A wide shallow bowl lends the potter a large surface area for expressive decoration. When in use, it can easily function as a focal point for a kitchen table top, the locus of offering and the center of the meal-time radius. Once it’s provided its function and the fresh summer salad has been served up, the bowl reveals its decorative charm.

The approach I take to decorate this surface is influenced by the handled quality of well-worn polychrome wood such as Medieval European passion-play sculptures or African masks. Different slips tinted with Mason stains provide color while Grolleg terra sigillata makes for a potent white with excellent coverage. 

1 After centering, open the ball of clay and throw up and outward keeping the roll of clay contained by both hands.2 Define the rim early in the throwing process. Keep the rim thick to allow for widening the diameter.3 Maintain support of the clay wall with your outside hand while opening with a rib.4 Develop the rim by creating a jig with both hands and compressing with the wheel moving slowly.

Throwing the Large Bowl

Start with 8 pounds of soft clay centered on the wheel and open out to a bowl form. This should get you to a finished circumference of approximately 13 inches, depending on the depth of your dish and the size of the foot. Establish the wide rim early, at the end of the first pull. Make this rim much wider and beefier than you might think necessary as it will thin out as the dish gains in circumference. I tend to make two pulls, pulling the first from the outside hand and the next from the inside, creating a pancheon-like shape but keeping a soft inside curve. If this inside curve is interrupted, it is very hard to get it back. The rest of the opening is made by pressing a large rib against the inside of the slowly turning pot while compressing and maintaining support from the outside hand, then moving from the bottom center to the lip. Leave enough clay under the shoulder of the pot and near the rim to prevent sagging. 

The approach to trimming is similar to that of a pedestal bowl, but there’s a lot less of it to do. Define the outside edge of the foot and then cut out the interior, creating a convex cavity. Then, cut away some of the supporting clay with an eye to creating a sense of lift from the foot, while leaving enough to keep the pot from sagging. 

5 Once the bowl is leather hard, begin trimming by establishing the foot and cutting out the clay inside the foot ring.6 Finish trimming by cutting away the surplus clay in the shoulder and defining the profile of the bowl.7 If you are using a coarse clay body with grog, use a metal rib to scrape the smooth, thrown surface to create texture.8 Use a blunt tool to lay down a deep outline; the blunter the tool the more confident, vigorous, and expressive the line will be.

Decorating the Bowls

If you are using a sandy or groggy clay body, why not bring that texture to the surface? When the pot is leather hard, use a stiff metal rib to open up the clay by scraping the smooth thrown surface, which will create texture. Giving the surface texture is fun to do and it also provides a rough, canvas-like tooth that your subsequent slip application will break nicely over, creating a pleasing depth. While supporting the outside of the pot, make multiple passes to scrape over the surface of the clay with the rib held at an oblique and right angle to create both dragged and smooth patches. 

Then, use a blunt tool to rough out a design. In this case, I use an 80¢ gutter spike purchased from the hardware store. I find the coarse material of the clay, in tandem with the simple and crude decoration scheme, benefits from the deep and rough channel a blunt edge can create. 

9 Paint all over the surface with a coating of thin to medium-thick black slip.10 Paint in the color in several passes building up the thickness slowly. This helps to minimize brush marks.11 After the slip is no longer tacky, pass over it with a metal rib to knock down and scrape away the thick areas to prevent cracking.12 Scraping through the slips to the clay surface creates an expressive, distressed look and integrates the decoration with the pot.

Next, paint in your roughed-out design with your colored slips and Grolleg terra sigillata, and let it set up. Once the slipped surfaces are dry to the touch, take your stiff metal rib and gently break the surface by scraping. This creates a worn and distressed surface, which lends more depth by exposing some of the clay body. However, more importantly, it will level the thicker fields of sigillata and prevent the thickness from cracking later on during the firing.

I then allow the pot to dry completely and glaze the bone-dry greenware with a clear ash glaze. I then once fire to cone 9 in a cross-draft wood kiln where some light atmosphere and ash deposits can deepen the visual texture of the finished pot.


Jason Hartsoe received his ceramics education while working under master potters as both an assistant and apprentice in Japan, England, and the US. He is currently a resident artist at Penland School of Craft in North Carolina. To learn more, visit