Archive | September, 2008

Glazing Pottery

28 Sep

I’m constantly asked by students (most of them under the age of 12), “Are we going to paint the pottery today?” Cute, and I always hate to disappoint them, but many adults don’t know a lot more about finishing pottery than the kids do.

Pottery can certainly be painted, and many people do that–I do sometimes myself. Here’s an example of a little dragon flute that I sculpted and my daughter painted.

We decided to paint it because Cheri likes the metallic colors she used for little Draquina, and I think she turned out really well. She only plays a quatrain, which is why I have officially coined the term quaturina in place of ocarina.

Anyway, yes, you can paint pottery and no, it’s not some sort of heresy to do so. Typically, you would paint pottery that has been fired to the bisque stage, and if you want to do this, you’ll also want to prime the pottery first with any type of inexpensive acrylic paint.

Most of the time, you’ll be glazing, not painting your pottery, though you might apply the glaze or underglaze with a paint brush. Most potters wait to glaze their pottery until it has been bisque fired, though it can be glazed when leather hard or bone dry.

Mid and high fire glazes are not usually applied to the underside of pottery. They melt and stick the pot to the shelf. If you’re glazing a lightweight piece, you may be able to use kiln stilts to keep a fully glazed piece from sticking, but in general, anything but low-fired pottery is left unglazed where it touches the shelf.

Let’s start by talking about underglaze, just to make things simpler. Underglaze, as you would suppose, is applied under a glaze, usually a clear glaze. You paint on the underglaze with a brush, a sponge, a splattering tool, or whatever you like, and then dip or spray the pot with a layer of clear glaze. Underglazes can resist the clear glaze if you paint them on too thickly, and you’ll end up with a pot that has a matte surface that isn’t very durable.

You can also buy or make glazes that are designed to be painted on with a brush. Glazes are different than underglazes in that they are a complete finish in themselves. Underglazes are not complete in themselves, but must be covered with a glaze. So, the brush-on glazes . . . they come in little jars and you just put them on with a brush. You get a lot more control this way than you would if you were spraying or dipping your pots, but it’s also a lot slower work. Most brushable glazes are designed to be applied in 2-3 coats. They should end up about the thickness of a credit card, so if your glazes are going on thicker than this, you need to thin them out by mixing in a little water.

The most popular way to glaze functional pieces such as cups and bowls, etc., is to dip the pottery pieces in a bucket of glaze slurry. This type of glaze, as well as many of the aforementioned brushable glazes, is not usually anything like the color of the finished product. A gray or dark brown glaze might fire up blue. Green glazes are often colored with copper oxide and are therefore usually green in the bucket, but that won’t tell you anything about the shade of green. White glaze is also white in its raw state, but so is clear, unless it’s been colored blue to identify it and differentiate it from the white. The blue will burn out and will not affect the color of the finished glaze.

Dipping glaze comes in liquid or powdered form. Liquid is obviously easier, but more expensive to ship. It may or may not arrive properly thickened or thinned, but we’ll get into that later. I make my own glazes in 10 kg batches, but if I were buying, I’d either buy pre-mix or purchase 25lbs of glaze (which is a little more than 10 kg). This amount will make 3.5-4.5 gallons of glaze, depending on the formula of the glaze. To mix up your 25 lbs of powdered glaze, you’ll need the following:

  1. Five gallon bucket
  2. Stirring stick
  3. Sieve and stiff brush
  4. Dust mask
  5. Power drill and 5 gallon paint stirring attachment (optional)

It’s best to work outside if at all possible, as the dust from powdered glaze can float in the air for quite a long time. Otherwise, be sure to work in an area with an adequate exhaust fan–adequate means really, really powerful, by the way. If you can’t secure a suitable place to mix glaze, it’s best to buy it pre-mixed. Here’s the procedure.

  1. Put about two gallons of water into the bucket. You’ll probably need more, but it’s easier to add it than to take it away.
  2. Pour in the glaze powder in a slow, steady stream if possible. This is hard to do, by the way, and most likely the glaze will all flumph out at once and splash you, but you’ve gotta try.
  3. Mix the glaze with the stick first, then, if you have it, with the power drill. If it’s awfully thick, add some water. Let it sit for an hour or two if you can, then mix it again and pour it through a sieve. You’ll need to work the glaze through with a stiff brush. Mix well and re-sieve, several times until the glaze has reached a creamy and smooth consistency.
  4. Next day, re-mix the glaze and assess the thickness. For a baseline, you can dip your finger in and out in an unhurried, but business-like motion. If you can still see the lines of your knuckle and fingernail clearly, but the finger is completely coated, your glaze is within the range of proper thickness. If the glaze is too thin, you’ll have to let it sit until it separates, then you can dip water off the top. If it’s too thick, of course, you just add water.

If a glaze has been sitting for several months, it’s usually a good idea to sieve it before using, and all dipping glazes need sieving periodically. To glaze a pot by dipping, you can either keep glaze from sticking to the base by applying wax or just by not dipping the base. Alternatively, you can wipe the glaze off the base on a piece of damp carpet. I use a mix of all three techniques, depending on the piece to be glazed. Here’s the procedure:

  1. Any parts of the pot where I don’t want glaze–decorations, lid flanges, etc., I apply wax to. It takes a while for the wax to dry, so be sure to do this several hours in advance of glazing.
  2. If the base of the pot is going to be dipped in the glaze, I first dip it into water to keep too much glaze from sticking there.
  3. Have a piece of damp carpet available. I put it in a large disposable baking pan to keep it from messing up the table. Using a pair of glaze tongs (available at a ceramic supply outlet), dip your pot sideways into the glaze and remove it promptly, emptying it out of glaze. Place the piece base down onto the carpet, and when the glaze has dried sufficiently, hold the piece by the rim and twist it back and forth until the base of the piece is clean.
  4. Alternatively, if it’s possible, you can hold the piece by the base and dip it straight down into the glaze, stopping before you immerse the base. If it’s a cup or bowl that needs the inside glazed, too, you can squirt glaze inside with a turkey baster or pour in with a cup of some sort, swirl to coat, and then pour out.
  5. It’s important to keep the glaze as thin as possible near the base of the pot, so it’s not so likely to run and drip during firing, sticking the pot to the kiln shelf.
  6. To vary your glaze’s appearance, you can dip the rim of an already glazed pot with a second color. You can drip a second glaze on with a turkey baster or splatter it on with a toothbrush. Be sure you take careful notes so you’ll remember what you did. That way you can repeat a stunning combination or avoid repeating a dud.

Glazes designed for dipping can be painted on, but they don’t flow well, which makes them difficult to work with in this way. They can also be sprayed. I’m not going to go into this here, though. Spraying requires quite a lot of special equipment and so isn’t going to be accessible to very many beginners. I may cover it in a later post.

As with painted glazes, you want the coating to be about the thickness of a credit card, though different glazes require more or less coverage. If your glaze doesn’t show the color, or much of the color you expected, you’ve probably applied it too thinly. Take some water off the glaze, immerse your pot for a longer period of time, or double dip it. If the glaze drips, next time be careful about getting too much glaze close to the base or getting the glaze/glazes on too thick.

Glaze that develops a network of cracks as it dries is too thick. You can heal the cracks by gently rubbing over them with a damp sponge or a damp finger, but if the thickness is heavy near the bottom of the pot, you need to remove some of the glaze there, whether by scraping or washing the area. If this situation is too bad, you may want to wash the pot, let it dry completely, and re-glaze another time.

If the glaze on your pot is too thin, it’s possible your glaze slurry wasn’t well mixed. Glaze slurries need frequent mixing as they settle. Some settle toward the bottom, and others have particles that tend to glob together toward the top of the bucket. Either way, they require frequent stirring. A pot that has been glazed too thinly because of a badly mixed glaze will have soaked up quite a bit of water and will need to sit for a while before you try again. When you do re-dip the pot, just dip the top 3/4 or so, to avoid too thick a glaze layer close to the base.

There’s a lot more than this to know about glazing, but this will get you started. Many books, thick books, have been written on this subject. Just dive in and don’t be afraid to experiment. I’ve tried to point out a few of the speed bumps, but you’ll have both spectacular successes and miserable failures. Don’t give up and you’ll soon have a good understanding of your own particular favorite glazes.

Firing Pottery: Bisque

24 Sep

Firing of pottery can be accomplished in many ways, whether in a campfire, a pit, a wood or oil or gas kiln or, more commonly for hobby and small professional potteries today, by electricity. My expertise is almost entirely in the realm of electrical kiln pottery in the cone 6 or mid-firing range, so that’s what I’ll be talking about.

Firing is another of those deceptively simple parts of making pottery and ceramic art. You take the stuff to a ceramics shop; they fire it for you; you pay the bill–right? Well, maybe you’d like to know just a bit more about the process, especially if you’re thinking about getting your own kiln or if you’re charged with operating one for your school or art center. As mentioned in earlier posts (please read them if you need this info), there are two firings–one for bisque ware and the second for after the glaze has been applied. This post is primarily about bisque firing, though I will mention the glaze kiln occasionally.

Before I talk about firing, do make sure your kiln is adequately vented. Venting of kilns, especially in settings where people live and work, is absolutely essential. It’s not all that expensive, so do it right. An open window and a table fan are not good enough. Ask your supplier of ceramic equipment to help you figure it out. You’re better off not to do pottery at all than to fire an unventilated kiln. In addition, make sure the kiln room isn’t going to get hot enough to trigger your building’s automatic sprinkler system. As you can imagine, this tends to irritate the very administrators who, only a few weeks ago, assured you that no additional measures were necessary. (I haven’t experienced this, but I know someone who has.) A proper ventilating system takes out toxic or irritating fumes, but will not keep your kiln room cool. Both of these factors must be addressed before beginning to fire your kiln.

Though I’ve given you some actual temperatures in my earlier posts, firing isn’t quite that simple. Potters use “pyrometric cones,” which are little cone-shaped pieces of ceramic material that have been calibrated to slump or bend at a certain point in the firing. Here’s a link to a short Wikipedia article on pyrometric cones. If you’re not familiar with the use of cones, I recommend you read it–plus, it’s got good pictures. 😉 The slumping point of cones doesn’t correspond with any exact temperature. Many kilns don’t even have thermometers (or more accurately, thermocouples). All they have are devices called “kiln sitters,” which use a mini-cone or a mini pyrometric bar as a prop to keep the circuit that turns the kiln on closed (that is, connected). When the cone bends, the switch falls, opening the circuit and shutting off the kiln.

Just to take a little of the mystery out of it for those of you who’ve never seen one, here’s a photo of a kiln sitter.They’re all more or less similar.

  1. At the top left is a dial that sets how many hours you are planning to allow the kiln to run. This is a switch and will turn the kiln off when it winds down to zero. You would typically set this dial to run maybe a half hour longer than you think the firing will take based on your past experience with the kiln.
  2. At the top right is a hooking device. It’s a little lever whose weighted tail extends through the wall of the kiln and into the firing chamber. It is propped by a mini-cone or mini-bar of pyrometric material so that the inside end will fall down, raising the outside end up when the cone or bar slumps.
  3. At the bottom right, the little squared ladder-shaped thingy is your second switch. It’s hinged at the top. To start the kiln, you swing it up and hook the hook thingy (#2) onto it (with a cone in place inside the kiln). It doesn’t look like it in this picture, but there’s a bar across the end for the hook to hook onto. The silver dot that’s just above it in this photo is a button that you push to start the kiln. It won’t start, though, unless you’ve dialed in some time on #1.

Two factors cause cones to bend, both of which affect the pottery similarly. The first is, of course, temperature. Second is “heat work,” which is effected by a combination of temperature and the duration of the temperature in the ware. Just as you can cook a casserole at 250 degrees or 350 degrees (250 will take longer), you can fire a pot completely though the temperature within the kiln may not have reached the target–it just held longer, causing the heat work to get done, though at a lower temperature. If that all sounds too complicated, all you need to know is that, when the cone bends, the pottery is done (or if it’s not, you need to adjust your kiln sitter or change to a different cone (or change your clay or glaze). For more information on this, I recommend Orton Ceramics, which manufactures most of the pyrometric cones used in the USA.

You should know that a mini-cone or bar designed to is roughly equivalent to a shelf cone of the next higher denomination. In other words, though they’re made of the same stuff, they bend at a cooler temperature than their big brothers because they’re such thin, frail little things.)

More modern kilns are controlled by computer devices that use thermocouples to measure the temperature within the kiln. At the high temperatures within a kiln, normal thermometers can neither give a reading nor survive. Thermocouples aren’t all that accurate, but they’re consistent. There are more accurate ways to measure temperature within a kiln (by analyzing the color of the light, among other things), but they’re unnecessary for home or hobby potters and tend to be pricey.

Even if you have a computer controlled kiln, you should still use cones. Cones are a more relevant way for potters to measure the effects of temperature and time on ceramic ware because cones are made of ceramic material. You’ll need shelf cones–get the self standing ones–they’re worth it. By experience, you’ll learn how far you want your cone to bend over for the type of clay and/or glaze you’re using. When the tip of the cone touches the shelf, it has reached its calibrated “doneness,” but the melting will continue during any “soak” time you’ve programmed into the firing schedule, so you want to start the soak period before this happens. And your particular glaze may actually mature at a lesser or greater degree of cone melting. So, experience and experimentation are necessary.

As I mentioned, bone day ware still has some moisture in it, from the humidity of the air. It may also have moisture from not having dried completely, especially if your pottery has any especially thick parts. I start my bisque kiln by programming it to hold the temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit for several hours. If I have monster pots inside, I might hold the temperature for as much as 6-8 hours. This might not be necessary, but there’s a lot of work in those big pots and I don’t like them exploding. If you’re using a kiln sitter, you just can’t fire big, thick pots. If you’ve figured out how to do it, let me know–I’d like to hear. The kiln (even with only one element set to low and the lid propped open a foot) will heat to above the boiling point of water, the water remaining in the thick walls of your pots will flash into steam, and you’ll have a broken pot. Since I live and have my studio at an elevation of about a mile, I keep the pots at 180 degrees rather than 200 degrees. The boiling point of water is lower up here in the clouds.

So, step 1: Place a mini-cone into the kiln sitter. You can adjust firing temperature slightly by sliding the cone to the right or the left. Closer to the small tip, the cone will bend sooner; closer to the large base, it will take longer, resulting in a hotter firing. If you’re using a mini-bar, the adjustment isn’t possible, but your firing results will be more consistent. Unless you have only thin, light pots, I recommend “candling” the kiln before firing it. Prop the kiln lid open about a foot and fire with one element set to low for a day–maybe 8 hours.

If you have a computer controller, place three self-standing shelf cones where you’ll be able to see them through a peep hole. If you’re going for a ^06 firing, you should have an 07, 06, & 05 cone (of these, the 05 is the hottest cone). Place them in a row horizontal to the middle peep hole, at least 6″ away, with no pots behind or in front of them to obscure your line of sight. You can set the kiln to hold at a temp around ten degrees below boiling for several hours–adjust this time depending on how thick your pots are. Go to step two for your next setting.

Step 2: If you “candled” the kiln as I recommended in step one, you might want to simply turn off the kiln when you leave and close the lid. You can start it back up in the morning. When you’re ready to fire, make sure the lid is well-closed and all peephole plugs are in. Turn all elements to low. Fire this way for two hours.

If you have a computer, you will have set the kiln to fire at 200 degrees an hour up to 1100 degrees (this is where chemically combined water is exhausted). Go to step three for your next setting.

Step 3: Turn the elements up to medium and hold there for two hours.

For the computer controller, you will have set the kiln to fire at 300 degrees an hour up to your chosen peak temperature. For bisque firing, this is usually cone 06, or around 1860 degrees Fahrenheit. Go to step four for your next setting.

Step 4: Turn your elements up to high. When the switch falls, you’re done. Make sure you check the kiln to be sure the sitter shuts it off properly–you’ll want to keep records of how long your kiln typically takes to fire. Kiln sitters can get stuck, so this is important. Never fail to check (in a timely manner) that the kiln has shut off. Kiln sitters are prone to occasional failure, and it’s possible that your timer knob could also fail, particularly if the kiln gets hot enough to damage it. If the switch has fallen, the kiln is off, though you might want to disconnect the circuit by switching off the breaker to make extra sure.

Set your computer controlled kiln to hold the peak temperature for 30-60 minutes. This allows impurities (such as organic matter and sulfur), which could cause bubbles in your glaze later, to burn out. Check the kiln to make sure it shuts off after your soaking period, then just let it cool.

If you’ve placed shelf cones where you can see them through a peep hole, you can put on some kiln gloves (or heavy leather gloves), take out the peephole plug and immediately place it securely on the lid. It will be glowing orange. Wearing a good pair of sunglasses, look into the kiln and try to discern the shadows of the cones to see whether any of them have begun to bend. You should have your target cone in the center, and when its tip has touched the shelf, your firing is complete. Don’t forget to replace the plug when you’re done. You lose more heat than you might think doing this, and it’s hard to see the cones, but it does help you to figure out what temperature you should set the controller to fire to. It’s usually way different from the theoretical temperature. If you absolutely can’t see the cones, just try to adjust your kiln’s temp by looking at the cones after the firing. If your target cone is a pile of goo, you can back off the temp maybe 30-40 degrees. It’s a matter for experimentation and trial and error.

Above all, make sure you or some other responsible person can be present when the kiln is reaching its peak temperature. It’s important, despite all the fail-safes built into modern kilns, that you make sure the kiln shuts off as it has been told to do.

Let the kiln cool until the pots and shelves can be handled bare-handed. Any hotter than this and you risk breaking your pottery by taking it out too hot, thus exposing it to thermal shock. (Or simply dropping it because it’s burned your hands even though you were wearing thick leather gloves–yes, I’ve done both of these things.)

For both the kiln sitter and the computer controller, shelf cones are helpful (see step one for the computer kiln). They give you a truer picture of the conditions inside the kiln needed to attain your desired results. Pots that exhibit glaze faults such as pinholes in the glaze may need a longer soak at the peak temperature or a slightly higher bisque firing temperature. Clay should burn off all its gasses during the bisque firing–bubbles in glaze indicate that this hasn’t happened (or that the pots were dusty when the glaze was applied). To soak a kiln with a sitter, you have to prop up the switch, which isn’t recommended. However, if you do it, bring a chair and sit there and watch the switch for a half hour, then un-prop it. Do not, under any circumstances, leave a propped switch for even a few minutes. You will forget about it and melt down your kiln.

Pots that haven’t been bisque fired hot enough may take on too much glaze, causing the glaze to run and stick to the shelf. The solution to this is to either fire the bisque hotter or to thin out the glaze slurry.

There’s certainly more to firing than this, and if you have suggestions or questions, please feel free to contribute. It sounds daunting, and many books have been written on this subject, but don’t get scared off if you’re a novice. You’ll get the hang of it really quite quickly, though you’ll likely never stop learning new things about firing.

God bless and happy potting,


Drying Pottery

21 Sep

Drying your newly made pottery pieces may seem like the least of your worries, but it’s not as uncomplicated as it looks. Not terrible, but there are some tips that will help you to get through this stage safely, and I’ll share some of them with you here. If any of you reading have additional insights, please feel free to share. Likewise, if you have questions, please post them. Your questions and insights will make this post more useful to everyone concerned, including me. 🙂

It is important not to dry your pieces too quickly, and the more complicated they become, the more slowly you’ll want to dry them. A cheap plastic painter’s drop cloth is your best friend here. Buy one and unroll it bit by bit, cutting off pieces of the width you need. Drape them loosely over the pieces you want to dry slowly. For pieces you’d like to hold at their current state of wetness, it’s good to wrap them in the plastic bags they give you at the grocery store–two or three of them–and then drape them with the plastic drop cloth.

Coil built and puzzled pots in particular need slow drying. Pieces with appendages such as handles or applied decorations also require slow drying, but not so slow as for the coil built pieces. Pots made all in one piece may be dried more quickly, but you should turn them upside down if possible as soon as they’ve hardened up a bit. If they can’t be turned, set them on a piece of drywall (sheetrock, gypsom board, wall board) or plaster to allow their bottoms to dry evenly.

If your pots are cracking as they dry or during bisque firing, they are drying either too quickly or too unevenly. Keep them out of drafts (cover with plastic if necessary) and away from heaters or air conditioners. If you still have problems with cracking, you might need to change your clay body.

Clays go through different stages during drying. Really, they pass along a continuum from soft plastic to bone dry, but there are a few stops along the way, which I’ll describe for you as well as explain what sorts of things might be done to a pot at that stage.

  1. Soft plastic: At this stage, the clay will hold its shape, but it is easily altered. You can join pieces, such as handles or knobs, at this stage, but the softness of the clay makes it difficult to do so without deforming the vessel walls. You can alter the vessel walls, stretch the clay, compress the clay–this is the time to set the shape for your pot. It will be more difficult or impossible later. Clay at this stage is sticky, and if you attempt to carve it, you’ll have a bit of a mess, with the pieces you’re trying to carve away sticking to your tool, each other, and the pot itself.
  2. Soft leather hard: The clay has begun to firm up, but it’s still a bit sticky and you can still alter the shape of the vessel. If you want to put scallops in the rim of your bowl or plate, this is a good time for that. The clay is firm enough to hold the shapes you’re creating, but you must work gently or you could cause cracks to form. If you have decorative or functional bits you’d like to add to the pot, you can do that now. The clay is still a little too soft to easily add handles, but it’s a perfect time to add little molded pieces for decoration–say pine cones or seashells. Be sure that you don’t trap any air under these appliques, or the expanding air during firing could blow the applique off the pot. If you have any thick parts (more than 1/2″ or so), poke some holes through them with a needle tool to help them dry and avoid later explosions in the kiln. You can heal these holes on the outside of the pot if you like, and just let them have an opening on the inside of the pot. It will be filled by glaze later. If you have any enclosed hollow spots, they’ll need holes poked in (one or two are plenty) to allow expanding heated air to exit. Be careful when you’re poking these holes, as the residual stickiness of the clay may fill them in as you’re removing your needle tool. If you try to carve the clay at this point, you’ll still have it sticking to your tools, though not as bad as before, and it will tend to form jagged, sticky edges on the parts from which it has been cut away.
  3. Leather hard: The form of the vessel can’t be altered without cracking the clay. At this point, you can add handles, etc. (Remember our earlier lesson, though–as always, scratch and moisten or add slip before attaching). You can still add decorative bits as described above. This is the optimal time for trimming the bases of wheel-thrown pottery (a process I’ll get into when I start to talk about throwing). This is also the best time to do any carving you’d like to do. Ribbons of clay will fall cleanly away from the pot, making little curls that sometimes still stick to the body of the pot. Leave these fragments. When the pot is dry, you can easily brush them away.
  4. Hard leather hard: The pot is just about to start losing it’s dark, wet color. If you carve away a little strip, it won’t hang together as at leather hard, but will fall into crumbles. Still doable, but not as nice as it was at leather hard, and it will dull your tools more. You can still add stuff to your pot if you absolutely must, but it’s more likely to crack off. At the hard leather hard stage, your pot has shrunk about 6.25%. The bits you’re adding on still have that amount to shrink, so you can see where this could cause some pressure. If you have to add stuff at this stage, be sure to moisten, scratch, slip well, and keep the pottery under plastic for a week or so before you allow the drying to complete. You can still trim on the wheel, though it will be more difficult and will dull your tools more.
  5. Bone dry: The pottery is room temperature to the touch, not cool. Coolness indicates continued evaporation and an incomplete drying process. It has lightened in color and feels absorbent–like old dried out bones. This pottery is past the stage of working with, unless you break it up and dump it back into the slop bucket and let it dissolve and return to the plastic clay state. You can sand it (wear a NIOSH approved mask), but that’s pretty much it. Bone dry clay in Florida isn’t the same as bone dry clay in South Dakota because the relative humidity in these two places is very different. Clay will always be as moist as the air around it until it’s been fired.

Take care of your bone dry pieces. They’re hard, but very brittle. Don’t hold cups by the handle or lids by the knob, and be careful not to bump delicate appendages. If you do break something, you can attempt to fix it by moistening both surfaces and trying to smooth the two pieces together. Sometimes it works. Better not to break it.

Next I’ll talk about your first firing. In the meantime . . .

God bless and happy potting,


The Pottery Process in a Nutshell

20 Sep

People think that making pottery is like baking a pie. It isn’t all that hard to do, but there are some things you need to know. Because the pottery process is so mysterious to so many people, I’m going to lay down the basics.

Here’s the process most conventional, electric-fired stoneware pottery goes through in the United States. I’m not talking about the sort of pottery where liquid clay is poured into a mold–that’s a branch I’m not very familiar with. I’m talking about pottery made from clay in its plastic state.

  1. Forming: The pot is formed with any appendages, carving, etc. completed.
  2. Drying: this may be done quickly if the clay will tolerate it and the pot is of one-piece construction. If bits have been joined together to make the pot (such as coils) or if bits have been added on (such as handles or knobs or butterflies or what-not), the pot must be dried slowly under plastic for a few days and then moderately, out of the way of heaters and breezes.
  3. Bisque or Biscuit Firing: This first firing gets its name from the feel of the wares when they are fired. They have a dry, absorbent surface like hard biscuits. The typical temperature to fire bisque ware is called “cone 06” and is around 1860 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Glazing: Glazes may be applied by dipping the pot in a bucket of glaze, by painting glaze on, pouring glaze over the pot, or by spraying.
  5. Glaze firing: For cone 6 pottery, the peak temperature of a glaze firing is approximately 2232 degrees Fahrenheit, or “cone 6.”
  6. Cooling: Some glazes, particularly non-shiny or matte glazes and glazes with large (macro) crystals, require a slow cooling to reach their best presentation.
  7. Finishing: This may include grinding off glaze drips, sanding the bottoms, adding wicker handles, etc.

In the next couple of days, I’ll post articles on each of these steps (except #1, which is pretty much all of my other posts) giving you more exhaustive information.

God bless, and happy potting!


At the Potter’s House

16 Sep

I posted this to my other blog, but it seemed so appropriate to this one as well that I decided to share it with you. Pottery is a contemplative “sport,” and you end up musing a lot while you’re working. Here is one of my more recurring lines of thought:

There are potters in the Bible–did you know? As I work with a piece of clay, whether on the wheel or in my hands alone, I often think deep, spiritual thoughts. 😉 Here are some of them.

First, concerning the above passage which describes a potter making a jar on the wheel and having a problem with it. I’ve done that. If the jar isn’t too far along, you can squoosh (that’s a technical term in the pottery trade) the clay back down and start over. That’s what the potter in the passage must have done. It means he knew what he was doing, because this isn’t that easy a thing to do. Novice potters are best advised to throw the boo-boo back into the slop bucket, but an experienced potter can still make it work. I’m really glad God knows how to squoosh. He knows what He’s doing.

Usually, the problem that would cause a potter to do the squooshing technique is a flaw in the clay. Throwing pottery isn’t that difficult once you know how to do it, and an experienced potter doesn’t generally have to squoosh unless there’s something wrong with the clay–a rock, lots of air bubbles, lack of plasticity, etc.

Lack of plasticity is the worst flaw. It really limits what you can do with the clay. Again, an experienced potter can make it work, but he might have to do some squooshing. You can squoosh two, maybe three times if you’re good, but then the clay will be too tired and too wet. If you haven’t managed to make something useful of it by this time, it’s back into the slop bucket. It still gets to be a pot, but it will have to rest, be reconditioned, dried out a bit, wedged and kneaded–all rather unpleasant for the clay, I’m sure, but it shouldn’t have been so recalcitrant.

The potter is patient–otherwise, he wouldn’t be a potter. He can let the clay sit in the slop bucket for a long time, if that’s what it takes. Eventually, he takes it out in big, sloppy handfulls and slaps it onto a plaster slab to let it dry out to a workable consistency. If it’s got rocks in it, he might pour it through a sieve before he dries it out. Next, he’ll wedge the clay. This involves cutting it in half with a wire stretched from the front of his wedging table to the top of a stick he’s nailed on behind. He cuts the clay in half, slaps one half down hard on the table, slaps the other half down hard on the first piece, and then picks the whole lump up and does it again. After this, he kneads it like bread dough. He’ll knead it maybe 30-50 times, maybe mix it in with some drier or wetter clay to get the moisture content just right. Getting squooshed is actually starting to sound good to the clay by this time.

I can make all kinds of analogies with this. When we have fallen away or failed, maybe God gives us some time to soak. He’s working in our lives, softening up the hard spots, hardening up the soft spots. Just when we’ve gotten comfortably homogenous, He glops us out of the bucket and puts us on a slab to dry out. Could you equate this with times when God seems silent in your life? Times that seem really dry, spiritually? We get a little hard around the surface areas, but still soft and a little squishy inside. So he picks us up and starts to cut us into pieces and slam us back together again. He mixes us with other believers who are different from us–harder, or maybe softer . . . more or less plastic–all the time cutting us and putting us back together. Finally, the wedging stops, but at that point, the kneading begins. Over and over, the potter kneads the clay. The goal of this process is to form the clay into a cohesive mass, remove any remaining impurities, and work out any air pockets.

Next, the wheel. (I’m going to stick to wheel throwing here, since the potter Jeremiah visited was using a wheel.) The potter centers the clay. It’s important for us to have our lives centered around God–really centered. I remember reading Campus Crusade’s Four Spiritual Laws booklet. That little tract has seen some fire lately, and some of it is deserved, but there’s a lot of truth there. I read the bit where the cross is supposed to be at the center of your life, but I never really figured that part out for a long, long time. Sure, God could be on the throne, as long as he stayed in his room. I mean, everything can’t revolve around God, can it? That would be unbalanced, wouldn’t it? If you try to throw your pot before you get the clay centered, your pot will be all wopsided. Why? It’s not centered–it’s unbalanced. If everything in your life doesn’t revolve around God, that’s when its unbalanced. You will end up with a lopsided life. Until the clay is centered, there’s not a lot you can do with it on the wheel, unless you want a lopsided pot, which some folks do, but I won’t go into that.

Now it’s time to open the clay. You stick your thumbs right down into the center of the lump (with the wheel turning, of course), almost all the way to the bottom. God needs to penetrate our lives to the foundation if He’s going to do anything with us at all. A lump of clay, all prepared and centered, is no good until the potter enters it entirely and reshapes it. So you’ve got your thumbs inside the pot now. You spread them out, toward your palms, which are holding it, cradling it, limiting it’s expansion from the outside. This pushes the clay outward and, if the potter knows what he’s doing, it also begins the process of raising the walls. The clay, compressed between the potter’s thumbs and his palms, has nowhere to go but up, so it thins out and rises. This is the exhilarating part of making pottery, and the best part about being the pot as well. If the clay is well-prepared and compliant with the potter’s wishes, it can rise to far greater heights than an observer would have suspected by looking at that squatty lump of clay sitting inert on the wheel. It can contain a great deal of internal volume–a container suitable for God to fill with His mercy and love–a container suitable to hold His glory. “Now we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that this extraordinary power may (be observed to) be from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)

A good potter feels the weaknesses in the clay body (there are always weaknesses) and throws around them. The clay might not be as plastic (pliable, able to hold its form) as he likes. If this is the case, he will have to cajole it gently with his fingers, throw it more slowly, leave it a little thicker-walled, to avoid tearing it or having it slump into a lump in need of recycling via the slop bucket. (We don’t want to go there again!) He may poke a needle tool into the clay wall to remove air if there’s a bubble in the clay, and he may stop to dig out a rock that’s made it through the preparation process. These nicks have to be repaired, but they don’t have to ruin the pot, though if they’re especially bad, they may cause the potter to have to resquoosh. If the moisture content in the clay isn’t perfectly homogenous, one side of the pot may rise higher than another side. If this happens, the potter will have to trim the top edge with the needle tool and throw the excess back into the slop bucket. Our goal, in being good clay, is not to rise above the other clay, but to work in concert with it. If we exalt ourselves, we will have to be trimmed. It is God we are supposed to exalt, and we do that by being formed, in community with other believers, into a thing of beauty, a vessel of honor in the Potter’s hands.

When the pot has been raised so that it is as tall and thin-walled as the potter wants it to be, the potter will begin to refine its form. He may push some clay back in (referred to as collaring). He may curve some clay outward. He knows just how far he can push the clay. If he wants to make a particularly unusual vessel, he will let it dry for a few days under plastic, to firm up the walls, and then go back and thin and stretch them some more. This allows the potter to get the greatest internal volume possible, contained within ultra-thin walls of clay. The thinnest, most delicate pots are the most valuable. They can hold the most, being mostly internal space. I’m sure I don’t have to spell out the analogy here. All this stretching and drying out, restretching and drying out doesn’t mean God doesn’t love you and have a wonderful plan for your fellowship of believers–rather the opposite, in fact.

Sometimes, the potter will cut the vessel from the wheel head and then go back, turn it upside down, and trim away bits of pot he doesn’t want from the bottom. The pot needed these bits to anchor it to the wheel, but once it’s cut away, they must be trimmed off to expose the foundation–the foot ring–so that the vessel can be beautiful and finished from top to bottoom. The potter may add a handle or two, carve away parts of the pot to create a design, affix an applique or a knob, or make a lid, or attach a spout. God is always tweaking, isn’t He? Always finding some way to make us just a little bit better, more useful, more beautiful, and furthermore, each person and each congregation of believers is different from every other one. Different, but holding the same glory–the precious presence and power of God.

What happens next is so hard for us to understand or accept, but it is an absolutely necessary part of the process. The potter places his creation on the shelf and lets it dry out completely. How hard is that to take? It’s a kind of death, really. The pot shrinks by about six percent of its size and loses its beautiful wet color. It has to be covered for a few days, or the shrinking will crack it. The whole piece must shrink together. The clay particles get closer together as the water evaporates and the piece hardens. It’s still very fragile, but it can no longer be changed from the shape the potter has given it. It might be tempted to think it has reached an advanced state of maturity, but it feels and looks dry and lifeless.

Next, the pot is placed in the kiln. We all go through the fire in one way or another. God doesn’t let us off, for to skip the fire is not an act of love, but of severe neglect. The vessel cannot retain the water in its walls that it had while wet or leather hard, and it cannot hold water in its inner chamber if it remains in that state of dryness potters refer to as bone dry. Only the fire can harden a vessel into usefulness, and only a very hot fire can enable it to hold ordinary liquid, let alone oil, without leaking. The potter carefully regulates the kiln. If it gets too hot, it will mature the clay past the point of its being able to receive a glaze coating, and he means for it to be glazed, or coated with a hard layer of lusterous glass, gloriously colored to reflect His beauty and hold His glory. The pot may feel all alone, but the Potter is there. He, too, has been through the kiln and He knows just exactly what is needed to ready His vessel to receive its final polish.

The kiln reaches just the perfect temperature and in the perfect time frame, then it cools. The pottery inside has a reprieve as it, too, cools down. When the kiln has cooled sufficiently, the potter removes and admires each piece. He tenderly applies just the right glazes and then, guess what? Back into the kiln! And several hundred degrees hotter than the last time! You might be thinking while you’re going through this that you can’t take it. You’re going to get out of that kiln no matter what. But if you do (and you may be able to), you’ll never reach your full beauty. The Potter will be forced to sadly set you on a back shelf–He may not discard you, for He loves you dearly. He may try you out in another firing (what fun!) and perhaps He can salvage some of the beauty He intended for you, but a pot whose firing has been interrupted is never quite the same the second time through. The lesson? It hurts–seems unbearable and nearly is–the pottery must reach nearly the melting stage before it has reached its hardest and most mature, beautiful, impervious state, but the Potter knows exactly what we need and what we can endure.

Finally, the kiln begins to cool–slowly, for this will enhance the glaze’s complexity and beauty–and reaches the temperature at which the potter can finally open the door and see his creations, all glorious in their new lustrous garments. These beautiful works of art are vessels of honor, suitable to be filled with the creator’s glory, useful for sharing His mercy and love with the world–a fitting display of their maker’s wisdom and skill. Is it worth it? Maybe it doesn’t seem so in the middle of the process, but the end result is surely worth it, if only for the joy and approval of the Potter.

God bless and keep and perfect you,


Pinch Pot Personalities: Part 2

13 Sep

When we left off last time, poor Jeremy (as I’ve decided to call him) had eyes and a nose, but no mouth. What a pickle! I’m going to call Cheri’s little guy Vince, though I’m sure she would have some other name for him (that is, if she weren’t out camping this weekend, in what I’m calling a gentle, soaking rain and she’s probably thinking of as a miserable drizzle). Anyway, Jeremy’s (and Vince’s) mouth parts . . .

This is the upper lip. You can’t tell from the photo, but it’s thicker along the bottom edge. It fits in under the tip of the nose and has to be smoothed down inside the nostrils.

After scoring and dampening the area, I applied the lip and smoothed in all the edges. Note the lines on the lower part of the lip. I didn’t mean to put them there, but I’m going to leave them. After applying the upper lip, I repeated the process for the lower lip. I like to put on the upper lip first because it’s easier to work out placement, but the corners of the upper lip need to overlap those of the lower lip slightly, so I tuck the lower lip corners in under those of the upper lip. That’s if you’re going for quasi-realism. If it’s cartoony you’re after, it doesn’t matter about the corners.

As you remember, Cheri is giving Vince a different sort of mouth. Look back at Part 1 to see how she prepared her face to receive its features if you don’t remember. The mouth is all caved in like a real mouth, and she’s going to give Vince a set of dentures next. Sorry about the fuzzy photos–I was having trouble figuring out the camera’s macro feature.

As you can see, she’s made him a little rounded gum and is poking teeth into the slots. If you want to get fancy, you can use white clay for the teeth–only make sure it fires to the same temperature as your main clay. Just dip the root in a drop of water before inserting it, then pinch the gum around it firmly. And here is the finished set of chompers:

She’s just slipped them in so you can see, but she’ll be scoring and dampening, etc., of course. Doesn’t he look delightfully goofy?

Here he is with upper and lower lips in place, and he’s almost ready to dry. Meanwhile, Jeremy still needs something to stand on. I think I’ll give him feet. Real feet–well, kind of real . . .

Get two equal-sized blobs of clay and round them out into kind of a cucumber shape. You’re going to make pinch-pot feet and ankles. It’s just like making any pinch pot except you’ll be squishing it into a bootie shape and you’ll leave the arches fairly thick and the toes solid.

For my purposes, I want the walls of my pinch-pot feet to stay pretty thick to provide support. At this point, they’re as thin as I’m going to make them. The next step is to gently squoosh (that’s a technical term) the clay into a foot shape. Take off your shoes and look at your feet if you need a reference. 😉

Forming both feet at the same time will help you in getting them the same size. Once you’ve satisfied yourself with their shape, you can divide the toes from one another with a knife or needle tool or whatever you have. You can do four or five toes–cartoon characters usually have four, but I did five anyhow.

I’m using a wooden modeling tool (you could sharpen a Popsicle stick if you haven’t got anything else) to start rounding off his toes. I finished them by rolling them between my fingers. Just do whatever it takes to get nicely rounded toes. Again, do both feet before going on to the next step.

This high-tech tool is the lid to a Bic pen. It’s just right for making these tiny toe-nails and it works fine for making the toe wrinkles as well. You can go as far as you’d like to with making the feet realistic.

Jeremy’s feet are all ready to go now. Let’s try them on:

Oops! Way too tall! He looks like a naked basketball player. All I want him to do is sit there and hold my salsa. Let’s cut them off a bit . . .

There–loads better. Once you’re satisfied with the feet, mark their location, score, moisten and attach securely.

I felt almost guilty doing this to Jeremy’s cute little feet, but if you don’t poke a hole to give a hollow place access to let off steam, the expanding air and moisture during firing will make a hole of its own–usually somewhat violently. Sign your name or mark to the bottom of his foot (the only place that won’t be glazed) and cover him with plastic for a day or two to allow the various pieces you’ve joined together to equalize in moisture content and get used to hanging out together.

Cheri has given Vince a pair of eyebrows, which adds greatly to his personality, as does her decision to forgo a lower eyelid.

And here’s one more shot of Jeremy, in a classic 3/4 portraiture pose. Once Vince and Jeremy are done being fired and glazed, I’ll post another shot of them. Meanwhile, here are a couple of different pinch pot characters to give you some inspiration.

God bless,


Pinch Pot Personalities: Part One

7 Sep

As you can see, I had a little fun playing with the background for this pot in my paint program. It’s an example of a type of pottery that people have been making for thousands of years, mostly using a jug or bottle for the canvas rather than a wide-topped pot as you see here. Like so many before me, I’m fascinated with drawing, painting, and sculpting the human face. Most of my face pots are rather cartoonish, but I tried to make this one a little more realistic. Let me show you how I make these funny, fun face pots . . .

Start by making a fairly large pinch pot. I’m going to add a texture to mine, so I’ll make my pinch pot a little thicker than I normally would. Adding the texture will thin it out, and I don’t want it too flimsy because I’m going to be manipulating it a lot. In my last post, I showed you one way to make texture–this time I’m going to do something different.

This is the stamp I used for the texture on my pot. I made it by taking a blob of soft clay and pressing it into the grass outside my studio. I then affixed a knob to use as a handle, dried it, and bisque fired it. Bisque ware (ware that has had only one fairly low temperature firing) is porous, and so clay doesn’t stick to it as much as it might stick to other materials.

Supporting the pot on the inside with one hand, press the stamp repeatedly into the pot wall, against the fingers you’re holding inside, to make the texture. Keep moving the stamp around until you’ve textured the whole pot (or whatever portion you want textured). This is what my pot looked like when I had finished applying the grass texture.

This would be a good time for you to make some eyeballs for your character. Just roll several small balls of clay, making balls of various sizes that you think would be appropriate for eyeballs on your size pot. Later, you’ll cut them in half and decide which ones to use, but it’s a good idea to let them stiffen up a bit, so make them now.

The human face usually pushes out, starting with the cheek bones and down to the chin. To make my pot conform to this shape, I stretch it out by sweeping my thumb against the inside wall in the lower area of the face. It helps to cradle the outside of this area in your opposite palm, but I couldn’t do that for this photo, because someone had to press the button to take the picture and my daughter was busy.

This is what the pot looked like when I had finished stretching out the cheek and chin area. It’s possible that, in doing this, you will stretch the walls of your pot so thin that tiny holes appear. If this happens, don’t panic. Take a little ball of clay and flatten it out into a pancake with razor thin edges (but a bit thicker in the middle). If your pot is very moist, you needn’t score, but if it has dried out a bit, scratch the surfaces to be joined and dampen them with a small amount of water from an artist’s brush. Place your patch inside your pot, with the “wrong” side of your patch against the inside of the pot’s thin spot. Smooth the edges in and press the whole patch firmly into your pot’s wall while supporting the wall on the outside with your other hand.

My daughter Cheri is making pots with me today. She’s using an alternative method of making a face. She’s not worried about making the cheekbones and jaw thrust forward and has, instead, stretched the clay toward the inside to make eye sockets and a cave for the mouth. Notice that she’s already applied tripod feet to her pinch pot and that the feet are different from those described in my last post. There must be hundreds of ways to make these little feet, so experiment to find some alternatives that you think are cool.

At this point, take a ball of clay about an inch and a half in diameter and flatten it into an elongated pancake around 1/4″ thick. From it, cut a kite-shaped piece of clay, from which you’ll be making a nose for your character. The long leg of the kite shape will be the top of the nose, while the short leg will form the tip of the nose and the nostrils.

Cup the edges of your kite shape together as shown above. Curl in the ends for nostrils and use the point as the tip of the nose. Try the nose on your pot and adjust the shape and size to suit you.

This nose is really huge! I’m going to cut it down a bit. When you’re happy with the nose, trace around it with something sharp like a needle tool or a pencil.

Cheri’s character has a more reasonably sized nose.

Score the back edges of the nose, and inside the tracing of the nose on the wall of the pot, moisten the score marks with a little water, then stick on the nose.

Smooth the nose’s edges into the wall of the pot so that you don’t see the seam any more.

Smooth in the nose all around. If you need a tool, you can use anything you have on hand–a pencil works well, or a rounded chopstick. In some places, a plastic spoon is just the ticket, and the back end of the artist’s brush you’re using to paint water on also can be handy. If you feel like buying something, any ceramic supply store will have scores of wooden tools. Children’s playdough tools can be helpful, and you can often find good tools in the polymer clay section of a craft or hobby store. Other than smoothing and refining, this nose is about ready to go.

Here is Cheri’s little character with his nose all done and his eyes nearly finished as well.

And here is my nosey guy in a 3/4 pose. Eyes next. I’m going to hollow out my eyes just like Cheri did on her character, but I’m not going to hollow out the mouth.

Now is the time to cut those eyeballs in half. Use an old kitchen knife. You want one with a fairly narrow, thin blade. If you want to, buy yourself a palette knife at the ceramic supplier. Check out the different eyeball halves in your character’s eye sockets. You can stretch the sockets out a bit more if necessary. Remember, the eyeballs will be partially covered by eyelids, just like real eyes are. (Or you can leave them buggy if you prefer.)

Score the eye socket and the back of the eye, moisten with your brush, and place the eye. Wiggle it around to help it stick. Do the other eye.

Take a wee bit of clay and form it into a banana shape that is a little longer than the diameter of the eyeball. Squeeze it flat so that it is very thin, except for the edge that will lay over the eyeball. You want the edge of the lid to have a little thickness so that it will stand proud of the eyeball. Place this piece under the eye and crease it beneath the orb. Unless your pot has gotten quite hard, you don’t need to score and slip the eyelids. Smooth it out on either side. Obviously, this needs a bit more smoothing, but I’ll worry about that later. I try to remember to always do the lower lid first, because the upper lid overlaps it. Sometimes I forget, and then I have to fidget things around to make them work properly.

Before I added the upper lid, I carved away a little of the sclera (white) of the eye to leave the iris standing out from the eye slightly, as a real iris would. You don’t have to get this fancy. Sometimes I just poke a hole for the pupil and leave it at that. Unless you want your character to look really wacky, make sure the eyes are both pointed in exactly the same direction. For the upper lid, you’ll want a slightly wider and longer piece than you used for the lower lid. Flaten it out and apply it as you did the lower lid.

I’m going to stop here, as this is getting rather long. I do have the photos to continue this, however, and I’ll post the rest of the instructions soon. If you want to get started now, but would like to have complete instructions before you finish, that’s fine. Just go as far as you can, then wrap your project well in plastic. It’ll keep nicely for quite a while and I plan to get the remainder of this tutorial up by next Saturday or Sunday if not sooner.

God bless,


Pinch Pot with Tripod Feet

1 Sep

This is a quick and simple idea for dressing up a little pinch pot. Once finished, your little pinch pot with its cute tripod feet can be used to hold seasoned salts or herbs at the table, candies, paper clips . . . you name it! If you make it large enough, you can use it for salsa, but remember that clay shrinks. Cone 6 clay shrinks about 12-13% (your supplier should be able to tell you the specifics for your clay), so you need to make your bowl quite a bit larger than you want it to end up.

First, make yourself a pinch pot. If you need instructions, see my post: How to Make a Pinch Pot. Be sure not to make your pot too thin if you’d like to add a texture to it.

Ideally, you should let the pinch pot harden up for at least an hour or so. If you’re in a hurry, you can work with it as-is, but that makes things a little more tricky. You can try heating it up in a microwave oven for 10-15 seconds. If you have a less powerful oven, it will take longer. Just don’t get carried away. You want to stiffen the pot, not dry it out completely.

Now that you have your pinch pot stiffened up a bit, you can add a texture if you’d like to. I used a crocheted shawl that I picked up at a rummage sale, but all sorts of things can be used to add texture from leaves to buttons to handmade stamps.

Place the fingers of one hand inside the pot to support the wall. You’ll be pinching the fabric against the outside wall of the pot. Pinch gently, though, especially if you didn’t harden the pot first.

This is what my pot looked like after texturing. If you’d like a closer look, click on the picture. This texture is subtle and needs to be glazed and/or finished in such a way as to accentuate it. I’ll talk about that in another post, but in the mean time, ask your ceramic supplier, who is sure to have some suggestions.

Your pinch pot has a lovely texture. Now all it needs are feet.

Make all three of your feet together. Compare them to one another in order to get them all more or less the same size. Just roll up a little ball, then roll it out into a fat sausage like the one I’m holding above.

Here are the three little feet, ready to be shaped and attached to your pinch pot.

And here is how you shape them. As you have no doubt said to yourself already, the feet don’t really have to be this shape. They can be conical, spherical, square or bear feet shaped. That’s the great thing about clay–you can make any shape you like.

Just don’t make it more than an inch thick on any part of the pot, including and especially the feet. Even the dryest dry pot has some liquid stored up inside. Normally, this liquid can escape by evaporation during the initial stages of firing, but if the clay is too thick, it will explode into steam inside your pottery walls and blow up your piece. The “shrapnel” can cause a lot of collateral damabe to other pieces as well. Not a recipe for a happy potter. If you must make big fat feet, either make them hollow or poke lots of holes in them with a needle tool. If you make the feet hollow, be sure to poke a hole in them somewhere to make a way of escape for expanding air.

My tripod feet are all shaped, so I’m scoring them with this high-tech tool cut from an old jug with a pair of scissors. You can use any kind of plastic you like and make yourself a super-deluxe scoring tool just like mine. Credit cards work well, and offer the added bonus that once you do this to them, it’s hard to charge more stuff.

When you’re adding clay to clay, you usually need to score. There are times you don’t, but this isn’t one of them. Score the foot and the pot itself where the foot will be attached. This helps the add-on pieces to adhere permanently to each other.

Dip an old artist’s brush into a bit of water and apply a small amount of water to one of the surfaces you’ll be attaching to one another. Try not to damage your scoring marks.

Place the foot on the pot in the spot you’ve scored for it. The three feet should form the points of an equilateral triangle surrounding the center of your pot’s very bottom. If you get them off-center, the pot will look crooked, but that’s not the end of the world.

Put your hand inside the pot and, using your fingers, support the wall where the foot is being attached. Now you can push the foot in against the wall of the pot. Wiggle it a bit, and press it on. You can smooth the edges so that the foot appears to be part of the pot, or you can leave it separate as in the picture above. Smoothing in the edges does make the foot less likely to fall off, but is no guarantee.

Once you’ve attached all three feet, stand your pot up and look at it critically. Does it need to be scrunched down on the right side? Do it. Is there a bit of texture that needs reapplying? Make it so. Are the feet in the wrong place? See if you can’t slide them closer to a good location.

Sign your pinch pot. An old ball-point pen works well, as does a rounded pencil. I don’t like using the needle tool as it leaves sharp edges and doesn’t make a wide enough mark to guarantee it will show up under a coating of glaze, but if you like to use it, that’s fine, too.

It’s always a good idea to cover any pot overnight with plastic, especially if you have added appendages of some sort. The plastic holds moisture in and forces the pot and its attachments to equalize moisture content. This makes cracking and having bits fall off your pot less likely.

This has been a pretty simple project, but it’s a great way to make a host of useful little pots. When you get good at it, you can make quite a large pinch pot. I’ve made small tea pots and cereal bowls. If you make anything much larger than these sorts of things, though, you’ll need to allow your pot to harden and then add on coils or pinches of clay, and that’s segueing over into a different technique.

In my next post, I’ll show you how to turn your pinch pot into a little character with an engaging countenance (or whatever kind of countenance you prefer.) 😉

God bless,