Faceting and altering your pots while they are still wet on the wheel can be a fun and rewarding way to add interest to a simple form. Making the first cuts may be a little intimidating; however, if you throw caution to the wind and just get on with it, in no time at all you will have mastered the process.
Forming a Bowl
The tools for this project are simple: a cheese cutter, a bowl rib (mine is made from an altered teak salad spoon), a wooden or metal kidney rib, and a sponge ( I used a white Mudtools sponge).
Begin by centering 3 pounds of clay. Open the centered clay as you would any bowl form and then use a rib to compress the bottom (1).
Before raising the walls, open the ball of clay to a diameter of 5–6 inches, then press in at the base of the opened lump of clay so the walls will stick out a bit from the bottom (2, 3). Raise the walls 4–5 inches while maintaining a consistent ½-inch wall thickness (4). Use a metal rib to remove throwing lines and create an even wall and flat top edge.
Faceting the Bowl
Next, begin faceting the bowl using a traditional cheese cutter. The one I use is non-adjustable for the thickness of the cut; however, you should try out a couple and see what works for you. When you cut the facet, at no point should the cut be deeper than ¼ inch, or half the thickness of the walls. Before making the first cut, have a plan for making the facets, with consideration to the number of cuts to be made and the circumference of the bowl. Before every cut, dip the cheese cutter in water to facilitate the release of the cut piece from the bowl (5).
On this bowl, the cuts are angled to create a zig-zag pattern around the form. Hold your cheese cutter at the desired angle and draw it quickly through the clay. At the end of the cut, pull quickly toward yourself and the piece you are removing will fall clear of the bowl or stick to the cheese cutter (6). If you do not wet the cutter, the piece you are cutting out will remain stuck to the bowl and you will make a mess of things trying to remove it.
Cutting facets can be intimidating if you have never done it. Making cuts too deep is a common mistake. Tip: Before committing to making something you hope to keep, throw a bunch of thick-walled cylinders and engage in some fearless faceting and stretching of the faceted form to better understand and become more comfortable with the process.
For this bowl (thrown with 3 pounds of clay), eight faceted cuts were made around the top half of the bowl in a zig-zag pattern. Then, eight matching cuts were made on the lower half of the bowl (7). The top cuts were made from the top down and the bottom cuts from the bottom up; however, you can also push the cheese-cutting wire into the middle of the form and draw it up or down to create a facet.
Stretching and Finishing the Bowl
Once the bowl has been completely faceted, stretch it from the inside using a rib (8). At this point, if your cuts were made too deep, you will have problems with the thin areas tearing out and the form collapsing. This is to be expected as it is part of the learning curve.
Many folks will stop the process right after stretching from the inside. It will leave you with sharp, clean, facets that reveal the texture of the clay body; there’s nothing wrong with this. In my case, I wanted my facets to be a bit more soft and subtle. To create the look I wanted, I completed two final pulls on the faceted pot using a wet white Mudtools sponge on the outside of the bowl and my fingers on the inside (9). These final pulls stretch the bowl, raise the sides slightly, soften and distort the facets, and further articulate the undulation of the rim (10).
My best advice for making the final two pulls on the faceted form is just to go for it without thinking too hard. Practice making pulls using light pressure and then make progressively more aggressive pulls until the bowl fails. By doing this you will find the sweet spot that fits your aesthetic. When I first tried it my thought was, “this is not going to work.” I was surprised when it did and that it produced the effect I was going for!
When the bowl is leather hard, trim it on a foam bat to protect the undulating rim (11). Allow the form to dry slowly (12). The finished stoneware bowl (see above) was bisque fired, coated with a shino glaze, and fired in a wood kiln to cone 10. Faceting can, however, been done with most clay bodies and all firing ranges. Have fun!
All process photos: Caroline Hehir.
Dan Ingersoll taught K–12 art in the public school system for 30 years (17 of them teaching high-school ceramics). Following retirement, for 3 years, he was a lecturer in art education at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. He is currently retired and pursuing his passion for clay in a small basement studio and wood firing with a fellow potter. His work has been shown on both a regional and national level.