MAKE YOUR OWN HOLIDAY SERVING PLATTER

The holiday season is upon us and that means big meals. Big meals mean big platters. Throwing a serving platter on the wheel is absolutely possible and very elegant, but if you're looking for a quick and easy holiday platter, look to your friend, the slab roller.

A SHORT REFRESHER ON ROLLING SLABS

Most slab rollers work on the same basic principle: one or two large rollers compress lumps of clay into flat slabs. Rolling slabs is easy, but don't think it's completely fool-proof; cracking and warping from drying or firing are common problems for all slab projects, so here are some tips to help you roll happier.

  • Roll twice, not once: start by rolling a slab a quarter to a half-inch thicker than your final slab.
  • Rotate your slab 90 degrees before the second roll. If you only roll in one direction, it will shrink more in that direction.
  • If your slab roller only compresses from one side, flip your slab before the second roll.
  • Always cover your clay with something, either canvas or a slabmat.
  • Spray your slab with water and compress and smooth with a metal or rubber rib.
  • Try to keep your slabs as flat as possible until you shape them. Folds and bends in the wet clay can show up again as warps in the final product.

MAKING THE BASIC PLATTER

Before you roll your slab, select a mold. We have a wide variety of slump and drape molds for making large serving platters in shapes like rectangles, ovals, oblong, elipse and deco (see our full selection here).

Now that you have your shape, roll a slab at least 4-8 inches longer and wider than your mold. This will give you enough room to drape or slump your slab onto/into the mold and cut off the edges which are the most prone to cracking and warping. Smooth and compress your newly formed platter on the mold, this will help it maintain its shape when drying and firing.

ADDING ATTACHMENTS AND DECORATIONS

The basic platter may be done but it’s just that: basic. To make it your own, you will have to add some personal touches. What kind of personal touches? Let's start with the foot. As it is now, the platter will probably sit more or less level, maybe with a little wobble here and there, so adding a foot is going to be the best solution to making it sit flat.

The most basic foot can be made with a coil made into a circle or an oval on the bottom. After you attach and smooth the coil you can flip the whole platter (still on its mold, even) upside down and let the weight compress the foot so that it sits level. You could also throw a foot on the wheel. Simply throw a wide, short cylinder with no bottom, and when you cut it off the wheelhead, pull on two opposite ends to make it into an oval and allow to dry to a soft leather hard. Score and slip the bottom of your oval cylinder and the bottom of your platter where they will meet and attach. Your foot should be flat, but if not, you can use a rasp to even it out.

Other great additions would be handles, a rim (either made with a slab or a coil) and decorations. When decorating a large platter, it can help to think of it in 2 parts - the rim, which is like the frame, and the base, which is the functional area. You can decorate the frame to either accent the contents of the platter, or the design in the base. My preference is to decorate the rim as a frame for the contents of the platter. You can decorate however you like, but if you aren't a hand-painter or you've exhausted your collection of stamps and rollers, try some harvest-themed ceramic molds.

To use these fun molds, you just take a ball of clay and push it into the mold starting from the center and work it out, leaving a little clay on top to help get it out. Once the shape is out of the mold (waiting until it is leather hard can help if you are having trouble removing it), trim the back to fit on your platter, score and slip very generously and allow to dry very slowly. Color the vegetable decorations with slip or underglaze and fire with a clear glaze. Now you've got a beautiful holiday serving platter.

ONE MORE THING ABOUT SLUMP AND DRAPE MOLDS

You may have noticed that many of our molds are sold as a combo slump/drape mold set, so you may be asking what that is all about. Slump molds are concave and drape (or hump) molds are convex. The two molds will produce basically the same thing (although the inside of the final product from the slump mold will be slightly smaller) so which one should you use?

The simple answer is this: whichever side you are going to make the most attachments on is the side that should be facing out when your slab is on the mold. So if the only attachment you intend to make is a foot then the drape mold is the way to go. It will be so much easier, and faster to attach the foot while the piece is still on the mold than it will be after demolding when you have to find ways of supporting the piece to avoid cracking the rim.

Likewise, if you want to use the Chinese Clay Art ceramic vegetable molds, it will be easier to attach them when you have support from the slump mold and you don't have to worry about bending the rim. If you are doing both then think about what you are most comfortable doing when the piece is out of the mold.