Creating the Tide Pool Bowl

by Carol Simmons on 01/16/2014 · 34 comments


tidepool bowlI promised my friends on Facebook that I would explain how I made my “Tide Pool Bowl” (above) so here goes.

My intent was to celebrate the diversity of Pacific Coast tide pools as I recalled seeing them as a child. (If you haven’t read the two previous posts you might want to start there, first Mixing Muted Color Blends; then Tide Pool Update. In those posts I talk about how I mixed my first color blends and started building the design.)

canes on tile

The first thing I did was build a variety of canes evoking tide pool organisms (to me), slice them up and start combining them to form a design on a tile (above).  I tried various arrangements and evaluated the results for color (hue and light/dark contrast), readability of the design, and the overall feeling I wanted to convey. I went back “to the drawing board” several times to mix more color blends and make more canes.

The canes were a challenge for me because they were reduced to such a tiny size (about 1/4 inch for the round ones). I kept putting in too much detail which caused the designs to become unreadable after the canes were reduced. The canes were mostly of three basic shapes: round, linear, and more-or-less triangular. You can see all three types in the image above.

canes on slicer

I lined up a bunch of canes on my slicer and sliced a number of them at the same time (above) using a 3/64 inch thickness setting. I did them in batches of similar colors and stored the slices in color families on plastic sheet protectors over card stock. Some of the linear canes are shown below.

linear canesOnce I decided how I would approach the design I switched to a (flat) glass work surface large enough to hold the final design. To assemble the design I simply placed slices side by side without any intervening spaces.

tide pool section closeup

It may seem counter intuitive, but I find extremely thin slices much easier to work with than thicker ones. Thin slices are more resistant to distortion simply because there isn’t so much clay to move around.  Because they are all the same thickness there is little risk of sanding through them during finishing. I transferred the individual pieces on a sheet of card stock and slid them off of the card and into place with a needle tool. Otherwise they tended to stick my fingers. I didn’t press the pieces together until I had completed the final design.

I created a design somewhat like a crazy quilt because I wanted to use lots of color combinations and try lots of designs. Many tide pool organisms are fixed in place and grow colonially so it is not unrealistic for them to be grouped in irregularly shaped patches. I tried to create a feeling of movement because one of the strikingly beautiful things about tide pools is the way the organisms wave back and forth as wavelets move through them. Here is a close-up of part of the bowl.

tidepool bowl section

Once all the pieces were in place I covered them with deli paper and burnished the entire surface with a spoon. Then I covered the paper with a heavy sheet of glass and slid it around while putting pressure on it to level the clay surface. I paid special attention to the edges to make sure they were smooth and of the proper thickness. At that point I had a somewhat circular, irregularly shaped sheet of clay over six inches in diameter and only 3/64 inch thick. I was hesitant about transferring it to a bowl because I was afraid of damaging it; however, I took a deep breath and separated it from the glass with one swift pull of an 8 inch floor scraper blade (one of my favorite tools). As I lifted it my husband slid a piece of card stock underneath it.

bowl in the bowl 600 dpi


I wanted the bowl to have a gently curved profile and I found the perfect bowl for that in a thrift store. My husband and I slid the sheet of clay off of the card stock and into the bowl, intentionally placing it slightly off center. Starting at the center I smoothed the clay down against the bowl taking care not to trap air underneath it. It was easy to avoid distorting the sheet of clay because it was so thin. If it had been thicker there would have been ripples along the edges to contend with. I smoothed the inside with a corn starch filled pouncer and checked again for bubbles. I found a few and pricked them with a pin to release the air. To be on the safe side I baked the (Premo clay) bowl for longer than the recommended time, about 45 minutes.

When the bowl had cooled but was still slightly warm I gently lifted it away from the outer glass bowl with a steel potters rib. I kept it inside the glass bowl while I sanded and hand buffed the inside surface. (Very little sanding was needed.) I left the glass-like outer surface produced by the glass bowl untouched. The bowl is quite flexible but it held its shape when I placed it on a pedestal over an enlarging mirror for display. While I could have used thicker clay slices to make a sturdier bowl I decided to keep it as thin as possible to show off this property of the clay.