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Manipulating Clay the Right Way

Dec 25, 2007
Pottery is a wonderful hobby, and below are details to construct two objects: a hand sculpture and a pinch bowl.

1. Hand sculpture
Material - gray stoneware, gray or terra cotta sculpture clay, one handful, Tools - use your hands only.

This exercise will help you get the feel of the clay, but you also will produce a piece of ceramic sculpture. Take a mass of clay as large as you can conveniently hold in one hand, wedge it thoroughly and shape it into a ball or egg shape. Each time clay is used - before beginning any project, or when resuming work if a piece is put away before completion - it must be wedged.

The purpose of wedging is to remove all air pockets and holes which would cause a piece to explode in the firing; to eliminate foreign matter such as nails, cloth, and leaves; and to secure an even consistency. Never use unwedged clay.

The clay is patted or rolled into a flat rectangular mass, cut in two with a wire or knife, and the two pieces slammed together on the table with the cut edges facing in opposite directions. It is then rolled and kneaded like dough, patted into a rectangular mass, cut in two, and slammed together with the cut ends facing in opposite directions. This operation is repeated about twenty times. If you have a wedging table, the clay is cut in two by pushing it against the wire.

With both hands, squeeze and press the wedged clay into a simple form which results from the use of the hands only. Don't lay it down or work on it while it rests on the table. Slowly organize it into a simple rhythmic shape, stressing those lines or contours which seem most pleasing. Use only your fingers and hands for tools. The result will be an abstract sculpture. This is an excellent way to learn how to begin sculpture.

If you don't like abstract sculpture, you can convert the original hand sculpture described in the above paragraph into a recognizable form, such as a human or animal shape.

2. Pinch bowl
Material - a ball off gray or terra cotta pottery clay, about 1 1/2" in diameter. Tools - use your fingers only; plaster bat about 4" x 4".

This is about the simplest way to make pottery. You need no tools, just use your hands and fingers. It will help you acquire the necessary feeling for the clay and develop finger dexterity. Take a small ball of soft, moist clay about 1 1/2" in diameter.

Wedge the clay thoroughly. If the clay is not soft, wet the hands and work the clay until it feels as pliable as dough. After shaping it into a ball place it in your left palm and slowly push your right thumb, then the left thumb, into the center to a good thickness at the bottom .

With both thumbs in the center and the remaining fingers on the outside, the bottom side up, press out slowly, revolving the piece constantly. Keep the base small - 1" across. When sides are thick, place the piece on the plaster bat. Next work around the edge in a pinching motion with thumb and fingers until the entire wall is about 1/4" thick. The danger point is where the base merges with the side wall. Take care not to strain the pot by forcing or pinching this area to much. Be sure to work from the bottom, keeping the top thick until the very last. The bowl should be even in shape and thickness, and approximately round. After this has been achieved, the shape can be varied by pushing the edges inward or outward according to the design you wish. A bowl or vase about 2 1/2" to 3" will result. The pinch bowl can be made into an ash tray, a small vase, a demitasse, or liquor jigger.
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