After conquering centering, opening, and lifting, one of the big hurdles for potters who throw on the wheel is learning how to consistently throw tall forms. Too much water and the form weakens and settles. Not enough water, and one runs the risk of torquing the clay, and potentially sabotaging the rest of the forming process. Here is a little trick I teach my students to help them throw tall forms.
A Better Opening
Much of the difficulty in throwing tall forms (forms requiring 3 or more pounds of clay) is related to the amount of pulls needed to achieve the height, and the quantity of water used in the aid of the pulls. By breaking the opening of the form into three stages, one uses far less water, and the exposure of less clay wall to the water allows for better success.
First, center the ball of clay into the shape of a thermos that is close to the height and the diameter of your finished piece (1). Already having a good amount of height means less pulling. When executing the first stage of opening, push your thumbs down about 1⁄3 the depth of the clay (2). Using your thumbs, open the wall and once at the desired diameter, squeeze the clay between your thumbs and palm, then lift the wall (3). The top 1⁄3 is now opened and the wall is close to the finished thickness with minimal water used.
1 Center about 3 pounds of wedged clay into a tall cylinder form.
2 As you open, push your thumbs down about 1⁄3 of the way into the clay’s depth.
3 Once you have your desired opening diameter, squeeze the clay between your thumbs and palm, then lift the wall.
4 Open the next 1⁄3 of the clay by pulling your left hand into a point and pushing down into the form.
5 Support the outside of the cylinder with your right hand, and with your left hand pull the clay out and up.
6 Repeat the second process on the bottom 1⁄3 of the form without opening the clay all the way to the bat.
Now, open the next 1⁄3 of the clay. To do this, pull the fingers and thumb of your left hand tight into a point (imagine a hand making a closed-mouth sock puppet) and push down into the form (4).
Once you are 2⁄3 of the way in, support the outside of the cylinder with your right hand, and with your left hand pull the clay out and up, opening the majority of the form, using just enough water to get the job done (5).
Last, I repeat the second process on the bottom 1⁄3 of the form, being careful not to open the clay all the way to the bat (6). At this point the form should be nearly fully lifted into a tall, thin cylinder with only three small doses of water used, and is ready for shaping the profile. Since each third of the clay wall has now only received a small dose of water, the clay will be much stronger than with using traditional opening and lifting techniques.
Clay Cunningham is a potter, painter, and art instructor living in Council Bluffs, Iowa. His work can be found at the Old Market Artists Gallery in Omaha, Nebraska, (www.oldmarketartists.com). You can also find him at claycunninghamceramics.webs.com and on Instagram at @clay657.