Category Archives: technique

Clay challenges

I’m having a much more difficult time adjusting to the ‘old’ clay I used to throw with than I thought I would. Even though it’s supposed to be good for beginners to learn with, I’m finding it a lot more finicky than I remember. It’s soft, yet stiff at the same time. And STICKY. It doesn’t want to move when doing a pull, instead preferring to carve off in my fingers and on my sponge. And yet, I somehow keep putting thin spots in the wall at random, which later either collapse or tear. aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!!!

I did manage some small 1.5# bowls Tuesday, but the misbehavior seems magnified on larger amounts. I tried a 4# vase tonight which took an hour of finessing to get into shape. Then it collapsed when I put the plastic over it to dry. And then there was a good pound at least in the bottom of my slop bucket when I cleaned up. — not happy.

Not giving up, but definitely frustrated. I’m going back to small bowls and mugs until I get a handle on this sticky stuff. I remember my begining wheel instructor throwing VERY dry with this clay. I’m thinking that’s the only way to battle the stickyness.

Light red/pink swirl vase

Here’s one of the experiments that turned out.

When it was bone dry greenware, I first put a layer of white terra sig on it, then a couple layers of red. I originally intended for it to be much more red, and more of a solid coat, but the clay had other plans. Turns out the red sig streaked as the pot spun on the wheel, I’m guessing because it was still too thin/watery. I think it’s far nicer than what I was going for.

Natural finish

Here’s two views of one that wasn’t burnished or terra sig’ed. It has a natural raw clay surface.

It’s possible to seal it with an acrylic resin type product, but I think I prefer the softer colors. But it could bring out the lavendar/purples a little more…
What do you think?


Overall, the results were very good. There were five of us total, and everyone was happy with their pots. It was cool seeing everyone else’s forms. Some small, some large, some handbuilt from textured slabs wrapped into vases.

Unlike glazeware, after the firing the work has only started. We had to unwrap and the scour the pots to remove the ash and residue from firing. Today I began the process of waxing the burnished / terra sig’ed ones. Kinda like waxing my Dad’s van as a kid, only smaller.

Here is today’s effort, after mowing the yard in between raindrops and other weekend chores.

How do you throw?

Jen Mecca was kind enough to post about her throwing technique after I’d asked her about it. Jen throws standing up, which I’ve recently switched to after compressing a disk in my back this past spring. It was non-pottery related, I was changing a flat tire, but it got me even more motivated to minimize the strain of what can be a physically demanding craft.

I’d already started putting my wheel up on 3 bricks to raise the wheelhead, which was better, but still not high enough. The art center has one Brent wheel with the leg extensions for standing, so I’ve been using that one ever since.

Robert Compton has a nice page of different potters working. My favorite is with the wheel mounted on the ceiling. I’d actually thought of that myself once while musing the challenges of gravity. Now I find out someone else was doing it back in 1971… I was taught to throw pretty dry, but I can’t help thinking you’d need a rain poncho and a shower cap for that one!

John Glick has written some great articles sharing his hard learned lessons in back health. His ‘To Sciatica and Back‘ should be a cautionary tale for us all, as well as the followup ‘Down the Spinal Canal: From Herniation to Rupture

So my informal, unscientific poll in the sidebar asks you: How do you throw?