There is something very satisfying about a thrown bowl. They’re the most functional of items, not greatly challenging to produce even though there are so many options for size and proportion. You can use this little bowl in the kitchen or for decorative purposes; the choice is yours!
You will need:
681g (1½lb clay) – earthenware or stoneware
Tools for throwing – water bowl, sponge, cutting wire, rib
Turning tools of preference
Before you begin:
A reminder when throwing – to save wordy repetition!
Always compress the clay at the rim after each lift – pinch the rim gently between your fingers and thumb, at the same time resting the forefinger of your other hand on the rim and applying gentle pressure
Prepare the clay by kneading it well to remove any possible trapped air, then form it into a rough cone shape.
Note: this bowl is thrown directly on the wheel head but if you aren’t confident about doing this, throw a pad for a batt, then fix the batt to the wheel head, giving it a thump with your fist to secure it in place once centered. For details, visit: claycraft.co.uk/how-to
Dampen, but don’t flood, the surface of the wheel, then position the clay as close to the centre as possible using the concentric lines as a guide.
Dribble a little water over the surface of the clay, then pat it down to make sure it is secure.
Centre the clay. Begin by dribbling a little more water over the surface, then cone the clay up between both hands, applying equal pressure from both sides to raise it vertically.
Continue by pushing the clay down with your right hand (thumb slightly over the top) while applying steady pressure with your left hand at the side. This will level it off and bring it to centre.
You are aiming for a dome shape with straight sides.
With your left hand still at the side of the clay, keeping the mass to centre, flatten off the top of the dome with the fingers of your right hand.
Open out the centre by pressing the fingers of your right hand down through the clay to within 15mm of the wheel head, steadying your right hand with your left for a smooth action.
Continuing to support the right hand with the left, draw the clay back towards your body until the base is opened to a width of approximately 7cm.
Compact the clay in the bottom of the bowl by running your fingers over the surface from the centre to the outer edge several times.
Cuff into the outer base of the clay with the sides of your hands to establish a position from which to raise the wall.
The resulting mass should look like a thick doughnut.
Change the position of your hands and place the fingers of your left hand inside the form, with your right-hand fingers opposite on the outside.
Lift the wall to a straight-sided cylinder, slightly narrower at the rim than the base and approximately 11cm high.
Lift the wall again with your hands in the same position, but this time applying greater pressure from within to gently belly the shape outwards until you get towards the rim, when you should ease off the pressure. This will establish the inward, enclosed shape.
Lift the wall one last time to refine the shape. You may need to exaggerate the belly for a balanced form, or thin the wall a little more. Take the time to get the proportions correct but remember to keep the rim slightly closed in from the widest point of the wall.
Compact the clay at the rim.
Sponge out the slurry from the interior of the bowl, carefully drawing the sponge up the wall and running it briefly over the rim while supporting it between your finger and thumb.
Now work over the exterior wall with a rib to remove the excess slurry, supporting it from the inside with your other hand.
This is important if you want a smooth surface to decorate later.
Using a wooden modelling tool or suitable rib, remove the excess clay around the foot of the bowl and surface of the wheel.
Underwire the bowl once, holding the wire taut between both hands and drawing it backwards from the far side of the bowl towards your body.
Position the fingers of both hands underneath the bowl, just above the foot, then carefully lift it off the wheel onto a board.
Allow the bowl to firm to leather hard in preparation for turning the foot.
TURNING THE FOOT
Before you begin:
Usually, potters make several bowls in each throwing session, so the easiest and quickest way to trim them is on a clay pad.
The weight of clay needed to make the pad will depend on the width of the bowls to be trimmed but assuming some might have a diameter up to the width of the wheel head, 3-4lb will be required.
Cone the clay up and flatten it to bring it to centre. Maintaining the position of your left hand but hooking your thumb over the rim, open out the centre of the clay with the fingers of your right hand. You don’t have to worry about the depth of the opening or thickness of the base; the bulk of the clay should be pulled out to form a slightly thicker rim.
Continue to draw the clay back towards your body until it’s almost as wide as the wheel head. Use your left hand to steady your right as you work.
Finish off by running your sponge over the pad to remove excess water, then a rib to remove the surface slurry and fully flatten it.
Position the bowl on its rim on the pad, as close to centre as you can. Holding a finger rigid against the side, rotate the wheel. If your finger misses the surface in places, the bowl isn’t centered. Adjust the position and repeat the exercise until your finger touches the side of the bowl continuously.
When you’re sure the bowl is centered, press it down lightly onto the pad to secure it in place, then holding it in place with your left hand – thumb over the base – begin to trim the clay on the outside edge of the foot with your chosen turning tool.
This foot has a vertical wall, so maintaining this, reduce the overall size to one that’s in proportion to the bowl itself.
Using the sharp angle of the turning tool, cut an inner ring, 5-6mm from the outer edge of the foot. Cut down vertically into the clay to establish the inner wall – it should be the approximate depth of the wall on the outside when finished.
Now begin to trim away the clay within the ring, working from the centre to the outside edge.
Think about the interior curve of the bowl, imagining the shape if the foot wasn’t there. Your aim is to replicate the internal curve within the foot and trim the clay to the same thickness as the rest of the bowl.
Continue to trim the interior of the foot until you’re happy with the curve, then finish up by cutting a slight bevel on both the inner and outer edge of the foot. Soften the bevels by running a finger over them to smooth away any burrs.
Now work over the surface of the bowl itself to reduce any possible bulk in the wall around the foot ring and improve the profile.
When you’re happy the shape has been fully refined, cut a little notch at the top of the foot, where it meets the body of the bowl, using the tip of the turning tool. This will form a really good point to glaze to later.
When finished, carefully lift the bowl off the pad and place it somewhere to dry, ready for bisque firing, or continue with your chosen decoration method if it needs to be applied at the green stage.
AN ALTERNATIVE FOOT RING
The form of a bowl can be altered quite dramatically by the shape of the foot. The angled example in this next option is often used in oriental wares. While the function of the piece is in no way altered, this style of foot makes the bowl seem more ornamental – something to use decoratively perhaps, or for less obvious functional use.
As for the previous foot, centre the bowl rim-down on the clay pad.
Press the bowl down lightly onto the pad to secure it in place. Note where the foot begins; you’ll need to refer to that in the next step. Begin to trim the clay on the outside edge of the foot with your chosen turning tool held at an angle that will allow you to trim away the excess following the curve of the bowl.
Now cut a groove in the clay at the point where the surplus clay meets the body of the bowl – this will depend on how much clay you’ve allowed for the foot, so a specific depth can’t be given, but you need to think back to where the foot began before you started to trim and position the groove there approximately.
Use the tip of the turning tool, as shown.
From the groove, reduce the size of the foot a little more, maintaining the inwards angle of the cut and the position of your left hand holding the bowl in place.
Stop the wheel periodically and look at the profile of the bowl – the foot must be in proportion to the rest of the form for balance. It should be obvious if it looks disproportionate, so continue until you’re satisfied with the shape. Aim for a flowing line
Turn your attention to the area below the groove line, and trim away the excess clay from the body of the bowl. Begin at the groove itself and move the tool down over the wall to reduce the bulk and improve the overall profile shape.
It’s perfectly acceptable to replace your turning tool with a metal kidney at any time where the surface needs refining. You can actually trim large surfaces of thrown wares with a kidney if the clay isn’t too dry, but they aren’t practical for cutting in fine detail. Their main advantage is that they compact and smooth the surface, ready for fine detail decoration later.
Run a finger over the area of the groove to remove any possible burrs left behind after cutting into the clay and to soften the edges.
You can return to any of the previous steps if you aren’t fully happy with the shape of the bowl. One word of warning, though – there’s something very satisfying about turning clay, and it’s easy to get carried away and trim too far. If you’re unsure about the thickness remaining, lift the bowl off the pad and check. Return it to the same position when you’ve resolved how much you have to play with.
As for the first foot, establish the size of the ring by cutting a groove 4-5mm in from the outer edge of the clay, again using the tip of the turning tool. From this point, cut down vertically to establish the depth of the ring.
Trim the clay from within the ring, working from the centre out to the established wall.
Remembering to visualise the curve of the bowl, continue to trim the clay within the ring until it’s the correct depth.
As you can see from the photo, this foot has quite a different look from the first one. Many makers exaggerate features in foot rings to give them a unique finish. For example, they may cut larger grooves and angles, exaggerate size to elevate the bowl, or flare the foot outwards and cut areas away. There are many possibilities, but the key to success, as always, is practice, practice, practice.
Set aside to dry before bisque-firing.
DECORATING YOUR BOWLS
Use strong underglaze colours for bold impact or a more subdued palette for a subtle effect.
You will need:
Tracing paper and soft pencil
Underglaze colours of choice
Selection of brushes in varying sizes from fan-shape to fine-tip
Transparent glaze to suit the clay type
Paint the outer surface of the bowl in your chosen base colour of underglaze. Two coats will probably be required for a solid, block effect – one coat will give a more water-washed surface, the choice is yours.
Include the area within the foot ring but not the foot ring itself.
Measure the external circumference of the bowl at its widest point, then divide the measurement into three sections.
Cut a sheet of tracing paper to the size of one division, making it the same depth as the wall of the bowl from foot ring to rim (not actually including the foot ring).
Draw your chosen design on the tracing paper using a soft pencil so the design will easily transfer to the surface of the bowl.
Now divide the bowl into three sections at the foot with a small pencil mark.
A cookie cutter pre-spaced with a marker pen is a useful tool to have for this if it’s something you might be doing regularly. Use a 360º protractor to space the marks accurately; then, you’ll always have a quick way of easily dividing up a given area, especially if you mark all the cutters to accommodate different foot dimensions.
Make sure the tracing paper design is pencil-side down, align it to the first mark made at the foot of the bowl, then draw over it again to transfer the design to the surface.
Repeat the transfer of the design twice more around the bowl, each time aligning the starting point to one of the marks made at the foot.
When finished, draw over the lines on the bowl with the pencil to see them more clearly and tie the design in where details overlap.
Paint in the detail of your design in your chosen colour of underglaze, beginning with the larger features first.
Apply as many coats as needed to fully cover the colour underneath.
Now paint in the finer detail of the design using the appropriate brush for the job.
A nice finishing detail is to add a feature of your design inside the foot ring if you have space.
Lightly sgraffito any further detail you want to add, using a pin through the underglaze design to the colour below.
If you prefer, you can leave the interior of the bowl undecorated and simply apply a transparent glaze, so you have the contrast of the clay body colour inside and the decoration outside.
Alternatively, continue the base underglaze colour on the inside, taking care not to brush over the design on the outside when you cover the rim.
When dry, cover the bowl in a transparent glaze and fire to your clay’s optimal temperature.
Using the same colour as part of the first bowl, so they will sit together visually when fired, paint a background of underglaze colour shapes around the surface of your bowl, both inside and out.
Transfer a design to the surface as you did for the first bowl, but this time, outline the design only using a fine brush and bold colour.
Extend the design to the inside of the bowl in part, if it works, then add any more feature details as appropriate.
Glaze the bowl in transparent as before and fire to your clay’s optimal temperature.
Amaco Velvet underglazes were used to decorate the surface of these bowls in colours that were mixed for personal preference.
Bisque-fired to cone 04 (1060ºC,1940ºF) and glaze-fired to cone 05 (1046ºC, 1915ºF) in an electric kiln.
This project first appeared in issue 52