Whenever I start a large piece, I make sure to have all the clay weighed out and ready, so I don’t have to deal with any inconsistencies later on. The platter demonstrated here is made from two 30-pound pieces of clay, but don’t let that dissuade you from trying the process using any amount of clay that works for you. The clay I use for large pieces is made from studio reclaim. It’s a mix of a dark brown body of my own recipe, some cone-5 B mix, and the addition of 15–17% grog.
Throwing and Attaching the Sections
I mix this clay softer than what I normally throw, to make life easier on my tendons and joints. When centering and opening this much clay, I gather it into a cone, then push it down from the top of the cone until it’s about 18 inches wide in a rounded form. I then use my forearm to force the clay down and out into a flat disk about 22 inches wide. When I open it, the edge will stretch to 24 inches (1). Because this is so wide, I use a grilling spatula for compression (2). I then shape the outside profile of the foot using only my finger (3) and throw the rim to 25 inches in diameter and about 11/2 inches deep using only my hands. By the time the rim shrinks to soft leather hard, it will fit on a 24-inch-diameter bat when flipped over to do the trimming. Drying the piece for trimming takes a couple of days. I let it dry uncovered for a day as I don’t mind the rim being a little drier since I am attaching wet clay to the rim later and it will rehydrate a bit and actually come into a consistent moisture content with the rest of the piece. I then flip it as soon as I can at a soft leather-hard stage and allow it to set up for another day. When I trim the foot, the clay will still be rather wet.
To flip it over while the clay is this wet, I support the center with a foam bat along with a few other bats stacked on top of the foam until they are at the level of the rim and then flip it over (4). When flipped, the foam prevents the bat supports from marring the surface of the platter. For a large piece, I trim an inner foot ring about 5 inches across to support the center and then trim to the inside edge of the foot. The outside of the foot doesn’t need to be trimmed, as it was finished during the throwing process. This is when I sign the piece (5). Part of the beauty of this process is that when I finish working on the added rim later, the piece is done and I don’t have to flip a 3-foot wide platter over again for trimming.
After the bottom is trimmed, I throw a separate bottomless ring from the other 30 pounds of clay, making it the same diameter as the bottom, with straight vertical sides. Opening a ring of clay with no bottom can be a bit tricky. You can’t just pull the ring, as it has a tendency to break loose. I cover it with both of my hands, using compression and pushing down hard on the clay with my thumb at the bat on the outside of the ring. The thumb pressure is the main key for keeping clay from breaking away from the bat as the outside connection point wants to come up.
After the ring is thrown, the rim is roughly the thickness of a golf ball, so I can flatten it to create a wide section of clay at the top with a shallow groove pressed into it. This allows me to wrap the rim of the freshly thrown ring (once inverted) around the bottom plate’s rim and create a lot of surface-area contact when connecting the two pieces (6). Leave this ring attached to the bat to make it easier to join the sections.
When connecting the two pieces, I use a serrated rib to score the rim of the bottom piece and put a little water on it. I then score the rim of the ring, but don’t add any water, since it was freshly thrown (7). I invert the newly thrown piece over the leather-hard, trimmed plate (8). After spending a little time getting the rims of the two sections lined up and attached securely, I remove the bat using a cut-off wire and make a pull or two using just my hands to gain height and slightly widen the ring. This gets the final platter rim about halfway there, keeping the wall mostly vertical, but letting the top of the rim flare out a bit on the second pull (9). We are not making teacups here, so after the second pull, the wall thickness is about 5∕8 of an inch thick.
Altering the Platter
This next part is key. Keep the wall from flaring. At this point, there is a lot of centrifugal force on a wide diameter, causing wet clay particles to want to exit to the point of least resistance. The temptation is to go with it. Don’t! I throw for height first. I imagine how wide my rim will be, I want to throw my wall height to be at least 85–90% of what will become the width of the rim when I lay it down. As I do this, I also have to maintain thickness so that when I lay the rim down, it doesn’t become too thin.
Making large work is so much about knowing when not to work on it. This is the time to walk away and let the clay dry a bit so that it can support itself when the rim is finally flared out. Yes, you can use a torch, but if possible let the clay dry evenly and slowly, which will also allow time for the connection point to equalize a bit in moisture content. I leave it turning on the wheel to dry evenly, but will occasionally wet the outside inch of the rim to keep it pliable. If you do use a torch to dry it, aim for the inside 2/3 and away from the rim, so once again the rim stays pliable. If the rim becomes too dry, it will crack or can set up cracks that will form later in the drying or firing. Next, when the piece gets to the stage where it still wiggles, but with a little resistance, I lay the rim down a bit, using no water and with good compression by sandwiching the inside and outside of the wall between two ribs. Now, I go back to my connection point and throw the inside portion of the rim and compress it right over the top of the rim of the bottom piece (10). Next, go to the outside of the connection point and smooth and compress it. Then when the rim is about the consistency of cheddar cheese, lay it down further, again using no water and aided by two ribs sandwiching the wall for good compression. This thins the rim and expands it a bit more in diameter.
This is where people ask, “How far down do you go?” There actually is an answer: neutral. There is a point when you are laying the rim of a platter down and there is some resistance left, like the brush of a butterfly wing. At this point, you are almost there and can stop, if you want to. Or you can go to neutral, the point of no resistance, and I would encourage you to do so. It takes time and should be done gradually, but it will make the difference between a platter and a shallow bowl. Just be aware that neutral is a razor’s-edge distance, between the brush of a butterfly wing and a flop.
I get to work altering the piece as soon as I can (11), as this step is where I spend a lot of time. I make my cuts into the rim and then add a little water, work it into a slip, and make small adjustments along the form. I don’t want to just push the clay; it needs to grow in the direction I want, so I squeeze it between my fingers, maintaining good compression, especially right along the edge of the rim (12). The piece is drying as I work on it, and just before I finish it, I run my finger or a flexible rib with a bit of force along the inside of the curves in the center of the piece that are bent up. The clay gets smashed together here rather late in the process and cracks can occur, so some compression is well warranted.
After the piece has slowly dried, I fire it to a hot cone 6 (with cone 7 slightly bent) in reduction.
Danny Meisinger is an artist, owner of Spinning Earth Pottery, and a teacher who lives and works in Spring Hill, Kansas, and at his gallery in Gardner, Kansas. To see more of his work, visit, www.spinningearthpottery.net, or on Instagram @dannymeisinger. To learn more, visit www.patreon.com/user?u=28479094 where he has 54 video tutorials.