Category Archives: How-to

handmade stamps for clay

Porcelain honey jar decorated with handmade stamps by Emily Murphy Pottery

As you might have noticed, I love adding texture to my pieces. The glazes I have formulated for my pots break over high points and pool in recessed areas. Accentuating textured areas such as stamped patterns and slip trailing. I have a large collection of stamps from MKM Tools, one-off stamps that I’ve picked up at NCECA and a plethora of other sources. Including ones that I have made out of a variety of materials.

I had been working on some Sculpey modeling with my kids and found myself making stamps for my pots as they were making animals and figurines. I’ve always enjoyed making stamps out of clay and then bisque them. But I sometimes can be a bit impatient. This gave me the ability to make the stamps I had in my head, bake them in the oven and then press into clay within a few hours! You can pick up Sculpey at any craft store and lots of places online. I opted to use the bulk white instead of colors because it’s a bit less expensive when buying a larger quantity. And the tools can be just about anything found in your studio, toolbox or kitchen!

The directions that Sculpey gives for baking thicker pieces:

“Preheat to 275 degrees F (135 C). Bake for 30 minutes per quarter inch of thickness. It is suggested that thicker pieces be initially baked for 15 minutes, then another 5 minutes, another 5 minutes, etc. The clay needs at least 15 minutes to cure properly.” The thicker the piece, the longer it should bake.

I have also used this technique with elementary school art classes. It was really empowering for them to make their own tools and then make pieces with the tools they made! Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of their awesome pieces. But hopefully these photos of my stamps will do.

examples of geometric stamps

examples with rounded lines

As you can see, I do some slip trailing and other tools for imprinting to further pattern the piece and add dimension.

Porcelain honey jar, decorated with handmade stamps by Emily Murphy Pottery.
Link to my honey pots on Etsy
Porcelain utensil crock, decorated with handmade stamps by Emily Murphy Pottery.
Link to my utensil crocks on Etsy.

Have fun making some tools! If you want to see some previous tool-making posts of mine, here are a few oldies but goodies:

And for today’s moment of meditation… here is a little video of me adding slip trailed dots to a mug. But 10 times faster than in real life.

Behind the scenes…

*Just a reminder that my Etsy Holiday Sale is LIVE through Dec. 18th! Get 20% off your whole purchase by using coupon code JINGLE at checkout.  Plus, $5 shipping per address. Not including custom orders.*

I had a shop open on Etsy for years before really adding anything to it. (Sound familiar to anyone else?) I was intimidated by the process and overwhelmed at where to even begin tackling it.  I knew that I really needed to have my whole process figured out before really diving into it.  I wanted to make sure that all my customers would have the very best experience shopping for pottery online.  I know that buying pottery online is hard.  It’s 3 dimensional, tactile and really personal.  Part of selling one of a kind items online is that you not only want to represent them in the best light, you want to represent them accurately! You don’t want someone to receive their box of pottery and be surprised at what they find inside (unless it’s a happy surprise)!

I thought I’d share a bit of my behind the scenes part of the process. It might help you if you’re starting to think about opening a shop.  Or if you like to shop on Etsy, you might find it interesting to know what an independent artist goes through to sell online! No matter how organized you are, it is a lot of work! But by doing a bunch of work up front, you’ll save yourself a lot of time later.

Before I even think about listing anything, I make sure I have a good supply of boxes, bubble wrap and other shipping supplies.  More on that later.

  • I pick out work to list after a firing. Mostly limited to what ships easily and what photographs easily.
  • I measure work (HxWxD, plus volume when helpful) and write on note card; place with each piece.
  • Using my DIY photo booth, I photograph work in order that the pots are on my “Etsy shelves.” I aim for no fewer than 3 images, and up to 5.  Which can easily mean 10 or 15 photos of each pot.  I try to get as many angles as possible of a piece, use a ‘prop’ if it helps, and perhaps a group shot.

What is my Etsy Wall, you ask? They are a set of shelves that I keep almost all of the pots that are either listed, or about to be listed on Etsy.  These pots have been photographed, measured and are ready to go out into the world! It’s conveniently located next to my photography area and across from my desk.   
Emily Murphy Porcelain Pottery - Etsy wall of pots

  • After photographing the work, I upload the photos to my computer and edit them in Picasa (free photo editing/ management software from Google). I crop into squares which work best on Etsy because nothing gets cut off when the photos are made into thumbnails on the site.

Editing photos in Picasa for Etsy
This next part is really important!

  • I write/ edit descriptions for each type of piece and keep in one (long) Google Drive doc that I aptly titled Etsy Descriptions. Descriptions are both personal, descriptive and specific. I include care instructions, measurements, key words, etc… A new description for each piece and its variations.
  • I then piece everything together to make an Etsy listing. Etsy has a great tutorial on making listings.
  • Once listed, I mark everything that is up on Etsy with a piece of blue masking tape to note that it is live. It’s an simple low tech way for me to keep track of what’s listed. I also want to be sure when I have customers in my studio to shop, that I double check anything that has blue tape on it to see if it has just sold if they want to buy it.
  • Then I post the new listings on social network sites- Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, etc… I don’t think you can really rely on Etsy alone for people to find your work, you really need to assume that you’ll only get traffic from your advertising via social networking and blogging.  That’s my approach. I use it as a shopping cart system for my website, blog and Facebook page.  Anything else is a bonus.
  • And again, I make sure I have everything I need to quickly ship before I post anything. I ship in 1-3 business days- but I try to ship the day I get the order whenever possible. I use the USPS and free Carrier Pickup to ship.

About a year ago I started using double walled corrugated boxes.  They are incredibly strong.  I don’t have to double box with them.  I don’t worry at all about pieces surviving the rough and tumble shipping journey anymore! Here is a photo of my pieces bundled up before going into their boxes. I’m going to do a separate post about packing for shipping another day.Emily Murphy Porcelain Pottery Etsy2

So that is my process in a nutshell. The key, for me, has been keeping all the parts organized. My descriptions are very looong. I’d rather be too wordy than leave a customer with lots of questions.  I want to create a really full “image” of each piece for everyone viewing my work online. It’s hard to buy tactile, 3-D work from a 2-D computer…. but I try to make it as good of an experience as possible!

Emily Murphy Porcelain Pottery travel mugs

Do you have any tips to share about posting on Etsy? Or do you have any things that you particularly like to see/read when you’re shopping on Etsy? I’d love to hear from others!

how-to: make your own colorful t-shirt with freezer paper stencils

I’ve been busy in the studio this week. Packing up and shipping pots from my Etsy Shop (still having my $5 shipping sale!). Throwing mugs to replenish my very depleted mug inventory. Having some really interesting conversations on my Facebook page (like this one about flocculating glazes). And rescuing my mailing list from my old computer that hadn’t been on for several years and transferring it to MailChimp.  It sounds productive when I write it all out- but day to day, I have been feeling very unproductive. Ada has not been the best napper this week which has majorly cut into my studio time. But it’s ok. I’ve met my biggest deadlines for the season, so I’m not stressing too much my less than productive work time at the moment.


I wanted to share a project I did with my nephew, Shiya, for his 5th birthday last month. I found a tutorial via Pinterest for making an “All by Myself Tee” from the blog i am momma hear me ROAR. Shiya is *really* into colorful clothes right now. And when I say he’s into color, I mean serious, head to toe, saturated color. He prefers to wear all one color – which means his socks, underwear, shirt and pants are all the same color. He takes his personal style very seriously. When I found this tutorial, I thought it would be a really fun way of celebrating his birthday and adding some more vivid color to his wardrobe.


  • t-shirt(s). I wanted long sleeve because it’s winter here in Minnesota! I got these from Amazon.
  • freezer paper. I used these printable sheets. You could probably get them in a craft/sewing store. You can also just use a roll of freezer paper. I have heard that Walmart carries it but Target does not.
  • fabric paint. I used these paints. But you could use pretty much any fabric paint- but I would not use puffy paint.
  • X-Acto knife. Just a standard craft knife. Make sure you have a new/ sharp blade!
  • cutting mat. I’m sure you could make due with a kitchen cutting board or a piece of cardboard. But if you’re doing a more intricate design, a cutting mat would make the process go much more smoothly.
  • an iron. This is for heat setting the fabric paint and for getting the freezer paper to adhere to the fabric.
  • brushes. Anything will do – foam ones are nice. I have these brushes and the different shapes are nice for making patterns. But you could also make your own by cutting standard foam brushes. The brushes, like most of the supplies on this list can be used over and over again for other projects.
  • cardboard. This is to put inside the shirt so the paint doesn’t bleed through to the back of the shirt.
I printed out my images onto the freezer sheets. For the number 5 shirt, I used Google Drive (formerly Google Docs) and picked a font and sized it up to fit the page/shirt. I had the images for the other shirts. But if you’re in need of an image- just look up something like “stencil” on Google Images and you’ll find things like this image of a bicycle that you could print out. Or you could hand draw something- or trace an image. If you want to make a stencil from a photograph, you can do a Google search for tutorials for making stencils with or without Photoshop. The image part is wide open!

Once you have your image on the freezer paper, you can start cutting! I tried using my X-Acto with whatever blade was in it and it did not work very well. I put in a new blade in and it was much easier.

After the stencils were all cut, I used an iron to adhere the freezer paper to the shirts. Make sure there is no water in the iron. And take your time to make sure all the small parts and edges are well stuck. If it isn’t, the paint will bleed under the stencil.

Then I got some cardboard from the recycling bin and put some cardboard inside the shirt so the paint doesn’t bleed from the front to the back.

And then it’s time for the fun part! Shiya dove in and started painting.  Every picture I took during this step of the project, Shiya had a look of intense concentration.

Once the paint was dry (which was pretty quick)- I peeled off the freezer paper stencil. Shiya was really really anxious to see the results!
Here’s the frog:

And the rocket ship:

And the really fun hedgehog:

And the very special #5 shirt! Shiya was very proud!

I let the fabric paint completely dry, then I used an iron to set the paint. I put a piece of cloth between the iron and the paint. You can also iron on the reverse side of the paint. I didn’t have any paint come off on the fabric, but it still seems like a good idea. Follow the directions that came with your paint for heat setting. It seems like a pretty common process to have the iron (without water) set to medium, and then iron for a while (longer than if you were just getting the wrinkles out). After that it was safe to put through the wash.

These shirts have been getting lots of wear since we made them last month! And he gets asked about them whenever he wears them- and he proudly says that he painted them!

how-to: make your own set-up for photographing pottery

There are so many parts to being a potter besides throwing pots. Photographing pots is one of the big ones. Since we’re in such an online world right now, it is more important than ever to have good photos taken of your work than ever before. Whether it’s for documenting, sharing on blogs/facebook/website, selling directly, promotional materials or applying to shows. And if those photos aren’t great- it can really reflect poorly on your work. It makes it hard to really *see* the work.

One of the things I really wanted to prioritize when I started building my studio was that I needed a place that was easy to take photos. So I set about designing a photo booth that could be mounted to the wall and be opened up easily when it was time to take photos.

I keep tweaking the set-up, but here is where it is at right now:

Here is what the framework looks like:

A couple of things to note:

  • There is a power strip mounted on the side for easy plugging in of lights- and the ability to turn them all on and off in one place.
  • The “walls” that fold out have plexi-glass on them. This helps give the frame structure without cross braces. I added a frosted coating to the plexi. It isn’t enough of a diffuser. I went to a photographing pottery workshop and it was suggested to use a shower curtain liner- the fabric ones that are 100% polyester. Different fabrics can cast a yellow or bluish tone when light shines through it. Using this type of fabric means the light will be white. I bought mine at Target. It seems to do the trick quite well.
  • The swing arm lamps are from Ikea. You can clamp them onto a table or screw the bracket onto the wall. I love having the lights on swing arms. It means I can move them around quickly and easily to adjust to the pot I am photographing at the time.
  • The slats on the back are not actually against the wall. There is a space behind them. They are there so I can clip a backdrop with binder clips are different heights.
  • I always take my photos at night. I have 3 windows in my studio and I don’t have blackout shades on them so in order to control the lighting on the pots- I have all the lights off except for the photo booth lights and only photograph at night.

The diffuser for the  top lights is built out of pvc. And then nylon string is used as a pulley system. In the below photo it shows a frosted plastic- but I am not using that anymore. I am actually using the nylon shower curtain liner instead. But this photo makes it easier to see how the diffuser is designed so I used it instead of a newer photo of the set-up.

When I need prop up a plate, platter, etc…, I find something that is pretty heavy around and then use a piece of clay where the prop comes into contact with the piece for a little extra friction. The backdrop is very easily scratched and marked so it is important to put something protective down under it. Like this piece of clean packing foam.  A hard brick works well, but I didn’t have one handy. During this photo shoot I used a new can of stain.  I momentarily put down the brand new, perfectly clean can without the foam at first and it left a ring. I didn’t even notice until later. Arg.  I posted this on Facebook and it was funny to hear what other people used to prop up when photographing pots!

Here is an example:


These are the bulbs that I use. I think I got them after doing a photography workshop- but I can’t actually remember. Either way, they do the job. They seem to have a nice white color to them.

I use a graduated background to photograph my pots on. It’s really a way to get the look of using a grey backdrop with the lighting set-up in a particular way but in kind of a short-cut way. (see the link to Michael Coffee’s set-up below for the real deal.) The material of the background is vinyl and there is a seamless non-glare coating sprayed onto it. It is very easily scratched and marked up. No matter how careful you are. They aren’t cheap and need to be replaced occasionally. But I think it is worth it, still. This is what I am using: Veritone graduated background – O9: white to black size: 42″ x 62″ . You can get away with the smaller size if you are just photographing small pieces (like mugs). But if you want to photograph something larger like a platter, or a row of mugs, it is just too small. There is another brand, Adorama, that you can get through Amazon. It looks the same as the Veritone, but I have not tried it yet. I also take some photos using either white poster board or illustration board and some reclaimed wood. I really love the way it turns out.

To actually do the photographing, I use a tripod. And I really love my camera,a Canon s95. It’s a sophisticated point and shoot camera. It has a large image stabilizer like a dslr camera. There is a newer version of this camera, the Canon s100, Canon s110. But the version that I have seems to have the highest ratings, by far.

One little gaget that I have that I suggest for anyone with a digital camera and a wi-fi connection: the Eye-Fi memory card. It’s a memory card (comes in a variety of formats and sizes to fit most cameras) that will send your images wirelessly to anywhere that you have set up: your computer, an online backup, etc… Mine is set-up to go to Picasa Web Albums for an online backup and also to my laptop. And then I get an email and text whenever photos have been uploaded. When I first started using it, it was like “finally! my photos are liberated from my camera!” Between the Eye-fi card and the camera on my phone, it has really made it super easy to give regular updates to my Emily Murphy Pottery Facebook Page.  (note: some of the newer digital cameras actually come with wi-fi now like the s100/s110, so this isn’t needed.)

When it comes to doing simple photo editing, I use Picasa.  It is super simple to use. It is free. A couple of my favorite features from Picasa are:

  • If you have a slightly crooked photo, you can correct it with the straighten tool.
  • the “I’m feeling lucky” button does a great job of correcting the contrast and color. I use this with most photos.
  • The crop feature allows you to set the ratio of your crop so you can do things like make an Etsy banner.
  • You can create collages simply on it.
  • You can add text to an image. Collage plus text = an easy flier for a sale!
I don’t stress out too much over every little detail of a photo. I am naturally inclined to obsess over that sort of thing. And if I gave into that inclination, I would never get anything else done. So I usually do some simple cropping and contrast correction and leave it at that. And Picasa is perfect for that.
So there is the info my photo set-up. It’s just one of an infinite number of ways you could set one up. I love my set-up. It makes it easy to take photos and then basically takes up no storage space when it is not in use.  It suits me, my work and my space well.

I did some searching and asking around and came up with a list of other blog posts and articles about photographing your pottery that you might find helpful:

If there is a link that you think I should add, or anything else that would be helpful/ clarifying, just let me know!



How to make a new top for a storage ottoman

I have decided that I will sometimes share some non-clay focused blog posts on here.  I have always done lots of crafty/ diy things that are not clay. My parents are both the types to do-it yourself. My mom is an amazing seamstress, quilter, cook and baker. My dad occasionally builds furniture, is a painter and has the most beautiful flower gardens. I grew up in an old house which my parents fixed up/rebuilt/ renovated all by themselves. We had a vegetable garden that took up a large portion of our backyard. And as kids, we were always right in the thick of things on any projects they had going on. In college I double majored in ceramics and metals. In my first metals class my professor asked me if I grew up around tools, building things. She could tell by my interaction with tools that they were familiar and comfortable to me. That observation made me first realize how lucky I was to be brought up with the idea of being able to do something myself. My husband, Ian and I spend our evenings and weekends tackling projects, cooking and gardening. I really want our daughter to be brought up know how things work; how to fix things; how to make things.


I have realized that I love to plan out projects even more than I like doing them. (I know I am not the only one…)  Designing, problem solving, figuring out materials, buying the supplies… that is the really fun part for me. It’s much different from the way I approach clay. But with both clay and non-clay projects, the final results are really the best part.

Here is a recent project I did:

How to make a new top for a storage ottoman

We bought an inexpensive storage ottoman off of Amazon. It was the right dimensions for where we wanted it to go and the price was right. But as I had worried, the price was too low. It was cheaply made.

The top of this storage ottoman broke the first week we had it.

The top pieces were crappy particle board and 2 of them broke within the first week. But the cost of return shipping made it not worth returning. People were always wanting to sit on it, but I’d have to quickly stop them from sitting on it and falling in.

a piece of plywood was cut to fit the top of the ottoman

Ian (my husband) was doing some building projects anyway, so he cut me a piece of plywood to fit the top of the ottoman. It was just some scrap that we had out in the barn.  I think it’s 3/8″ thick. I like that it wasn’t too thick because I’d be afraid of tiny fingers getting smooshed if it was too heavy. He sanded all of the edges and corners on the board too.

He added on these other supports in part because of how thin the plywood was. But also because it kept the lid from shifting front to back or side to side when sitting on top. You might wonder why the spacing of the slats is odd. This was a case of measure, cut some of the wood, then get distracted for 2 weeks, finish the cutting/gluing/screwing and then realize that you missed one of the cuts and had to undo/cut/redo some stuff. Hence the weird spacing of the wood slats. The slats were also scrap wood that Ian very nicely sanded down.  He used some wood glue on the bottom, and then screw them in from the top. That was there were any rough edges for the kids to get caught on.

The next step is to get some high density foam. I always get mine from Joann Fabrics. It come in a variety of thicknesses (1/2 inch up to 4 inches). And you can get the length cut for you there, but not the width. It’s pricey, but they always have 50% off coupons online, in the newspaper or in the mail. I used 3″ foam for this. And then you’ll need some spray adhesive. Craft stores, art stores or hardware stores all usually carry it. Spray both sides that are going to be stuck together. It’ll be very tacky and when the two sides touch, it’ll bond together quite nicely.

Then you want to cut the foam down to size. I use an electric carving knife.  It cuts through it like butter… You can also use a serrated knife. I actually own an electric carving knife solely for the purpose of cutting foam. I’m surprised by how often I use it- like for projects like this.

Then you’ll want to let the glue dry/set for a while. I flipped it upside down with the wood on top so there was a little weight sitting on top.

Then I wrapped the foam in two layers of batting (also from a sewing shop). And stapled it to the wood with a staple gun. If any of the staples didn’t go in deep enough, I just tapped them all of the way in with a hammer.

And then follow the layer of foam with the cloth. This cool fabric was also found at Joann’s in the “home decor” fabric section. They were having a big sale so it was half price.  The key to making sure the fabric stretched evenly (but not tightly!) is to staple from the middle top to the middle bottom. Then middle side to the other middle side. Then work your way out to the edges.

When you get to the corner, fold them like the corner of a present that you’re wrapping. You can snip out a little extra fabric too so it isn’t too bulky if you need to. And make sure all the staples are in all the way with a hammer.

a new, upholstered top for the storage ottoman

And there you have it. The ottoman has a new life. And I like it *way* more than the original.

Ada likes the birds on the fabric, and the legos inside. She has also discovered how fun it is to climb over the back of the couch and land on top of the bench.  She is quite the climber.


When I’m not doing projects around the house, I’m working in my studio. With temperatures hovering around 100 for the past week and a half (not the usual weather in Minnesota!), my studio has been a giant damp box. The large serving bowls I threw were able to stay out uncovered for almost a week before I could trim them. Until the humidity level goes down in my studio, I am going back to some smaller pieces! So I threw a bunch of mugs. I’m working on using decals on some of my pieces, so these mugs will be canvases awaiting some imagery.

Thanks, as always, for reading. I’ve been having so much fun being back in the blogging world and loving the conversations that continue after the posts through blog comments and on Facebook.

Tutorial: How to make a square plate on the wheel

Before I delve too deeply into this post, I want to thank everyone for the warm “welcome back” that I received after my last post; comments on the post, comments on Facebook and some really wonderful emails. Thanks for all the warm fuzzies and cheering on! I’m happy to be blogging again!

And now for the fun stuff! How to make a square plate on the wheel. Or at least my version of a squared off plate.

First you have to start by throwing a deep plate/ shallow bowl. I want to have a nice curve to the piece, even after I cut off the sides of the plate. So I have found that making a deep plate or shallow bowl (however you want to look at it)  is the best form to start with. I am working in porcelain and want my end result to be a small plate. Something just right to hold a sandwich. I start off with 3.5 pounds of clay. Because of the way the foot is cut, it’s good to leave a thick bottom to trim. I also really seem to like these to have sort of a chunky feel. When I make them thinner, they just feel like there isn’t enough clay there. But really, that’s up to you.

It is important to make sure that your plate is in just the right stage of leather hard for trimming and altering. If it’s too soft it’ll warp too much from all of the handling. And if it’s too dry, you’ll just struggle and it won’t have that “fresh” look. I like a look where you can tell something was made without too much fuss. Marks that have made with a single bold movement.   It takes good timing, lots of practice (aka mistakes) and self restraint to not overwork something.

I trim a foot that flows easily into the form. Yes, I love my Giffin Grip. And my Bison trimming tool.

Then I flip the plate back over onto a bat. I use a sharp, thin cutting tool to mark my lines. An Xacto is perfect for this, or there is a similar type tool that I think Kemper makes. I enjoy the not perfectly square shape so I just kind of go with it.

I’m sorry that with all of these photos I do not have one of the actual cutting of the pot. It’s too hard to make the cut and take a photo at the same time. I hold the knife at an angle so you can see the thickness of the pot from the top – which is your typical view when eating off of one. And then I cut. I might hold my breath. I’m not sure. But I do know that I don’t stop or hesitate. Just go in and make a bold cut.

And then repeat on all 4 sides. There are times when maybe the line isn’t quite as fluid as I’d like, so I will use a Surform tool (or a Mudtool Shredder) to clean it up, and then smooth it back out again with a soft little red rib. But again, show some restraint here. Or at least I have to do so myself!

Then I flip the newly squared plate upside down onto a piece of foam. This is important. If you don’t put it on something that is cushiony, then you’re either warp it or mark up the corners of the plate. I use high density foam that I get from Joann Fabrics. It’s the same stuff I used on this post: How to make a foam bat. You can use one of those egg crate mattress toppers or whatever else you might have hanging around.

Then I use my Mudtool Mudcutter. This is on my top 5 list for favorite tools. The wire is very thin and tight. I use it for so many things. For me, it’s the only thing that really works for cutting the feet on these pieces. I tape the wire onto the foot ring to mark where I am going to cut. Then I cut down, over and then up again. And it’s just like cutting the sides of the piece. Make bold, confident cuts!

I think it gives the piece some much needed lift. I just love the movement and individuality of each piece. It’s fun to embrace that aspect of the pots.

And there you go … that’s how I make square plates on the wheel. Although technically much of it is done off of the wheel. It’s quite liberating to cut into a piece. I hope you’ll give it a try and put your own spin and unique character.


And just a little parting story… The other day I set up a plate for Ada with a fruit snack. Cantaloupe, watermelon and bananas arranged on plastic plate. I put it on her little table. She sat down, ready to eat. Then got right up, went into the next room. And then emerged back at her table with a porcelain bowl. She put it down on her table and started transferring her fruit into the porcelain bowl, off of the plastic frog plate and then started eating. This potter mama was quite proud.

Bowl by Brian Boyer.


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Thanks for reading!

Assignment: Exploring a form, part 1

I taught advanced throwing and soda firing classes at Lillstreet Art Center in Chicago for the past 10 years. I’m not currently teaching, but I am giving myself assignments. It’s something that I’ve always done to push myself to discover new forms, new surfaces and refine the old standards. Last month, Michael Kline posted an assignment on his blog, 12 before noon. Blog readers  had a lot of fun with, so I’d share the assignments that I give to myself.

So here is first part my favorite self assignment.

  • Pick a form. Something simple: mugs, small bowls, tea bowls, etc…
  • Pick a weight for the piece. If it’s cups, I usually do a small range: 3/4 lbs – 1 1/4 lbs. If it’s plates, I usually pick the same weight. Maybe 3 lbs. I did mugs this week, so all the descriptions below are for mugs.
  • Weigh out and wedge up at least 12 pieces. (Do more if you can. The more the better. Do 40 or 50.)
  • Think about the different parts of the form: lip, handle, foot, curves… Think about how these parts relate to one another.
  • Consider future glazing and decorating. Segment the form for clear places to decorate. Add lines for a glaze to break. If it’s going to be fired in an atmospheric kiln, think about where the liner glaze will stop.
  • What will the cup be used for? it might be used for: coffee, tea, cocoa, latte, espresso.., and
  • Think about who might use it and where. A coffee cup for the office, a mug for a nightly cup of Sleepytime Tea, etc… Is the cup going to be cradled and savored? Should it have a narrower opening to keep the coffee extra hot? If the user has little kids or pets, something with a wide, stable base is really important.
  • Start throwing – different forms. Push each form to be different from the previous one. Some will be radically different. Some with be variations on earlier pieces. Some you’ll love, some you’ll want to smush. But don’t, yet. You’ll want to study it to figure out why it didn’t work and might discover why part of it did.

Note: All these pieces shown below are porcelain in greenware/leather hard state. They are not decorated yet- that’s not part of this part of the assignment. (btw, I took these quick snapshots on my new studio photography set-up. Blog post about that coming up!) I want a form to be able to be strong and stand on it’s own regardless of the decoration, glaze or firing of the piece. So to study them in a leather hard state is perfect.

I shared some quick thoughts about the forms below each grouping (which are in no particular order). These notes are not at all comprehensive, deep critiques, just quick gut reactions to the forms. Feel free to just look at the images. Or if you want to know what my thoughts are about them, you can read the notes.

group 1:

top left: I’m usually a no-trim mug kinda potter. But I’ve really been loving the yunomi/mug hybrid. I love how the handle placement is so obvious.

top right: This is a standard form for me. I love how it feels to hold when you’re drinking from it, but I don’t love the handle placement. Need to push this more.

bottom left: Great for atmospheric firing. Top third can be glazed and has room to run.

bottom right: Eh- not my favorite. But playing around with yunomi hybrid.

group 2:

top left: I like the easy curves of this piece. But I think I want it to feel “fuller”

top right: Standard “diner” mug. Should try it thicker- with a heftier lip. But that’s hard for me to do!

bottom left: I like that the top and bottom of the handle have obvious placement. The curves and lines of this mug will be great in a soda or wood kiln.

bottom right: The form a a bit weak for my taste. But this type of form is great for hot chocolate with whipped cream.  There’s lots of room to top it off. Also good for a latte. I want to play around with this. Taller form, lower handle placement.

group 3:

top left: This is my least favorite of one of my new favorite forms. The lines are too stifled.  I prefer the curvier ones. But didn’t know until I played the form in both directions.

top right: This is a form that I always have a hard time with handle placement. I have a mug from another potter that gets it perfectly. But I can’t do it. I’ll always try, and maybe someday I’ll get there. I love drinking peppermint tea in the winter out of a full mug like this.

bottom left: I love the elegant flow of these curves. The taller form keeps the hot liquid hot too. And the curves feel good to hold.

bottom right: Another one of my favorite new forms. I’m excited to do some simple decorating on this form. The band is just calling for some attention.

group 4:

top left: This is a pretty large, wide mug. Maybe good for soup?

top right: This form is getting a little closer to what I want. I love the fluidity of the form. But I want the proportions to be a little different.

bottom left: This form is working a little better for me than the previous iteration. But still isn’t quite gelling. Something to push a bit more.

bottom right: I love the looseness of this form- both when I was throwing it, and the finished product. It has that night balance between a nice strong form and an ease of form.

group 5:

top left: This is similar to one in the previous group, but I tried to play around with having a stronger line and it doesn’t quite work. Next time I think I’ll make the top of the form a bit taller.

top right: I like the curves of this form with the break in the form at the top. I also like that that break gives me a nice place to attach a handle.

bottom left: Another version of one of my new favorites. Something that doesn’t come through in these photos is scale. Some of these similar forms are quite different in size.

bottom right: A taller diner style cup. But this one is quite large. Great for someone with big hands. The very linear lines of the form work well with most of my decoration. A big blank canvas.

group 6:

top left: This is my favorite one of this kind of form. The proportions and fluidity are just right. This is a very generous size cup.

top right: This gets the mix of the softer curves with the stronger angle/line break in the form. Will definitely explore this form more.

bottom left: This is a form I haven’t played with before. I was thinking about those stacking mugs. I didn’t think about making them actually stack, but maybe I will.

bottom right: Again, this cup is a different scale from the previous one. It’s a bit smaller. More “standard” mug size.

group 7:

top left: The curvy mug with a straighter top.

top right: Diner mug with more of a waist. I like that it give you extra room for your knuckles without having the handle loop out too far.

bottom left: I really like the strength of this form. I am mug, hear me roar.

bottom right: This is a variation of one of my first mug forms. I like playing with the proportions of the top and bottom. A slight change makes a major difference.

group 8:

top left: The curvy tea bowl hybrid with a straighter top. I like the swelling of the bottom part of the form, and the restrained upper part.

top right: I wanted to push the idea of the indented band around the cup, but it didn’t work. Often times, creating a whole new form with a very specific idea leads to an overworked piece. But sometimes that’s just where you have to start.

bottom left: Similar to earlier ones, but with a straighter bottom. Prefer the curves.

bottom right: This is another new form that I want to play around with. Nice and stable and a nice break in the form that can be a nice inspiration for decorating this piece.


There are a couple more parts to this assignment, but that should be enough to get you started for today.

This assignment is something that I do pretty regularly. Not just for mugs, for all different forms. I prefer to sketch in clay rather than paper. By doing so many different forms, it really pushes me to try things that I wouldn’t do otherwise. When you start getting to number 10, you’ll really have to start creating new forms and pushing your standard ones.  If you do this in the next 2 weeks- take a photo of your grouping and email it to me: emily at emily murphy . com. Maybe line them up and take a photo of them in a row. It’ll be easier for me to post than to have to edit individual photos.

Have fun!

If you’re a Facebook user, become a Fan on the Emily Murphy Pottery Fan Page. I post there almost daily- links, updates, photos, and questions. It’s been a really fun way to get to know you guys and some great information and advice is shared and debated on there.

Studio work table

The last table for my studio was finished this week. It can be wheeled back and forth between the glaze room and the throwing room depending on what I’m working on. I designed it with a fairly large overhang so it’s comfortable to work at. I hate sitting at studio tables when you can’t really sit at it with your legs under the table. Storage is good, but not at the expense of a comfortable working space.

The top of the table is covered in canvas. If you’ve never stretched canvas before, here’s a little tutorial on how to do it.  It’s something that I learned how to do from my dad, who is a painter. It’s basically the same process of stretching a canvas for painting, but on a solid surface, like plywood. If it’s not stretched right, it will be really annoying to work on. One thing that I do that’s a little different from the paint canvas technique is I wet the canvas down with a sponge. It makes it a little easier to stretch and you’ll end up with a tighter fit. I usually buy my canvas at an art supply store, but during one of the discussions on Facebook, someone suggested getting a canvas drop cloth from the painting department at Home Depot. It has a coarser texture, but a good price if the size works for you. It’s an interesting idea.


When I was shopping around for really good locking casters for the table, Kristin Kieffer suggested that I get casters from Caster City. So I ordered up 4 for the table and they’re great! When you’re shopping around for casters for a table like this, make sure you get dual locking casters. It’s really solid enough that you can wedge on it.


You might have seen my post last week about my built in trimming splash pan. I asked for photos or links to other DIY splash pans and Ben Stark shared a post with me that he had written a while back. So here’s another splash pan idea, courtesy of Ben Stark Pottery:


Make sure you look at the original post. The way he designed it to be removable and slide on and off the wheel is pretty genius! If you have any projects that you’ve done at your studio, send me photos or links! I love this stuff! Just send an email to: emily (at) or post a comment on any blog post and I’ll see it. Thanks for sharing Ben!


The next project that I’m working on (and will be blogging about shortly) is a new photo taking set-up. I’m really excited about it- and excited to share it. In the age of digital cameras and Etsy, it’s something that we all want to have. I’ve been designing my set up for years, but never had a good place to actually build it. When I took an informal poll f potters about what they wished they had in their studio that they didn’t have, a photo taking set-up was top on the list. Part of the light diffuser that I built is made out of PVC. Last week Miri, over at Nick and Miri’s PR Prattle had some fun ideas about PVC including this get dolly for kiln shelves (photo below). The Rincon Facebook Fan Page had some more ideas too. I love the description of PVC being tinker toys for adults.  ha!



A couple of weeks ago, I was catching up with some shows on Tivo, and something caught my eye. It looked like the character, Angela, on the show Bones, was wearing one of my pendants. I have no idea if it really is, but when I look at it, my reaction is: Hey! That’s one of mine!  It’s a simple design that is not unusual, but the coloration and the knotting of it makes me feel like there is no question. If it is, it’s one of the larger sizes, stoneware with tile 6 slip, a very light spray of a copper glaze around the center. Anyway, it’s fun to think that one of my pieces ended up on a show that I love. A few years back I had some large bottles and platters in the show “Dream Home” on HGTV. A producer borrowed some pieces for the season finale. I wish I had some screen shots from that show!

After I finish my photo set-up, I’ll have some more pendants up on Etsy in the next couple of weeks. My shop’s been empty for a long time. Time to dust it off!


Trimming splash pan

One of the things that I knew I wanted to build in my new studio was a nice big splash pan for my trimming wheel (I have a separate one that I use for throwing). I often use a large foam bat or a Giffen Grip, so a regular splash pan just doesn’t work. Plus the clay trimmings can sort of fly all over the place, so I needed something with tall sides. Over the course of the studio construction, I’ve been brainstorming different designs. Mostly, I’ve been over thinking it and over designing it. Suddenly last week I had a moment when it hit me- and the solution was the simplest design of all.

I always like having my trimming wheel in a corner.  Since I don’t clean up my trimmings every day, I like having it out of the way so I don’t track the trimmings around the rest of the studio. So I already had 2 walls  next to my wheel. Separating my two wheels is a wedging table. It’s bolted to the wall and I decided to add some sides to the table to keep trimmings and wheel splatter from getting over all the stuff stored under the wedging table. So that gave me the 3rd side of my box.

So this is what I came up with:


My trimming wheel is a Brent wheel that I picked up 2nd hand from a friend. Brent wheels have a metal plate under the wheel head. A normal splash pan fits under that metal plate. If you put the splash pan above the plate, you’ll end up with a spinning splash pan. So I definitely wanted to avoid having anything above the plate, but with plywood, I couldn’t fit it below, so I just went around the plate.


Here’s a close-up of the plate and how the board fits around it.


I wanted to be able to remove the “splash pan” for cleaning, or if I wanted to use the wheel to throw occasionally. So it sits on top of 2 strips of wood screwed into the wall and the wedging table.


So there you have it. My super simple solution for my trimming splash pan. Of course, odds are you don’t have the exact same space as me, but the idea is adaptable.

I would love to see other photos of homemade splash pans, or other studio solutions. Send me an email with a photo and description if you have something to share: emily (at)


Besides the new splash pan, it’s been a busy week around the studio.  The building out of it is just about finished.

I also installed a new clay trap under my studio sink. I’ll be posting photos about that on the blog soon. My last work table is built and the casters for it arrived today.

Over on the Emily Murphy Pottery Facebook Fan Page, the conversation has been continuing between blog posts. I can’t believe it took me so long to make a Facebook page, I’m having so much fun with it! It’s been a great way to connect with people and I’m getting a ton of ideas for blog posts from it. Everyone wants more tool making tutorials!

I recently caught up with several months of pottery blog reading. My Google Reader was full of unread posts. Now that I’m caught up, I’ve been adding lots of new blogs to my blogroll. I’ll be posting about that soon, but if you want to get a jump start, check out my updated list here. Let me know if there are any that I should add that I’m missing. My 2 main criteria are: it must be mostly about clay, and it must have real written content, not just posts that update Etsy, etc… My blogroll is connected to my Google Reader, so I read every blog on the list. So I have to have some sort of limits on it!

I’m heading over to Continental Clay right now to pick up some Grolleg Porcelain! It’s (finally!!!!) time to start throwing! I can’t wait!

How to make a USB powered pottery wheel

I just came across this little instructional video for a making a USB powered mini pottery wheel out of an old hard disk drive:

Of course this is not something that you could really go into production with, but it is pretty amusing. Maybe I can talk Ian into trying out this little hack sometime.  It probably wouldn’t be a great idea to have clay so close to a computer. Perhaps a USB extension cord would be an important part of this project.

If anyone out there tries this out, please let me know… and send pictures!