Ceramics Tutorial

Ceramics/Pottery can be a very lengthy and expensive process, as some of you may already know. Most "batches" from start to finish will be done in two weeks. Patience is definitely a MUST for this craft! And if you don't have very much (like me), it is forced upon you. So I'm just here to talk a little bit about how I prepare, make and finish my products.

 

Some materials that I use are: 

-A Pottery Wheel

-Clay

-Various Tools

-HANDS! :)

-Water (lots and lots of it)

-Kiln 

-Ready-made Pottery Glazes

 

First things first! Getting the clay ready. I buy my clay online in 25 LB bags, so I cut about an inch or two off the top. Once you've got that, go ahead and seal up the bag so your clay doesn't get dry. After your bag is sealed, then you will begin to "wedge" the clay, which is a lot like kneading bread dough. There are many different ways and technics for doing this, but the way I wedge mine is by using the "Ram's Horn" method. Using the bottom part of your thumb in your palm press down on both sides slightly. Rotate the clay towards you and do that same motion again. After doing this several times, and rams-head shape will begin to form! You will continue to wedge the clay, changing direction every so often, until in is well mixed and  throwing ready!

When your clay is ready, roll it into a cylinder and weigh it. I will be using 1 LB of clay in this demonstration. Cut your clay with the wire tool and weigh until you have the desired amount. Pat it down into a sphere or cone shape.

Throwing: Get your preferred tools, a bucket of water and a sponge ready. Sit at your wheel and grab your ball of clay! Now the messy fun begins! Put one or two drops of water on the wheel and throw your clay (like seriously, throw it) onto the wheel-head as close to the center as possible.  The clay will most likely be a little bit off-center and since you want it as center as possible, you will have to "center" it. To do so, start your wheel at medium-high speed going clock-wise. Grab your sponge and squeeze water onto your clay, doing so every time the clay begins to get dry throughout the entire throwing process, this is a crucial step. Using both hands, press the clay in at the bottom so that it starts to rise up the middle. Then, holding your right hand (and I will be demonstrating this right-handed, because thats all i know!) on the right side, and using your left thumb-palm (same as before), press down on the top of the clay to bring it back down. Do this several times to loosen the clay and help center it. 

After you feel that your clay is centered, bring your wheel speed down to medium low. Don't forget water!! Press your thumb into the center of the clay, making a hole. Don't press down all the way! Make sure you leave about a quarter inch on the bottom, more if you want to trim a foot later. Now overlapping your fingers in the front of the clay, curl your fingers toward you, opening the clay up at the bottom until you reach the desired wideness. Press down with your sponge until its smooth and even.

To pull: Pulling up the sides is the toughest in my opinion. It takes a lot of technic and practice to get it right. So keep in mind that this is my way of doing it, and it works best for me... On the right side of your clay using your right pointer finger knuckle on the outside and two - four fingers from the left hand on the inside, start at the bottom. Begin to press your fingers together, compacting the clay and pulling it towards the top. Slowly release your fingers. Continue in this manner until all of your clay is evenly distributed. If your would like a certain shape, then do the same motion but push your fingers out or in, depending on what you would like (for this shape: out, in, out). Now trim any unwanted clay from the bottom with your wood tool and cut it off of the wheel with your wire cutter. Dry your hands and very carefully take it off of the wheel onto a shelf. Refrain from touching/reshaping it until after 10-15 minutes.

Trimming: After your piece is leather-like to the touch (about 8 hours later for me, less in the summer) it is ready to trim! Center your piece onto the wheel-head and use extra clay to hold it on (see picture). Always working to the right side of the clay, grab a trimming tool and begin to carve away excess clay off the bottom as desired, leaving a foot, a smooth or textured bottom! When it is finished, stamp or sign your name on the bottom! If you would like to attach a handle:

Handle: Handle making is very fun! You are pretty much unlimited in what you can do. Hand-building seems like a pretty obvious process. Just get some clay and form it how you see fit! Hand-building is what I have down with this process. For this particular handle, just roll out some clay, smooth the surface with the metal rib and cut out a long rectangle. Roll both ends, opposite ways until it fits your mug. For pulling: (not shown) grab a hand-full of clay that fits in your fist. Roll it out slightly and tap the top until it looks like a large nail. Keeping it in your left fist ("nail head" on top), get your bucket of water and dip your right hand pointer finger and thumb in. Now form a hole between them by touching the tips of those fingers together. Place the clay into your finger circle and very slightly press together as you pull down the handle. Continue in this manner until the desired length. Let dry for 10 minutes and then cut it to fit your mug. Now this is how to attach, for pulled or hand-built handles. Take your needle tool and "score" (scratch) the surface of the clay that will touch the mug and then score where the handle will touch on the mug. Add water (or slip, which is watered down clay) to the scored area and press gently, but firmly together. Make sure to keep one hand on the inside of your mug for support. Now just let it dry until it's in a bone-dry state! This stage of the clay is called "Greenware".

The First Firing: Once you have enough pieces that are bone-dry, you can begin your first firing! Load your kiln, very carefully with all of your work and set it up to fire to ^04 (Cone 04) which is about 1,950 degree fahrenheit. My first firing usually takes about 7-8 hours to fire and I let it cool over-night for 12-14 hours, sometimes longer if it isn't cooled enough. After it's cooled enough, you can unload and begin the glazing process. This stage of the clay is called "Bisque".

Glazing: Glazing is quite simple when using pre-made glazes. Shake or stir your glazes until well mixed and then just paint about three coats on the surface of the bisque pieces. Make sure to leave about 1/4 inch of raw clay at the bottom. When they are all glazed and dry, you may then start the second firing.

The Second Firing: Once again, you will load your kiln. The glaze firing is much different than the bisque firing. None of the pieces can touch, or they will be stuck together forever! :) So load your kiln with the pieces separated or up on stilts to prevent them from sticking to the kiln shelves. Set your kiln up for a ^6 (Cone 6) firing which will be about 2,250 degrees fahrenheit. This firing generally take 5-6 hours for me. It will then cool over-night, as before. And now comes the best part, opening the glaze kiln. It's definitely like christmas morning! You really never know what your gonna get! Some pieces will be completely different than what you expect (especially when using a new glaze, mixing glazes or you accidentally switch glazes, which has happened). Now you can enjoy your finished product!!

Thank you for reading all of this and I hope this has helped you get a better idea of how ceramics are done. Please keep in mind that this is my process and there are MANY different way to do this. If pottery is something you've always wanted to try, I highly suggest you try it. It is very rewarding.

 

* to see more of Blythe's work visit her Website or Instagram.

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