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This is a how to for making a clay tree/coral tree. The steps include how to make the basic shape and the steps that I took to add all the details. The forms, details, and added decoration can all be altered to fit your aesthetic ideas.

Step 1: Get Your Supplies

In terms of supplies, this project is actually simple.

What you will need:

  • Clay
    • I used a high fire stoneware, but really you can use any clay you want
    • Amounts also vary depending on the size of the tree you want to make
      • *the amount of clay pictured is about nine pounds and I used pretty much all of it on the base of the main form
  • Tools
    • Much like clay, tools are up to what you think is necessary, but I will list what I used
      • Wire tool
      • Pin tool
      • Wooden ribs and stick tools
      • Scoring tool
      • Slip with paint brush
      • Bucket of water and sponge
      • Slab roller and mats
      • X-acto knife, carving knife, and fettling knife
      • Meter stick
      • Pottery wheel and throwing bat
      • Paper Towel
      • Pen and texture matts
      • Heat gun

Step 2: Prep Your Clay

Your going to want to wedge and center your clay on your wheel.

Step 3: Open and Pull Up

After centering, you can create the base of the tree by pulling the form up into a cylinder. Don't forget to compress the bottom of the pot with a wooden rib (this prevents cracking later).

Step 4: Create an Undercut

Once you have the shape that you want, clean up the bottom by creating an undercut.

To do this use your pin tool to make a 45 degree cut into the base. After you have the cut made, take your fettling knife to cut under the clay you are removing. Slice and remove the extra clay.

Your base is ready now.

Step 5: Add Height With Slabs

The next steps take us away from the wheel. I used a slab roller to make a large slab with a thickness that matched my base. I will use these slabs to add more height to my tree.

Step 6: Measure, Cut, and Attach

To measure how big to make my slabs, I made a coil that was the same diameter of my base and used it for reference. Making sure to score* and slip as you go, you're going to attach the slab to the base. My initial slab was a little too big, so I cut it down a bit.

*scoring is creating scratches in the surface of your clay so the separate bodies have something to attach to and makes it so they won't break apart later.

Step 7: Repeat Till You Have the Desired Height

Make sure to smooth your slab into the base so that they are stronger. I ended up using three slabs. The final form was about 25 inches tall.

Step 8: Refine Form

At this point you are going to want to wait for your form to try to a leather hard state. Or, if you are impatient like me, you can use a heat gun to speed up the process.

Once the clay is dry enough, you can rasp the body to both thin out the walls, but also add texture. Once you have the walls thinned down enough, you can manipulate the form and alter it to your liking. I did this just by squeezing with my hands.

Step 9: Start Carving

The form I have been working on and picturing is my coral tree. The only real difference between the coral tree and the regular tree is the details.

For the coral tree I created horizontal wavy cuts up and down the form. The regular tree had vertical and jagged cuts. It just depends on what you want aesthetically.

When making horizontal cuts it is VERY important to add temporary supports to your form or it will collapse. I used balls of clay wrapped in paper towel. The balls added the support and the paper towel kept the balls from sticking to the form. Always work from the top to the bottom, this makes sure that you aren't making the tree too top heavy.

After I made all of my initial cuts, I went back and created shallow indents to add depth. These were the same type of shape as the cuts, I was going for a flowing water feeling.

Step 10: Make Details

The regular tree has fungus and lichen attached to the outside. These kind of details really elevate the piece and gives the viewer more to look at.

The coral tree has corals to do the same thing. The corals were really simple to make.

You can really use your imagination here and make whatever forms you want. I chose to make simple tree like forms, some spirals, and sponge like shapes.

Step 11: You're Done!

Once you think you have enough extra details, you're done!!

<p>Very nice. I like it a lot. Thank you for posting.</p><p>One question: could this be done without a pottery wheel?</p>
<p>Oh absolutely!! I simply made the instructions with the wheel because I wanted to be true to my steps. You could easily make the whole thing out of slabs.</p>
Absolutely beautiful!
<p>This is really cool. You could make some awesome Halloween decorations like this.</p>

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