Tuesday, April 14, 2015

throwing a pot: the basics

For those of you new to my blog (or my background), my parents are potters and I've spent my entire life around clay.  I was introduced to clay long before painting and spent a great deal of time dabbling in pottery as a kid. Growing up my mom and dad ran a successful pottery business from their home studio- I spent my childhood watching my dad throw pots on the wheel and my mom run a wholesale tile business. My brother and I spent weekends and summers at craft shows and art galleries so it's really no surprise I grew up to be an artist!

Lately we have been spending a lot of time working with clay and today I have teamed up with my dad Jon to share the basics of throwing on the wheel. While I know clay, a wheel, glaze and a kiln are not easily accessible for everyone, I am hoping some of my pottery posts will inspire you to think about playing with clay or even try throwing on the wheel at least once in your life- I promise it will completely change your view of the creative process forever.

Throwing on the wheel is CRAZY DIFFICULT and even though I learned at an early age, it never stuck with me. My dad on the other hand is a pro and makes it look so easy! Back in college he was a photography major and after taking a pottery class, he fell in love with clay and the rest is history. He has been throwing for over 40 years and spent most of those years making a living selling pottery.

Today we have simplified the process in a handful of steps to give you an idea of how it all works! If anything, I hope that you reach the end of this post with a greater appreciation for handmade and hand crafted items.

Throwing on the wheel starts with pounding your clay into a ball. Then that clay ball gets thrown with force onto a wood bat. A wooden bat is a round removable piece of material (wood, plastic or hybrid material) that is placed on the wheel. The purpose of a bat is to easily remove the thrown pots from the wheel. 

Next the clay needs to be centered. This is often the trickiest step, especially for beginners.   I am terrible at centering my clay and I always have to ask for help! My husband Andy on the other hand, is really good because he has a lot of patience and some strong arms.

With wet hands, the clay gets cupped and squeezed into a tower shape and then pushed down- doing this a few times helps center and align the clay. 

Once the clay is centered, it is time to open things up. Poking a finger into the top of the clay is the beginning and then pulling the clay out until that hole becomes larger creates an opening.

The next step is to raise the walls. This process typically involves squeezing a sponge and your index finger against each other to  slowly raise the clay.

For a seasoned pro like my dad, this process is easy- after years of making pottery, he knows by instinct exactly how much water and pressure it takes to raise the walls of a pot. On the other hand I am still a rookie and always seem to squeeze too hard, use too much water or overwork the clay which means things can fall a part. Thankfully clay is forgiving and mistakes can be fixed.

The process of raising the walls can also include altering the shape of the pot- pressure, pulling, even using a variety of tools can change the shape of a pot.

All of these steps put together look a little something like this:

See what I mean about it looking easy! This video was barely edited which means it took my dad 1 minute and 17 seconds to throw a simple bowl. I have been watching him do this since I was a kid and it never ever gets old!

Once a pot is finished, it needs to dry and then it will get trimmed when the clay is firm enough to be handled without damage but not quite dry. Trimming totally transforms a pot, can clean up mistakes and even change the shape. I'll be sharing this process in the coming weeks.

Looking to try working with clay or throwing on the wheel? There are all kinds of resources out there for learning how to throw, here are a few:

  • There are TONS of videos and "how to" pottery resources online. If throwing on the wheel is calling to you, start by doing a little research. Ceramic Arts Daily is a great resource and has all kinds of information on in their forums. You can also find all kinds of video tutorials on YouTube that show all kinds of different potters throwing!
  • The best way to learn is in person so I would recommend starting by doing a little research to see what is in your area. Often community colleges or art centers will have pottery classes. This is a great way to learn and have the opportunity to use equipment.
  • Another option would be to see if there are local potters in your area who teach workshops or would be willing to give private lessons. I cannot stress enough how helpful it is to learn from an experienced potter and good teacher!
  • There are clay companies and pottery supply stores around the country, especially in larger cities. This is where you are able to buy clay and pottery supplies but often they also offer workshops. A quick internet search will be able to tell you if there is something in your area.

You can check out my entire series of pottery posts HERE and stay tuned for more clay inspiration coming your way!



Amazing! wonderful article Alisa..

szyju szyju... said...


Amanda T. said...

I've always been nervous about pottery after a disastrous class in high school, but this is inspiring me to give it another go! Thanks for sharing the process.

And I hope this means new pottery coming soon to your shop!!! :)

Unknown said...

I used to watch my grandpa do this and he made it look easy too! He would tell us kids that making the wheel spin was like pressing the gas pedal--I can still hear him tell me to ease up and seeing the clay flop to the side. ;) I never learned how to do it but it is addicting to play with--so wish I had a wheel now! :)

MissAdventureArt said...

I dabbled in pottery a bit when I was in school, but I could never master it. Not even close. My bowls usually ended up lopsided and flying off the wheel.

Your dad, on the other hand, is clearly an amazing potter. Watching that video of him was like watching a magic show.

susan w said...

Very clearly written sequence. Just seeing the photos reminds of that feeling when the clay "Whoomp!" and slides off center. I agree that watching a pro throw is forever awe inspiring. Thanks for the inspiration

Anonymous said...

This is one art form I miss desperately. I threw pots for several years in college (with Wally Schwab at PCC in the Portland area!!) and I can honestly say there's nothing more satisfying than checking the table after a batch of pottery came out of the glaze firing, to see how it turned out. I have some pieces in my studio that fill me with joy on a daily basis. OK, finally being able to center, then raise the walls, then shape the clay (almost) at whim is TOTALLY satisfying and exciting too. = )

Chrissy said...

Love it! I really want to try this!!

dawn said...

Love reading about your parents, so neat how all of you are into some form of art and share it with each other. My pastor actually does this, has his own new shed in the yard just for him and enjoys it so much. Thanks for sharing this with us, really enjoyed it.

Unknown said...

This is something I have always wanted to try, but sadly only smooshing up clay in high school art class is the closest I've ever come. It looks so difficult but I feel like once you got it, it would be so much fun!!!

Megan || www.ohheyblog.com

rillamom said...

This takes me back to when I had my own pottery studio.....alas, I can no long throw....I loved the whole process....mixing my own clay, throwing, slab making, extruding, making my own glazes....thanks for the memory!

jackie said...

I totally agree.......you should try at least once in your life! I was an art major and one of the classes was pottery. We had to throw pots and it is very difficult! I admire anyone like your dad who can throw something on the wheel and make it look so incredibly wonderful! Thanks for the post!

Unknown said...

This totally took me back to my days in undergrad when I too feel in love with clay! Thanks for sharing!!

suplemen pemutih wajah said...

great post
really nice

pippin said...

I was terrible at ceramics in college, because I could NEVER center the clay! Thus my pots were al lopsided. I still stick to painting. What cool parents you have. Pippin


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