I gave up long nails for this

Pottery is something I have always thought was cool and a ‘proper skill’. Thinking back to my school days, I can always remember the art lessons where we could work with something malleable, rather than just a pencil. There’s just something about it. Being able to make something with your bare hands, being able to construct an idea in your head then build it into something tangible and touchable – I love it! 2020 gave me a reasonable excuse to say goodbye to my nails and hello to hand ceramics. This post is the start of a four-part series where I will focus on all things pottery. I’ll talk you through the basics and hopefully inspire you to put your hands to work.

Let’s start with a glossary. Here are the words you need to know for sure, when you’re handling clay:

  • Clay: A material used to create ceramic or earthenware products. Clay itself is moist. Once it hardens and is fired, that’s when we can call it a ceramic product.
  • Glaze: We use glazes to create an impermeable layer or coating to dry clay by firing. In simpler terms, by glazing our projects, we can make them food-safe and suitable for holding liquids. Glazes come in a range of different colours so it’s handy for decorating as well as making things waterproof. Your creations can look glossy or matte depending on the type of glaze used. By adding glaze to a product that has already had slip applied, the slip, texture or design of the piece becomes enhanced.
  • Pottery: It’s the activity or the production of various products by using clay or other materials. These materials will be fired using an oven or a kiln at a very high temperature. This allows them become durable and we get beautiful plates, bowls and vases.
  • Slip: Slip is a type of clay that is really runny, almost like a liquid or slurry mixture. We can use it to decorate clay that has started to harden as slip often comes in different colours. It is important to note that you should apply slip to semi-dry clay. We can do this by using a brush, by dipping or even splashing it across our project.

Now, let’s talk through two techniques to get you started…

An example of the pinching technique used to make a pinch pot. You can also see coloured slip in the background used on some semi-dry clay.

The first technique is called pinching. We started making pinch pots from the first lesson because it’s the simplest way to start manipulating clay and understanding how it works! You are literally using your thumbs, middle and index fingers to create indentations in the clay. To start, roll a lump of clay together that’s about the size of your fist. Push down into the clay with your thumb and use that first dip to create your pot’s base. From there you can begin to build the sides of the pot by pinching and smoothing with your fingertips.

The second technique is called coiling. Coiling is great for adding height to your projects. It’s an easy way to create a vase or a flower pot. To begin, you will need a flat piece of clay for your base. This can be circular or square, it’s up to you! Next, you need to roll out some clay into long strips, like you’re making some spaghetti. You can decide how thick you want it to be but make sure all the coils are consistent! Once you have made enough coils, start stacking them on top of the base. To secure the coils to the base and each other, you should use a metal kidney to score the clay, then use some slip in between. The slip will act almost like a paste or glue between the coils.

So… are you feeling knowledgeable… ready to have a go? For a more in depth instructions with images please have a look at this post from the Crafts Council. Look out for my next post in the series where you will begin to see more pictures of my creations!

3 fitting words for this post: pottery, coiling, pinching

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