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Throwing-Pots-art - 11/21/01


"Throwing Pots" by Lady Artemesia Serena. Using a potter's wheel to shape clay pots, drinking vessels and other clay items.


NOTE: See also the files: pottery-msg, pottery-whels-msg, p-tableware-msg, utensils-msg, glasswork-msg, ceramics-bib, Ceramics-Intro-art.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set

of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


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Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be

reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first

or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


                               Thank you,

                                    Mark S. Harris

                                    AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                         stefan at florilegium.org                                        



Throwing Pots

by Lady Artemesia Serena


Ceramics is one of the oldest art forms known to man.  As far back as Neolithic Period, people have been making ceramics.  Most clay objects found from early periods (21st century BC and older) were mainly utilitarian or ritual vessels, and vessels have since been the main stream of several countries ceramics industry (foremost in China).


Clay is sediment from (igneous) rock that was formed by erosion, developing into a variety of textures, colors, firing temperatures (how much heat does it take for it to form back into it's rock-like state) and pliability.


While these is still questions on who was the actual inventor of the wheel, most potters believe that sometime during the 4th century BC, the potter's wheel was invented in the coastal region of northern China.  The potter's wheel is basically two rotating disks connected to a spinning cylinder (like a spool of thread).  The top wheel is called "the wheel head" and is used to shape the clay on, while the bottom wheel is used to rotate the wheel head by kicking at it, providing momentum. In some cases the cylinder is squared off and pushed with someone's feet (they are normally laying on the ground, on their sides), or there are hook wheels that are powered by a stick hooked into a hole in the wheel head and is rotated around quickly by hand, then unhooked to shape the clay.  Nowadays, there are electric powered wheels (as well as the older forms still in use).


Throwing clay is called this because experienced potters would throw their lump of clay onto the center of the wheel head, as it was still moving.  The lump of clay is manipulated on the wheel head using the potter's hands and tools, forcing the sediment into various shapes.  These shapes vary, but most of the objects are round in shape, such as bowls and vases.  In parts of Turkey and the Middle East, some of the wheel designs that were created in the time of Christ are still being used to this day.


When throwing, all ceramics start off as a cylinder or variation of one.  Consider each ceramic form in its simplest design.  A bowl is a rounded cylinder.  A plate is a flattened cylinder.  A vase is a manipulated cylinder.  If you can master the cylinder, you can master any ceramic form.


I will be using a clock layout to help instruct positions of your body.  Sitting as close to the wheel head as possible with your knees on either side of it is highly recommended, trying to have as much of your body (you should be able to look straight down over your piece) over the center of the wheel head as possible (this gives you leverage when throwing).  If you find your chair isn't tall enough, you can always use extra phone books or pillows to sit on to raise yourself higher.


You should be sitting at the six o'clock position with a bucket of water, some sponges (two is enough), a needle tool (a stick with a needle on the end), a small piece of cellophane (about two or three inch square of it is enough), a wire tool (two bits of wood tied together with a thin wire), a trimming tool (a metal sharpened loop that is housed in a stick) and a wooden rib (a piece of carved wood that fits in your hand, that is sometimes "D" shaped) within comfortable working distance.  Depending on your preference, you can put the bucket to 11 o'clock or 1 o'clock positions.


Here are the steps to throw a bowl.  


1. Take some wedged clay (which was kneaded smooth and all of the air has been driven out of it) and form it into a ball.  Do not fold the clay over at all or else you could put air into the clay.


2. Drop the ball into the center (or as close to it) of the wheel head and pat it into a pyramid shape.


3. Start spinning the wheel and moisten your hands and the clay with a wet sponge.


4. Using your index finger, you want to press it against the clay and the wheel head at the pyramid's base to adhere the clay to the wheel head.  Make sure that the clay is completely attached to the head.


5. At nine o'clock position is your left hand and at three is your right.  Starting from the top of the pyramid, run your fingertips down its side to its base, pressing the clay down to the wheel head.  This should be a slow and smooth process (and with all actions on the wheel).  As you press down, there should be "rings" than form where your fingers touch the clay that is called "throwing rings".  When you see the rings, this is a good sign you are doing it right.


6. Starting from the base of the pyramid, use the palms of both hands at 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock and gently squeeze the clay, pulling the clay straight up towards the ceiling.  This is an even pressure, working with the clay.  If the clay is too dry or too soft, the pressure you use needs to be compensated in order to not rip the clay free from the wheel.


7. Moisten your hands whenever possible!  The more slurry (heavily watered down clay) and water you have on your hands when you work, the easier it is to move the clay!


8. With the 9 o'clock hand, face the palm against the wall of the clay, slightly cupping it.  Prop your elbow up against your knee or elbow, anchoring it down so it doesn't move! This is EXTREMELY important in order to center the clay!


9. The palm of the right hand comes over the top of the pyramid, fingers slightly curved.  Start pressing down on the clay into the anchored 9 o'clock hand (which is basically acting like a mold to center it).  Keep an even, slow pressure on the clay bringing it down so the entire lump becomes centered against the anchored hand and you have a slightly rounded top.


10. Your right hand index and middle fingers are placed together and raised above the clay, pointed directly at the center of clay and at the wheel head.  Keep your fingers straight, vertical from the wheel head, and your hand steady by holding your wrist with your left hand before entering the clay.  Slowly pierce the clay (your fingers will twist as you open the clay) and occasionally stop and measure the thickness of the clay bottom with a needle tool to make sure you don't go all the way down to the wheel head.


11. Same two fingers in the clay, run the fingertips across the bottom and pull the wall towards the 6 o'clock position, further opening up the clay.


12. A wet sponge is then run from wall to center across the bottom several times to smooth and compress the floor.


13. Time to do your first pull!  Lifting both hands flat, interlock your thumbs together.  Slip your left hand into the inside of the cylinder and the right on the outside. You will be working at the 3 o'clock position.  Starting with your fingertips at the very bottom edge of the clay walls on opposite sides, press them together. And behind to slowly run your fingers up the walls.  Keep the pressure even and try to keep both hands and fingertips across from each other .  Slowly run up the wall and completely off of the piece in one flowing move. The idea of this is that you are pulling the walls up, thinning them.


14. After each pull, set the rim flat by either cutting the excess off the top with a needle tool or run the edge of your index finger against the lip (to steady your hand, you can rest your index finger across the lip and use your other hand as a frame, to make a "D" like shape).


15. Do several pulls like in step #13, following with #14 until you get the desired wall thickness. You want to have all the walls be even in thickness.  Stop pulling the walls when you are comfortable with the wall thickness.


16. Taking two soaking sponges, hold one on the inside wall (again we are working at the 3 o'clock position) at the very bottom, and hold the second sponge against the outside of the wall as a mold.  Begin to push from the inside out, keeping the outside sponge steady as you beginning to round out the cylinder into more or a bowl shape.  Slowly run the inside sponge up the wall (like a pull only now you are only pushing out and shaping, not lifting the clay anymore) and past the lip. Do this several times until you get the shape you want to keep.


17. Once you have the shape settled, take the cellophane and get it soaking wet.  Bring it gently over the lip of your bowl as it spins, holding the edges on either side of the wall (one edge held from the inside of the bowl, and the other outside).  Allow the plastic to smooth and round out the lip.  Remove the plastic once you've gotten your ideal effect to you.


18. Wipe off any excess water with your sponge.


19. Wet down the wheel head heavily with your sponge, and taking the wire tool, slowly run the wire between the very base of the piece up against the wheel head.  You can either do this while the wheel is spinning slowly, or just run it as it is completely still.  The more water you can drag under the piece, the easier it will be able for you to slide it off the wheel.


20. Gently push the bowl across the wheel and into your other hand.  Set the bowl down gently and flat on a piece of wood or a plaster bat so that the bowl is being supported at all sides.


21. Allow to dry until it is "leather hard" which is still moist, but the clay is firm.


22. Once it is leather hard, remove the bowl from the bat (either use the wire tool, a needle tool or sometime you can pull it off with a little gentle tug), flip it over and rest it onto the center of the clean wheel head.  Center the bowl (gently move the bowl across the wheel head by lifting or sliding, careful not to damage the lip) and anchor the bowl down once it is centered with a clay coil.


23. With the trimming tool in hand, even out the bottom of the bowl's walls, thinning and shaping them out further.  Make sure you don't trim too much or you may make a hole in your pot.


24. Figuring out thick your walls are, rest your tool that far away from the edge of the bottom and trim out a grove.  This is your foot.  


25. Pointing the trimming tool in the very center of the bowl's bottom, begin to trim away the excess clay and stop at the grove.  You basically should see a short walled cylinder as your base.  Keep trimming until the bottom and your walls are all equal thickness.


26. Smooth the bowl's surface with a moist finger tip.


27. Sign your name and fire it in a kiln to roughly 1900 degrees.  Glaze it and you're done!


Copyright 2001 by Mercy Neumark, P.O.Box 9957, Canoga Park, CA 91309. <mneumark at hotmail.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in

the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also

appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being

reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org