I have been working with colored clay for more than 25 years, staying mainly with handbuilt work because I thought throwing colored clays was all about mixed-color agateware. While this work is interesting, it’s very limiting to someone who loves distinct patterns and images. So, I set out to discover how to throw colored clay without losing the patterns I love so much. I call this process Intentional Color Placement. As usual, the clay had a few lessons to teach me.
Lesson 1: The white/colored clay mixtures need time to rest and mesh so they don’t separate while being thrown. Now I prepare my mixed colored clays the day before and let them sit overnight on a damp towel covered with plastic.
Lesson 2: You cannot cone the clay up and down to center it without over blending the colors. The more centered your ball is before starting, the better the results will be. I solved this by first slapping the clay as close to center as possible with the wheel rotating very slowly, then speeding up the wheel to quickly finish the centering, then throw the form in as few pulls as possible.
Lesson 3: Clean as much slurry as possible off of both the interior and exterior surfaces while the form is still attached to the wheel. Most pottery throwing tools are designed for cleaning
a convex surface and don’t do such a great job on the interior of a pot, which is a concave surface. Steel ribs of all shapes do the best job both inside and out.
The following layering techniques provided interesting results:
The Hamburger (1A)
You’ll need two pieces of white clay and one piece of colored clay. Place the colored clay between the two white pieces. You don’t have to put the colored piece exactly in the center. Place the colors or patterns at any level and most of it will stay in that area of the pot, both on the interior and the exterior. Pat the pieces together into a ball shape (1A), and let them rest overnight on a damp cloth covered with plastic.
Center and throw a pot as usual, being cautious to do so in as efficient a manner as possible. After three or four pulls the colors will start to move, but this can be very interesting (1B). Even on the inside, the colors will stay where they’re placed.
The Hot Cross Bun (2A)
Slice a white clay ball in four quarters. Line the insides with strips of colored clay. You don’t have to place them in a perfect square pattern to get interesting results.
Center and throw the pot. Notice how the lines flow smoothly up the sides, both on the exterior and the interior (2B).
The Vertical Stripe (3A)
A vertical stripe of color placed between a cut white ball produces a soft swirl around the pot both inside and out (3B). I used stripes of various colors and some checked patterns while doing these.
The Slant (4A)
Place a strip of color inside the white clay ball on a slant or place a wedge of color at the top or bottom of the white clay. The single slanted strip produces a hooked swirl design (4B).
The Wrap (5A)
Wrap a sheet of color or patterns over the top, side, or the bottom of a white ball of clay. Try laying the sheet at an angle rather than centered. Don’t use it right away as the color will slide off, instead allow it to sit overnight to rest and the color will then stay attached (5B).
The Bottom (6A)
Another simple idea is to place a slice of color or a pattern on the bottom of a clay ball before you throw (6B).
I struggled with throwing patterns until I happened upon a video showing the technique of Tineke van Gils. Her method is elegant in its simplicity and allows you to place patterns anywhere on your vessel. You can also pull and shape the patterns so they complement the form.
Begin by rolling out a small slab of colored clay. Shape it into a ring and join the ends together. Measure the diameter of the ring.
Throw a small amount of white clay leaving a lip slightly smaller than your colored clay ring (7A). Slip your colored-clay ring over the lip so it rests on the base, with the lip on the inside (7B). Gently run your finger around the inside of the form to connect the raised lip to the colored ring. If needed, wet your finger with a small amount of your throwing water to help seal the join. On the outside, gently lift the white clay to connect the two parts. At this point you can pull to thin it without losing the pattern (7C). At this point you could add a white collar (with a small lip) to the top of the piece and shape it.
Chris Campbell has been a studio potter in Raleigh, North Carolina, since 1991. For 25 years she has been creating her artwork with her custom-colored porcelain. She also teaches workshops to share her knowledge of colored clay. You can learn more at www.ccpottery.com, www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1299969459&ref=tn_tnmn, www.facebook.com/groups/286531511532039. She would love to hear about your thrown colored-clay forms. Email her with images and a description of what you have done to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Click here to read Handbuilding on a Stick by Mitch Lyons. This article originally appeared in the March/April 2009 issue of Pottery Making Illustrated.