220ºC in an electric kiln.
This project first appeared in issue 27
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