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,


2 Responses to “Pinch Pot Personalities: Part One”

  1. Hull Pottery September 7, 2008 at 3:35 pm #

    Great tutorial. I’ve been looking into doing this and I may start here. Thanks

  2. cindyinsd September 8, 2008 at 12:11 am #

    Hi there!

    Thanks for your kind words. You’ll really enjoy making these little guys, though if you’ve never worked with clay, I do recommend trying out my first two projects and making enough of them to feel comfortable with clay before moving on to the faces. If you have any questions, feel free to post them.

    I liked looking at your pottery site, btw, particularly the butterfly teapot. Lots of personality there.

    God bless,


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