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Published May 31, 2023

ceramic bowls

Susan McKinnon was inspired by bread baskets when she came up with the design of her oval ceramic bowls with built-in handles. She loved the idea of the contents of the bowl towering above the rim, so she cut into the rims to make swooping sides.

In today's post, an excerpt from the Ceramics Monthly archive, Susan shares the process for making these ceramic bowls, which are thrown and then altered using paper templates. –Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor

PS. Check out the full article, including Susan's decorating and soda firing techniques!

Throwing and Altering Ceramic Bowls

I start by throwing a large, wide, and tall bowl with 6–8 pounds of clay. I tend to gravitate toward a taller bowl for these since it typically results in dramatic proportions and the ability to contain more. Then, I cut the bowl off of the bat immediately, so that the tension between the base and plastic bat doesn’t cause cracking as the bowl dries and shrinks.


When the rim of the bowl sets up enough to hold its weight, I flip the bowl over and continue to dry it very slowly. When the base of the bowl is soft leather hard, I trim the foot ring. I use a soft rib to smooth the exterior of the bowl after trimming (1). I’ve found that any bumps or ridges will cause small variations in the painted stripes later on. I check to see if the walls of the bowl are still soft and a bit malleable; if not, I use damp cheese cloth to rehydrate them slowly under plastic until the walls are malleable again. I learned this trick from ceramic artist Joan Bruneau. Then, I gently squeeze the bowl into an oval by pressing the walls inward.

1 After trimming a bowl thrown from 6–8 pounds of clay, compress and smooth the surface using a soft rib. Make sure the walls are still malleable, then squeeze the bowl into an oval shape.2 To make a curved rim, create a paper template and use it to make a line on each side to guide your cut. Cut along the line using an X-Acto knife.

Next, I make paper templates to guide the depth of the cut from the rim and the size of the cut-out handles. I use paper so that I reconsider the shapes and depth regularly, as the template degrades or becomes rippled from moisture. This process keeps me engaged in making relatively the same form with small variations over time.

I make sure the template is equally spaced. Usually, I use my hands as a measuring tool to make sure the cuts are symmetrical and then adjust if necessary. Next, I trace each shape to alter the rim with a pin tool (2), cut the rim using an X-Acto knife, then I use a curved Surform to even out any variations in the cut and to round off the edges (3). Once the curve of the rim is defined, the placement of the handle holds can be determined. I use a template to get a consistent shape, size, and placement for the handle holds, then trace around them with a needle tool (4) before cutting them out using an X-Acto blade. I use a smooth, damp sponge to compress and refine all of the cut edges (5). I find that using an arrow-shaped makeup sponge for contouring works great. The arrow shape allows for firm, even pressure while keeping a reserve of water in the base of the sponge.

3 Use a curved Surform to make sure the cut is even and to round off the cut edges.4 Trace and cut the handle holds using a template. Repeat on the opposite end.5 Use a smooth, damp makeup sponge to compress and refine the cut edges.

**First published in 2018.