How Emilie Handbuilt the Ruffled Bird Nest Bowls
1. Three Nesting Bowls – in the making
To make the Bird Nest Bowls I started with a very large bowl mold. When I’m done with the forming stage, all 3 bowls are nested together into that initial large bowl mold for the long drying process.
The clay for these bowls is white clay mined in the US, combined and processed to create very smooth and workable clay. I slice off big 4 to 5 lb. pieces and wedge them on a huge flat wedging stone. Wedging is a little like kneading bread.
2. The First Bowl – Vente
I press the clay between layers of cloth to make slabs. I keep only few precious pieces of fabric in my studio that I use to create the textures I love. I press the clay into large slabs. I move the big slabs and drape them into a large bowl mold. I cut shapes and overlaps and coax the round shape into the slabs to form the bowls. Each seam and crack may become part of the design or be smoothed or cut away. A bird forms her nest one stick at a time – each stick wedged in where it goes best to form a cozy warm space for baby birds. My process is a bit like that. I observe, as I go. Where are the beautiful big cracks and folds and overlaps? I add and take away clay, observing and enhancing the design of the Birds Nest Bowl. I add more slabs and coils and buds of clay where I want and need them until its strong and beautiful. The molding and shaping completed, bowl #1, the Vente bowl is formed.
3. The Second and Third Bowl - Grande and Media
To make the second Grande sized bowl I spread pieces of flexible upholstery foam over the inside of the Vente bowl that is in the mold and tape it in place. That becomes the mold for the 2nd bowl. This one big bowl mold is getting packed with 3 nesting bowls. I spread and shape and connected slabs and coils and sprigs then … leaving only the most beautiful cracks in place, when they contribute to the design, I change and enhance them carefully so the bowl will be functional, dramatic and beautiful.
4. The Drying and First Firing
With 3 nested raw clay bowls in place I cover the whole thing and start the drying process. This piece had to dry very slowly and evenly for 3 months until it was bone dry. This is the super fragile stage and I carefully disassembled the bowls from their unique mold and placed them in the kiln for the first firing. To avoid any unwanted cracks I heat the kiln slowly to almost 2,000 degrees. It takes hours to cool.
The glazing stage takes a lot of faith. After months of work to get to this point ceramic artists are faced with a glazing process that can be very unpredictable. The glaze process that I used here is black copper oxide stain brushed on over parts of the surface where I want shiny shadows and then it is sponged off. This enhances and deepens the shadows of the textures that I’ve pressed into the bowls. Egg Shell glaze is the last glaze layer brushed on with intermittent use of clear glaze as well.
6. The Second Firing
The second firing which melts the glaze and changes the clay into stoneware takes another 24 hours in the kiln. When I opened the kiln the pica and media size nesting bowls were visible. I knew right then that all the effort had produced something so lovely and dramatic -- the creamy smooth transparent brown with details of shiny black/brown copper oxide.
The tiny nesting bowls are pinch pots, made in a very meditative process. 3 small round lumps of wedged (kneaded) clay is pinched and turned and pinched evenly until a small bowl is formed. Each bowl is made smaller to fit inside the other.