Dressing Up Wheel Thrown Ceramic Bowls with Swooping Sides and Cut-Out Handles

How to Make an Oval Bowl with Swooping Sides and Cut-out Handles!

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. And 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 archives, 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! All Access Subscribers can see the full issue!

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.

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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.

What are some interesting ways you have altered ceramic bowls? Share your ideas in the comments below!

**First published in 2018.
  • Kent A.

    Susan, thanks for the wonderful tips and ideas. I have wanted to do the curved side but didn’t know how to start. I found a potato peeler gave me a clean and straight edge (thanks Mr. van Gilder). I used bamboo to round the edges. I also love your glaze work.

  • Linda D.

    i just loved this tutorial. it’s magic seeing the sides brought back up and there’s quite a technique in doing that Scott, so thanks very much. I’ve been making monoprints on paper and applying them like transfers to the surface so this is something i think I’ll try with my monoprints.

  • Laurie D.

    Thank you; this is showing me a slightly different way to do a few things… setting my wheels in motion!

  • Scott M.

    1. You can soak the whole pot in water to rehydrate.
    2. If you use Tyvek instead of paper, the cut-out templates will last forever.

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