Stefanie Smith Ceramics

Handbuilding Process

When most people think about pottery they usually think about work being created on the pottery wheel, which is known as wheel throwing. This method is probably the most common used in North America, but it is not the only way of creating functional and decorative works out of clay. Another, and more ancient method, is handbuilding.

Handbuilding can typically be broken down into three primary techniques: pinching, coiling, and slab building.  Many handbuilders employ a combination of these technique, while others focus on one more than the others. I primarily focus on slab building in my work, while sometimes incorporating coil methods as well.

Slab Building

Slab building involves rolling out the clay in even sheets or slabs to a desired thickness, cutting these slabs to shape, and then assembling them using score and slip techniques (imagine building a gingerbread house with clay). This building method allows for an endless variety of shapes as one is not limited by the circular form of the pottery wheel. Slabs can be assembled while soft for a gentle, sometimes pillow-like effect, or while stiff (referred to as hard slab) to create straight lines and flat planes.

I like to work with semi-hard slabs that are firm enough to stand up without collapsing, but soft enough to still have some bend to them. 

Shaping possibilities aside, the primary reason why I choose to work with slabs is because they allow me to employ a decorating technique that does not work well on wheel thrown clay as you risk misshaping the form.



Nearly all of my pieces feature ornate animal imagery embossed into the surface of the clay.  These animal motifs are my own designs which I carefully carve into linoleum (typically used for block printing) and stamp into the rolled slabs of clay. It is a delicate and time-consuming process, but one that allows clean lines, complex images, repetition, and fragmentation.  Each stamp has a limited lifespan as the pressure created by pressing into the clay can cause breakage, and the clay itself dries out the linoleum with use. Through these limitations I am forced to continually create new stamps and evolve my designs. 

Embossed designs