In the Studio: Personalized Cups

When we think of pottery, we often think of working on the potter’s wheel—creating pots in the round. However, shaping a great pot doesn’t have to stop when the wheel does! There are endless opportunities to turn a round vessel into something unique. In my thrown pieces, I alter the clay both on and off the wheel to create figurative pottery.

Throwing and Altering the Cup

Using a 1-pound ball of clay, throw a cylinder on the wheel. Begin to shape the cylinder into the basic form of a human figure (1). Shape it with a narrow section just higher than the middle (2). Be sure to leave the cup wide enough for your hand to fit inside.

1 Throw a cylinder and shape it into a basic figure.

2 With the basic shape formed, press from the inside of the cup to form the breasts.

Once the basic figure (in this case a female figure) has been created, stop the wheel and begin creating the curves of the body. Wet your fingers and press outward from the interior to gently stretch the clay (3). Place a finger on the outside to press inward underneath the areas you’re pressing out, and anywhere you don’t want the clay to move outward. Begin with the stomach, hips, and bottom, then work your way up to the chest and upper back.

Spin the wheel again and collar in the rim, which will have flared out while shaping the piece (4). Adjust the rim once more to match the shape of the figure (5). Press inward at the top of the chest between the breasts and at the top of the back between the shoulder blades. Don’t worry about being too precise at this stage.

3 Inside hand forms the breast while the outside hand shapes the bottom of it.

4 After altering the form, collar the rim of the cup to narrow and recenter it.

Finally, run a wire tool under the cup. Remove it from the wheel, and let it dry to leather hard.

Trimming the Cup

To trim, secure the pot upside down and centered on the wheel. Since the pot has been altered, I use a Giffin Grip. You will need to find a position that will make it as centered as possible. Be sure the bottom of the cup is centered, as opposed to the rim.

Trim the bottom of the cup into a shape that dips in toward the center, and round out the outer edge. Compress and smooth the trimmed area with a small soft rubber rib.

5 Re-shape the collared rim to match the contours of the figure’s body.

6 To define the body parts, carve lines throughout the piece.

Adding Final Details

Use a sponge and moistened fingers to smooth out any rough spots inside the cup from altering it earlier.

Using small carving tools, carve lines into the clay where there are folds and creases in the skin (6). Define the buttocks, underneath the breasts, skin folds on the back, where the armpits would be, etc. Use a Surform to remove excess clay from around the bottom edge of the cup, where the trimming tool did not reach (7), following the contours of the figure to refine it further.

7 Remove any excess clay from the cup with a Surform.

8 Soften the form and hard angles with a damp kitchen scouring pad.

Use a soft rubber rib to continue shaping the figure and soften the harsh edges caused by the carving tool. Use moistened fingers and a wet green kitchen scrubby to remove hard angles or sharp edges (8). Add two small balls of clay to the breasts as nipples (9). Blend them in using some water and fingers. Shape them further with a rubber-tipped tool.

Give your cup an overall sponging to even out the entire surface. Add slips and underglazes for desired skin color. Allow the pot to dry. Your figurized pot is now ready to be bisque fired!

9 Finally, add in the nipples and blend to the form.

Eliane Medina lives and works in Seattle, Washington, where she is an assistant to Deb Schwartzkopf at Rat City Studios. Eliane earned her BFA from Central Washington University in 2016. To see more of her work, visit and @artbyeliane on Instagram.


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