Friday, September 11, 2015

Preparing to Experiment: a Mould for Coiled Pottery

ceramics, amy myers, coiled pottery, the handmaker, the handmaker's world
This is a project that is the commencement of a larger project.

All of my pottery for many years (no, I don't think I'll say how many!) has been wheel thrown.  I have loved the process: the nearly fluid clay, the smooth flow of opening and raising a cylinder, coaxing the nuances of form into the thinned walls, and creating all the delicate finality of the lip.  So it is to my own surprise that I find the question recurring: should I try an entirely new technique?

More than one factor has been contributing to the question.  The first is one of form.  Ever since I began in ceramics, I have been deeply impressed by classic coiled pottery forms.  In particular I have admired Minoan ceramics, which I feel are not given enough attention.  Their decoration is so perfectly in accord with the forms beneath, everything so balanced into a single unit of aesthetic excellence.  But beyond this, I love the shapes, and the shapes are by no means natural to wheel-thrown work.

More recently I've begun paying closer attention to the traditional ceramics of the Americas.  These, again, are hand-built, not wheel-thrown.  A recent series of vases - still unfired - found me attempting to simulate these effects on the wheel.  It is not so much a question of it being difficult, but rather of it being unnatural to the technique.  I suppose I am being a bit of a purist, but why should I attempt these forms on the wheel when they are in their native element coiled?
ceramics, amy myers, the handmaker, the handmaker's world, pottery
Two unfired vases from the series inspired by traditional coiled forms
A second reason is my increasing preference for maximizing what I can do with just my hands , minimizing the mechanical elements in the workflow.   This is merely a personal preference, but it is making me drastically rethink the ways I create.

Truth to tell, I've never coiled pottery successfully.  I've never been interested in learning.  Till now.

So I have been spending quite a bit of time studying up lately.  And among other things I find that many traditional techniques from around the world commence the coiling with a base formed inside a slump mould.  This mould, in which the piece remains until the pot's form is complete, provides support to its lower section as it increases in height.  It is a coiled version of all the care that goes into gauging how thick to throw the walls near the base of a wheel-formed pot.

I decided to give myself the advantage of starting with such a mould in my earliest experiments.  This meant making the mould.  I went out to the wheel...  Yes, I threw the basic form!  Old habits will die hard if they die at all!  I prepared everything for casting; and my sister, who knows how I detest mould-making, kindly did the actual pouring.

I half-intended to let the form dry and shrink inside the cast plaster, but my sister reminded me that I had used my stoneware clay.  This is my own recipe; it is quite plastic and is notoriously tough when fully dried - not the typical fragile greenware of less plastic clay bodies.  So I dug out the form, which released easily from the still damp plaster, leaving the new mould almost ready to go.
ceramics, amy myers, the handmaker, the handmaker's world, pottery
Since then I have cleaned it up and smoothed down the rough edges.  The throwing lines are still visible in places.
ceramics, amy myers, the handmaker, the handmaker's world, pottery
This is not a precision job by any means, but I hope it will give me a good start in trying this very traditional approach to creating with clay.
ceramics, amy myers, the handmaker, the handmaker's world, pottery


  1. Interesting project, try new techniques opens us to other ways ... other paths to reach the same result.
    The molds are good friends to the potter, I had a great teacher of molds, but it is a difficult discipline that requires effort, contrary to what people think ...
    Good luck with the results, Amy. Hugs!!

    1. My mother loves to work with molds, but I was always impatient. I only wanted to make each piece once! :P But this way I can make many pieces, each one different... I think this is a good time for me to experiment somehow... A big thank you, Belén! Hugs :)

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