Topic: Articles

Out of Round


I admit it, round pottery can get a little old and boring for me, so I enjoy the challenge of altering round forms into something new and unround. My garden is my primary inspiration for my pottery-—from the rich texture of the red-orange dirt, to the colors of the birds, butterflies, and flowers. I began altering thrown forms with a few simple dimples in the side of a mug and then wanted to translate the flower form into something more complex. What followed was my altered covered jar.

Early in my career I learned to roll a slab and drape it into an ovaled cylinder to create an oval lid. This method wasn’t always successful, as the lid was formed upside down into the pot and when flipped right-side up, it often didn’t fit because the pot wasn’t always a perfect oval. Years later I saw Martha Grover measure a lid seat with calipers prior to ovaling, she then threw a ring to fit the caliper size and placed the ring in the lid seat prior to altering. This method was the perfect way to finish my altered jars. Ingenious!

Throw and Measure

To make a flower-shaped covered jar, start with a 2½–3-pound ball and throw a simple bottomless cylinder with a lid flange. Open the centered ball of clay to the bat and pull out, leaving a slightly thicker base, about 3⁄4 inch thick, for the wall to remain stuck to the bat. Pull up a cylinder, remembering to leave clay at the rim for a lid seat. I tend to pull a cylinder with a wide body. Now use your calipers to measure the lid seat diameter (1).Throw a bottomless cylinder and form a seat in the rim after the first pull. Use callipers to measure for the lid.

Next, with a ½–pound ball, throw a ring to the same diameter measurements of your calipers. Again, open the centered ball to the bat and pull out to the diameter of the lid seat. Then pull up a short ring (2). I like to make the ring slightly taller than the depth of the lid seat. Usually ½ pound is too much clay, but I cannot seem to throw anything less, so I use a needle tool to cut the ring to the height I want. Allow both pieces to firm up slightly.

1 Throw a bottomless cylinder and form a seat in the rim after the first pull. Use calipers to measure for the lid.

2 Throw a short, bottomless ring. The bottom of the ring, which is flat on the bat, will attach to the slab for the top of the lid.

3 Measure with calipers. Once the pieces are no longer sticky, fit them together with cornstarch dusted between them.

4 Oval the cylinder with the lid rim still set in place.

Seating the Lid

When the pot and ring are no longer wet but still soft enough to manipulate, place the ring in the lid seat of the cylinder (3) and alter the shape from round to oval (4). Both the lid ring and body will be altered together. Tip: use a dusting of cornstarch in the lid seat to prevent the ring from sticking. While shaping, use a rubber-tipped tool to indent or alter the form. A ruler helps guide me to make each indent mirror the one on the opposite side of the vessel (5 and 6). After making the initial indents with the rubber-tipped tool, refine the curves by pushing out the form from the interior, and holding the indent in place from the exterior (7).

Finishing the Lid

Let the two pieces firm up together until they’re a slightly soft leather hard. While they’re drying, roll out a slab of clay about the thickness of the wall of the pot. Allow the slab to firm up to the same stiffness as the jar and lid ring. Then, place the jar (with the lid ring still in place) on the slab and trace the base onto the slab. Cut the slab (8), score and apply slip to areas of the slab and the base of the jar that touch or overlap, then attach them together.

5 Use a ruler to mark where you wish to alter the pot.

6 Use a rubber-tipped tool to indent the walls of the pot.

7 Refine the altered jar from the exterior and the interior. Use your hands to support the form.

8 Cut a slab for the base of the jar, then slip, score, and attach it to the bottom of the form.

Flip the pot over, onto its lid ring, to once again trace the outline onto a slab—this time of the lid. This slab should be slightly  more flexible to allow you to shape it after attaching. Trace and cut the slab to match the outside circumference of the pot, not the ring (9). This allows you to choose to make the lid lap over the rim of the pot or cut it away later. Score the areas of the slab and lid ring that touch, then add slip and attach the slab to the lid ring. Paddle the attachments lightly to ensure they’re well adhered.

Shaping the Lid

Now this is the fun part. Use your thumbs, fingers, and a soft rib to puff out the lid slab and give it volume and height so it’s no longer just a flat slab. Slowly stretch the slab with wiping motions of your fingers or a soft, red Mudtools rib (10).

Once the lid is puffed enough, trim any excess slab clay away from the edge of the rim and bottom of the pot. This can be done with an X-Acto knife or a Surform. If needed, place a coil on the inside seams to smooth out the connection joint and prevent cracking where the slabs attach to the lid ring and pot cylinder.

9 Cut a slab for the lid, score and add slip to both pieces, then attach it to the lid ring.

10 Gently stretch out the lid slab from the inside with a soft rib and your fingers to form a domed shape.

11 Attach handles or lugs to the jar and a knob for the lid.

12 Apply terra sigillata to areas remaining bare then cover those areas with wax. Dip the dry pot and lid into a thin, white slip.

Handles and Knobs

Make and attach handles and a knob last. As you form them, think about how the handle shapes work with the shape of the body of the pot. On some pots, I choose to add side lugs while others don’t require this extra step. I enjoy this process of throwing, altering, and letting the pot then tell me what it needs as far as handles and decoration (11).

Surface Preparation

I use a red clay in my practice primarily because it references my garden and the red dirt where I live in Western North Carolina, but I also like to decorate my pots with the bright colors that are found in my garden. To achieve those bright colors of the plants, I coat my pots in a white slip prior to bisque firing them. Use wax resist to mask places where the red clay can show through and enhance the design, like the bottom and rim of the pot and the rim of the lid. Coat the bare areas with a layer of Redart terra sigillata then lightly burnish them with a thin plastic bag stretched over your finger. Once it takes on a slight sheen, wax over the area with terra sigillata before dunking it in a white slip (12).


After the bisque firing, I decorate using ceramic stains, similar to watercolor painting. My stain mix is part color, part frit, and a bit of bentonite to hold it in suspension. I mix these dry, in different proportions depending on the colors. Then water and a drop of Epsom salt water are added to make the colors brushable.

13 After bisque firing, draw a design onto the pot, brush on colored glaze made by mixing stains with frit and bentonite.

14 Frame the brushed color with thin black lines and dots, then coat the white slipped area with a clear glaze and fire.


My decoration is primarily determined by the form. I think of my pots as flowers in my garden, and sometimes look at Pinterest pins of flowers, birds, and such to get ideas for a color palette if I’m stuck (or bored with my usual color combinations).

Use a soft lead pencil to draw your idea over the bisqued piece before using a brush with colored glaze (13). Next, use a slip-trailler filled with Mayco Stroke-and-Coat glaze to add thin black lines, which will punch up the colors (14). Finally, dunk the pots in a clear glaze, then fire them a second time to cone 3–4.

My glaze contains titanium dioxide, which, if cooled properly, causes the glaze to grow microcrystals. The stains each have a variety of frits, so some move more than others. I continue to play with the types and combinations of frits and quantity to get a variety of movement from the stains under my glaze. Every firing holds surprises—if the kiln is packed tightly, cooled quickly, or slowly, the glaze looks a bit different.

The fired, finished piece. The amount of frit added to the glaze can determine whether a color is stiff or moves in the firing.

When glazing, consider decorating the interior as well as the exterior.

Elise W. Pincu Delfield is a full-time studio potter and part-time ceramics instructor in Bryson City, North Carolina. To see more of her work, visit or follow her business, Pincu Pottery, on Facebook or Instagram.


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