Sunday, September 08, 2019

big pots

I've been hitting the limits of my abilities on a few things lately. Hitting the edges of my skills can cause me unnecessary distress. I forget that it's okay that I don't know how to do every last thing with clay, and I can still learn new things. Or, maybe it's an impatience with learning new things, I just want to get by on what I already know. I don't have time! I'm a very busy person! It's an uncomfortable place of not-knowing before I can get excited about pushing myself into expanding my capacities.

I took an order for a big pot. A GIANT pot. When I took it I understood the measurements of the thing, and that it was going to be much bigger than what I usually make, but somehow spatially in my mind, it didn't compute. I was thinking, "no problem". Thrown, it needed to measure at least 19 inches high and almost 14 inches wide. That is a huge pot for me, most of my bigger vases are about 10 to 12 inches high.

I spent hours trying to throw this thing in one go, wedging bigger and bigger chunks of clay, straining my arms, shoulders, and back trying to conquer this pot.  I made some pretty big pots, but not even close to what I needed. I had way underestimated how the width of the pot was going to challenge my ability to get the pot as tall as I needed it to get. By the end of the day I had gone through well over 100 pounds of clay and was in a really, really bad mood. I figured I totally screwed up taking this order in the first place.

I stormed the studio the next morning, determined to try something different, the only thing I figured would work, which was to throw the pot in sections. I did not want to do this, so much so that I wasted hours trying to avoid it. If you throw in sections, you must be incredibly precise to make sure all the edges line up, not just the width but the direction of the piece. A few years ago, I made some extra tall vases where I threw them in two sections, and while the width matched-- I was able to piece them together-- the direction of the top section did not flow with the bottom. It actually made for a couple of interesting vases, and I sold both of them right away, but I wasn't that into it and I never did it again.

This one was going to be even more challenging because having hit my limit the day before, I already knew I was going to have to make this piece not in two sections, but three. UGH!!! Trying to match three sections from  top to bottom was going to take lots of time and precision, which is challenging to my snappy and impatient nature.

The way I did it was to throw each section extra thick and chunky. That way they would be strong and I could  stack the sections while they were on the bat and wet to see how it looked. If I needed to make any changes, I could do it and not have to start over. It was a long process, it pretty much took my whole work day to make two of these.

I went on vacation for 5 days after this, letting the sections firm up very slowly. At night, I would think about these sections, and wonder how well they were going to match up. How I was going to get these huge parts on top of each other without warping them? Did I make the bottom strong enough to hold the top sections? I wasn't sure. Each section was about 10 pounds, and I could easily imagine the bottom one slumping during the firing. These thoughts made for some awesome middle-of-the-night tossing and turning.

When I got back to the studio I was nervous but ready. And it only took a few minutes to stack everything up-- everything matched, the pots lined up. The sections were firm and felt light enough to lift without warping. I almost couldn't believe it:

It was good that I was forced into doing this. I have been wanting to make bigger pots but have been too entrenched in my regular work to actually make the move to do it. It opens up new possibilities, which is always an exciting place to be. Yeah, I can't wait to make some really big ass pots!

Here is the final product: a garden pot with a Germanic family crest:


  1. That's incredible! You are truly one of the brave potters who try new things and succeed. Congrats. What is the finish on it?

    1. Thanks! The finish is underglaze with a coat of clear glaze on top.

  2. When I was in college, they taught us to do this by throwing the base-a flower pot type shape, then letting it set up overnight, or until it was stiff. We would then throw a second bottomless, thick "flower pot type shape, score and slip, then put the two together. Then we would keep throwing from the join up.

  3. That is awesome! Congratulations on two big successes. I've had all the same struggles with throwing large pieces so I can absolutely relate, and appreciate your victory.

  4. You’ll first and foremost want to make sure that you have a lot of water on hand, and your clay as well.
    Learn more

    You have two ways to make your pottery piece, and they include the following:

    Hand building
    Wheel throwing
    Personally, for functional ware, I prefer wheel-throwing, since it creates a more rounded shape. But, if your goal is to create decorative pottery that has a unique structure that isn’t the same all around, then hand building is a cool option.

    But, if you’re doing hand building, you have a few different ways to do it, and they are as follows:

    Slab pottery, where you make slabs, attach them and score and slip them together, ideal for flat structures
    Coils, which involve rolling out coils and attaching it to a flat surface and then blending together, good for more rounded or cylindrical bowls
    Pinch pottery, where you pinch and pull the clay outwards in order to create a unique shape, good for those who want something a bit easy
    But, if you’re someone who thinks this is a little easy, you might want to consider throwing pottery on the wheel, which we’ll discuss in the next section.

  5. I just went through a similar experience with large pots ... and a commission order with a short deadline! NOT fun... but learned a lot and was also inspired afterwards. haha I also tried to throw them in 1 go and quickly realized I couldn't. Your pot is a gorgeous shape btw :-)

    1. - Emilie from Twinette Poterie :-)

  6. Great post. Your pottery is looks so good. I really like your post here. Your content is very interesting when i read. Thank you so much for sharing with us.