How To Give (and Get) A Handmade Mug

Steve Leroux

[Editor note: this was sent out as a newsletter for our Handmade for the Holidays 2021 show. We thought the information could be useful for everyone, though, so we put it up as a blog post here. Some of the formatting might be a little off, and some of the links might be to work we no longer carry. But the breakdown should still be useful... enjoy!]

As of this writing (a sunny afternoon in always-sunny Seattle), we have a stunning 467 handmade mugs in stock! Our gallery staff has done a fantastic job bringing in talented artists from all over the country for our annual Handmade for the Holidays show, and of course mugs are a big part of that. But how do you know which mug is the perfect one to give (or get)?

P R E S E N T I N G:
The Saltstone Ceramics Guide
To Mug-Giving and -Getting

1. Getting A Grip: The Handle

Perhaps nothing is as distinctive and personalized as a handmade mug's handle. Usually, an artist will develop a few favorite styles, and you'll see them repeated over and over again.
one-, two-, three-, and four-finger handles from Sarah Steininger LerouxPeople Via PlantsTheresa Choi, and Adrienne Eliades
Similarly, mug lovers will have a favorite way they like to hold the mug. One-finger handles are stylish, but check the balance to make sure the mug feels right on that finger. Three- and four- finger handles give you a solid grip, but they can feel overwhelming. Not sure? Can't go wrong with a two-finger handle.


Handles come in all shapes and sizes!
And sometimes they're a little more decorative than functional.
These mugs by Mark Vander Heide and Taylor Callaway

The most common handle shapes are simple circles and the classic ear/teardrop shape, although we're showing a huge variety of styles in the gallery. If you like the look, the ear handle is always comfortable to hold. 


circle handle by Joey Nuñez; arch handle by Chris Hosbach; ornamented ear handle by Emery Cotten; square handle by Krista Cortese

2. My Mug Runneth Over: Size

Handmade mugs range in size from tiny espresso sippers to giant tankards. This is a place where it's good to know your giftee (or yourself): do they nurse a giant mug of tea all day? Or do they want a fancy, smaller cup for their morning doppio? These two mugs are handmade by Michelle Im. The purple mug holds about 10 ounces; the orange one holds about three.

Most folks prefer mugs in the 10- to 12-ounce size–but like I said, this can be kind of personal. We list measurements for just about all the mugs we carry, and a "medium-size" mug will be 3" to 4" in height and diameter.


Here are three different sizes of mugs from long-time studio favorite, Justin Rothshank.The mug in the front is about 12 ounces. The mug behind it to the left is about 18 ounces. And the one in the very back holds a full 20-ounce imperial pint of beer.


3. Mouth Matters: The Rim

An oft-overlooked factor that goes into making a truly great mug is the rim. Because let's face it: your lips are one of the most sensitive parts of your body, and you gotta treat them right.
Shapes Mug with beveled rim and interior-only glaze by Sarah Steininger Leroux.
Shapes Mug with rounded, unglazed rim by Annie Ryan.
Some artists will leave the mug's rim partially or fully unglazed. The rough texture of the clay body can be enticing to some, while others prefer the smooth, glassy surface of a fully glazed rim.
Mug with beveled rim and some unglazed patches by Dwayne Sackey.
Floating Hands Mug with slightly squared, fully glazed rim by Coco Spadoni.


Hand-built and altered mugs, with corners and uneven rims, can bring even more excitement to the experience of drinking from a mug!


So to recap: the rim of the mug is where texture and shape all come together for a unique experience. There's lots to explore!

4. Comparing Apples and Pears: Shape

The universe of mug shapes is huge–way more than we can do justice to in this guide. But here's a quick run-down of some things you can watch for as you journey through our mug collection.

Although most artists have a recognizable style or a "go-to" shape, you can still see lots of variation, even with one artist's line:
Four different mug shapes from Sarah Steininger Leroux


Some mugs have wider tops than bottoms. These tend to be better for tea, which is served hotter than coffee and needs to cool down faster:

Flared-top mugs from Brian SaramaAnnie RyanCasey Engel, and Taylor Callaway


Some mugs have wider bottoms than tops. These are a little less likely to get knocked over, and keep drinks warmer, longer:

Sometimes mugs will have a distinctive foot (or feet):
Put your drink on a pedestal! Mugs from Emery CottenBrian SaramaAshley Nicole, and Sarah Haven.


Mugs can have a distinctly square shape:


Or they can be round and curvy:


And some mugs defy classification:

5. And Then There's How It Looks

Glazed or unglazed? Glossy or matte? Delicately underpainted or letting the kiln work its magic? Carved or smooth? A mug's surface treatment is, to some, the ultimate expression of potter's art. We'd need a whole new email just to explain mishima versus sgraffito, wood-firing versus soda-firing, and all the rest. So instead, we'll just let you scroll back up through all the mugs in this guide and get a sense of what's possible.

And remember, this is just the tip of the iceberg... we've got hundreds more mugs in stock. See them all online or in our sunny Seattle storefront.

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