Getting the shape *right*

Today I have been throwing larger pots again. Things I throw tend to come out more dumpy and squat than I mean to, especially with 6lb+ of clay. I have been looking at various tall, lean pots, and trying to figure out just where the wall curves – where the opening out of the bottom, becomes the tapering in at top. Often there is just one of these points, but on more complex pots, there maybe several, and the point on the pot at which these happen, have an enormous effect on the feel of the pot. Below I have crudely drawn over pots by Clive Bowen, Mike Dodd, and Phil Rogers, to try and make it clear to myself, visually, where the curves happen.


Clive Bowen jug

This jug by Clive Bowen, has one convex curve, or belly, in the very centre, and two concave curves either side. The first concave cure (at the top) is slightly narrower than the bottom one, and is the narrowest point of the pot. The very base, where it flares out, is the same width as the rim and the belly creating a balance. The flared base is a look I really like, as it makes the pot look grounded and sturdy.


Mike Dodd pot

The pot above by Mike Dodd, is more simple, and only has one main convex curve to its body. The widest point of this pot is about 2/3 of the way up. However, the horizontal lines carved into the body, are of equal width, evening the pots shape out, and creating balance. The rim is slightly narrower than the base.


Phil Rogers pot

The above piece by Phil Rogers is interesting. The main belly of the pot is in its upper half,  but the lowest carved line an the highest are of the same width, leaving the very bottom to be slightly narrower than its shoulder. This makes the pot seem more elegant, and lean. The rim is the narrowest point, and is almost neck-like, creating an almost human form.

Planning forms, an update on making

To produce a range of work which fits together in a group, I have been drawing out designs for a range of amounts of clay. I have been working on larger pieces, 6lbs or more, and then trying the same forms in smaller sizes. I really enjoy refining forms that I make, realising when something doesn’t look quite right- a curve maybe in slightly the wrong place or the rim may just need turning out slightly.

I have also been making some porcelain stamps, and working with a cheese cutter to facet some pots. These surface textures will help to catch my ash glazes and help to draw attention to their flow across the pot. Making large jars and vases has opened my practise up to more decorative techniques, which I am enjoying researching and experimenting with. I am using some stamp ideas shown to me by John Jelfs. 

Along with these forms, I am still making small beakers and bowls, which are less decorative and more utilitarian. They will still be ash glazed, but with a more simple and less textured surface. I have been faceting a few beakers, similar to the designs used by Lisa Hammond and Florian Gadsby. Beakers are quite child-like in their nature, their handless forms ask to be held around the pot, and so the forms have to be carefully considered. A wide beaker would need two hands to hold, a rough surface would make it uncomfortable, something too glossy would be slippery, etc.


Stopping in the middle of a firing.

When I was towards the end of firing the little gas kiln on Friday, one of it’s burners went out, and would not relight. Because of time restrictions with gas usage within the building, this meant that the kiln had to be turned off completely, and left to be fired once the burner was fixed. I opened the kiln this morning to have a look at the half fired pieces, I think it reached 1210c.

The surfaces are ugly, but interesting. It’s actually a great opportunity to see the glazes, and how they move and react in a firing. Like a landscape, the materials have shifted around, and carved their own path on the pot’s surface. In some places, the ash glazes have fluxed early, and started to run, but in others, they are still dry and rough. The glaze shown on the pot above is the white, elm ash nuka. It would be interesting to have a series of beakers with the same glaze, each fired to 10c higher, just to see the progression of glaze movement and melting within the kiln.

Once the burner is fixed,  I will re-fire the whole kiln.


I now have a set of 5 glazes which I will use on my work. Three are elm ash glazes, and two are from river Soar clay. They are glazes which I have developed, and that I trust. Other than perhaps developing a few other glazes, these 5 are the ones which I will be working with up until the exhibition. It feels good to have this set palette to work with, and means I can focus on form.


I have chosen the 5 glazes above to work with because of their functional qualities. They are all glossy, smooth, and fairly evenly distributed. This means that they will be easy to eat from, drink from, and wash. The colours range from the opaque white nuka, to the dark browns and greens of the clay glazes. Each holds a different perspective on the natural materials they contain, and each has it’s own character. The palette of colours work together well, they are all muted, earthy colours, with some clean, snowy whites to contrast this.

Big Throwing


To make larger forms on which I can be more expressive and experimental with my decoration, I have been practicing throwing larger amounts of clay. I started with 3lbs and then moved on to 6lb. It’s a much different experience from throwing small bowls and beakers, and I find going slower makes it much easier. Some advice from another student was to use one of the low down Shimpo wheels, as it allows you to really get on top of the clay rather than struggling to reach up. I will try this tomorrow, again with 6lbs of clay. A have also thrown lids for the few 6lb jars I threw today, which I will turn and decorate with slip tomorrow. These are all thrown with Potclays New Reduction St Thomas.

Matthew Blakely

Matthew Blakely is a potter an ceramicist who uses self-sourced British materials to express the geology from around the country. I bought Blakeley’s small catalogue containing an essay, and am reading it for inspiration to take my own work to the same depth that Blakely achieves. Expressing through words what I express through my ceramics is something I find hard to do, and so hopefully this will help me write more clearly about my own work.

With pieces titled ‘Malvern Hills’, ‘Dartmoor’, and ‘Leicester, Blakely used the materials from a location to show their geological history. He states in this book :

“Rocks can be thought of as physical expressions of the planet. Forming over hundreds, thousands, millions and billions of years, in violent upheavals and unimaginably slow accretions. They tell a story of their creation…”

His work is created entirely from rocks and clays he finds around the UK, and so the small pots and spheres that he makes really are pure representations and progressions from geological groups of materials.


It is this straightforward connection to a landscape that drew me into ceramics from the very beginning. It is simply working with the materials we have to make the things we desire in the least destructive and most harmonious way possible. Using materials like rocks and clays is a way of connecting ourselves to the earth we inhabit. In a time when most of human life is actively destroying the earth, simply making pots and glazes is a small and simple way to ground ourselves.

Blakely’s pots are a reminder of the wonder of natural materials, and also an educational journey of the geology of the UK, a set of maps of the earth we live upon. What I want to do with my work is take the geological inspiration from Blakely’s pieces, and allow myself to express what I need to, through simple bowls, cups, and more expressive pots and jars. Although function will always be important to my work, I need to push the boundaries to allow myself to show through my work how important the connection to the earth and landscape is to both myself, and the work I produce.


Rough and smooth

I have begun to leave the bottoms and outsides of my pots and bowls rough, and largely untouched. When throwing them, I create the ridge to catch the glaze, and make and undercut, then it gets cut from the wheel and that’s that. I want to leave the marks of hands, and the evidence of the clays plasticity when being thrown. However, these are still destined for food use, and so the inside and tops of the pots need to be relatively smooth and functional. A bowl with a rough and ragged interior is not comfortable to use, and in my case, I want these pieces to be at the height of functionality, comfortable and easy. So, I have created a balance between interior and exterior, of smooth, uniform roundness, and rough, organic materiality.