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Wedging: it’s not about air bubbles!

Wedging. Who writes about wedging?

Isn’t it to get the air bubbles out? (NO!) And wedging is one of those zen practices that supposedly take 3 years to learn to do right?

Or, is it, in my experience, to get an internal coil going in your clay so that when you are throwing and you start to center on the wheel, your clay doesn’t fight you and centers up easily?

Why we wedge is something many potters know or have known throughout time but is still something I think should be discussed again; especially for art educators out there.

For years and years – and still! I have wedged “Japanese style”; spiral wedging (pointy end under my left hand, right hand on the fat- butt-end) with the spiral – at the fat end of my clay- running counterclockwise. That is, if you looked down on the fat end and imagined the spiral turning, it would spin into the center going counterclockwise.

Yes, I painted on the clay to try to show the spiral direction- which is counter clockwise when the fat end is pointing up- but when you put it on the wheel- it’s going clockwise!

Then I  plopped that fat end of the clay down on my wheel-head and proceeded to throw American style with the wheel running counterclockwise (and the internal spiral going against that- clockwise) and I would very frequently have to battle my clay a bit to get it centered.

So often,– and especially after I got really consistent and more skilled at throwing– I noticed my clay would just refuse to totally center. It would get this little blip- a wobble, a part that seemed like it simply refused to settle down and let me get the clay all-the-way centered and I knew I was doing everything else right. Even if I coned it up and then brought it down just right, there would be that little blip again that I would end up trying to work around. Or, after I got the walls pulled, I would wonder why my pot would suddenly get some sort of odd wobble in it for no apparent reason.

Why did my un-wedged smaller lumps of clay behave so much better? For a while I gave up wedging anything that came straight out of the bag but for large pieces, it was pretty tiring getting it centered.

Finally, overhearing another teacher at Lill Street mention offhandedly something about the spiral helping to center the clay and, at some other point, after beating my clay into submission yet again and feeling like I was not going to always be this strong, a careful examination of the direction of my coil came the realization that the way I wedge was Japanese (the wheels in Japan go clockwise) but my throwing is western ((American wheels spin counter clockwise)

And it takes a fair amount of visualizing to figure out which way the internal coil in the clay is going once you’ve popped it onto the wheel. The fact of the matter is, it was pointless to wedge my de-aired, pugged clay if I was going to put the internal coil going against the spin of my wheel!


I don’t know how many countless people, students, educators, etc, have asked me, “don’t we need to wedge the clay to get the air bubbles out?” The answer is an emphatic NO!


Air bubbles in and of themselves are not a problem! It’s only the moisture* they hold that cause explosions. If something is properly dried, you will rarely have explosions.

So please don’t waste your time or your students’ creative-time wedging clay that has been already de-aired in a pugger- i.e. any commercially made clay- clay you would buy in a box.

This clay has been de-aired in a  pugmill. There are usually no air bubbles in it!

In fact, improper wedging will more often add bubbles and you’ll just dry out your clay in the process.

Simply make sure the pieces get enough drying time and have no plaster mixed in with the clay- that IS a sure recipe for explosions.

So why DO we wedge?

When it’s for throwing**, it’s for getting an internal coil in the clay so it’s easier to center the clay. I do not wedge anything under 2-3 lbs if it comes straight out of the bag,I save that effort of wedging in an internal coil for larger pieces of clay when I would be wrestling to get a piece centered.

Here’s how I currently work: any clay straight out of the bag under 2.5 lbs doesn’t get wedged.

It’s airless and too small to matter. 2.5 -3 lbs get wedged the “new way” trying to train my poor hands to reverse their roles and anything over 3.5 lbs is wedged the “old way” and then flipped over.

Did I find it easier once I flipped my wedged clay upside-down onto the narrow point but with the internal coil now “tightening” when my wheel head went around?……Immensely.

All those old problems disappeared and it was much easier to center. Just recently I forgot to flip a wedged piece, began to center it, felt the blip and realized what I’d done and so I actually cut it off the wheel and turned it over and then it was just fine. What a great illustration of what I’d been learning.


And yes, I mentally slapped my forehead for not figuring this all out years earlier!

Oh well, better late than never and since I didn’t figure it out for so long, I thought I’d share what, in retrospect, seems like an obvious fact with all you out there who may have also missed it.

*Why is moisture a problem? Once the clay hits the temperature of water boiling, any water will, in fact, boil and turn into rapidly expanding gas which has no space to expand. The result? An explosion as the gas pushes the clay “out of its way”.

**There are just a few uses for wedging when you hand-build. Chiefly it would be to “even out” clay that had been stored a long time- say one side is a bit drier than the other. When I hand-build I use it to make sure my slabs shrink back evenly in all directions- but just take a look at my blog entry on throwing a slab vs. slab rollers for an explanation of that.


And while I’m on the topic of de-aired clay, I had a batch of reclaim that I took to a friend’s house and used their Soldner mixer to get it back in shape. I ended up with 300lbs of porcelain filled with micro-bubbles. I slam-wedged it quite a bit but I could never get out all the millions of tiny bubbles so I tried throwing with it. It was very interesting! I could throw a lot taller with it, The clay was stiffer and a bit shorter. “Shorter” in clay terms means that it is less plastic, it won’t stretch as much. Clay is always a balance between wonderful elasticity and not having floppy collapsing clay. In porcelain, I feel that line is even more delicate.

It was great to make a lot of tall and large things out of grolleg porcelain and I simply avoided pulling handles from it or bringing down wide rims or even making a pitcher spout with that particular clay. I used my regular clay to make handles and they fit the mugs I threw just fine. My other concern was a lumpy surface and I did 2 things; I ignored it and the bubbles seemed to flatten out in the firings and I also took a serrated rib and ran it over the whole surface while I was throwing and then smoothed it again. Neither method was perfect but I used up (and sold the end products) of all 300 lbs.

When I discussed this batch of clay with my friends who had lent the mixer, he had also mixed a batch of porcelain with similar results, a stiffer clay. He quoted a old potter who said “pugging ruined clay”



This is one of those posts where I would very much welcome comments from potters who will know more about this than I do.

So what are your thoughts and opinions on wedging?









Posted 2 years, 8 months ago at 2:05 pm.

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Hand-built plates by Kip O’Krongly

Just a few of the women potters of Northfield were able to gather at Kip O’Krongly’s studio this past week to watch her demonstrate how she makes her wonderful handbuilt terra cotta plates.1 kip's finished plates

My first caveat in this tutorial is that Kip works with Terra Cotta and additionally, it is a custom recipe of hers. That said, I do believe most any Terra Cotta will work and possibly stoneware. What I’m really not sure about is if you could do this with porcelain! Those higher fired clays tend to get a little slumpy at cone 10. I plan to try this in the spring and will post results (eventually!)


What you will need:

A file folder or other heavyish card stock for templates

Cutting tool like this8favorite tool or a needle tool

Rolling pin and 2 ¼ “ thick sticks or a rolling pin like Kip has with rubber washers that set the depth or maybe a slab roller

And an extruder that looks like a calking gun. I’m sure you could try the whole thing out with just a coil  but if you were going into production, you’d probably like to have the extruder.

Banding wheel(s)

Scoring tool


Yellow rib

A beveling tool with a rubber tip

Here we go:

Kip took about a pound of clay and began to roll it out with her special rolling pin- I think she said she got this from a kitchen supply store- it comes with various sized removable rings- what a great clay tool, right? (*If you Google “Fondant rolling pin” you can find them for sale in many places)2 rolling pin









She had a tip for rolling it out- just roll up to near the edge – not over the edge and then work that lump outwards until it rolls under and becomes the edge.6 shows spot where you stop -trick to rolling

Lay your plate template down- she made hers from a  file folder and laminated them. Her template for dessert plate fit right inside her dinner plate template!9 templates for dinner and dessertThey will eventually wear out.

Cut around the outside edge, lightly trace the inside circle.10 cuts around template11 does NOT cut through inside ring











Because Kip makes about 10- or 20 of these at a time there are points at which she makes a bunch and lets them sit. This would be one of those points- she would cut out quite a few of these and let them sit until she was ready for the next step… which is

Extruding the foot.  16 extrudingThis is her extruder and templates.13 extruder templates

Kip has used old credit cards or 2 thicknesses of yogurt container tops to make her templates but she finally had these made. This is the one for the foot.

14 custom templateThey are beveled to enhance the compression. She has marks on her table for the lengths she needs for the various sized plates she makes. So smart!15 lengths marked on table

If she is doing a lot of these, she will immediately wrap each one in plastic. It’s a lot of surface exposed and it can dry up fast plus it needs to be flexible!17 extruded piece

She curves her extrusion a bit while she is scoring the plate bottom along that line she traced earlier 19 scoringall the while, dipping her scoring tool in water. She then scores the extrusion and begins attaching it. 21 applying footWhen she reaches the end, she does not leave an overlap.

23 abbutted- no overlap

She scores the ends and butts them together, compressing and smoothing with her finger. 25 abuttedShe presses the foot on very gently with her finger while turning the banding wheel.

26 smoothing


Now she will pay attention to finishing the attachment area. First she brushes it with a damp paintbrush and

27 smoothing joint wiht burch

then uses this tool

28 a THE TOOLto go in on the outside to clean it up and compress it

28 b smoothing joint with tool

and on the inside and make a bevel that will aid later in curving the plate.

30 adding bevel with tool

This is another stopping point. These flat plates will be set on top of plastic 32 waiting to be leatherand let dry to leather hard. If Kip is making a dinner sized plate, she would have set it on a bat instead of directly onto the banding wheel but the dessert plates are small enough to lift fairly easily.

31 picking up to store- this sits til leather hard


Once the  plate has set up, Kip works again on the banding wheel and in front of a mirror.

33 working the leather hard with a mirror

The mirror is invaluable in helping her see the rim and plate and keeping it even as she gently curves it,

36 using mirror to keep it even

she goes around the rim pinching and thinning it out toward the rim.

35a pinching out ward to rim35 pinching out ward toward rim to thin it

She also pushes down the center gently  with a yellow rib. If you want a more dramatic dip and differentiation between rim and plate, you can really go in there and push down.37 using a yellow rib

She cleans up the rim with a sureform type file and angles it slightly in. She also scores it with her pronged scoring tool.41 filing edge

42 scored rim

Then it is time to extrude the rim.39 extruded rim piece being cut

She immediately coils this up to make sure it doesn’t crack later. She sets this piece on a smaller banding wheel next to the banding wheel with a plate on it.40 coil it up immed. so no cracks






The rim of the plate is wet-scored and then the rim is wet scored with a ridged rib all at once.43 scoring actual rim  with serrated rib

44 scored rimKip then attaches the rim.

45 technique for putting rim on- 2 spinning banding wheels

This time she does leave a slight overlap but47 leave an overlap she abuts the pieces48 abut and work it in compressing and then compressing, and working it along, she moves that part of the rim in and attaches it. This is to keep the rim from cracking- it has to do with attatching a slightly wetter piece to the leather hard- at this point the rim will shrink more than the plate body.

She goes around the rim now; first with a damp brush, then a wooden tool and then the beveling tool which she uses to make a line. 49 the tool beveling againThis makes the application of her latex easier and she fills it in later with slip- the latex keeping the rim clean and bare.54 finished rim to compare

On the underside, the rim must also be smoothed and beveled and then a crack that inevitably forms when the curving is done must be addressed.55 this cracks here from the curving process A wooden tool and then finger do the job.52 then this stick tool and the beveling tool is used again.51 bevel again

Another natural stopping point, the plates could be wrapped for days until kip is ready to latex them. I will do a second post talking about Kip’s decorating process.

For now, you are left with a  super lightweight plate that looks thrown!



Posted 6 years, 3 months ago at 12:20 pm.


Terra Cotta “Fossil” Paver Tutorial

These “Fossil Pavers” are so named because you are inlaying the lighter clay into the larger Terra Cotta paver body. This is a fun and useful project for all ages and can be a lasting decoration for your garden or house (provided you have access to a kiln!)

9 finished paver

I taught this class a few years ago at Lill Street and again recently at the Northern Clay Center.

At Lill we did it as a family workshop and what is great about this project is children as young as 3 or 4 can help lay out the design. You’ll need something round to trace- about 12″ across.

We used 2 kinds of clay. Continental Clay’s Terra Cotta will fire nicely to Cone 1 which is what we did so that the pavers would be essentially non-porous for wintering outside and also extremely dense for the strength needed to be able to step on the pavers.

2 laying out the paver design

Start with your light colored clay (porcelain, light stoneware or raku clay) and make your design. Make it as fine as possible as it will spread out when you flatten the terra cotta over it. When rolling coils, if they are drying and consequently cracking, roll them on a little patch of dampened table- a canvas covered table is ideal. If you are cutting out leaf shapes, make the clay as thin as you reasonably can- that means less than 3/16th of an inch! More like an 8th of an inch or less. The reason for this is so that your paver won’t be lumpy and the white clay not fully integrated into the surface of the paver. These leaves are a little too thick and caused a bit of trouble getting them to fully integrate.2 paver design

Lay out your design on a piece of board or paper! We found it helpful to draw the pattern on a piece of paper and to trace our circles so that we knew the boundaries of the paver and could lay out the design well within it.2a laying out design

***IMPORTANT NOTE!*** Words must be laid out in mirror writing. This may seem really hard but you can lay out the word and then simply flip it over. You can see we have the world “Welcome” backwards here.2b writing backwards

Also important to keep your white clay pattern moist- spritz it before you set it aside and again before you put the terra cotta over it. Make sure it does NOT sit in water! That will make it too soft and it will smear.

And before you throw a slab and shake the table, MOVE your layout! Several layouts were shaken to bits before we caught on!

Next, throw a thick terra cotta slab and then roll it to about a ½ inch thickness. You can do this using two half-inch thick boards on either side of your slab. You will need a long rolling pin though! We needed about 7-8 lbs of clay to make a 12 “ circle.

4 tc slab

Before your lay your finished and smoothed terra cotta slab over your design, wipe the surface with a sponge and spritz your design.

5 dampening slab
Then starting at one edge, lay your slab carefully down over your design and using the flat of your hand pat/smack it down firmly over your design. You can also go over it gently, firmly and evenly with the rolling pin. It’s okay if it gets thinner than ½ an inch- but not too much!

It is important to lay the slab over the design instead of vice versa to give you a very uniform flat surface where the clay pushes down to the level of the light clay’s design.

Now you can flip it over by sandwiching it between 2 boards or simply picking it up and flipping it over.6 before cutting circle

If your design is still sticking up, you can gently go over it from the front with a rolling pin too.8 rolling front

After that, lay your circle pattern over the slab, covering your design and cut around it. 7 tracing circle Go over the edge with an dampened sponge to soften the corner and get rid of sharp chip-able edges.

Let dry thoroughly and fire to Cone 1!1 picture fern paverHere is my fired fern paver example from Lill. I was working very fast to make the example as I had young kids waiting to work! I’ve had it for years now, left outside in the winter many times and it’s still intact!


Posted 6 years, 10 months ago at 11:22 am.



This is just a quick tutorial on how to make a “Faux Bois”  (fake wood) texture on a slab.

It is my impression that Faux Bois is all the rage and if Martha Stewart has Faux Bois wrapping paper, clearly, to be able to make a dish or box using it, it’s a GOOD THING™

It is also a good thing to do all the steps and do them in the right order.

Start with a slab that is about 1 inch thick.1 slab

Paint some slip on there or even underglaze in a fairly thick coat. I’m using chartreuse to make it particularly hard to see in my photos.

2- chartreuse slip painted on

Take sheets of newspaper to “dry” the slip. Just lay the newspaper on there and watch as the moisture begins to show through the paper.  When you pull up the first sheet, you may end up pulling off some of the slip-

4 some slip comes up

just set that piece aside and keep drying with successive pieces of newspaper until there is no moisture being absorbed by the paper.

3- drying the slip

Here, I’m rubbing the paper down to aid in the moisture absorption.

At this point, if you wish, you can try to re-apply the peeled up slip. If you can get it to stick down to your now dryish surface, you may have to dry off the new bits with one more sheet of newspaper.

You are wondering why we need to “dry” the slip?  We are going to stretch the slab under it. If the slip is wet, it will just stretch nicely with the slab and we won’t get any of the cool effects we’re trying for.

When your surface is not tacky or shiny, take a sharp tool like a needle tool and draw in the wood pattern. Basically you draw a few knotholes and then draw vertical lines that bend around them when they encounter the curve of the knothole.  Take a look at some wood grains or Faux Bois wrapping paper  for reference.

5 drawing the faux bois

Don’t go too deep! You only want to pierce that dried slip  layer. Also, draw it smaller and closer together because this pattern is going to

e  x  p  a  n  d  .

6 wood pattern

Next, begin to throw out a slab. This is a little tricky as you shouldn’t hold the slab on top and you can’t flip it over, you have to throw it with the slip side facing up the whole time.- my action shot of this did not turn out.

As it stretches, the faux bois pattern will become spread out and more proportionate.7 all stretched out

I’ve found that if it has really sharp edges, once it is all the way thrown out, you can go over it gently with a rolling pin but I would avoid that if you can.

Then you can let it harden to leather hard and build something with it like a box, or you can drop it into a mold and make a dish.8 dropped in a mold

Obviously you are going to need a transparent type glaze on it like clear or a celadone or even a shino depending on how dark your slip or underglaze is.

Have fun!


Posted 7 years ago at 11:10 am.


Brush Making Tutorial

It is really wonderful to be part of a strong pottery community here.

Everyone is so supportive of each other and I like being with all of them; so when I noticed that our farm cats here were leaving squirrel tails lying around their feeding area (yes, our cats are better at actually catching squirrels than our enthusiastic but clueless dog), I asked Barbara Zaveruha if she would teach a brush-making workshop. My favorite liner brush is starting to wear out and I suspect it is made of squirrel hair or something similar.

Brushes Barbara has made.

My local women potter friends were invited and we convened in my studio one morning bearing various roadside finds and fur bits

to be converted into brushes for slip and wax.

I have a list of what you will need at the bottom of this post.

Step one is laying out the hair/fur.  Set out a straight-edge of some sort and line your hairs up against it in a pretty thin layer.

Then begin at the end and pretend that the hairs are like a mat and roll them up.  The first hairs in line will end up at the center of your brush.  Those will be the tip.

Once you get a good shape, hold your bundle firmly and have someone (another good reason to make this a communal activity) wrap and then tie some dental floss around it where you want your brush to end. This may be the middle of the bundle or closer to one end. Don’t worry how long the excess is, it will be trimmed later. Try to wrap a bit of a band.


What we discovered: coarse hairs should not be tied super-tight. Finer hairs like fox and squirrel hairs can be tied tightly, this does not deform the tip of the brush- but deer hair is much coarser and -my suspicions confirmed from some cursory research on the web– hollow. Which means the tighter we tied the wrap around it, the more it compressed and splayed outward giving us these frustrating multiple-tips results.  

It suddenly came to me that we should try to tie it looser and Barbara assured us that later gluing would keep the hairs in place. A gently tightened but not tightly pulled wrapping yielded the first decent deer hair tip.

Notes on what hair to use from where: Barbara was using deer tail. Colleen had some deer fur also; possibly from the belly or hindquarters? Not sure.**

I took the longest hair I could find on our  poor fox carcass and it was in the area behind the head, between the shoulders. This will work too, even if your only hair source is your (living) dog – apparently the Japanese prefer Akita hair for their best brushes so go ahead and call Fido over.

The fur/hair should have some kink or wave to it to hold the slip/wax/underglaze.

I don’t think curly coated dog’s hair will work nor the super-straight hair of say, a lab  or pit bull (not long enough anyhow). I used the tip of a squirrel tail first and then the side hairs of the tail too- it all seemed to make a nice liner tip.  Also, the finer hairs are probably best for smaller brushes and those larger thicker hairs better for big brushes.

Eventually we ran out of time, went in to eat soup and home-made bread (made by my talented husband) and scheduled a second workshop to finish the brushes.  We all went off to boil our brush tips so they would be dry enough to clip and glue. This is a VERY IMPORTANT STEP because you don’t want your brush to reek after it has sat in water or worse, rot.



We reconvened on a snowy morning with boiled tips in hand and proceeded to finish the brushes.

The boiling loosened the wrappings a bit so I ended up re-wrapping  all the the ends and what I found worked best was about a ½ inch of wrapping to make the base of the brush a solid cylinder.

Barbara showed me a terrific type of knot. Before you start wrapping, you run a loop up that lays along the area you are going to wrap and just past it. Then you proceed to wrap over the loop. When you get to the end of where you are wrapping, poke the string (or floss in our case) through the loop  leaving a bit of looseness and pull on the other end of the loop- the end that is sticking out of the bottom of the wrapping where you started-pulling on it will pull the loop and other end of string under the wrapping; pull until it is about halfway down the wrapping and then cut off both ends.

Next we trimmed non-tip end of the fur to a very blunt end  and then dabbed that end straight down onto a blob of glue and worked the glue up into the hairs. Sometimes we needed a second blob depending on how absorbent the hairs were. To compress the sides in- prevent flaring, we wrapped the end in tape but I did not tape 2 of the ends and that seemed to work too. You will have to judge which ends need the tape. 

I had scrounged some bamboo pieces from our shed- formerly used to hold up plants. You can buy bamboo in varying thicknesses at garden supply stores . The narrow (usually green) I will use for my tiny liner tips and my two Fox brushes will go in thicker shafts.

Next you will have to drill out the right diameter in the bamboo. Look at the diameter of the bottom end of your brush tip and judge what thickness bit you need for your drill. It’s better to err on the side of too-small. As Barbara said, “you can always make it bigger.”

Where I chose to cut the bamboo shafts had to do with the “joint”. I wanted to have a good ¾ of an inch above the bamboo “joint” which provides a “floor” for the glue and brush tip to rest on.

The inside of the bamboo is soft and the joint floor is harder so your drill should sort of stop at the floor and if you don’t push really hard, you won’t go through it.

Barbara is holding the bamboo just below the “joint”.

Next try out your brush tip in the hole before you put glue in there! You may want to drill it out larger.  Note: if your wrapping is nice and flat and not lumpy, you should be able to fit it inside the opening in the bamboo shaft. That’s why, when you are wrapping it, you want it to be tight and flat and very cylinder-like.
Note how different the end looks from when we first tied the bundles.

Once you can just squeeze the tip in, with possible help from the fettling knife to tuck a few stray hairs in remove it  and put a decent sized drop of glue in there.  

Re-insert your brush tip. Let dry and VOILA! You have a nice brush!



What you will need to make brushes:

  • Fur with some waviness or kink to it but not curly hair. Squirrel, raccoon, deer or canine fur (fox, dog) is ideal.
  • A straight edge of some sort.
  • Dental floss or waxed string
  • Water resistant glue- we used Duco, 5-minute epoxy would work too.
  • Hair clippers are very helpful
  • Fine saw
  • Bamboo (from the garden store)
  • A vice is very helpful
  • Drill and variety of sized bits
  • Paper plate for the glue (our glue started to dissolve a styrofoam tray I had)
  • Fine scissors
  • Tweezers can be helpful
  • Fettling knife
  • Needle tool
  • Toothpicks for the glue
  • Tape

** The best information I found on hair were fly-tying sites and blogs!  I wish we’d read this excerpt before we started!:

“For example, the body of a deer has hollow hair, the tail is solid hair. The body hair of a calf is solid. Tails of all animals, like squirrel, woodchuck, calf, are typically solid.       Solid hair typically is used for wings and tails. It stays compact and does not flare and is relatively hard to stabilize on the hook because it is slippery.      Hollow hair is typically body hair and is used for wings or for spinning where you want it to flare. It is used for tails as well, but there you want to control the flare by thread technique. If you look at the typical hollow hair, i.e.  deer, elk, caribou, antelope, it looks like a carrot, thick tapering to thin, with the thick part being hollow and the thinner part getting less hollow until it is actually solid at the tip. It is actually honeycomb hollow if you look at it under a microscope.”






Posted 7 years, 3 months ago at 9:31 am.


Double Pinch Pots

First Time Hand Building

Class 1 Double Pinch Pots


I may have written about double pinch pots in the past- but this is for a first time hand-building class.

I did not know what level students would be at so I decided to start with the most basic skill.  Yet double pinch pots can take you just about anywhere as evinced by the work my wonderful class made that day.

It is a pretty straight forward process; you start with two balls of clay of roughly equal size and make them both into pinch pots.

A really good tip here is to keep the rim thick by not squeezing it directly. It works quite well to squeeze below it.

After the pots are as evenly thin as you are able to make them,  try them  out “mouth to mouth” and see if they are the shape and size you need.

You can add a coil or two to one or both of them to make a larger hollow form. Eventually you will need to join them to each other.

Or not. Matthew decided not to join his two pots together and so he has a terrific lidded jar.

If you find it is collapsing, you can stuff newspaper inside. The paper will burn out in the kiln.

Once it is completely sealed and the air is trapped inside, you can roll it on the table almost as if it were a solid piece of clay to smooth it and shape it. Then parts may be added

The shape doesn’t even have to be round.  Nan made a turtle!


But if you decide to make a little sculpture like that or like Randy’s Owl here-

make sure you put a discreet hole in it somewhere so the air and moisture can escape and not blow up your piece!

If you decide to make a piggy bank like Kathryn’s
(this pig is clearly worried by the economic situation!)

or a chicken bank like Pam’s

or a Monkey jug like mine,

then the openings are built into the form and no little hole is needed.

The possibilities are endless- here are two pieces I’ve made in the past: a jar and a teapot.

What is good about this form is that it is inherently strong, the form lends itself to so many possibilities and beginners are able to make something that has quite a bit of volume.


Posted 9 years ago at 4:20 pm.


Slip ‘n’ Surfaces Week 4

It’s been a great class with really wonderful students. I’m always so thrilled to see what they are working on each week. Since this was the last week, I reall packed in the demonstrations.


I started off by throwing a bowl with about 3 pounds of clay. People wanted a refresher in how to throw a larger bowl. This was a good item to demonstrate banding with slip  while it was still on the wheel. One of the most common and annoying problems with banding is that the slip doesn’t just glide on there in a steady stream leaving a perfect highway of color on your pot. Especially if you are applying it to a leather surface, the clay can suck up the moisture from a thicker slip and give you a very uneven, often kind-of pitted surface.  If you are applying to leather hard it helps to spritz it with a bit of water ; wait a few seconds for the water to sink in a little, otherwise you lay your slip down onto a thin layer of water and it can drip and not stick well.

If you are applying to a freshly thrown pots (which is ideal for bonding for porcelain slip bonding to stoneware) you still have to dip the brush more frequently than you’d think. Just keep the wheel going steadily and hold your hand steady too. You can always clean up the edges with a metal rib or stick tool. Here I used my rib to put a little wavy edge on my band.

Leaf Stencils

Next I threw a low terra cotta bowl so we could do some stencils using leaves. I also showed how you can take something like a fork and with an even motion while the wheel is going slowly, make another kind of border around the rim- this time on the inside. 

I had  some problem getting the leaves to really lay flat but Kristina solved that problem by using some newsprint to really presss her leaves down flat.

Here is the plate after she pulled the leaves off

Beautiful. She will go back in when the slip is leather hard and clean up any places the slip snuck under the leaves.

Jennifer put some on the outside of her mugs which also turned out great. It’s important to think about how the leaves will fill the space. I think all these examples (except mine) are excellent.


Another thing you can do with two or more colors of slip is to marbelize- like the fancy paper you often see. I think for this you need a fairly flat, contained surface. I had a small stoneware plate  which I poured some blue slip into and then dotted and trailed green on top of that in a fairly random pattern. then I dragged a very pointy brush (you could use a feather or pointy stick too) through the dots.  I was inspired by plant forms.

When I trim the plate, I’ll go in and clean up the edge of the inside too.

The one thing to be careful of when marbelizing is that it adds a LOT of moisture to your pot. Make sure your form is supported or dry enough to absorb that moisture and keep its shape.


Then I did my surprise demo. This was “etched” clay. Really, I would only recommend this technique for porcelain as you will soon see why. I threw a tumbler and set it to dry. When it was hard leather dry, I painted a pattern on it in wax. After the wax was completely dry (and you can do this technique with varnish was well)  I began wiping at the surface with a wet sponge. The wax protects the surface beneath it but the surrounding surface is removed. If this was stoneware, it would just be horribly gritty.

After a few wipes, I decided to scratch into my wax a little to get a more detailed resist area. 

This will look great with a breaking glaze like Shino, Celadon or even Josh Green.

Kelly took this idea and ran with it – here is her process: and she got the brilliant idea of inlaying black slip into the wiped away areas. She painted it on and the wax resisted it over the raised areas. She sponged away all non-adhering slip and here is the resultDoesn’t that look cool?

Another variation on this idea is to paint your entire surface with slip, then a pattern over it in wax and then when you wipe away, you leave the color where the wax protects it and the color is removed everywhere else. Kristina suggested this and I can’t wait to try it!

Posted 9 years, 9 months ago at 5:31 am.

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Garden Gnomes


I have to say, Garden Gnomes could easily fall into the “too cute” category but we had a blast in my Garden Gnome workshop.

My class was wonderful- I had at least two people who had never really done anything in clay before and they all came out great!

We had a very short discussion on what your standard gnome looks like and we did look at this book which may have had undue influence; but I stressed to everyone that the gnomes could look like anything, be any gender and wear any type of clothes. That said, I think we all liked the way the book (and example) looked. Perhaps because these are supposed to be Garden Gnomes, we wanted them to be recognized as such.

I started with the body being a double-pinchpot construction which turned out to be ideal for him. To make double pinch pots- you take two balls of clay roughly  the same size make a sturdy pinch pot of each one- pinching below the rim so the rim stays thick and attaching them to each other, making sure to seal them completely so the air trapped inside keeps them from caving in when you roll them to smooth them and get the shape you want- I rolled mine along the table to get a “waist” . Then set him up on two sturdy legs that were hollowed-out cones.

the tips were bent over to make his feet. I put a flange on the top of the cones for ease and security of attachement. Here is the body on the legs

IMPORTANT: any trapped air needs a small hole to let it 0ut, we pierced all our sealed air traps after we were done.

I have a little neck knob there but it turned out I didn’t need it- we made the heads as a single pinch pot with maybe a coil or two added to get the height right. here is Shawna’s head with the beard on it- the beards were made using a garlic press. you just have to remember to press all the little hairs against the body so they don’t break off.

I foolishly put the head on next and the beard before painting slip on his jacket.

After that my students did it the right way, painting the coat before adding the head. We added a little skirt around most of them to make it look like a long coat, blending the top edege into the body .

To make the “stitches” I had brought a notched wheely tool that is often used in sewing. Note also that Shauna’s Gnome is wearing clogs.

Above, you can see Jennifer’s body and legs awaiting belt, head and arms. In the background, Rich’s body rests atop curly-toed boots and already has the belt.

Next we attached the heads- Krissy’s guy looks a little like the muppet version of Uncle Fester but later he got hair. He is also sporting a super-fashionable spotted belt.

The arms were pretty simple and most people chose to copy the pose in the book where he has them clasped behind his back. Here is one of my arms:Veronica put her Gnome’s arm to good use, bearing arms!check out his great ears too!

Belts were also added after painting the coat- we used slip for the colors since we will be high-firing these so they can be outside all year ‘round. What I’m missing are photos of how to make the hat. We just made thin slabs, rolled them up with a point at one end and cut away the rest- they are only one layer thick- we attached the edges to seal the hat and tried them on the gnomes- cutting off clay around the opening and shortening them until they fit.As soon as he’s fired, he’ll be ready to move into my garden!

Here are some more finished but unfired Gnomes:

Finally, here are some photos of the finished gnomes!

the hat color comes from Cohen’s Red glaze and the body is covered in clear. I left the face just raw, unglazed clay. The gnome on the right, above has no glaze on it anywhere.

And here’s my little guy

Posted 9 years, 9 months ago at 10:10 am.


First Time Potter Week 2


This week we first learned about trimming since we started with bowls last week.

It’s always a toss-up;   bowls are easier to throw but you really should trim the bottoms. Cylinders are harder to throw but you can make them so that you don’t have to trim them.

The first step in trimming is often forgotten.  You should take a really good look at the inside of your pot- I’m going to say bowl here because that’s what we’re trimming. Take a look at the shape of it, try to feel the thickness of the walls and bottom and then turn it over.  The reason you are memorizing the shape as best you can is that you will be trying to make that same shape on the outside so that your bowl eventually has even walls and the foot should be like a little ring of clay sitting on the bottom of your bowl.

Next, center your upside down pot on the wheel head. Many potters can “tap” their bowl into the center- this is a huge mystery to me.  I have never mastered this amazing skill.

Instead, I hold a pencil steady and where it makes a line, I slightly push until it’s even all the way around. Then I press clay down around the bowl taking great care not to deform the rim- press against the wheel head, not the rim.

Now tap on the bottom gently, Eventually you will be able to “read” the resonance as to how thick the bottom is.

Now look at the curve of your bowl. You want to continue that curve. you don’t want your foot to be so wide that the curve doesn’t have a chance to get started. You also don’t want your foot so narrow that you have a super-tippy bowl. There is a lot of wiggle room here- it ranges from  mixing bowls that have nice wide sturdy feet, like sensible shoes all the way to little rice bowls which have delicate feet like party pumps that you can dance in.

Draw the circle that will be your foot on the bottom and then

choose a loop tool you are comfortable with and begin to carve away the rest – do not touch inside the lines that delineate the future foot! Remember you are trying to mimic the curve that is going on inside your bowl. this picture is a little confusing because I am holding two tools but only using the big loop tool  at that moment. Sometimes I alternate between the two so often that I am holding them both while I trim. I am not using them both at once!

Once you have the shape you can use a wider loop tool or even a metal rib to smooth it  and also use your fingers or back of your nail to smooth any rough edges on the foot- you don’t want to scratch your mother’s coffee table!

Cathryn did a great foot right away!

Adrienne did too- and it’s one of those delicate feet.

The two most common mistakes are not trimming enough and

trimming too much as one of the students found out to her chagrin:

Steve needed a foot thrown on so I demonstrated that- I did a post about that some time back….


Then we tackled cylinders. I started by making a pitcher with a curved floor (as opposed to a flat floor).

You start this like a bowl but then bring the walls straight up.

After you collar it in, use a tool handle to make a simple spout.

Cylinders, because of centrifugal force, inevitably want to get wider. it is helpful to collar in at the top after every pull as well as compressing the lip to keep it strong.

Next I did a vase with a flat bottom inside- The trick to vases is to get them as tall as you can and then instead of just choking it in at the top, you must coax it inwards, keeping the wall arched for good support- just like a cathedral!

the finished vase shapeLater, I will trim the bottom a little but I will trim it while it is right-side-up on the wheel so that I don’t have to use a chuck.

Lastly, the simplest and most realistic cylinder for beginners to make is a mug. A mug takes about 1lb to 1.25lbs of clay and is a great way to practice vertical pulls and later, attaching handles!

Special thanks to Melissa for taking the photos and also being pretty darned funny!

Posted 9 years, 9 months ago at 9:32 am.

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Slip ‘N’ Surfaces, Week 2- Stencils & More

Slip ‘N’ Surfaces, Week 2

It was a very quiet class this week with just 3 of us but we had a pretty fun time with stencilling.

I did my popular “Birch Platter” demonstration.

I have posted this before but in case you haven’t seen it and don’t want to endlessly scroll backwards through this blog, I will post a quickie verion and also a photo of the ugliest “birch platter” I have ever seen.

The birch platter has the virtue of of having three layers of color with only two layers of slip.

I make a drop platter of stoneware (with iron) and immediately cover it with white slip so that the surfaces have plenty of time to bond. When that slip is not sticky to the touch, I tear newspaper into narrowish strips.  You want to tear the strips, not cut them- they stick down better.These I spritz down with water and also the surface of the tray so that the newspaper adheres.

Next, paint another darker color over it- blue for example. Remember to paint in the same direction that the strips run or you will peel up the strips with your brush.

After the (blue) slip is no longer runny, you can pull up the strips.

Now you have a cool striped plate. You could stop there but I like to go in and make birch markings.

Here is a photo of real trees just to remind everyone.

I had a lot of fun this time because I decided the “devil’s hoofprints” (as one student told me) look like eyes and I put lots of faces in my trees for people to find.

My students seemed to really like this stencil idea and each went with it in their own direction and did a great job:

Jennifer went vertical- on mugs:

Richard did a bowl- and stenciled over slipped circles:

Kelly went non-representational with this pattern:

I also tried another thing- something I haven’t done before.

Because I suck at slip-trailing, I thought if I did it onto a plaster mold  I might have more control- so I drizzled and painted on a vine. and then laid a slab over it and pressed it down with a brayer. when I pulled it off, the vine was inlaid into the clay but the leaves decided to stay on the plaster mold.

and here is the dish:

I would not call it a success but I think that anything that was a bit raised- that had any thickness to it, successfully inlaid. Possibly next time, I would spritz it before laying the slab on to facilitate bonding.

Lastly, I promised you a photo of the ugliest birch platter ever. A friend has this- I think it looks like a tree that  maybe could be related to a birch caught smallpox or maybe  just the victim of a tree surgery gone horribly awry.

So I hope to see you all next week!

Posted 9 years, 9 months ago at 5:39 pm.