Scott Jennings Handbuilding Workshop

I attended a workshop this weekend at Ruby's Clay Studio in SF with Scott Jennings
Scott's work is almost exclusively hand built.  His pieces are light, clean, tight, and precise, yet organic and soft.  His colors match his style of work perfectly!  It's quite obvious he makes very thoughtful decisions and works hard at his craft.

Of course; a super nice guy willing and open with his working process, tools, tricks and glaze recipes.  The workshop was one of the most valuable three hours I've spent.  The information already influencing me in how I work and even what I plan to make.  I hand build; I was riveted to his talk and watched very closely how he handles his slabs and how he assembles... you know, all the in between steps that are the most valuable and the least talked about.

btw - he uses good ole' fashioned cone5 B-Mix.  His work looks like porcelain, but it aint!

One curious thing is his use of pillowcases for rolling out slabs.  For me; one of the key takeaways is the importance of not over-handling your slabs - I know that comes with experience, but it's never a bad thing to hear it drilled in your head again and again. 

Another item of note; he uses virtually no water in his assemblage process except with the use of his slip (which he uses sparingly).  The slabs he uses for plates, platters or any large flat form he never actually pics up; once it's rolled out, it lives in a horizontal position until it is stiff enough to rest on the applied feet.  He uses boards to flip the slab over and over as he rolls them out and never actually moves the slab until it's assembled and dry - even when attaching feet and handles the top plate part of the slab never leaves the board.

The process of rolling out slabs is a bit laborious but critical to the end result.  For his vertical slabs - he's more "hands-on" with them, though still gentle and circumspect in his handling - he more freely will lift and turn them over.

Another significant tip is he assembles and does all his surface decoration at the wet stage, though not adding water.  Remember: Water is not your friend! 

Some basics that Scott uses are; a "French" rolling pin; a standard heavy rolling pin, a little plastic wallpaper seam roller, thin wood dowels to control his slab thickness.  Again, he uses very little slip on his seams because he assembles very wet and compresses the seam with a wallpaper seam roller.  All the tools here are easy to find at your local hardware store.

He creates paper templates for all his work; he draws a picture on the template of what it makes and puts the date.  The date gives him a marker of how long the template has been employed and may need an update.  I thought that was great - we can all get comfortable in what we do and forget to evolve pieces that work for us. 

The other genius thing he does that seems so simple (but it has never crossed my mind) is a sharpie.  He uses it for marking his points of contact wherever any design lines need to meet.  He lightly marks the clay - which you can see in one of the photos of the cup he made.  Good tip for template use and lining things up - it's all in the details...

He uses a banding wheel which he places on top of a very everyday flower pot for height - he uses it to move around the pieces as he pushes, shapes and expands them and creates the individual shapes and forms.  It's always so fun to see how artists figure out little ways of working very specific to them.   Tools are manipulated, curious materials (pillow cases) are incorporated.  Quirks - we love the quirks - that's where the magic lives.

After the forms are made; he adds shape and form with his fingers and on larger pieces he uses the fabulous Sherrill ribs which are soft and pliable and don't impact the surface too much - remember the slabs are not touched very much at all and no water - it's Scott's theme song!

Part of Scott's aesthetic is that he makes no effort to hide his seams - they are a design element and therefore they need to be clean and sharp and not over worked.  The little rolly seam roller is his go-to tool of choice.  He talked about not having that many tools - he has a small arsenal and they are simple and specific to his building process. 

the ye old "less is more" program.

So, I got a lot out of this; my head was chuck full o-stuff I was motivated to check out and try.  Of course, I wasn't patient enough to make templates, but that's my project for tonight.

here is my attempt at a cup...

I've made tumblers on the wheel - but often sans handles.  I've not handbuilt cups much, but liked the way Scott's cups looked - so I gave it a try - and MAN - it's actually FUN!  This thing is giant btw - an over zealous excited non-templatey cup to be sure.

thanks to Scott - an awesome talent and a great guy - an excellent workshop and thanks to Ruby's Clay Studio!

Scott Jennings
Red Brick Studio
Ruby's Clay Studio


  1. This is my second time to come and study this amazingly informative post. I see his hand connecting the base slab to the cup, compressing. did he have any tips about guarding against leaking at the joints?
    Thanks for this , its a tiny bit like being there, and I do appreciate it so much

  2. Wow, what a great informative post!! I saw his work before, I love his plates so cool! Thanks for sharing :-)

  3. Julie - thanks! I took a lot more pics but felt this illustrated his process well. as far as leaks, he says he may have a few tiny ones but with the glaze filling them and sealing them he has had no significant problems. He does not reinforce his joints with added clay! the audience was all curious about that one. He does work wet so the clay is all about adhering. He also uses that roller to compress the seams without ruining the look and line. His work is tight and it's because when you watch him (even in a fast paces workshop setting)he's meticulous in how he touches the pieces.

    thanks for coming by - I'm glad it's helpful! ask any more questions; I'm happy to elaborate.

    hi Hue!!

  4. Thanks so much! Can't wait to try the pillowcase trick, and going to the hardware store tomorrow for that tool.
    Wonderful sharing post

  5. I wish I could have taken his workshop when I was on the West Coast since I handbuild too, he was scheduled for one at Clay Mix, but not enough folks signed up so it was cancelled. I saw his work there and I was truly impressed with his pieces, his beautiful glazes and the thinness of his pieces; I thought they were porcelain. Some great tips here about the tools and manipulating the slabs, thanks so much for all the photos and informative post. Pillow cases work great and old sheets too,

  6. Hi Linda - I was a little confused by the pillow case thing honestly, It kept wrinkling up and kind of driving me crazy ;) I use MDF boards and drywall. The MDF is super smooth and also does a nice job of taking moisture - I wonder if I taped some sheet material down onto the board to elimate the futzing with it to keep the wrinkles out; will have to try it out!

    thanks for the comments; I'm glad it's helpful. It really was great information. If you get a chance to do a workshop with him - I HIGHLY recommend it!

  7. Ugh, I just recently found out about this. I can't believe I missed it. Maybe I'll have to bug my neighbor for a mini tutorial... I'm not surprised this was a great workshop. Scott is so talented and skilled and such a neat person. :)

  8. JLu - I was sure you'd pocked up on all Scott's talented tricks by now! Yor are lucky to have him and mitsu and Amy too! Well, and they are lucky to have you!!

    Scott is great! Best workshop yet!