Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Perfect Pretzel Bowl

On Christmas morning the 3rd and best lace coil pot came out of the kiln. It looked like the finest pretzel you’ve ever seen.

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It took 4 iterations to get it just right and I’ve got the recipe:


Perfect coils should be even thickness, around 1/8″, thin enough to look delicate and thick enough to be sturdy (relatively). They need to also be smooth so that when they’re joined they create a nice even pattern.

Connections & Spacing

Each coil should have as many connections as possible, and the longer the connections, the better. All the connections have to be mended together well and smoothed out. When the coils are joined well, they have a higher chance of surviving together. Ideally, there should be a connection every 1/2″-1″ and density or connections should be higher closer to the center of the bowl.


For the first lace dish I made I used 2 colors – one on the inside and one on the outside. Mistake. These pieces are too delicate for multiple colors. They look best with just one glaze that shows off the texture.

Constructed Deconstructed

Last week I found a great bit of inspiration on Pinterest, wheel-thrown and modified ceramics by Ann Van Hoey.

This week I’m playing around with the same idea. My pots aren’t as large or as refined, not yet.Either way, I am pretty pleased with how they’re turning out so far.

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First attempt above – a small cup. It turned out nice, but I forgot to take a pic of the finished product.

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The second one started out well and looked cool from the top, but the bottom was all trouble:


The third one was a bigger cup with a black stripe:

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The last one is a footed candy dish. The folds aren’t the same sizes, but I still think it looks sweet:

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Rust, a.k.a. iron oxide.

Iron oxide was one of my favorite things to decorate with back when I did high fire pottery. Before I realized that it would behave differently with low fire clay, I bought a huge jar. Then, on a trip to Hawaii I was inspired by all the lave rock with iron and started to put it to use.

I use iron oxide as a stain on top of greenware (unfired clay). I really like how it looks, but do want to warn you – it stains and smears like crazy! Maybe you’re supposed to mix something into it to make it behave, but I didn’t and it was just getting everywhere (lesson learned!).

Here are a few pieces decorated with iron oxide:


Plate with a volcanic rock design. Iron oxide and black underglaze decoration.

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Footed bowl #1: wax resisted vine decoration and iron oxide painted on. Plain inside.

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Footed bowl #2: wax resisted leaf with iron oxide over it on the inside and just iron oxide painted on on the outside. (You can see how well it smears.)

A couple of notes….

Iron Oxide works WAY differently on earthenware than on stoneware and porcelain.

1. Uneven application is NOT forgiving. Here’s how that first plate looks fired:


I will have to try applying another coat before glaze firing.

2. It fires very light! The second footed bowl with just a coat of clear:


Secret of Bowls

Hello friends, if I may call you that.

I figured out something this week that I am very excited about – how to make bowls whose outside shape mimics the inside shape. Making the inside and outside shape the same is nice for aesthetic reasons, but also ensures that the bowl is consistent thickness. That’s a very practical concern when drying and firing clay.

This is going to be kinda technical and you will get to see cross-section pot drawings (prepare for disappointment, they are not super precise or artistic).

First, the wrong way.

Here’s how people are usually taught to apply pressure when pulling walls. You open up the centered clay, form the bottom, and then apply roughly even pressure to internal and external sides of the walls to pull up:

pull 01

Imagine a pot in cross-section. Length of the arrow represents amount of pressure

Now, I’m not saying that this is the wrong way to pull up clay – it isn’t. For cups, it’s perfect. But bowls are a little different. Pulling up the walls in this fashion, here’s how the shape of the pot develops (in cross-section):


Notice that the bottom flattens out substantially and we don’t get a nice curve on the bottom. Frequently, the foot area has to be very thick to support the walls with this technique, so you end up having to trim off a LOT of clay to get a nice foot.

Ok, so here’s the deal…

Most of the pressure on the wall pulls needs to be applied to the OUTSIDE.  On the inside, you need only enough pressure to maintain the curvature of the bottom.

pull 02

Pulling up the walls in this fashion, you can move the clay that would have formed a massive foot upwards. This is how the shape of the pot develops (in cross-section):

IMG_2129[1]You can see that the inner curve is consistent, better matched by the outside curve, and your base is WAY smaller.


There we have it, Did I miss anything?

Feeling Fishy

If you recall, last week I posted about that group dinner set I’m working on with my class. Since I have to paint 11 bowls, I thought it would be smart to decorate with something simple. I sat down with my bowls and my pencil and tried a few flowers, circles, dots… Nothing looked like “that’s what I want to do!”

Finally it somehow dawned on me that I could decorate with fish that look like they’re poking their heads out of the water, making ripples. If you recall, one of the requirements was the circles be incorporated into the design – check! Not the most simple idea but it stuck. I had 4 bowls bisque fired at that pint, so I painted them.


The glaze on the outside came out perfect. That makes me really happy because with translucent glazes, application has to be very consistent for the glaze to look even. Mine does. I used a lazy Susan and slightly watered down glaze, two horizontal coats.

The insides came out pretty good. I like how the fish look, especially the 1st and 4th where it’s a top view.

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I’m less keen on the ripples. You  can see how there’s a bit of start & stop on the lines. Part of the problem is that I mixed black and white underglaze for the ripples and it came out more uneven than I expected, which is fixable. The bigger problem was that it was very difficult to get an even circle on the uneven bowls. People have suggested using a stencil for the other bowls or draw the circles on a wheel. I’m not so sure that either of those will solve the ripple issue, but worth a shot. Does anyone have another suggestion?

Cumulative Effects

This one is not about pottery. It’s about stuff in general, and yoga in particular.

I’ve been doing yoga somewhat regularly for about 4 years now. I started in a free lunchtime class. I liked the teacher because she did a nice job of explaining what we’re supposed to do, it wasn’t total “just stretch” kind of fluff, and I got into it. Then I got injured in judo, and yoga was helpful for rehab. Then I moved, didn’t know anyone, and it was something to do, found another teacher that I like and just kept going to his class. Just like that it’s been 4 years.

The other day i was in class and did a very cool headstand to arm balance transition. I’ve tried it before when I was going to yoga 3 times a week but it never quite came together. This time – no problem. It came as a complete surprise that I was able to pull it off because with all the time I spend in pottery lately, there hasn’t been much time for anything else.

It got me thinking about how much I try to spend as much time in the studio as possible. Sometimes clothes go unwashed, yoga us unattended, a little extra at work doesn’t get done… Maybe just showing up regularly is good and it doesn’t have to be 10 hours a day on the weekend? Maybe and maybe not. After all, I see progress after the long days. Maybe some can be shorter than others and that’s okay? Hmm…

That’s all I have today, an incomplete thought…

Production Pottery

The last project of the year in my ceramics class is to make a shared dinner set. Everyone in the class makes one piece of the set for everyone. That way everyone has a set of dishes with one piece by each person in the class. All the pieces have to have circles as a theme and we all have to use Carribean Blue glaze. Those are the rules.

I get to make soup bowls, 10 of them. At first I made just 4 and then 7 more last weekend (1 extra in case something goes wrong, not because I can’t add). Last class night was spent trimming 7 bowls in a row.

Photo Dec 04, 9 58 45 PM

Every now and then one of the potters I follow on twitter will share a photo of rows and rows of mugs or bowls. It always amazes me that they are able to make stuff so consistent in size and shape.

It wasn’t as boring as I expected. Lessons were learned, though. The first one is that I should write down and make precise measurements for weight of clay starting out, the sizes of the base, height, and size of the rim for bowls. The second is that I’ve definitely got pretty good about controlling shape and thickness. Kind of makes me want to make more sets of nearly identical pieces…