ArtsWork

The Kax Herberger Center for Children + the Arts

Quick Links

Preparing Your Clay

Making a Pinch Pot

Making a Coil Pot

Making a Slab Pot

[top]

Navajo Pottery

Lesson 4: Three Basic Pottery Techniques

In this lesson you will:

Activity One: Preparing Your Clay

The first thing you need to do before making pots is to prepare your clay. Clay often has air bubbles trapped in it. The air in these bubbles will expand when the clay is exposed to heat. Shortly the pot will explode. Also, there may be wetter or dryer spots in the clay. These must be missed to develop a uniform consistency throughout the clay.

Knead your clay on a hard smooth surface like a tabletop, which is covered with a piece of canvas to prevent the clay from sticking to the table. The process is just like kneading bread or cookie dough. Work with a chunk of clay that more than fills your two hands. Gather the clay into a ball and work it by pushing the clay away from you with the heels of your hands. Then fold the clay back on itself and repeat this process until the clay feels uniform in texture and wetness and forms a smooth ball. Here are photos of Alan Jim as he kneads his clay.

Activity Two: Making a Pinch Pot

From your kneaded clay, twist off a piece the size of a baseball. Pat it into a smooth sphere. When you have a smooth ball, push your thumb into the center of the ball. Then, pinch the clay gently between your thumb and forefinger as you rotate the ball in the palm of your hand. See the photos for a better idea of how to do this.

Slowly stretch the clay into the shape of pot you desire. If the surface of the clay becomes too dry, it will begin to crack. If this happens, dip your fingers into a container of water and smooth the surface. Too much water will cause your clay to get too soft and the shape of your pot will become wobbly! Keep turning shaping the clay until the walls of your pot are even in thickness, about 1/4 inch thick, and the shape of your pot is pleasing to you. See the photos below for examples of wetting the pot.

When the pot is finished, put it aside to dry. When it is leather hard you may want to add designs to the surface. When it is completely dry your pot is called greenware and is ready to fire. You can test it by placing the pot to your cheek. If it no longer feels cold, it is ready to fire.

[top]

 

Activity Three: Making a Coil Pot

To make a coil pot you will need to prepare several coils of clay. These are made by gently rolling clay back and forth on a canvas covered surface, stretching it outward as you roll, until you have a coil of uniform thickness of about 1 to 1 1/2 inches. The length of the coils need not be uniform.

Make the base of your pot by making a spiral from one coil, pressing the sides of the coils closely together and smoothing inside and out to make a smooth base of uniform thickness. Begin building up the vertical walls of the pot by adding one coil at a time, carefully joining each coil to the one below it by smoothing with your thumb. Coils should become invisible as you build a smooth and uniform pot with a pleasing shape. If you do not join your coils carefully, the coils will separate as the clay dries and your pot will fall into a series of clay circles. See the photos for an idea of how the pot might look.

Some potters leave the coil design visible on the outside of their pot as a design element. They do make sure that the inside of the pot is smooth and the coils are securely joined.

When the pot is finished, put it aside to dry. When it is leather hard you may want to add designs to the surface. When it is completely dry your pot is called greenware and is ready to fire. You can test it by placing the pot to your cheek. If it no longer feels cold, it is ready to fire.

Activity Four: Making a Slab Pot

For making a slab pot, you will need a rolling pin and two flat sticks about 3/8 to 1/2 inches thick. Rulers or yardsticks are possible substitutions. You will be rolling your clay out by placing the sticks as far apart as the width of the rolling pin and rolling the clay between the sticks. These sticks determine the thickness of the clay slabs.

As an alternative you can roll and stretch the clay as if it were pizza crust! The objective is to make the slab of clay of uniform thickness.

You will need to plan the shape of your pot. Slab construction is useful for making box shapes. You may also make a circular base. You may want to make a paper pattern before cutting your clay.

From your slabs you will cut the base of the pot, using a straightened paper clip or a table know and a ruler (if you wish to make straight edges).

When you have cut your base and sides you will join them with a process of scoring. Using a paper clip or pencil, scratch across hatched lines into the edges to be joined. Use very wet clay, the consistency of yogurt, smearing it into the scored surface and then press the edges together securely. This wet clay is called slip. Smooth the extra slip away, making sure your pieces are securely joined. See the photos for ideas.

When the pot is finished, put it aside to dry. When it is leather hard you may want to add designs to the surface. When it is completely dry your pot is call greenware is ready to fire. You can test it by placing the pot to your cheek. If it no longer feels cold, it is ready fire.

Now is is time to Assess your pots. Check the Assessment Worksheet.

 

Preparing Your Clay

Making a Pinch Pot

Making a Coil Pot

Making a Slab Pot