Pinch pots are the ideal project for newcomers to hand-building with clay; perfecting this technique is a fantastic way to start developing your clay-craft skills.
Most tutors will start people making pinch pots to get a feel for the clay – to develop a sensitivity to the material and its working properties. It is a relatively simple technique because it’s an instinctive way of handling the material, but nevertheless requires practice to perfect. This project teaches you the basic making techniques, with lots of tips for success and development.
Practical tips to get started
1 ‘Grogged’ clay has greater strength to hold its shape without cracking, so is therefore a good choice if pinching for the first time. As you gain experience, and a better understanding of how clay behaves, you will be able to progress to smoother samples with finer particles, which will pinch out to a thinner section.
2 If you don’t like grogged clay try mixing it half and half with a smooth clay that fires to the same temperature – it will retain its strength for building but have a better surface quality and pinch out a litter thinner.
3 One of the biggest problems for pinchers is their nails – they get in the way by cutting into the clay, and this is a problem generally when working in clay – hopefully, the desire to work with clay will be greater than the need for long nails!
4 Hot hands dry clay out quickly, which can be a problem when pinching because it can cause cracking – the problem gets worse the more time you take to work on a piece. The problem is simply remedied by cooling the hands under cold water periodically, and working as quickly as possible.
5 A small amount of clay will pinch out a long way, and the technique generally is not suitable for very large amounts – you will find that as you gain experience, you can increase the amount of clay you use. Start with an amount that will sit comfortably in the palm of your hand and if you want to duplicate a shape, weigh the clay before you start and keep a record for the next pot.
Step by step
1 Form a small amount of well-prepared clay into a smooth ball that will fit into the palm of your hand – weigh it if you want to make several pots of the same size.
2 Press the thumb of the other hand down through the centre of the clay until you can feel some pressure in the palm of the hand.
3 The cutaway shows where the thumb should be, inside the clay.
4 Use your fingers and crooked thumb to pinch out the shape from the bottom of the ball first. Work in small, close pinching movements, rotating the clay in the palm of the hand in a rhythmic action to even out the marks made as you thin the wall.
5 The cutaway shows the crooked position of the thumb, which helps prevent the rim opening out too quickly. It is important to keep the rim of the pot quite thick and as closed as possible at this stage. This will prevent the wall from flaring out too quickly and becoming misshapen, and also stop the rim tearing or cracking.
6 Change the position of your hands so that the fingers are inside and thumb outside, and pinch the wall upward and outward in stages. Work the whole form to one, even thickness first, then again a little thinner, and so on.
7 The cutaway shows the new position of the fingers.
8 When you’re happy with the shape of the body, begin to refine the rim – working in small, even pinches to thin it to your requirements between finger and thumb.
9 Using a small kidney to scrape and smooth the inner surface to remove lumps and bumps – keep the pot supported in the palm of your hand as you work. The credit card kidney is perfect for this job because if can be cut to the exact size required.
10 If the pot seems too floppy and won’t hold its shape, dry the clay off a little inside and out with a hairdryer.
11 Place the pot rim down on a board then carefully scrape the surface with a metal kidney to again even out the wall and remove any lumps and bumps. You can repeat this with a rubber kidney to smooth it if required.
12 If you need to refine the shape of the pot, paddle the walls into the required shape with a wooden spatula.
Tip: You can paddle the walls in this way to change the shape of the whole pot once it’s been pinched to the correct size – this technique will be shown in future issues.
Making a foot ring
1 Roll a coil of clay to a thickness that will balance with the size of your pot. Coil it into a ring and lap the ends over each other. Cut through both ends on a diagonal then score and slip the cuts end and join together. Smooth over the join with a kidney or wooden tool.
2 Mark the correct position for the foot ring on the base of the pot using a pin to score around the edge of the ring. Score and slip the underside of the ring and the marked position, then join the two together.
3 Carefully secure the ring to the base by blending the clay as shown – you can use the small handmade kidney to refine the surface once the clay is blended evenly.
4 Turn the pot over and carefully level the rim using a Surform or rasp blade – for some reason this can be a very satisfying exercise and it is easy to get carried away and remove too much clay – you may need to restrain yourself a little!
Once level – work on the rim with a kidney to smooth and round the edges
Rims are very important because they lead the eye into the rest of the form. It’s the first thing you see, therefore it’s vital that it’s finished well, to balance with the rest of the form. Ironically, this doesn’t mean the rim has to be finely engineered in all cases, because organic, unrefined rims suit many forms, but it is important to match the rim to the function of the pot.
Pinching the rim out thinly will almost certainly result in a wavy line that will give the form an attractive, organic-looking finish if you want an alternative to the finish on this pot.