In the Studio: Piercing a Project

I love piercing pots. I was first inspired by windows that looked dramatically different from the inside versus the outside. I wondered what the effect would be of making windows on a ceramic object.

Boxes were the first object I experimented with piercing, as they have an architectural quality to them. I liked the results, but have continued to develop the process over the years, eventually using it on other objects such as vases and colanders.

1 Create a template on durable, thick cardstock or similar. Use the template and a sharp knife to mark your piece before making any cuts into the firm clay.

2 You can use a ruler to straighten and reinforce the lines.

Adding Pierced Windows

Piercing is only as exact as your measuring and marking. I mark all my pieces with a template before I make a single cut (1, 2). Before I begin to cut, I make sure the clay is firm enough and will not distort under the pressure of a knife (3). Only after I have finished making all the cuts do I remove the cutouts very carefully. I don’t remove them after each cut so that I don’t distort any of the windows during the remaining cutting process (4). I usually pierce and then rib over the piercing. This helps compress the corners and walls and alerts me to any potential issues such as tears, cracks, or thin areas (5).

3 As you begin to cut, make sure the clay is firm enough and will not distort under the pressure of a knife.

4 Once the cuts are made, remove the cutouts very carefully. Don’t remove them after each cut or the piece will distort.

5 After piercing, rib over the form to compress the corners and walls, and find potential tears, cracks, or thin areas.

At workshops, people often ask if I have any tips for successfully piercing a vessel. Here are a few that I’ve learned the hard way:

  • Use the right cutting tool for the job. A dull knife will only give you trouble.
  • Don’t ask too much of your clay! Cutting holes in your pot can weaken the walls. If you’re firing your piece to a high temperature, that could cause the walls to slump (melt) or warp.
  • If your walls are too thick, they will be difficult to cut and, in turn, it will be difficult to extract the cutouts.
  • Mind your corners and don’t precut them. Think about a ketchup packet, where a notch on the edge helps you open the packet. The same idea works against you in clay. If you create a cut corner, you may cause a potential crack.

Excerpted from Mastering Handbuilding by Sunshine Cobb and published by Voyageur Press, an imprint of The Quarto Group. To learn more, visit https://quartokno.ws/MasteringHandBuilding. The book is available for purchase from the Ceramic Arts Network Shop at https://ceramicartsnetwork.org/shop/mastering-hand-building. See more of Sunshine Cobb’s work online at www.sunshinecobb.com or on Instagram @shinygbird.

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