When I was a child, my sister and I would make farm art with rubber stamps that were my grandmother’s. We sat at the dining room table with a stack of paper, a blue ink pad, and stamps. The house went on the left edge of the paper, and the barn on the right, because they were only the front half of the buildings. Then, we added pigs, cows, a horse and wagon, a colt, chickens, and the fence to enclose them. The brick well went near the house, and the farmer stood on the wagon, the boy and his dog, went next to the skipping girl, and the mother watched it all from the front porch.
We played with them, our younger sister and brother played with them, and then our children gave them a go. For the past several years, my older sister has been the caretaker of them. Last year, she gave them to me, and I carried the tradition and brought them out for my grandchildren. The artistic children coloured their farm with markers. In all the years we’ve had the stamps, no one thought to do this. This made me wonder, how could I incorporate them into my pottery.
I will carve a farm design onto a tray, I thought. A brown background with green grass for the base of my farm.
How I Made the Tray
I rolled out a slab of brown clay to ¼” thick, then rubbed a rubber rib over both sides, smoothing out the marks and compressing the clay. I set my tray template, which I made from clay, on the slab and cut the slab one inch wider than the template for the walls for the tray.
Then, I put the slab of clay on a piece of 2-inch upholstery foam. I centered the tray template on the slab and pressed each side of the template down into the foam, going around a few times, which lifted the walls up. You can see this on my YouTube video below.
I removed the upholstery foam and set the tray on a table. The corners of the walls were a bit high, so I trimmed them to the same height as the walls. I fluted the walls by putting my left thumb and finger on the inside and my right index finger on the outside between the thumb and finger. I pushed out from the inside and in from the outside, creating a ruffled side. Not only does a ruffled edge look pretty, but it also strengthens the sides.
The shape of the tray was done. Now, to clean up any marks in the clay and smooth the top of the sides with a damp sponge.
Once I was satisfied with the tray, I was ready to decorate it. I painted 3 coats of green clay slip on the base, making sure each coat had dried to no shine before the next coat was applied. I didn’t paint the sides.
When the green slip dried until it wasn’t tacky or I could touch it without leaving a finger mark, I firmly pressed my stamps into the tray. This left an imprint, so I knew where to carve. I carved through the green slip, exposing the brown tray of the house, barn, cows, pigs, farmer, horse, wagon, fence, and brick well.
I drew on extras that I didn’t have stamps for. A farmer is sitting in the wagon, grass, and a fence going off into the field behind the house.
It still needed more, colour. I painted the pigs with a pink slip and the house with light mauve. The cows were hidden behind the fence, so I painted them with a yellow-brown underglaze. To show the harness on the horse I painted him black.
The tray is waiting on my shelf for me to make more pottery to fill my kiln, then it will be bisque-fired and glazed with a clear glaze.
Magic happens in the kiln, and clay and glazes can change colour. This tray will be a mid-brown, like the farm tray below. I am not sure what shade of green the ground will be. I hope the pigs turn out pink and the house mauve.
Do you try new things with your craft? I’d love to hear about it.
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