One of the very first workshops I ever attended was given by the potter Lorna Meaden. I was so moved by how skilled she was on the wheel. She showed the group just how simple it is to manipulate the clay and use the potter’s wheel as a multi-use tool. This was a personal game changer to my practice as a potter. It made me start to think about hand building in a different way, and about using the potter’s wheel to make parts rather than a finished form.
One demo that inspired me was how she made multiple pieces on the wheel and assembled them to make a functional scoop. Wanting to try these techniques on my own, I went back to my studio and perfected my type of scoop.
Throwing as a Tool
I choose to throw the parts for the scoop off of the hump. This allows for me to make multiple parts quickly, giving me a lot of options once I start to assemble. Center a ball of clay on the top of the hump then throw a small bowl (1). This will be the scoop form. Try experimenting with different rim edges on the bowl and various widths as well. Ask yourself whether it will be a large, deep scoop used for dog food, or it will be small enough to scoop out sugar for coffee. Using a metal rib, compress the inside of the bowl and the outside walls. The thickness of the bowl should correspond to the intention of the scoop. For something like a dog- or cat-food scoop I make the walls of the bowl thicker, to protect it from chipping and wear and tear. When you’re satisfied with the size and the shape, use a needle tool to remove the bowl from the hump (2), and set it to the side to reach leather hard. Continue to throw several more bowls to give yourself options later.
1 Throw a small bowl off the hump. Refine the shape using a rib.
2 Using a needle tool, remove the bowl from the hump.
3 Throw the handle off the hump, keeping it in proportion to the scoop.
4 Close the form to trap air inside the hollow handle.
Start to throw the handles for the scoops from the same hump of clay. I judge the size of the handles by the size of the bowls, always considering proportion and always making multiples. Make at least four handles for each bowl. Proportion is key when making the handle. If it’s too large, it will weigh the scoop down. If it’s not large enough, it will seem understated. The handles should be relatively thin and be long enough to fit in your hand nicely. I also recommend tapering the handle to make it easier to use, but this is just personal preference. Keep in mind when throwing the handle you want to have a good balance between the scoop and the handle; you want it to be relatively thin, but not so thin as to break off the scoop when using it, and not too heavy that it throws off the balance of the form.
A hollow handle is made by throwing a tall, thin form (3), and trapping a pocket of air inside it by closing off the top (4). Here is where you can really explore many different designs for the handle. Once the air is trapped in the form, it becomes easy to use a rounded metal rib and angled plastic Mudtools rib to refine the shape (5, 6). After you have the desired shape, cut the handle off the hump with a needle tool (7). Set all parts aside to dry. I throw with very little water, so it only takes a short while for the clay to stiffen up.
5 Refine and shape the curves of the hollow handle using a rounded metal rib.
6 Use an angled plastic Mudtools rib to define the area of the handle that is attached to the scoop.
7 After you have the desired shape, cut the handle off the hump with a needle tool.
8 Once the bowl reaches soft leather hard, trim it to have a rounded bottom.
Once the pieces are at a very soft leather-hard state, they’re ready to trim. The bowls are trimmed on the wheel, taking care not to press too hard and distort the form. I choose to trim at a softer stage because later I want to manipulate and fold the clay without it cracking. The bowls are trimmed with a rounded bottom (8). Smooth and refine the surface as you desire.
Assembling the Parts
It’s very simple to make the bowl into a scoop. Start by taking a triangle-shaped, right-angle dart out of one side of the form (9). Then, using the dart from one size as a guide, cut the same size dart on the opposite side (10). The amount of material you cut away will give you the shape of the bowl that is desired. A lot of experimentation is needed to get just the right shape. For example, a right-angle cut will give you a different look then say a more obtuse angle. Symmetry is achieved by making the same cut on each side. Now, fold the bowl closed by overlapping the dart. Score and slip the folded area together (11). Compress the area of the join with a rubber rib where cracks may form. I choose to keep the integrity of my seams and show the edges, but you may choose to smooth them out. I do a little clean up work with my sponge, but I leave any serious detail cleaning for later after the clay has had time to set up more. Since clay has memory, I don’t want to distort the scoop very much.
The handle requires little altering after coming off the wheel. Remove any finger prints, then consider proportion and placement. Once you’re ready to place the handle, think about how your hand will hold it in use. For example, I have learned with personal use of my scoops, I prefer the handle to sit higher up on the bowl, closer to the top. This ensures that when I’m scooping out sugar, none will spill over. Experiment with placement and find the best connection for you. Slip and score the handle into place (12), being sure to stabilize the interior clay wall with your other hand and not to press down too firmly, so you don’t distort the clay wall. Clean up any rough marks and lightly wipe a sponge over the seams, then let the scoops sit in a damp box for at least a day, allowing the moisture content of the clay to homogenize and avoid any problems with potential cracking.
9 At the soft leather-hard stage, cut a right-angle dart out of the rim of the bowl.
10 Using the dart from one size as a guide, cut the same dart out of the opposite side.
11 Slip and score the two sides, then use your fingers to compress them together.
12 Smooth and refine the handle, then score and slip it onto the scoop.
After the clay has had time to set up and can now hold its shape, the possibilities are endless with decoration. Carving or brushing designs, inlaying clay with mishima, or water etching are all possible. Caution: Remember to put a small hole in your hollow handle before firing to allow air to escape during the bisque firing.
I have experimented a lot with how to fire these pieces. While there are endless options, I generally like to leave the outside unglazed and wet polish the exterior clay after firing for an ultra smooth finish.
Alyssa Wagner studied ceramics at the University of North Florida before moving to Virginia to open her own home studio. Along with working as a full-time hairstylist, she is actively exploring new forms and enjoys making works that can be found in the everyday kitchen cabinet. To see more, check out www.alyssawagnerpottery.com.
Plato and Nietzsche love their dog food almost as much as they love their new ceramic scoop!
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