One of the most basic and useful skills you can learn in working with clay is the making of pinch pots. They’re called that because you pinch them into shape. You can pinch them into all sorts of shapes, but we’re going to start out with a basic rounded little pot.
Make it easy on yourself and start out with some nice soft (but not sticky) clay. I’ll do a post later on materials, but you can pick up a 25 pound bag of clay at your local ceramic supplier (there will usually be at least one in a medium-sized city) for probably around $10. You can also dig it up in your back yard if you have clay there, but to start out, you’re really better off to buy it. Probably, the same store that sells you the clay will offer firing services.
- Cut off a square of clay about 3x3x3. There’s no need to measure this–it’s an approximation. Cover up your remaining clay to prevent drying. Throw the square from palm to palm rather forcefully until you’ve formed it into a ball. If there are any cracks or wrinkles in the ball, smooth them out by running your thumb or finger across (not along) them. Once you have a nice smooth unblemished ball of clay, you can “open” the pot.
- Place the ball of clay into your left (or non-dominant) hand and stick your thumb into it, tip first. Push in until you feel pressure against your left palm. There should be about a quarter inch of clay between your right thumb and your left palm. If your thumb is now stuck, just wiggle it around and pull it out.
- Now that you’ve had a look at your thumb hole, stick your thumb back in and start pinching the clay between your thumb pad and the fingers of the same hand. Don’t pinch too much at once. Just a little pinch, then roll the ball of clay and pinch again until you’ve pinched all around. Then do it again. And again . . . Work on everything except the rim. Do not pinch the rim yet. It’s inevitable that you’ll stretch it out a bit, but try to keep it small in circumference. The rim tends to spread too much if you’re not careful, and you’ll end up with a pancake instead of a pot.
- Your pot should be looking more and more like the one above as you carefully pinch around the sides. You can also slide your thumb around inside your little pot (pressing against your palm, which should be supporting the wall of the pot on the outside) as you roll the pot a little bit at a time in your palm. You can slide your thumb clockwise or counterclockwise and likewise roll the pot in either direction. Experiment to see what is most comfortable for you.
- This is what you would see if you cut your growing pot in half. The base of the pot is the correct thickness and the walls are being worked down to an even thickness with the base. As your skills develop, you can make your pinch pots as thin as you are able, but for now, don’t go much less than 1/4 inch thick.
- This pinch pot is finished. The last thing to be pinched is the rim of the pot, and this will consist mostly of smoothing, as the rim will generally become thin without any extra effort on your part. Your challenge is (a) to get the rest of the pot evenly thin and (b) to avoid damaging and pressing the rim to a paper-thin edge whilst working on the rest of the pot. At this point, you can add things to your pot, like noses and ears, little feet, flowers, etc., but that is a topic for another post. Here’s a look at the finished pot from a different angle.
- If you’re feeling curious, you can cut the pot in two pieces and see how you did on getting regular walls of even thickness. This is a useful learning tool and well worth the pain for the knowledge it will give you.
So now, make another pinch pot. Make another one. You’re a potter! Next time, I’ll show you some things you can do with your pinch pot to make it more fun.