Pressed Leaf Wall Vase

Catherine M. S. Cowles of Pasadena, Calif., makes unique ceramic pieces that combine a number of texture techniques.

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Catherine M. S. Cowles has always considered herself artsy, even when she was a little girl making mud pies. She continues to work with "mud" — but today she makes unique ceramic pieces that combine a number of texture techniques such as fabric wrapping and leaf pressing.

Materials and Tools:

porcelain clay
porcelain slip
wire clay slicer
working surface
rinsing bowl
rolling pin
razor blade
needle tool
Japanese rice paper (Ogure lace)
plastic wrap (from a dry cleaners)


1. Slice porcelain away from a plug of clay, roll out, and allow to rest for at least 24 hours wrapped in plastic and under a heavy board.

2. Lay templates for the front and back piece of the vase on top of the clay slab and cut out with a knife or razor blade. Drape the front piece over a curved form and, depending on moisture in the air, allow to set-up for 6 to 8 hours.

3. Cut out holes in the back piece for the wire hanger and keep it wrapped with plastic and under pressure until the front is leather hard (when clay is malleable and retains its desired shape without support).

4. Now attach the front and back, score (with tiny-crisscross cuts) the connecting edges of each piece, slather slip (liquid clay) over those cut edges, and gently but firmly press the front and back together. Put newspaper inside the vase wall to support the piece. When it seems secure enough, turn it over, smooth out the seams and sign. Loosely wrap the vase and allow it to rest for a few hours.

5. The next steps are to add organic textures. While the vase is damp, dip rice paper into slip and loosely lay it over the front of the vase. Arrange soft and uneven pleats while aligning the edges of the paper with the edges of the form. Tuck the excess into the mouth of wall vase.

6. Find leaves with strong veining, cover the undersides with slip, and arrange them on the slip-covered surface. Gently press each leaf into the surface to release air bubbles.

7. When the assembling and organic additions are done, be sure that the wall vase is well supported with newspaper without adding pressure to the edges, and cover it with two layers of plastic wrap. Over a drying period that can take a month or more, check the piece every few days, slowly remove the newspaper, shake out moisture from the plastic, and rewrap.

8. When the piece is cold to the touch but solid enough remove all newspaper and, depending on the moisture in the air, the plastic wrap as well, it's dry. When thoroughly dry, it will be a chalky white color and the leaf will probably have some mold on it.

9. Bisque fire it in a kiln. When cool, gently rinse to remove dust and paper particles.

10. Glaze. Typically Catherine uses at least two glazes — one to accentuate the leaf shapes and another to give the entire piece a subtle, sheer and shiny color. Then high fire.

11. Check that the wall vase holds water and if not, if that's important to you, repair it with silicone.

12. Attach a wire hook and hang.


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