You make throwing on the potter’s wheel look so Easy!
That is usually the first words out of the mouths of students who come into my studio to try their hands on the potter’s wheel.
Making everyday, functional objects from a hunk of mud has been around for 1000’s of years. The earliest ceramic objects have been dated as far back as 29,000 BC. Those old potters did not have all the wonderful conveniences that we modern-day potters have, like electric wheels, commercially prepared clay, and electric kilns but we still have and use two things they used…. our hands.
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It’s not that I really try to make throwing of the potter’s wheel look easy its just that I have had over 12 years of practice.
When I started my pottery journey I did not have access to a pottery class. It had been years since I tried it (back in community college some 40 years ago) but I never forgot how much fun it was.
I had an old kiln, found a used potter’s wheel, and bought 1 box of clay. My teacher was Simon Leach on YouTube. YouTube had not yet grown into what it is today so I was very lucky to have Simon as a virtual Teacher. He is still one of my favorites.
Even after so many years honing my wheel skills, not everything I throw on the potter’s wheel turns out nice. I have a big old bucket that I throw my failed attempts into which will get reprocessed and reworked into something much nicer (hopefully).
After working with many people who just want to try their hands on working on the potter’s wheel and coming to one of my “Try it” classes, I have come up with a few tips for the new wheel throwing potter.
One of my first bowls I was satisfied enough to photograph
I was hoping that I could find one of my first pieces to show you but apparently I did not have the courage to photograph them!
In my Google Photo account, this is the very first bowl I felt comfortable photographing. But I assure you it was not the first bowl I ever made.
Ten Tips for the new Potter
Tip #1 – Your body and your hands are your biggest and most important tools. Posture is everything! When working on the wheel your elbows should be tucked into your legs or waist. This helps with stabilizing the hands. If your elbows are out and flaying around you will not be able to control the clay.
Tip #2 – Keep your fingernails short. Pottery on the wheel is all about “feel”. Long nails make it difficult for your fingertips to feel the clay. They also have been known to cut and gouge the clay. I keep my nails very short.
Tip#3 – Always wedge your clay. This helps soften up the clay, it gets the air bubbles out and it begins the spiraling of the clay.
Tip #4 – Make sure your clay is correctly centered on the wheel. This takes some practice but it is essential to throwing. The clay should not be wobbly looking when the wheel is moving. Locking your body is very important in this step. Check out this great video by Jon the Potter where he shows you how to center a ball of clay. Notice how his arms are stabilized and he is hovering over the clay.
Tip#5 – As a beginner, you need to learn and practice throwing cylinders. I know it is not very exciting but just about everything starts as a cylinder of sorts.. mugs, vases, pitchers, some bowls.
Tip #6 – When pulling up the wall of your cylinder your two hands should be touching each other. They form a one-piece tool. Your inside and outside fingers are a gauge of the thickness of the clay.
Tip #7 – Wheel Speed. When centering, your wheel should be going very fast. Slow it down when you begin pulling the wall up. Be sure that your hands come up the wall in time with the speed of the wheel. This takes some getting used to.
Tip #8 – When starting a pull, always start with your fingers touching the bat (or wheel head if you are not using a bat). Create a small indentation at the base of the clay. It is this clay we will be “pulling up”.
Tip #9 – When pulling up the walls, cone it in often and keep it in a Volcano shape. Keep the rim thick and compress it often. This keeps your piece stable while you are pulling it up. Get your height first and then worry about and refine your shape and rim later.
Tip #10 – Learn to “feel” the clay and adjust your fingers and your hands to make the clay do what you want it to do. Try closing your eyes when centering and even throwing so that your eyes are not getting in the way.
Pottery is a wonderful artform. It can be meditative, creative, fun, and functional . Enjoy the process. Learn from your mistakes and remember that clay can always be recycled and used again until its fired!!
And In the words of Simon Leach…Practice, Practice, practice.
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