I began making pitchers in two parts around ten years ago. Initially, it was to make these large pots lighter in weight, but I quickly discovered it also allows for discoveries of forms that would be extremely difficult to make in one piece. Fine tuning the form by adjusting the diameter of the belly, the length of the neck, diameter of the base, height of the spout, and handle position are aspects I have room to consider when I’m making a pitcher using this method.
Throwing The Bottom Section
Start by thoroughly wedging 3¾ pounds of slightly stiff clay for the bottom section, and a little over 1 pound for the top section. You can adjust the amount of clay for larger or smaller pitchers. Center and open up the clay slightly wider than you want the finished base to be. Thoroughly compress the floor with your thumb several times, and define a flat bottom and straight sides of the cylinder with a right-angled rib before pulling the walls. This helps take weight out of the bottom, which is sometimes a challenge in larger pots.
On most pots, try to get the height of the cylinder in three pulls. This allows you to continue to stretch the pot outward, without the clay becoming too waterlogged. On the first pull, hold your left hand directly in front of you with the thumb positioned on the outside and four fingers on the inside of the wall. Use a sponge held in your right hand to keep the rim compressed and level. This technique, sometimes called a claw pull (because your hand position is like a crab claw) might feel uncomfortable at first, but it makes it possible to move the clay very quickly. The next two pulls are made with your right hand on the outside and left hand on the inside. Let the wheel spin at a medium speed and gather a wave of clay to pull up into the wall. Try to thin the top section of the cylinder on the first pull, the middle on the second, and the base on the last pull (1). Changing this order can cause the pot to twist and collapse. Shaping the belly out is the next step, achieved by applying more pressure from the inside of the wall with your left hand while pulling with your right hand. This thins the wall substantially and makes for a light pitcher. Use a stiff metal rib to compress the wall, remove throwing lines, and shape the pot (2). On some pitchers, I add a line around the bottom third of the finished form, making a spot for the handle to land.
After measuring the width of the rim with a pair of calipers, use a torch to dry the bottom section of the pot. A heat gun or hair dryer work, but they take more time to get the clay to the proper consistency. The bottom of the pitcher should be slightly stiffer than the top, and the whole bottom shape should be a soft leather hard before adding the top section. Adding the top section while the bottom is too wet will cause the pot to collapse.
Throwing the Top Section
Using a smaller lump of clay, throw a cylinder that tapers out slightly (see 3). The rim should be about ½ inch thick (slightly thicker than the rest of the wall). Then take a rib and make a defined bead that will be used to blend the neck into the bottom section (3). Measure the width of the rim of the top section and make sure it matches the bottom section. Don’t cut the top section off the bat. Place the bottom section back on the wheel, align the top section, and place the two rim to rim (4). Sometimes it takes a few tries to get the top section centered. If it’s not centered, the bat will oscillate with the wheel spinning, or the bead will overhang more on one side.
Blend the top section into the bottom with a wet finger, then cut the bat off of the top section. I work over this section by throwing the clay down into the bottom section and up from the bottom. Make sure the two sections are well joined before continuing, then use a rib to smooth the two sections and refine the form (5). Sometimes I use a throwing stick to reach down into the slim neck to shape the belly further.
Forming a Spout From the Rim
With your thumb on the inside and your index and middle finger on the outside, pull up the wall of the pot where the spout will be made. This thins the rim and produces a sharper edge. Once the pitcher is fired, this step will make the spout cut the water as it pours out, eliminating drips. The pulls should never go completely over the rim of the pot, as that will make a razor sharp edge.
With the thumb and index finger of the left hand held in a C shape, support the wall. Slightly wet the right index finger and work the spout into a defined shape for pouring (6). Make sure to move your finger back and forth and not straight down to avoid tearing the rim. With dry hands, grab the rim on either side of the spout and lift up the wall of the pitcher. This elevates the spout above the rest of the rim (7), giving a nice gesture to the pot.
Pulling a Handle
When pulling handles, first roll a thick coil that is about ⅓ shorter than you want the handle to be, then wet your right hand and the coil and start pulling the clay down (8). Wet your hand each time you pull the handle, stopping once you pull the handle as long as the distance between the attachment points, and about ¾ inch thick. Next, hold the handle and hit the top with your thumb to thicken the section where it will attach to the pot. After applying slip and scoring the top attachment point, pull the handle several more times once it’s attached (9) and join the bottom attachment near the widest part of the belly (10). Then, take a football-shaped piece of clay and smooth it into the bottom section of the handle. This reinforces the bottom attachment and creates a nice negative space.
Once the handle and the pot are leather hard, pour on a layer of slip with a ladle, creating a scalloped pattern (see pitcher at the beginning). If the pot is too wet, it can collapse from absorbing the water in the slip. If the pot is too dry, the slip will crack off. The slip I use is refractory and creates a spotting pattern called gohonde that is reminiscent of fireflies.
Glaze and Firing
Dip the pitcher in a thin coat of clear glaze. The specific gravity of the glaze that I use is 1.32, which is very thin. If the glaze application is too thin, the surface will usually come out a rough white, and if too thick, it will be gray, so experimentation is required to dial in the correct thickness of slip and glaze. I fire in heavy body reduction at cone 010, and a steady medium reduction until reaching cone 7.
Nathan Willever is a studio potter and resident artist at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.