I made my first coil pot after I had been working with clay for 12 years. It was an intuitive way to build a pot and the knowledge I already possessed of the material made for an easy introduction. The first form I made was a bucket. I wanted to elevate this humble object into a handmade piece of art that combines function and form into an object that one can then use to hold the most common of domestic items such as umbrellas, laundry, baguettes, or kindling.
Building the Bucket
Construction of these buckets starts with a slab rolled out to ½ inch thickness. I used a 5-gallon bucket to make a circular template out of cardboard. Start by tracing the circle onto the slab, cut this circle out, and put it on a ware board. This is the bottom of the form. Score and slip the outside top edge of the circle (1). Place the ware board on a banding wheel. Then, roll out a coil that’s approximately 1 inch thick and long enough to wrap around the circumference of the bottom (2). Starting at one end of the coil with your thumb on the inside, and four fingers on the outside, press the bottom of the coil into the base (3). Continue pressing around the coil until the ends meet. Smooth the coil down on the outside and inside using your thumb to eliminate the seams (4, 5). Next, pinch the coil up to thin it and give height to the bucket. I pinch with equal pressure on the inside and outside to encourage a straight rise. Using more pressure on the outside as I pinch angles the wall inward, while more pressure on the inside encourages it to angle outward.
There will be an excess of clay on the outside bottom edge. To remove this, take a needle tool and angle it down and into the coil until the needle tool touches the ware board. Holding the needle tool steady, turn the banding wheel to remove a ribbon of clay. I use a yellow Mudtools rib to scrape away the pinch marks and push the clay in an upward motion the entire way around, removing all traces of seams while also compressing and thinning the wall.
I add successive coils to build the bucket in this way. I know when to stop when the pot tells me to. It won’t look right until it’s done, and it’s not done until it looks right. So when this happens, I stop adding coils and use a Surform to even out the height (6), then I let the bucket set up to the soft side of leather hard.
Handles Two Ways
I prefer to add the handles at this softer stage to reduce the risk of cracking. I make two styles of handles for the buckets: a disk-shaped handle and a coil handle. For the disk handle, roll out two balls of clay about the size of golf balls. Flatten the balls into a disk about ½ inch thick. Then, take the disk and push the edge into the table to flatten one side and make a wide base for attachment. Gently place the disks on the pot to see where they look best. Add these handles on the top of the rim directly across from each other and press the wide base into the pot on the outside and inside of the rim edge (7). When the handles become firm, use a hole punch tool to cut out circles (8). Use a metal rib to scrape the handle, shaping it and giving it texture.
For the coil handles, roll a coil about a ½ inch thick and 1 foot long, then cut it in half. Curve one piece and set it on the pot to determine the curve and length, then cut off any excess length of the other coil half. Press the ends of both coils into the table to create a wide, flat base for attachment. I place the handles on the rim across from each other and press the base into and over the rim, securing the attachment (9). When the handles are firm, use a flexible knife to sharpen the rounded curves (10), then use a metal rib to soften the angles created by the knife. Finally, thin, refine, and texturize the handles (11), as well as compress the rim and create texture over the entire pot (12). If your clay body has some grog in it, scraping it with a metal rib will bring the grog to the surface and create a subtle, overall texture. Wrap the handles and rim in plastic and allow the bucket to slowly dry. Once the pieces are dry, I bisque fire to cone 04, then glaze and fire them to cone 10.
Melissa Weiss received her BFA in photography in 2000 from the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. She lives in Asheville, North Carolina, where she runs SouthSide Studios. She is a full-time studio potter and a mom.