Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Making Ceramic Pottery: Throwing on the Wheel

Wheel Throwing
My preferred technique for making pottery is throwing on the wheel. Throwing  is the term used to describe how the rotating wheel ‘throws’ the clay outwards while the potter uses their hands to control and mold the clay against this force.  Keeping the clay in the center of the wheel (centering) may appear effortless, but it is a skill that takes great patience and lots of practice! 

Throwing a ceramic piece on the wheel starts out with centering of the clay. Repeatedly bringing the spinning clay up into a cone and pushing it back down until the lump of clay spins evenly and without any wobble (indicating it's off center). Water is used to lubricate the clay so that it spins smoothly in your hands. 
Opening up: a process of pushing down in the middle of the centered clay and pulling out, creating a mouth
Pulling up: repeatedly pulling up on the clay while the wheel in spinning; the wall of the cylinder gets thinner as the vessel gets taller as you can see in the following pictures

And now to finish the piece - the desired shape is formed, edges and walls smoothed out.
Finishing: in this case I have narrowed the opening of the cylinder to create a small, narrow opening, like you might see on a jug or a luminary (which is what this will be). Here I'm using a wooden tool called a rib to push against the clay and smooth its surface.
Once I’m satisfied with the vessel I’ve created, I can either cut it off by sliding a fine wire between the bottom of the pot and the wheel head, remove it from the wheel and leave it to dry completely, or trim the bottom to create a footring (or foot). A foot is a raised circle of clay at the base of a throw pot on which the pot will stand.

Here are examples of freshly thrown pieces. Here you can see some ring holders, plates, and a small bowl (cylinder). The plates are sitting on ‘bats’. A bat is a piece of pressboard that can be taken on and off the wheel head allowing you to move the piece without cutting it off.
Before the pieces I've thrown can be trimmed they must firm up a bit by drying to what's called the 'leatherhard' stage. At this point the clay can still be marred if you push your fingernail into it but it's not so soft that you can distort the shape with the push of a finger. 

Next time I will show you how to trim a foot. 

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