Making a butter dish and template design

Set of wine cups/shot glasses with serving tray

Set of wine cups/shot glasses with serving tray

I read a recent article about the dangers (or maybe it was folly) of making new work for an upcoming show without testing and revising the original idea first.  So, here I am less than one month away (24 days to be exact) from the Colorado Potters Guild Fall show in Nov. and I’m making new work.  A couple nights ago, I woke up around 2 am and suffered through a bout of insomnia – my grandparent’s clock that makes noise every 15 minutes and announces the hour with the appropriate loud gongs reminded me that I should have been sleeping at 3am and then again at 4am.  Normally, I don’t have problems sleeping through the night, but every once in awhile it happens.

fish linocut

fish lino-cut

All of a sudden, instead of counting sheep, I was thinking about pottery and clay.  New forms popped into my head and I briefly entertained the idea of getting up and marching into the studio.  I knew that if I turned on the light above my nightstand that my husband would be grumpy – so I allowed my mind to mentally visualize some of those forms in the dark of night.  Vases, tea pots, covered boxes, sets, tiles and more floated through my head.  After I heard the clock ring 4 am, I was feeling sleepy again and drifted off to clay filled dreams until the alarm buzzed 6am.  Luckily, I was able to remember and sketch those ideas out in the morning.

Relief printed fish cups and tray

Relief printed fish cups and tray

This isn’t one of the forms that I imagined in the wee hours of Monday morning, but it might have influenced my clay filled dreams.  On Sunday afternoon, I was playing around with a lino-cut that my husband made this past summer of a fish bone skeleton and crafted this little set of 2 small cups and matching tray.  I’m not much of a shot drinker myself, but the cups are a good size for hard liquor.  I use similarly sized cups to drink red wine – and the tray could be part of the presentation, or maybe hold some light snacks.  All three pieces are hand built from slabs of clay that were printed using the lino cut and a sheet of embossed paper.

Butter dish top template

Butter dish top template

Back to sleepless in Denver….  When I made the set (above) on Sunday, I noted that the tray was the perfect size for a stick of butter.  True confession:  Other than the plastic butter dish that came with my fridge, my other butter dish is a functional but unexciting white ceramic butter dish that I found at a thrift store years ago.  My husband has been bugging me to make a covered butter dish for years.  Consequently, my earlier observation about the tray must have triggered something in my brain that caused me to wake up and start designing a covered butter dish that night.    First thing on my agenda yesterday, was to make a paper template for a slab built butter dish.  I pulled out a stick of butter, along with my thrift store butter dish to get a good look at dimensions – then started measuring and drawing a covered lid on paper.

The possibilty for other angles could make this a very versitile template

Figuring out the corner cuts for top of butter dish

The trickiest part was trying to decide if the corners should have a slight curve or come straight down at 90° angles.  I was able to solve the issue by cutting on the diagonal at each corner intersection and then began the process of folding the corners to find a pleasing fit.

Figuring out the corner cuts for top of butter dish

The possibility for a variety of other angles could make this a very versatile template

Lid and bottom - not a good fit

Lid and bottom – not a good fit

I didn’t account for the slight flare that I allowed in my lid template which increased the base perimeter, so I had to enlarge the bottom half of the butter dish template.

New larger bottom tray/butter dish template

New larger bottom tray/butter dish template

Better fit between top and bottom

Better fit between top and bottom

The alteration does make for a larger butter dish than what one would find in a store, but as a bonus, it will fit odd sizes of butter that one might find at a farmers market or specialty market.

Butter dish top and bottom mock up paper template

Butter dish top and bottom mock up paper template

First butter dish prototype

First butter dish prototype

I even added a decorative, yet functional handle to the lid.  The one I own does not have a handle which I think is a poor design choice.  The lid routinely slips out of my hands – it’s a wonder I haven’t broken it yet.

Butter dish side view

Butter dish side view

Once I roll out the clay slabs and print them with whatever texture or lino-cut I want, I place the paper template on the slab and use an X-acto knife to cut the shape out.  I use extremely soft slabs of clay which can be a challenge, but allows for a seamless design and minimal joints.

Meanwhile, there’s so much external noise right now because of the election and all the bleak economic news that makes it easy to become mired in negativity and dare I say hopelessness.  Surprisingly, I am oddly calm and more focused than ever before since I have ready experienced a pseudo personal crisis late summer/early fall before all of this really blew up in the news.  It’s not that I don’t care, because I do, it has more to do with my recent decisions and my resolution to forge ahead with a new sort of intentional life that is helping me weather the storm.    On a related note, I loved Whitney’s post on staying centered that she wrote a few days ago – perfect metaphor for clay people.

Back to the studio for me,

~Cynthia

14 comments

  • Hi Cynthia, this is really kind of eerie – I just got a form at the dollar store the other day to see if it will work for a butter dish – hump or slump mold and I was just leaving for class to try and make one today. I have also been thinking about handles for a butter dish. I have a glass butter dish and a plastic one here at home and neither have a handle. I always worry about the glass one breaking.

    Now I see your post today on butter dishes, what a coincidence. Over the last several weeks I have been trying to think of unique ceramic pieces to make that aren’t too large and wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg for someone to purchase with the economy the way it is. Also was trying to think of items which could be utilized alone without having to be part of a set and a butter dish seemed like the perfect ceramic piece I could make.

    Love the cups and tray. Also, love your textured butter cover and also the handle. Can’t wait to see them glazed.

  • I love how technically your brain works! It makes my husband crazy cause he’s a wood worker, but I would have just worked the design out in clay – but you now have a template & can re-create your form at will. You are so smart. And I love the results – the butter dish is fabulous. And I often use ‘clay’ instead of counting sheep. I also use designing in my head as a form of meditation when I’m anxious.

    I saw a sign on a business yesterday “We are not participating in the recession.” I love it — me either. I will forge ahead as well. But I think making some smaller less expensive pieces for my upcoming show is a good idea.

  • Another incredible post, Cynthia! I admire the way you work things out, very patiently, step-by-step. I know it’s the right way, and I often regret not thinking it through on the front end. Yep, I’m sometimes way lazier than I should be!

  • I am in awe of your precision! I, like a few others here :), would just go head long into it without too much planning. Kudos on your amazing organization! The new work is really looking great!

  • My daughter was looking for a butter dish for her brother in law last Christmas. I will have to ask if she is still looking.

  • oh very cool, espec the idea that it fits butter from other than the commercial source..love those rolled handles

  • Linda S. – Can I just tell you, that I love your name! It sounds like a super hero’s name ;) Butter dishes – it’s one of those things everyone needs – I’ve never attempted a French Butter Dish either – but maybe I should. It’s very practical, up there with mugs. I look forward to seeing what you come up with. Keith, a fellow EMT member makes some pretty fabulous thrown and altered butter dishes that I really like too. I look forward to seeing your’s!

    Judi – know what you mean…I don’t know why I haven’t seriously considered making and designing them before.

    Deborah – ack – more like jack of all trades, master of none. ;)

    Judy – technical, me? Gawd no! Maybe it’s my way of controlling my ADD tendencies. Although, I have to say, nothing ticks me off more than making something and wanting to replicate it, only to have sold it and having to work off memory. Same thing goes with happy glaze accidents – when I stray, I have to take notes, just in case anything good happens. (or really bad). Great sign too!

    Denise – You know I’m signed up for the Obamaware sale/fundraiser, unfortunately it’s been postponed because the server crashed.

    Patricia – You’re not lazy, I think it’s just a different way of working. This is all part of my plan to be more organized and productive.

    Thanks Ben! My inlaws are arriving tomorrow and my father in law is ready to make a project for me. I’m showing him your wheel stand in the hopes that he’ll make me one!

    Janet – I hope to make several for the Potters Guild Sale and then am going to load my etsy shop, which is currently closed. I don’t have a price point in mind yet though…

    LB – The paper templates were inspired by the workshop I took with Annie Chrietzberg last June. They’re a great way to be able to repeat a form and are entirely customizable.

    Ang – I should take a look at non-American style butter dishes. I remember when I lived in Germany and France, butter came in largish squares and not long rectangles. I’m enjoying making handles and exploring different ways to customize the designs.

  • Very nice pieces! Thanks for sharing the middle of the night brainstorming and the progress that followed with us.

  • Ha! Isn’t that always the way? If you want something made properly you have to make it yourself! Come to think of it, my butter dish doesn’t have a handle either! How useful is that?! I haven’t seen any as gorgeous as yours though :)