Testing the Limits of Porcelain in Wheel Thrown, Altered and Carved Sculptures

Jennifer McCurdy has been working with porcelain for over twenty five years and for the last several years, she has been really putting it to the test structurally. She has been experimenting with how thin high fire porcelain can be before it collapses in the kiln and how much it can be cut away and still maintain structural integrity. The results of these experiments are stunning sculptures that reflect the movement of the potter’s wheel and the fire of the kiln. Today, Jennifer demonstrates her techniques from the initial thrown form to the lighter-than-air finished piece. – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.


To learn more about Jennifer McCurdy or see more images of her work, visit www.jennifermccurdy.com.

**First published in 2009

  • Margaret F.

    It is now 2014 and I saw you work at our recent Potober in Perth WA.
    I just adore the work you do and found watching and listening to you was great.
    I have found my best learning was from potters like you who are so generous with their expertise .

  • i did not view the video and structural integrity is second to personal integrity always with me and i am a problem person because to me the formula is everything.
    i know i’m asking a lot of U, how much credit would U give to the formula in the creation of your artistic works.

  • sheila b.

    Wow, thank you so much for your detailed and so well presented technique sharing! Your sculptures seem to begin a dance around your arm as you create.

  • How genrous of you to share this technique with us!
    I can’t wait to try it! 🙂
    Thank you very much!

    Gorgeous work!

  • PS after watching this vid 3 times i realized i need to take into account the about of move ment it will get in the last firing i know this would depend alot on how wide/thin or narrow the object is but is there a way to to get an idea ? do u just measure the side of the clay to find out the area it can rich and make the post longer then that ? when i say measure i don’t mean the height i mean taking into account the hole side of the peace , i hope i make sense.

  • Jennifer, i was at the Armstrong gallery today and got to hold oneof ur carved vessels, it was hella scary they are so amazing ! i so love your work and that ribbon work u do WOW. Im going to attempt to give your style a try , try being the key word hah , but im wondering would coleman porcelain work okay , have you used it? and is it okay to fire to cone ten ? or do u fire lower ? im guessing the best way to find out wound be to just try but i thought no harm in finding out tips =)

  • Jennifer M.

    Len, thanks for asking. I have presented workshops in many parts of the country as well as Canada. Currently I have a one day demonstration workshop scheduled for the Potters Guild of Annapolis May 21st. I also teach multiple day hands-on workshops and welcome inquiries from potters’ groups by email to jen@jennifermccurdy.com.

  • Leonard C.

    Do you give local workshops in Boston?

  • Jennifer,

    So glad to have met you at the ACC show last week, and see your work “in person”. It is remarkable!

  • Jennifer M.

    Cindy, sounds like you’re doing well! All porcelain bodies are not equal when it comes to throwing. I use the WC 631, by Laguna Clay. I like to start with my wedged ball quite stiff. But I throw up the cylinder normally, using as much water as I need to keep the clay slick as I pull up the cylinder. It only takes a few pulls and a very few minutes to do this, and that is key, don’t spend too much time on your cylinder. It is after the cylinder is complete that I stop using water, and I use two metal ribs, outside and in, to coax out the sphere from the cylinder. Make sure you sponge the water from the bottom before you start working on the sphere. Good luck!

  • Jennifer,

    I read that you throw with as little water as possible. Can you explain what you consider ‘as little water as possible’ and how you manage to get your vessels so tall? It seems like when I try to throw taller than 12″ I run out of water to lubricate the vessel toward the top and haven’t figured out how to avoid that yet. The porcelain I am using is like a sponge and sucks up every last drop of water I add to it. Except in the bottom where it seems to puddle and stay soft. I looked for a video with your explanation online but couldn’t find one.

    I am stuck throwing porcelain at 12″ tall and my walls vary from 1/4″ at the bottom to less than 1/8″ at the top. Considering I had never touched porcelain until last weekend I thought that was pretty good. But I want taller!!! I think the wall thickness is good but taller is always better… 🙂

    Thanks for any advice you can give me.

  • I had to clear my browser to get it to work but finally got to see the video.
    Thank you for sharing!

  • Teresa H.

    incredible, what a patient potter
    I will definately try it

  • Cleosane M.

    Jennifer McCurdy,

    Absolutely beautiful work!!
    Wonderful video!
    Thank you for sharing.
    Cleo Mascarenhas, from Brasil

  • Carol M.

    Thank you for showing us in such detail how to try to make these stunning pieces. You’re gifted and so generous with your work.

  • Katrina L.

    Hi Jennifer
    Thanks for the advice and I am certainly going to test our uk porcelains again. Fabulous work and you have given me new inspirationfor the making of peirced pots. Just goes to show that you are never too old to try different ways and techniques. Many thanks, Gareth

  • SARAH K.

    Thank you so much for sharing your inspirational techniques in working with clay! All the lovely curves enhance the viewing pleasure and the true beauty of porcelain. WONDERFUL!

  • Jennifer M.

    Diann, I use WC 631 porcelain, made by Laguna Clay. I fire to cone 10. I do not glaze the porcelain. No, you will not get “sagging” (slumping, melting) until you reach the temperature at which your clay body vitrifies. You may be confusing the word sagger, which means a fire clay box which protects ware from flame during firing.

  • Diann A.

    I love your work. What type of clay body (brand) do you use? How high do you fire? Do you glaze your pieces? I would appreciate some feedback. I have an application for this technique, but it will be low fired, i.e Raku, saggar. Will I not get the sagging in firing if I fire so low?

  • Jennifer M.

    Hi, All! Thanks for all the great comments. We really have a great clay community here. And, Jennifer Harnetty, thanks for the video! You did a heroic job of shooting and editing. I’ll try to answer some questions here, but if you need more explanation on anything, don’t hesitate to email me directly.

    Katrina, you asked about a good porcelain body in the UK. I don’t know, but it should not be hard to find. The Laguna 631 porcelain that I use has the primary ingredient of Grolleg kaolin, a costly kaolin that is mined in the UK! All the other ingredients of the porcelain contribute to its qualities also. I tested many porcelains before I found the 631 (then called Miller 550). Not cracking with drying after going under the carving knife, so to speak, is critical to my work and not all porcelains can handle that. Another key is throwability. If I were looking for a porcelain in the UK to suit my needs, I would test all the different ones that use Grolleg, and talk to the tech people of the suppliers.

    Rich, I fire upside down on the kiln post only after the piece has been bisque fired. Indeed, the reason for bisque firing is to gain the strength required to hang up side down from a post! If I could hang the green ware up side down without cracking it I would just once fire the work.

    DJ, I have heard that there are some good cone 6 porcelains out there, that are translucent and everything, but I have not tested them. The Laguna 631 fires well between cone 9 and cone 10.

    Jim, thanks for the comment about carving on low bisque ware. It is true that you can gain control of green ware cracking with this technique, and I have seen potters create beautiful, lacy work with it. Carving on low bisque takes more time, however, and I don’t think you can still use wet brushes and sponges at the end to smooth the porcelain, since you have driven out the chemical water in the firing. The effect of this technique tends to be sharper, the edges less round – also lovely, but different.

    Margaret, you asked, how thin do I throw? As thin as I can! When I am at the wheel, I concentrate on throwing the most perfect shape, the thinnest that I can. Each form must be perfectly centered as I work on it. Each form is on the edge of collapse by the time I take it off the wheel. My technique has evolved from starting with the thrown form. I was obsessed with throwing perfect porcelain pots for ten or fifteen years before I had the irreverence to actually bash in that vase I had worked so hard to attain with alterations!

    Louise, I would love to see the results of what you attain with these techniques. We ALL work from each other’s shoulders! That is part of what makes our individual journeys worth while.

    Cheryl, you might enjoy the Ribbon Vessel sequence in the September issue of Ceramic Review magazine. It is posted in the Publications page of my website. The Making Sequence is at the end of the article.

    Judy, yes, I can see now that I must work on making a workshop video. I did not think people would be that interested. I have made a living by selling my porcelain for the last thirty years, so I have a lot to learn about the teaching side of the field.

    Jennifer McCurdy

  • absolutely gorgeous pieces!!!! Thank you so much for sharing your technique with us. I have one question that wasn’t answered in the video. Do you fire to cone 06 bisque or a higher cone to get the desired slumping?

  • Adela C.

    I have always admired your work. Just stunning. To share your art and skills, what a lady. I have learnt so much from your video. Thankyou so muh for sharing.

  • Karen B.

    Thank you so very much! I have been dying to know how you do what you do!

  • Meena D.

    Thank you doesn’t begin to express how much I appreciate your sharing this video. Your lovely patient generous personality came through wonderfully in the steps and your explanations. I can’t wait to see more of your work on your website. If I come anywhere near something like your pieces I will be proudly proclaiming your name every chance I get! This kind of name-dropping would be an honor!

  • Marian P.

    Thank you. Your art is so inspiring to me. I was taken with it from the first photo that I saw in a magazine several years ago. I will incorporate some of your ideas in my porcelain work.

  • Leonard C.

    So glad you shared your technique. This video that is one of the greatest gifts of all… have admired your work for while…have a picture of one of your pieces in my studio for inspiration…thanks for sharing

  • Zaneta T.

    Thank you so much for teaching me your unique and beautiful technique. I love your work. Usually I work in plaster, but right now I am taking a ceramic course and there is always a lot to learn and a lot to experience. Your work reminds me so much of my own. Thank you so much for showing me how creative and beautiful your work is. Every day I am learning something new. And with your help, I hope that I can create something different in my own way. Thanks for sharing.

  • Subscriber T.

    Amazing and beautiful work. Congratulations Jennifer! Thanks for sharing.

  • Thank you so much for posting this video. The first time I saw photos of your work I was blown away; it’s amazing. Now the trick is trying the technique and making it my own! Thanks – and do you have a workshop video in the works?

  • Janet T.

    Oh, Porcelain, how many misteries can you show us? We, your audiences wish to be in your smart-club and happen with great knowledge to create what those OTHER ARTISTS are creating !!! Porcelan, YOU’RE MARVELOUS !!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you !!!!

  • Cheryl W.

    Thank you for this video. I’m very intrigued by the concept of using slumping to create/alter a form. These are exquisite. Her website is amazing. I would love to see a demo of the ribbon vessels–the level of skill and risk is so impressive.

  • Christine S.

    Brilliant & gorgeous! I have always wanted to learn how you made your work so beautiful. Thanks for explaining your sanding tools. Lovely!

  • Karen C.

    I have admired your work for years. Your presentation was criticized by one educator, but realize, that is why he is an educator and you are an artist.

  • Sharon M.

    Thank you for sharing your inspiring process. So generous.
    Your web site with the marvelous photos of your pots exhibited in the seascape emphasizing their organic nature and suggesting your inspiration. A treat not to be missed. Thank you.

  • Linda C.

    That demo was so inspiring to me, thank you. I could ‘feel’ the clay moving into shape as you used your thumb to alter its shape- my kind of thing!

  • I have admired your work for quite awhile. Thank you for explaining your technique so clearly. Such beautiful pieces!

  • Barbara S.

    Beautiful! I rarely do any porcelain anymore. Anxious to push the envelope of my stone ware clay to see how far it can go. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. Video was also well done, thanks.

  • OMG ! that is sooooo cute. I love your work . thanks for the video .

  • Thank you very much. I think you are very generous sharing your knowledge.

  • Penny O.

    Fabulous video and work! Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Beautiful presentation, for such a short video you touched on so much. I was fortunate to attend your hands on workshop last spring in Cincinnati, Ohio. Jennifer was clear, concise and shared all her techniques with our class. Watching this video is like a review and I see I have forgotten some of her techniques. Incredible work and a wonderful artist. Thank you for sharing.



  • Jaxon K.

    I have just started to work with porcelain and discovered that it can be very picky.this video showed up just in time.It was fantastic!

  • Catherine C.

    That was Awesome and soooo inspiring!

  • I love your work. I am so inspired. Yes thank you for your generosity in sharing your beautiful technique

  • Mieke V.

    thank you for being so generous in sharing your technique Jennifer, wonderfull work and so delicate.Super!

  • Louise B.

    Wow, Jennifer…I feel absolutely inspired! It would be so interesting to see/share (perhaps in a year?) how we & other artists adapt some small portion of your innovative process/ideas to our own original work. Thank you so much for the generous sharing of your fabulous technique. Louise

  • Margaret H.

    Beautiful work.
    Is there a specific thickness in the clay that you work with when carving.
    I love working with porcelain. Thankyou

  • @alexis – “balanced upside down on a kiln post with a pad of insulating fiber” is how it was explained in her workshop I attended.

  • Alexis J.

    beautiful work Jennifer. One Q: how is it you invert the pieces to relax and for firing? There seems to be a word in the video I did not understand — @11:50 into video — “balanced upside down on a ????” can you please elaborate on that? Thanks.

  • Nigel C.

    Very good technique, however the explanation of the technique is vague – sorry but as an educator clear, precise explanation is very important, also the memory element of porcelain is not mentioned – procelain remembers any slight distortion and these will be apparent after firing – its a wonderful medium but requires skill to control it; rather than letting it control you – the maker.

  • Jharnetty@ceramics.org H.

    Craig and Tracy-

    It might take a couple of minutes for this video to load because it is a pretty long video (therefore, larger file than many). Give it a few minutes and check back to see if it has loaded. If you have a fast internet connection, you shouldn’t have any problems, but if it is a slower connection, you may run into trouble.

  • Noreen W.

    Your work is very creative & wonderfully different then what is out there. Thanks so much for sharing so much of what you do with all of us.
    How high do you fire your porcelane at? Is is cone 6 or cone 10 porcelane? Lastly is there somewhere we can read the answers to other questions?

    Thanks so much♥

  • Kathi H.

    Wow the pieces are beautiful. Your presentation was also very detailed and informative! Thanks, Kathi

  • Tracy W.

    OMG I was so excited to watch this video and the area of the web page where the link to the video should be is BLANK!!. there is nothing for me to click on. What to do??

  • Nancy S.

    Thank you for sharing! I’ve seen your work before and am very excited to see how the “magic” was done. 🙂

  • I had to write how magnificent your work is and how beautifully you presented it!

  • Wow! What a wonderful process to watch. There is one step you might consider that has been successful for me.

    Try a low bisque after the rough carving/cut-out stage. I use 1400 degrees for my low bisque. You will be able to do all the finishing steps described in your video but with much less risk of breaking the piece. I follow with a standard bisque at cone 04 to give the piece enough strength to survive glazing.

  • Christine P.

    I’ve seen the photos, and now it’s great to see the process. I do a lot of carving on thrown pieces, and will push it a bit farther now! Thank you for this demo. Beautiful work!

  • Maura F.

    Jennifer, I love your work! Thank you for sharing the technique. Maura

  • Richard L.

    Beautiful work and really well presented. Question: Do you use the stilt while firing both bisque and high fire? Thanks, Rich

  • Denise J.

    Wonderful demonstration! Thank you Jennifer for sharing your secrets. You work is wonderful!



  • Chantal A.

    That was awsome!!! Thanks a lot. So beautiful.

  • Karen M.

    Thank you so much for this video! I can’t wait to give it a try!

  • Great Video! You should do the same with all the presentations at the Porcelain Conference since some of us who attended sat at the back of the room and didn’t get a great view of the presentation.
    Absolutely beautiful work!!
    Thank you for sharing.

  • The graceful gravity formed shape that you achieved in the kiln is soooo beautiful. Is there any hope of achieving the same results with cone 6 porcelain?

  • Katrina L.

    Hi. Absolutely love your work. Just one simple question – what porcelain clay do you use and do you know if it’s available in the uk. You make such large thrown forms that probably requires lots of turning or maybe not. I have used stoneware clays for over 25 years and wish to try porcelain. The clays I have tried so far will not pierce very well and tend to crumble. Any help would be appreciated.
    Kind regards

  • Cheryl M.

    Thank you for sharing your creativity – amazing – the pieces are absolutely lovely – hopefully I will try your methods and who knows, may be able to create such beauty!

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