Pinch Hitting: Using a Pinch and Paddle Method to Create Large Pots

Red and Black Amphora, 11 in. (28 cm) in height, raku fired with terra sigillata and reduction stencil effects.

Red and Black Amphora, 11 in. (28 cm) in height, raku fired with terra sigillata and reduction stencil effects.

Pinch pots are the introductory project for many just starting out in clay. But pinch pots can be far from elementary. This method can be used to create very exciting and sophisticated forms.

Kristin Doner produces pinch pots on a larger-than-usual scale. She used to begin her pinch pots with 2-3 pound balls of clay, but she wanted larger forms. So she increased the amount of clay and developed new forming strategies. After opening with a usual pinching method, she expands the pot by rhythmically paddling the outside. Today, Kristin explains this pinch and paddle technique. – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

My journey with clay has been a process of discovery and rediscovery. At times, the process has been forced, leading me to produce works that I consider over­engineered, forms that stand apart from those that emerge from a more intuitive process. When I disengaged my conscious thought and allowed my work to develop through a more intuitive process, the result was a more satisfying expression, one that speaks from a deeper part of myself. I am often surprised how intuitive responses interact with conscious inspirations to produce unexpected outcomes.

For example, ancient history has been an inspiration for me. I feel connected with the past when examining an ancient artifact, realizing that the item in my hand was likely an integral part of someone’s life centuries ago. I am also fascinated by the impact of time and environment on the surface of these artifacts. Frequently, organic textures and earthy colors appear in random fashion, having developed from centuries of exposure to the elements. There’s little doubt that these artifacts have had an in?uence on my work, as witnessed by my choice of glaze treatments and my classical use of form.

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The “less is more” aesthetic has also had an effect on my work. I try to reduce an expression to the pure essentials, to focus clearly on the main point of my work-form. My goal is pure simplicity of form achieved through gently sloping lines and as few distractions as possible.

To develop my sensitivity for form, I used to sit with pencil and paper sketching half silhouettes. These half forms trick the eye in a wonderful way. By building upon the visual information of one half of the form, the mind completes the other half.

The result is an instant critique of the essential elements. Zeroing in on an intriguing form, I used to sketch out every aspect of the completed piece in full detail, then apply the appropriate techniques to bring the expression to life. These conscious exercises were interesting to a point, but they lacked the spirit and vitality that I hungered for in my work. Eventually, I put down the pencil and started working intuitively. Letting go in this way allowed me to develop beyond the limitations of overengineered ideas.

A cylindrical ball of clay is opened with the thumb. Using up to an 8-pound ball of clay for a pinchpot has become second nature.

The upper walls are thinned by pushing with the thumb from the inside, while supporting the outside with the outer hand.

The bottom is thinned by pushing with the fingers or knuckles of the inner hand toward the outer (support) hand.

The wall thickness is evened (bottom to rim) by rhythmical paddling while slowly rotating the form with the inside hand.

After the clay has hardened somewhat, the lower wall is stretched more, reserving a small amount of clay at the bottom.

Once the clay has firmed up again, the reserve at the bottom is stretched by stroking in the opposite direction.

Then, the form is inverted and paddled to compress the clay and refine the contour of the bottom.

When the bottom is firm, the form is supported in a padded bowl, and paddling of the upper wall is begun.

Subsequent passes refine the curve of the shoulder; eventually, the paddle is used simply to control the amount of stretching.

**First published in 2011
  • very interesting,as well it doesn’t seem so simple, thank you for your qulified pinch techniques due to big works.

  • Linda M.

    Looks really good to me. I tore up my rotater cuff and can’t thrown now. I like this alternitive. Now I can get my hands in the clay, I never really liked slab building. Now to figure out how to make a lid for the vessel.

  • Elizabeth S.

    Interesting, but looks too labor intensive.

  • I am looking forward to trying this method of making larger pinch pots. Thank you for sharing this technique with us.

  • John, love the textures, thanks for letting us see your work.

  • Brenda W.

    This reminded me of the classic book, Finding One’s Way With Clay, by Paul S. Berensohn.
    You don’t even have to be a potter to enjoy both the book, and pinching itself, as form of meditation, connecting with nature, ‘centering’.


    Pinching and pinching intuitively is my method of choice, working both large and small. I love to see what comes out of my hand when I allow something to just evolve as opposed to planning every detail. Often it is something very different from my conscious thoughts. My paddles are definitely my favorite tools. Nice to know I am not alone!

  • Raymond F.

    very cool… I have to try this.. oh.. and John Andrew.. great stuff

  • Maggie H.

    Very timely! My Pottery 1 class is working on pinchpots as I type. John, just checked out your site, very interesting technique. Can’t wait to show it to my high school artists!

  • Jackie C.

    Amazing, I’ve never seen a pinch pot this big. Can’t wait to try

  • I have been doing this for quite some time now…check out some of my pieces at

    I love your style & technique! I use a kick wheel…I like to think of it as “slow throwing”.

  • That looks like it takes quite a lot of hand strength. It appears very direct and fast though. Great technique, I’ll give it a try.

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