It’s workshop season so today I thought I would present a project that was inspired by a workshop demonstration. Years ago, potter Dick Lehman observed John Glick, one of his pottery heroes, demonstrating at a workshop. One of the techniques he observed that day stuck with him and, years later, it resurfaced in his work. But it didn’t resurface in the exact same way. Dick put his own spin on the technique, informed by his own aesthetic. Workshops are great ways to expose yourself to new techniques that you can then run through your own filter and make them your own. If you ever have the opportunity, attend one! But for now, think of today’s post as an e-workshop! – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.
Several decades ago, I attended an NCECA conference in San Antonio. I was only a few years into my life as a full-time potter and was especially keen to see a demonstration by John Glick, the ‘godfather of American studio ceramics’ and one of my heroes. As the “Roger Bannister” of potters, he broke the four-minute mile for studio potters, showing that it was possible to be a self-sustaining studio potter while pursuing a life’s dream. Now I finally had the opportunity to see him work first-hand!
Although I only remember a few aspects of John’s presentation, I do specifically remember that John used a wooden template to create a beaded foot on some large flat bowls. After he established the foot, he cut and overlapped the rim of the bowl, a design recognized as vintage Glick (www.plumtreepottery.com). Then-and this is the important part—he used that wooden template to “draw” a series of backward “C’s” into the foot of the pot as the pot slowly turned. The result was a kind of lobed foot that mimicked the wave action of the bowl’s rim.
Fast forward a couple of decades and I’m in my studio working on some new low baking dish forms. I dredged up that long-ago workshop memory and decided to try Glick’s footing method using my own wooden template, hoping to discover something about the process that I could use-something of integrity that was tied to my own aesthetic and not just a mimicking of his design.
Here, of course, is where the genius of individual temperament and neurological wiring take over. My natural inclination toward “lysdexia” (dyslexia) kicked in, and instead of carving backward C’s into the foot with the wooden rib, I began unconsciously carving big looping forward-facing C’s! So instead of a lotus-like lobing of the foot, my pot suddenly became a beautiful six-sided baking dish. I could hardly believe the fortuitous consequence of my dyslexia!
From this discovery, I quickly moved to making three-sided, squared, rectangular, five-sided and oval forms. I made taller jars and vases, large serving bowls and bottles, and before long, a handled, dancing diamond-shaped baking dish, the body of which is made from one piece of clay
Throwing the Baking Dish Form
To create a diamond-shaped baking dish, begin by throwing a low, straight-sided cylinder (figure 1). I used about four pounds of clay for the piece shown in this demonstration.
Next, with the wheel spinning, create a beaded foot by pressing a notched wooden rib against the outside of the cylinder at a 45° angle.
For the rib, you can make your own by using a file to create a contour of your own design in the edge of a plain wooden rib. The rib shown in the photos is one that I made from three thin sheets of osage orange glued together with the grain of the wood alternating at 90° angles. After cutting out the contour of the throwing rib, I sanded the edges smooth.
(Note: Maple, beech or any fruit wood (apple, pear, cherry) are suitable woods to use for making pottery tools.)
I usually choose to add some design lines to the rim so that the later alteration becomes more pronounced due to the repeated lines and shadows.
Altering the Form
To begin squaring the form, designate the four corners. I often put marks on the bat or place little balls of clay on the wheel head to mark these corners. Next, with the wheel rotating very slowly, begin gently pushing the wooden template into the four sides between the marks, releasing pressure when you get to the corners.
The shape does not change abruptly so the pot may revolve ten or twelve times until you achieve a fairly square profile. You may notice that where the wall has been pushed inward, little “wrinkles” will form on the inside corners where the inside wall meets the bottom of the pot. This is not a problem and a gentle sponging will smooth those wrinkles.
To accentuate the sense of squareness, gently pull the corners outward with one finger.
If you simply want a square pot, you could stop at this point. I usually continue by articulating the foot, pushing it even farther with the wooden rib, creating a kind of “dancing square” shape.
Then I manipulate the rim to mimic the foot’s articulation and line.
For a dish to be used in the oven, I attach handles while the pot is still wet on the wheel. These handles can be pulled from a lump of clay, made from rolled coils or slabs, or extruded.
The finished form reveals the shape of this dancing-square pot. This method works equally well for making rectangular and oval forms. Taller forms can be altered by the same method to create, for example, square vases.
Detail showing the articulation and indentations made to the outside of the pot during the squaring process.