Tag Archives: pottery

Tallying Up

14 May

I got tired a while back of writing my business name at the top of each receipt. Yes, it’s a small thing, but it seemed to me that there were a number of reasons to have custom receipts printed. First, I wanted to give customers my information. Second, in a busy show, it’s challenging to keep up with wrapping and bagging, let alone needing to add another line to the receipt. So I went to a printer’s shop and asked for an estimate to have receipts printed. Ouch!!! Apparently they’re making them from gold leaf now-a-days. To be fair, my daughter told me later that I’d happened to stop in at the most expensive printer’s in my town. Perhaps if I’d chosen another shop things would have been different . . . .

Several hours later I’d designed my sales invoice in MS Word, and after another hour or so, I finally figured how to print them two to a page and have them end up precisely on top of one another once I cut the page in half and stacked them. (I wanted half-sheet receipts — the kind you get in most common receipt books.) About this time I was beginning to see a little bit of what the printer was charging for. 😳 Still, they had to have this stuff already templated, and besides — they presumably know what they’re doing. What took me so long might be 15 minutes for them. Still, it wasn’t 15 minutes for me! Never mind. Next time it will go faster, right? (I haven’t gotten to ‘next time,’ so I can’t say for sure, but surely it will!)

I ordered some padding compound from Dick Blick Art Supplies, and when it arrived, I took my uncut receipts to my mom’s to use her super-duper paper cutter. And it really is super duper. Only I didn’t realize that 8.5″ x 11″ paper isn’t really 8.5″ by 11″. It’s more like 10 7/8″. I should have seen that coming, but I didn’t. So as I’m sure you’ll realize straight away, I ended up cutting the first batch of receipts unevenly. Oh well. I would still make them work. After that little glitch, I cut the remaining receipts correctly, cleaned up my mess, took my precious little slips and headed back home. The pad compound worked great. I cut a back from some heavy stock, laid the receipts on top, and jogged the whole thing so that the top edge would come out even. I trapped my receipts (with the edge to be glued facing out) in a flower press my dad had made for me years earlier, and which I’ve been using as a book press. You could also use bulldog clips. I then painted the edge with pad compound, and went away and forgot about them until several hours later. Then I went into my art room to look for something, and there they were! The glue was dry, and they were perfectly padded together. Hooray! I promptly forgot (and still can’t remember) what I had been looking for.

It wasn’t enough that I had a receipt book. I wanted a folder to put it in. I chose to make it from some inexpensive watercolor paper I had previously made the mistake of buying in order to save a penny or two. It isn’t much good for watercolor, but it makes a great receipt book cover. Here’s a photo of the book, closed, after I had it at market all day. As you can see, there were a few quiet moments:

Receipt book cover with the doodles I’ve doodled so far.

And here is a photo of the opened receipt book:

The annotated receipt book cover — with receipt book installed.

When it’s been doodled all over, I’ll spray it with matte varnish and then paint matte medium over it. Then it will be easy to keep clean and nice. I wish I hadn’t used a white string, because it’s already starting to look dingy. So . . . when I get around to it, I’ll dye the string blue with a permanent marker. That should help a lot.

Counting up all the time I put into this silly little thing, the print shop would have saved me money. But it’s SOOOO cool! Plus, it won’t take me long to make the next receipt book now that I have the files ready to print. And of course the cover is reusable. I hope this will be useful to you — help you save a few dollars and give you something to doodle on in the interludes between the mobs pressing in to buy your beautiful wares. 🙂

Gearing up for Summer

11 May

Odds and Ends

I’m going to market! Market Square in Rapid City, SD is holding a weekly farmers’ market and I got invited to participate. I won’t be selling beets or bananas or beans, but if you want pottery and maybe a bit of art, stop by and say hello. The farmers’ market runs from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. Hope to see you there!

The Making of a Mushroom

1 Jul

One of the favorite projects of the kids in my pottery classes is making mushroom houses. We do some pretty elaborate ones with window boxes, hobbit doors, chimneys, etc. The kids come up with some great ideas for mushroom house beautification. I’m going to post a simpler version in this tutorial. Once you have the basic idea, you can go pretty much anywhere with it. So . . . here we go.

Start with a smooth round ball of clay. I’m going for a fairly small mushroom house and using a ball the size of a tangerine. To smooth out cracks in your ball of clay, run your thumb or finger across and back, perpendicular to the crack. If the clay is too dry, it will crack enough to make forming your mushroom house almost impossible. In this case, dip the clay in a little water and squeeze and squish it until it’s soft enough to work with.

To begin the pinch pot, stick your thumb right into the center. You should be holding the clay in the palm of your non-dominant hand. When you stick your thumb in, press until you can feel the pressure on the palm of your other hand. For a more thorough exposition of making pinch pots, please see my basic pinch pot post.

With your thumbs on the inside, press against the rest of your fingers on the outside. Turn the clay as you do this. Unlike with the procedure for making the usual pinch pot, you will be spreading the rim outward. This piece will become the cap of the mushroom. Notice there are cracks along the rim. This particular clay is moist enough, but is “short,” because it has been sitting outside freezing and thawing and all the microorganisms that normally live in clay and add to its plasticity have died. A few cracks along the rim of a mushroom cap aren’t a problem. Real mushrooms have them, too.

There’s still a ways to go, but this is the basic mushroom cap. Of course, mushrooms have all sorts of variety in cap size and shape, but this is going to be your generic mushroom type. From here, I’ll just be shaping it. It’s big enough.

As you can see, I’ve introduced a little moisture to help me smooth the cap. Unless you’re working with short clay, or overly dry clay, you won’t need to do this. Should you decide to, use a very light touch with the water. It can quickly cause your clay to lose structural integrity and either become floppy or begin to disintegrate. I’ve squeezed the edges to cause them to flare outward. Again, go easy with this. You don’t want the cap to become so thin it can’t support itself.

I used the dowel laying in the background to create a semi-flat surface inside the mushroom cap. The cap will rest on the top of the stalk here at this flat area. I don’t affix the cap until the glaze firing. The glaze will “glue” it to the stalk. I would be concerned about the dip you see in the center becoming an air pocket otherwise, and I would fill it. If you intend to stick your mushroom together pre-firing, be sure not to have any air pockets or they’ll blow apart in the bisque kiln.

Now I’m going to form the stalk of the mushroom. I’ll start with a carrot-shaped piece of clay, about the same amount as I used for the cap.

You could enter the stalk with a finger like we did for the cap, but it’s easier if you have a stick. The sharpened dowel works well, as does the end of a large paintbrush, a pencil — whatever you have on hand.

I learned recently that the above is called the “broomstick method” and is used to make quite large pots. It also works well for mushroom stalks. Essentially, the dowel is acting as a rolling pin, only it is rolling the inside surface of the cylinder. You don’t want to thin this cylinder out too much. It needs to be strong enough to hold up the cap.

Once there’s a large enough hole, stick your thumb in there and do some more pinch potting. The broomstick method creates a very regular and straight cylinder, so you need to give it a little character with your fingers. Again remember — not too thin!

Adjust the size and flatness of the top of the stalk to fit the cap, and then try on the cap to see how you like it. This one’s okay, but in my opinion it lacks a certain “something.”

There! That’s better. I’m sorely tempted at this point to give him a cute face and a guitar, but I’ll resist. He’ll lose his resemblance to a dashing caballero in a few moments.

I’m using a punch that came with a screwdriver set, but you can use an awl, a large needle tool, a round toothpick, a bamboo skewer . . . anything like that. Note the position of the tip. I want to avoid tearing the clay, so I have it laid down pretty low. It should crease, not cut the clay. You can make the door any shape you like. I decided on this one for now, but I also like hobbitish round doors. If you’re going to “open” the door (as I will below), be sure not to make it so large that its removal will make your mushroom stalk too weak to hold up the cap.

I want this door to stand slightly ajar, so I’m going to cut it out. A needle tool is ideal for this job.

After you’ve cut the door out, thin the walls adjacent to it, then smooth them out. You’ll also want to pare down the thickness of the door. Once you’ve done this, you’ll need to touch up the boards, etc. that you’ve impressed into its surface. Be sure to smooth all the edges nicely.

Once you’ve got everything thinned down and smoothed off, reattach the door in an attractive position of welcome.

It seemed a little plain with just the door, so I gave it a window as well. This mushroom house is too small for much more embellishment. I’m smoothing some of the cracks here. This mushroom house is finished. Here are a few others:

Usually I swing my hobbit doors on hinges at the edge, but I decided to pivot this one.

Cheri and I made a whole village of mushrooms. Some houses; some more realistic. Mushrooms are so cool!

I think this one maybe belongs to the village shaman . . .

I’m particularly fond of the one on the right (with the collar), though after I made it, I found one on the back trail and discovered it didn’t have a collar. The collar forms when the cap detaches from the stalk and some of the attachment is left behind. Some mushroom varieties have them and others don’t.

I made the fins under this mushroom cap by cutting over and over with a thin flexible metal pottery rib.

My daughter, Cheri, made these. I think they’re adorable. 🙂

The one on the right is a King Bolete. Boletes have pores rather than fins. They’re really cool! So that’s the end of the story for today. Hope you enjoyed it and will get out the clay and make yourself some mushrooms. They’re great on the windowsill, in a potted plant, in the garden . . . wherever you need a little whimsy.

Photography credit: Cheri Odum (Thanks, Sweetheart — you did a great job!)

Pottery Mini-Gallery

17 Apr

It’s been a while since I posted any pottery stuff here. I’ve been doing pottery–I’ve just been kinda lazy about photographing it. Here are some pieces I currently have up on Etsy, with a few notes about how I made them.
Stanley Bison started out life as a wheel-thrown bottle. His curly hump is made with extruded clay. A clay extruder is kind of like a cookie press, or the Play Dough machine you may be familiar with–you put in the dough, press down the handle, and out come star-shaped noodles (or whatever shape). So he’s wheel thrown and hand altered.

This wee dragon was a lot of fun to make. He’s entirely hand sculpted and clothed in an iron oxide wash. I like dragons.

This is Gramps the Magic Dragon. I made his body by wrapping a slab of textured clay around some wadded up newspaper. From there, I added on all the hand-built features. He was a lot of work, and I was really pleased with how he turned out.

On a more practical vein . . . this flowerpot was thrown in one piece on the wheel. I then poked in a drainage hole with a wooden tool (and my finger) and added on the pinecones from a mold I made–with a pinecone. Innovative, huh?

This bowl is wheel thrown and hand carved. The brown part is unglazed, washed with iron oxide. The iron oxide becomes permanent when the piece is fired and I love the nice warm color it gives the clay.

Well, that’s all for now. Any questions you have about how to make these things are welcome.

Blessings, Cindy

Fairy Houses

24 Oct

Well, it’s been AGES since I posted here. Busy summer, lots of good stuff, a little–um–less than good stuff–life. Here are some pictures of my daughter and a friend making fairy houses. We also made this project with our class of little girls, but kids’ classes being what they are, we were too busy to take pictures of that. When the kids’ fairy houses come out of the kiln, I might post some pictures of them, too.

Because it’s so difficult for little kids (and others) to make a decent coiled pot, I’ve thrown on the wheel and bisque fired a number of forms for them to use. Coiled or puzzled pots are easy to make either on the inside of these bisqued forms, or on the outside.

coiling on a formIf you decide to throw some forms, either for your own use or for teaching others, be sure you make the walls slope outward slightly, and make them ABSOLUTELY straight. Use a rib or a slat of wood to make sure.  If the walls curve inward at any point, it can make removing your coiled pot very difficult.

In the photo, you see my daughter in the process of adding a coil. I have the kids start these pots by making a pancake-shaped slab with their hands, beating and throwing it on the canvas table cloth. It should be a bit larger than the base of the form they’ll be using, and maybe 1/4 to 3/8″ thick. Coiled pots tend to get S cracks in the base, and this helps to prevent that from happening. Snug the slab over the base of the bisque form. If there’s too much time between this step and the next (adding the first coil), you’ll want the kids to score the edges of the slab and paint on a little bit of water. I DO NOT use slip for this, as the slip tends to stick the pot to the form.

making coil

The coil in the photo is about right for a nice, thin pot, but if the kids make theirs twice this diameter and all lumpy, that will work almost as well. Watch them closely, as they’ll tend to smooth the outside edge of the coil down to the bisque form, creating a knife edge. You want the edge nice and fat–at least 1/4″. You don’t need to keep scoring as you go along. It’s enough to score the edge of the pancake. This pot needs to be finished in one sitting, because the bisque form will dry the clay out even if you wrap it in multiple layers of plastic. I just add the coils in a spiral as I move down the mold/form, and when I run out, I make another coil and add it in where I finished the last one.  If it takes a long time to start adding the next coil, you could score just the bottom (leading) edge of the pot and paint on water before starting to add the next coil.

Don’t let the pot go too long, though, especially if you’re working on the outside surface. The clay you’re adding can shrink and then you’ll have to cut your pot to get it off the form–Bummer! One thing, though–if this does happen, try just cutting the door for your fairy house. That may be enough to release the  pot, and it could save you having to stick the whole thing back together.

When you get to the bottom of the form, cut off any excess with a needle tool held perpendicular to the wall of the pot. Just drag the needle tool right around, using the lip of the form as your guide–no need to saw. It will slice right through and make a smoother cut if you do this in a smooth motion. You should now round the edges (both the outside one and the inside one–(next to the form)). Gently pinch the edge just a little bit between your fingers to give it a rounded contour. Don’t stretch it out!

TextureBefore you take your pot off the bisque form, add any textures you would like. The pot in the picture was textured with a tree bark mold someone made of rubber mold-making compound. You can also use texture stamps–either purchased or homemade and bisque fired, natural items such as rough rocks or sea shells or bark, etc. You can use fondant rollers (look in the cake decorating section of your craft store), lace or other textured fabrics . . . the list of possibilities is endless. Access your imagination and have a look round the house or classroom or back yard.

Once you’ve added the texture, you can remove the pot from the bisque form. Hold the end of the pot with one hand and have your other hand inside the form. Give a little shake or twist or rap, and if the pot hasn’t shrunk too much, the form will slip right out. If you need some help, don’t be shy about asking. Sometimes two sets of hands are better for this job–especially if your form (and hence your pot) is large and difficult to hold. Gently set the pot down on its open end. Since you’re making a fairy house, this will be right side up. If you’re making something else–a flower pot, for example, you can set it on its bottom.

At this point, I have the little kids “glue” their fairy houses to a textured slab to form the fairy’s yard. This makes it harder to eventually light up the fairy house, but it does stabilize the base of the pot and makes it easier for the kids to work with the project. I have them cut their “yard” into a free-form shape a little bigger than the fairy’s house. They like to add mushrooms and things to it. I use a 3/8″ thick slab for this, and I let the kids choose a texture and feed it through the slab roller. If you haven’t got a slab roller, that’s okay, but I’d have some slabs rolled ahead for the kids to texture if you want them to finish their house in one session.

ChimneyThe fairy house needs a chimney. You can make one from a slab rolled into a tube, or you can make a marshmallow-shaped piece of clay and then poke a hole in it from end to end with the handle of a paintbrush or whatever’s available. With your paintbrush handle, enlarge the hole while thinning out the walls a bit and voila! You have a fairy chimney. Cut a little hole in the roof–wherever you want to let smoke from your votive candle escape–and attach the chimney on the edges of the hole. Or if you prefer, you can attach the chimney and then poke the hole. Don’t forget to scratch and moisten both edges where they’ll be attached. (The brown strip you see on the table in the above photo is the tree bark mold Cheri used to texture her fairy house and chimney.)

Locating ChimneyHere you have a photo of Cheri’s friend, Emily, deciding where the chimney of her fairy house will sit. Once you’ve decided where you want it, mark it by tracing lightly around it with a pointed object like a needle tool or a sharp pencil. That way you know where to score and poke the hole. 🙂 In the upper left, the purple thing you see is a fondant roller with which Emily textured her fairy house.

WindowsYou can now decorate and add windows, doors, etc. Remember to score and moisten and firmly attach all additions. Cheri eventually put her door on top, since she figured the fairy would want to fly in and out, and it would make for a more secure perimeter. Of course, those are pretty big windows . . . .  If you want to insert a votive candle, make sure the kids make at least one opening that will be big enough (and don’t forget that your clay will shrink–ask the supplier for specific percentages). Otherwise, you can cut a hole through the slab inside the house so that you could just set it down over the candle–in the same manner as these open-based houses will be used.

When the houses are finished, I’ll post some more photos as an update. Meantime, here’s a fairy house made from a pinch pot that I formed into a pumpkin shape.

Pumpkin House

Glaze Firing Pottery

14 Oct

You’ve got your pottery all covered in promise–that is to say, glaze. The glaze will either make or break your piece, so be sure to follow my suggestions in the post on glazing as well as reading and following any instructions that might have come with the glaze, stack your kiln carefully (nothing touching anything else, no glaze touching shelves or walls), pray, and stay within reasonable proximity to the kiln.

We’re talking about electric firing here, btw. Choose a day in which you don’t expect the power to go out. That might sound obvious, but starting your glaze kiln on a dark and stormy day could have unfortunate complications. First, the barometric pressure does make a difference in the outcome of your firing. Second, if you’re using a computer controller, lightning is not your friend. You’ll be biting your nails until you’re able to turn both the kiln and its breaker off (or pull the disconnect switch). Third, even if the power just peacefully dies without a surge, it’s better not to interrupt a firing. Doing this can have permanent consequences to your wares–sometimes good, more often bad.

Read my precautions about kiln venting given in my post on bisque firing. In fact, read the whole post again. There’s a lot of stuff there that applies equally to glaze firing. Directions for firing differ from kilns controlled by a sitter to kilns controlled by a computer device and its requisite pyrometer. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read the bisque firing post.) I’m going to put the instructions for the sitter in black and those for the computer controller in italic.

One caveat: make sure your glazed ware is dry. If you think your ware may have residual moisture left over from glazing, start your firing on low power for an hour or so.

  • I often start a glaze kiln on high power and leave it there for the whole firing, but the sitter kiln I use is at the art & science center where I teach, and I’ve made it a point not to have any sensitive glazes there. If you have glazes that need a soak at the peak temperature, you might want to turn down one or two of the elements when the firing is nearly done. You’ll know this from your past records and from the behavior of the cone packs you have placed in the kiln.
  • Some people do recommend a slower start, even for a glaze kiln, but I typically start my kiln out at full power–that is, I tell it to heat at 500 degrees Fahrenheit per hour. It will be able to do this at first, but soon it will have to slow down because it can’t deliver enough power to rise that fast. The speed at which your kiln is able to heat depends on the elements, power available to them, size of the kiln, ambient temperature, and probably the phase of the moon.
  • If you’d like to soak your sitter kiln, wait until the target cone (in my case, 5 or 6) just begins to bend, then turn one or more elements down to medium. Leave them like this for the duration of your desired soak (usually about 30 minutes or less), then, if necessary, turn them up again. Ideally, you shouldn’t have to turn them up. You should learn, by experimentation, to turn the elements down just enough so that you will slow the rise of the kiln, but not stop it.
  • If you don’t yet know what temperature will cause your target cone to bend, you’ll need to watch the shelf cones closely as the kiln approaches peak temperature. A thermocouple may read 2260 degrees F. and yet the cone 6 on your shelf may show that the firing has achieved cone 6 temperature/heat work. Set the controller to slow your firing down when it reaches about 50 degrees below your target temperature. I tell it to fire at 50 degrees an hour at this point. Then, if you like, you can also program a soak at peak temperature of 15-30 minutes. You don’t want to soak too long, or your glazes will be in danger of running off onto the kiln shelves, even if you haven’t overfired them. At these temperatures, they will have become a viscous liquid, like molasses or honey, and too much time allows them to flow into places you’d rather not have them go.
  • For all practical purposes, you are done firing if you’re using a sitter kiln. Leave the vents turned on and keep an eye on things until the kiln has cooled enough not to present a danger of fire, then just allow it to cool naturally. When it is no longer warm to the touch, you can check to see if it has cooled enough to unload. Ideally, you should wait until ware and kiln furniture can be held in the bare hands for any length of time without discomfort from heat. Once you’ve been doing pottery for a while, you can think about turning the kiln back on at around 1900 degrees and thus slowing down the cooling to encourage microcrystaline matte glazes, but that’s a very advanced technique without a computer to help you and requires knowledge you can only gain from experience.
  • If your glazes are all glossy ones, you, too, can just turn the kiln off and let it cool at this point. If you have microcrystalline matte glazes in the kiln, set it to fire down. It should be allowed to cool naturally (just program in a high number–say 500) until it reaches 1900 degrees. You should then have it cool at 100-200 degrees an hour until it reaches 1700 degrees. At this point, you can allow the kiln to cool naturally. Just don’t program another ramp, and it will end the firing. As above noted, it is best to allow the kiln to cool until ware can be easily and comfortably be handled with bare hands. You’ll have to learn by experimentation how fast to cool the kiln during the 1900-1700 phase, and it will likely differ from glaze to glaze. A longer cooling makes a more matte glaze, but you can cool so slowly that normally buttery mattes will become almost dry, and that may or may not be what you were after.

A quick word about unloading a hot kiln. I confess that I have unloaded kilns that were so hot they made my welding gloves smoke and I had to take them off and let them cool before I could continue. This is considered bad practice, but after being patient for about so long, it’s sometimes more than I can do to be patient for another six hours or so. So . . . if you choose to ignore my good advice (as I sometimes do) . . .

  • Be sure to set your hot pottery on a suitable surface–like the lid of another kiln or a fire brick or a fairly warm kiln shelf.
  • Remember that thermal shock (sudden change of temperature) is the mortal enemy of pottery and glassware. Do not allow your pottery to contact a cold surface. If you have a history of Raku, know that raku clay is especially formulated to withstand thermal shock, and it sometimes breaks anyway.
  • Do not remove pieces with large flat bottoms from the kiln–plates, platters, etc.–because they will break. They’ll crack right in two. I promise.
  • Do not set hot kiln furniture (or hot pottery) on a vulnerable or a cold surface.
  • Wear protective clothing. The best heat-proof gloves you can afford, long-sleeve, natural fiber shirt, and tie long hair back.
  • Finally, really–don’t do it. You can wait. The pottery isn’t going anywhere.

So, I’m afraid this last bit of advice is like handing a kid a condom and telling him not to have sex, but you’ll make your own decisions about this sort of thing. I did. So, you might as well learn from my mistakes so that you can go on and make new mistakes of your own. 😉

Your pottery is out. Some of it is beautiful; some of it disappointing; and some of it may even (God forbid) be stuck to the shelf. Most of it will need sanding on the bottom so that it won’t scratch your furniture. Just use regular sandpaper from the woodworking section of the hardware store. I like 80 grit, but any coarse grit will work. If you have a power sander of any kind, you can use that, but be careful and follow appropriate precautions given by the manufacturer of the tool.

If you have glaze drips on your pottery or on your kiln shelves and furniture, you can use an angle grinder with a masonry disk to clean them off. Again: thick leather gloves, goggles, long sleeves, tie back your hair, use ear plugs, dust mask. Really! Especially the goggles and the gloves and the hair tie.

Making pottery well requires a long and patient learning process (or at the very least, a helpful teacher/mentor.) I know all of this sounds complicated, but it’s no more so than any other skill and a lot less than many. It’s a lot easier than building a house, for example. Enjoy the process; don’t get too attached to any individual piece; remember it’s just mud and you can make another one. 🙂

God bless,


Pottery Photos II

5 Oct
I’ve been doing a lot of talking lately about technical stuff. My next post will be on conducting the final glaze firing using an electric kiln, but I thought you might like to see a few photos of finished pottery for a change–get an idea of what you can expect from that glaze kiln (if it turns out well). If you click on the photos, they’ll either take you to my Etsy site (if the piece is for sale) or to my Flickr site (if it’s not).

This jar was wheel thrown and is intended to hold jewelry or
homemade lotion or such. I painted wax resist on the gallery and the
lid ring and fired the lid in place on the pot. If you fire the lid
separately, it will sometimes warp and not fit the pot after glaze
firing, but if you fire the two together, you have to make absolutely
sure there are no traces of glaze anywhere the two pieces will touch.

I first threw this bowl on the wheel, but I didn’t like it. So I
fiddled with it until it looked like this. I really love it now.
This is not to say you should never give up on a pot, but don’t give
up too easily. You never know what you might make of it.

After the first glaze firing, I didn’t like this fellow’s
shiny skin. Sometimes, if you refire a pot to bisque
temperature (just put it in with a bisque load), it will
give the glaze a chance to “devitrify” or form micro-
crystals, matting the glaze. In this case, I was really
happy with the results.

This vase makes me think of something Snow White
or Briar Rose might use for a bouquet of beautiful
wildflowers–hence the name: Forbidden Forest Vase.

And here are the wildflowers themselves. 🙂 I carved them
into this cup. The dark brown unglazed bottom is colored with
an iron oxide wash–that is, an unspecified quantity of
red iron oxide mixed into a bucket of water. If your pieces
come out too dark, mix in some more water. If they’re not brown
enough, add more red iron oxide (RIO). You want maybe a cup or less
to a gallon of water, and you’ll notice that you need to stir it a lot.
My daughter made this little guy, while she was teaching a bunch
of kids to make them, too. I was teaching wheel, so I was glad to have
her taking care of the kids who couldn’t get on the wheel (we have only
four wheels and in this class there were 8 kids). They all made cute
puppies and kittens, but of course, non as cute as my little girl made.

I made this mask during a class teaching, guess what? Masks! I sort of
thought he looked like Pan, so that’s what I called him.

Well, that’s it for now. I’ll try to get back to you with instructions and tips for the glaze firing sometime next week. Then you’ll be all set to go! 😉

Until then, make lots of pottery!


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 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,


Some Pottery Photos

17 Aug

Hi, Guys

I thought you might enjoy seeing a couple of photos of different pinch pot creations. I don’t have time to photograph steps for another How-To pinch pot post right now–I’ll try to get to it this coming week. If you want to try out any of these projects, you do need to know one or two things, so I’ll just tell you quickly . . .

First: whenever you join two pieces of clay (in most cases), you need to rough up the surfaces that will be joined. Scratch them with a plastic fork, or to make a better tool, cut little pointy teeth out of the edge of an old gift card or a bit of plastic from an old food container or whatever you’ve got, then use this toothed tool to scratch up the surfaces–do a thorough job.

Second: wet one of the scratched (scored) surfaces with a bit of water–just use an old artist’s paint brush. This is the only thing you’re allowed to use water for when making pinch pots! And don’t use more water than necessary. I don’t give my kids water because they can’t control themselves and they end up dissolving their pots, but you guys can handle it, right . . . ?

Wiggle and press and smooth the two pieces together until they’re well stuck.

Third: whenever you join pieces of clay together, you need to dry the pot more carefully, so cover your creation with a plastic sheet or grocery bag for a day or two. Otherwise, the joined pieces might come apart.

So, here are some photos of things you can do with pinch pots. If you have a preference, tell me which one(s) you’d like instructions on and I’ll try to accommodate you. The teapot and whistle are advanced projects, though, so it’ll be a little while before I get to them.

I made the little rabbit hole with tree roots hugging it to show to my students. I tell them their pinch pot is like a rabbit’s hole and they mustn’t make the opening too large or foxes will get in and eat their baby bunnies.

My daughter Cheri (16) made this frog house with the frog and snail. The mushroom is made of two pinch pots–the cap and the stalk–fastened together and embellished with windows, doors, shingles, etc.

We did a whole village of these little frogs with their abodes. Some of the kids sculpted other animals, birds, etc., instead of the frogs. These two little amphibians are mine. One of the perks of the job–you get to make cool stuff.

I have some home-made clay roulettes that I use to add textures such as this one on the goblet. I’ll show you how to make them at some point–they’re not difficult. The funny looking piece on the bottom is a maraca or rattle. We did a class on musical clay and this was my sample project.

The teapot is a very large pinched pot with pinched lid and slab-built/pinched spout and tripod feet with a pulled handle. It has a built-in strainer for loose leaf tea. I just sold it, so I had to make another one (only different)–it’s drying now.

This little dragon whistle plays a four-note scale. My daughter wanted to paint him, so he’s the only piece here that’s not glazed. Glazing pots isn’t an absolute requirement unless you’re going to put food in them, and painting with acrylic can be very effective on the right sort of piece.

I hope you enjoyed my photo show and I look forward to posting how-to’s on some of these soon.

God bless,