Getting into Pottery
Recently I’ve had the opportunity to take some pottery classes at Mud Matters, which is luckily just a few blocks from my apartment. Pottery on the wheel falls into the general hobby category of “30% artistic, 70% technical skill”, and so it’s a natural fit for me, along with photography, woodworking, and cooking. I’ve mostly made bowls: vases require pulling the clay higher and using more material than you might expect (maybe about 4 lbs of clay to make a 12” tall vase). Also, bowls are extremely useful for cooking and serving food, you can gets lots of different shapes and sizes. Plus, food automatically looks better if it’s photographed in a handmade bowl.
I’ve found that the learning curve is fairly shallow - you can get a feel for how thin you can make the clay pretty quickly, and learn the right level of moisture the clay should be at (to little moisture and the friction creates too much torsional force, too much moisture and the clay loses strength quite quickly). In the first session I was able to make a couple of semi-ok bowls. In the second session I was able to make some decent small bowls. By the fourth session I was pretty happy with my bowls up to about 6” diameter x 3” height. Now that I’m a couple months in, learning has definitely slowed some, but I continue to improve - I’ve made bowls up to about 12” in diameter x 6” height, which sounds like only 2x the size of the bowls I was making in the first month, but it’s actually 8x as large. I’m also using only about 4-5x as much clay, which means I’m throwing much thinner
A few things that I found challenging at first:
- I made the bottom too thin, neglecting to account for how much I wanted to trim, plus the 1/8” or so that gets left after wiring off the pot.
- I forgot to tidy up the foot after throwing before wiring off - that’s pretty recoverable, it can be trimmed off, but it makes the trimming more challenging, while spending about 30 seconds with a wooden knife to tidy the foot before wiring off saves about 5 minutes of tricky trimming later.
- You can’t really trim the inside of a bowl very easily - the shavings all wind up inside the bowl, which makes it very slow to trim because you have to keep clearing the shavings out. Therefore, the correct move is to smooth the inner surface while throwing, by using a metal kidney to very carefully shape the inside.
- It’s difficult to trim the very rim of a bowl, because you need to use some lumps of clay around the rim to hold it on the wheel. However, using a spinner allows you to keep pressure down from the center while trimming the rim.
- The rim can be smoothed over with a wet sponge, and it’s very tricky to get it perfect without this additional step.
Here are some potters I watched to learn or follow for inspiration.
- Florian Gadsby: The most(?) followed ceramicist on youtube, he makes really beautiful, thin, simple functional vessels with a signature glaze style.
- Hsinchuen Lin: He’s a potter that teaches at the Sunnyvale community pottery studio, but is extremely technically competent. His pieces tend to be much more intricate one-offs, frequently with interesting or complex glazing techniques. My favorite technique of his is “chattering”, where the trimming tool is allowed to chatter and create a textured pattern, rather than being held rigidly to trim smoothly.
- Van Tiki: He’s a slip-casting ceramicist, he carves and then casts incredibly intricate tiki drink “mugs” (5-sided art sculptures that you could theoretically put liquid in). He falls way closer to the 90% artistic, 10% technical skill range, so I couldn’t even begin to replicate anything he does.
- Hammerly Ceramics: Curt is another slip-casting potter, so he doesn’t usually throw on the wheel, but his glazes are insane. He makes use of 3d printing to start the moldmaking process.
- Moondobang: All pure white porcelain forms, but he’s the most precise and impressive thrower I’m aware of. He sometimes creates enormous (48” and larger) bowls and vases, though it doesn’t look like he ever actually fires any of them.
- Jaejun Lee: Another Korean ceramicist, he also creates beautiful simple forms at an impressive degree of execution.
In a future post coming soon™, I’ll post some actual photos of my work. Before then, I need to come up with a good lighting and background setup.