We all love fine and delicate tableware that conjures up images of cakes and little sandwiches with friends. Be it a mug with a large handle or a lovely cup and saucer set, exploring the reasons we prefer on design over the other is a valuable exercise to inform our own making process.
Understanding the design element of what you want to make means thinking through the object and having a plan. You don’t need to consider semi industrial process like slip casting as most well-designed ceramics are handmade in a small studio environment. The 3 basic handbuilding techniques are enough to create anything in clay. Keep in mind that practice and experience are necessary to execute any design well.
Thinking about cups and mugs, what kind of design elements do we need to consider before making decisions? The size, color, handle, body, foot and rim of the mug you make are what will differentiate your design from all the rest. A cup and saucers serve the same function as a mug but the design considerations for making a cup and saucer are different from that of a mug. There are limitless processes of making ceramics, how to make the object will depend on how you design it.
Size of mugs can be as varied as the types of beverage you can serve in a mug. There are mugs the size of a pint and ones the size of a cup. The cup size is generally equal to the volume of a one serving of a hot beverage. Ask yourself how much is enough to be called a one serving of your favourite drink?
An important aspect of your design will be the color and type of glaze you choose. When discussing color choices we mean color, drawing, surface decoration and glaze texture variations on the object. Color can be a primary design element of your mug or it can be a complementing detail to the design of your cup and saucer. A homogeneous design is one that integrates the choice of color with the overall design idea and story of the object.
Designing cups and mugs means talking about handles and foot rings. There are many different handles to choose from, it is important that the handle is proportionate to the body of the mug. It is also good to consider the shape of the cup in relation to its saucer to avoid the handle being obstructed by the saucer. A single finger handle is usually rounded and small, placed near the top of the rim to give balance when holding the cup when filled. A larger handle that fits 4 fingers can be varied in size and may be positions a third down from the rim and can loop outwards considerably.
Trimming a foot for your mug is an important design consideration. There are many ways to trim a footring with the intent to separate the body of your object from the table surface. There are also ways to trim your saucer so that the cup sits snug and will not slid out of place. You may consider a footring that is hand build using a slab or coil. A thick footring allows for decoration details to be placed on the bottom of your object should you choose stamps or simple finger indentations.
When thinking about the body and rim of your object, take into considerations that a wide rim will allow more hot steam to escape and will cool your drink faster. Designing a narrow body means less volume can be stored in the object and you will need to make considerations for a taller object. Should you choose a v-shaped cup, it is recommended that you have a wide base to provide stability to your object. You can make the body of your mug using rolled slabs and then attach a base using a thick coil on the inside to ensure the cup is well sealed.
The best recommendation for designing any object is sketching your ideas first. Start drawing simple cones, squares, and rectangles, then put them together to build the basic shape of your object. Later you can add details to finalize your design and formalize your plan.