Friday, August 26, 2011

Making Ceramic Pottery: Handbuilding


Handbuilding is a very versatile technique that includes coiling and slab building. Coiling is a technique frequently used by school children in their first exposure to pottery, starting with a pinch pot and adding coils of clay to build a bowl. This technique involves rolling “snakes” of clay and building snake upon snake, or coils in a circle, one upon the other, and smoothing them over until you can’t see the individual snakes. The stacked and smoothed coils create the wall of a vessel. This technique is ancient, used for making wine vessels and urns.  Vessels and sculptures of immense size can be created by starting with simple coils.
Slab building is another handbuilding technique that I often use when I want to make objects that are angular, like a cube. Clay is rolled out with a rolling pin, like you are baking, and slabs of clay are cut into the shapes desired depending on what you are making. In this example pictured below, I wanted to make a square shaped vase, so I cut out four sides and a bottom.  Each piece is joined together using ‘slip’ (clay in a liquid form), which acts as a mortar. A wet sponge is used to smooth out the edges and hide the joints. I further decorated the vase with slip squeezed out of a tiny nozzle, kind of like decorating a cake. There are a lot of parallels between baking and pottery!
Here are some slabs of clay that I've cut to make a vase.

The two rectangular vases in the top, right were hand built using the slab technique.

 Tune in next time for my favorite technique, wheel throwing!

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Making Ceramic Pottery: Step 1

Variety of finished ceramic pieces made by Kristina Chadwick.

Everyone knows what pottery can look like, but the question is how do you get there? Well that's what I'm going to tell you in a series of posts.

This is me in my studio. I'm trimming a pot that was thrown on the wheel (learn more about both of these in future posts!).

My studio resides in a corner of the sunroom. In the pictures below you can see the wheel and all my supplies. I throw on the wheel while standing, it's easier on my back. The majority of potters throw in a seated position (who else remembers Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze in Ghost?).

This is my studio and some of my tools. This is where I make the ceramic pieces (wheel thrown or hand build), decorate, and glaze them. Pottery is a messy business with clay splattering all the time. 

There are many processes involved in pottery, but let’s start at the beginning, with the clay, because you can’t make a piece of pottery without clay. Clay is a natural material, found abundantly around the world, in gardens, fields, along riverbanks and streams.  Clay is usually bought in 25 pound bags and must physically coaxed into a softer, more malleable state through a process called wedging. It’s much like kneading bread dough.  Once the clay is properly wedged it can be used for handbuilding or throwing on the wheel.

Where it all starts, with the clay.  I use clay that are different colors (white and brown) and fire in the kiln at different temperatures.

Tune in next time to learn about Handbuilding! 

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