Smooth Your Bottom

Here’s a quick tutorial on how to smooth the bottom of bisque fired pottery. Simply take a square of 80 grit wet-dry sandpaper and affix it to your wheel head with a glue stick. Hold your pot bottom to the sandpaper and spin. This will kick up dust, so you might not want to do it in a shared space. You should also wear a mask. You can sponge a little water onto the sandpaper to unclog it and to cut down on dust. When you’re done, just wipe off the wheel with a towel and it’s clean again.

Here’s a video I just came across on YouTube with some great pointers for sanding safely. Try dipping the bottom of your pot in water before using the wheel. I think this would be more effective than wetting the sandpaper on the wheel.

More Teapots

More teapots even though I don’t drink much tea. I’m not sure where these are going to end up. Some of my little teapots have found new homes.

A Walk to the Navy Yard

Mary Schneider draws and paints on pottery, but what she depicts is not always the usual fruit, flowers and leaves you might expect to see. The inspiration for her latest creation came from walks to the Philadelphia Navy Yard that she took with a friend during the winter days of the pandemic lockdown. She plans to trade the plate, with the image of the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy for a pen and ink drawing of the same vessel by her walking companion.

Little Teapots

I don’t drink much tea, but have become intrigued with making wheel-thrown teapots. Teapots are considered one of the most challenging items a potter can make. Mostly, I suppose because so many elements have to work together at the same time. The handle has to fit ascetically and physically. The spout has to pour efficiently and be placed so you can fill the teapot up. And when you do fill the teapot up, it can’t weigh a bloody ton. It has to be east to handle. And the lid needs to fit properly. You need to be able to get it on and off easily and it has to fit whichever way you put it on. And it has to stay on while you pour the tea, either by itself or be capable of being held in place while the tea is being poured.

And that’s just the physical attributes of the teapot. It also has to look good or at least not suck. I heard someone describe a teapot as a jar with a handle and a spout. Why not a mug with a spout and a lid, I thought? A little teapot to hold a nice cup of tea. I started small and here’s what I came up with.

Here’s what I started out with. Two mug-sized pots, lids, and three spouts each. You’re always supposed to make more spouts than what you need because you are sure to screw one up. Good advice.

Here’s one of the first teapots I put together. You might think it looks OK, but it’s all wrong. The lid is clunky and what about that knob? It’s really not good for much. And who could get two fingers through that handle? The body and spout are OK. I decided to trim the top of the lid which had plenty of clay to spare, and replace the handle.

Here’s the teapot with a trimmed lid and a new handle. I trimmed the lid of the other teapot flat too. I didn’t think a knob would work for either teapot.

My solution? A birdy knob for one teapot and a circle for the other. One third of the circle makes the knob and two thirds of the circle makes a nice handle. And they look like they belong on the same teapot.

I’m usually do underglaze decoration for my pottery. I thought I’d fool around with stains this time.

And here are the finished teapots. The handle on the birdy teapot is not optimal, but it is a vast improvement over how I started. More teapots to come!

Julia’s Creatures

I’m not sure how Julia Durand ended up in Philadelphia but she hails from France where she enjoyed a cartoon called Les Shadoks as a child. Les Shadoks inspired Julia to make a whole menagerie of creatures that I’d hardly call whimsical, but they certainly full of personality and each one has a different expression. It makes me wonder that they would say if they could talk. And if they did talk, it would probably be in French.

If you’re interested in checking out Les Shadoks yourself, they’re on YouTube with English subtitles.

Official Portrait

More from the mind of Marjorie Waxman.

Make a Pottery Throwing Gauge

One way to make similar-sized pottery plates, bowls and mugs is to start out with a given weight of clay for each item. Here’s a handy chart of recommended amounts of clay needed for certain items. But I have a hard time throwing consistently-sized items even if I do start out with equal weights of clay. It would be nice to make a set of four mugs that are nearly the same size on purpose and not by accident. A pottery throwing gauge is a tool that is supposed to help you do just that. You set the gauges to the height and width you want your piece to be and, if you don’t knock it over, you might end up with an evenly-matched set of bowls or mugs.

I’d never even heard of a pottery throwing gauge until I saw this video by Florian Gadsby on YouTube. I was intrigued needless to say. I love tools but I’m not the kind of person who buys tools willy nilly thinking they can make me a better artist. But I will buy a tool if I think it will be helpful. (I just snagged a KitchenAid mixer on Craigslist and it sure makes kneading bread easier.) And if I think I can make a tool that will be helpful, even better.

So I decided to make a pottery throwing gauge. I gathered up my nut and bolt collection, and my scrap wood. Aside from some wood screws, the only other material I used was a broken set of pottery calipers from the pottery studio. I sawed these in two, to make two positionable gauges which can be used in tandem to measure the height and width of the pot. They fold up out of the way if they’re not needed. I fastened the gauge parts with bolts, wing nuts and rubber washers like these because they make it easy to tighten the wing nuts and position the gauges. I used bigger bolts, washers and wing nuts to attach the gauges to the center post.

My tool list was short: a drill and bits, an electric screwdriver, a metal saw, a wood saw, a ruler, and a clamp to hold the wood during sawing.

The gauges cover a pretty wide range of sizes. I drilled holes in the main post about four inches apart so the gauges could be taken out and repositioned as needed.

I screwed the main post into a crosspiece which seems steady, but I might have to weight it down with a brick when I am throwing pots on an active wheel. I also drew lines at one-inch intervals let me know how to set the gauges. The center post is about 15 inches high.

Procrastination

When I was in the first grade, my father promised to build me a desk. He finally started building it my senior year in high school. He completed it and painted it in my room while I was in bed, violently ill with the flu. I didn’t dare ask him to finish the desk when I felt better because it might have become one of my wedding presents.

My mother painted our whole house except she stopped in the upstairs hallway and never did finish. You could see where the paint just stopped. And we never get the house fully furnished because she had a hard time making up her mind.

My brother had a hole in his dining room wall for months. During one visit, my father asked him when he was going to fix it. My brother didn’t answer. I remembered the desk and felt smug enough for the both of us.

My niece gave birth to a little boy a few months back. My brother let me know she was expecting a few months before she was due. I found out she had a little boy after the fact. Better late than never.

By now, you have probably realized that I come from a family of procrastinators. The trait runs sluggishly through my blood. Nothing to get upset about once you accept it. It’s there like the Rock of Gibraltar.

Which brings me to the baby dishes. I made them after my great nephew made his entrance in October. Or was it September? Anyway, the pottery studio closed because of the pandemic and they went unglazed until 2021. Then I packed a box with the baby dishes and some other items I thought my niece might like, and found her address. Next stop, post office. Here are some pictures.

Pottery in Progress

Clayathon starts this Friday, so I haven’t had much time to go to the studio lately. Today, I decided to decorate a set of nesting bowls with underglaze.

I think I’ll be better able to concentrate when Clayathon is over, although it should be lots of fun. If you’re curious about the polymer side of clay, check us out at Clayathon.org.

Glad to be Back

I’m back in the pottery studio this week decorating and glazing all the bowls I threw last year. The studio has limited access, we observe social distancing, and we all wear masks which is generally a good idea in a pottery studio. I’m glad to have a little brightness and color to add to these dark winter days. Spring is just ahead! Here are some pictures.