Pottery: Hand-building

Like most art forms, the most basic series of techniques to mould clay and create pottery pieces are done with our hands. Before any tools and machines were invented, our hands were all we had to rely on to create and shape.

Hand-building is also perhaps the easiest series of techniques to learn, not the least because you can create pieces with just a piece of clay. You can use various tools to help achieve a more precise shape, but it is not necessary to do so.

The two most basic techniques of hand-building are pinching and coiling. With just these two techniques, you can create almost anything, from small pots to catch-all plates, cups and bowls.

Pinching is a simple technique, where you start with a ball of clay, and use your thumbs to press a hole in the centre of the ball, forming the inside of your piece. Take care to keep the base of your pot or cup about half a centimetre thick. Too thick would mean your base might not bake fast enough, and a too thin base risks cracking while being fired.

After you have ensured that your base is the right thickness, you can start to pinch the walls of your pot or cup, to thin out the walls. Remember to put out and up, and not down, as this will just make your base flatter and thinner. Keep pinching all around to create walls of your desired thickness. When you are satisfied with the walls, you can either stop or continue moulding the pot or cup to whatever shape you like. This is the part when you can start using tools to create designs or shapes, though you can definitely continue doing so with just your hands.

Coiling is a different method from pinching, but it also begins with your base. Begin by tearing off a small bit from your ball of clay. Flatten that small piece out until it reaches the correct thickness. If you find the disc too flat for your taste, simply tear off more small pieces from your original ball of clay until you are satisfied.

The name coiling implies the use of coils, which is exactly why this method is named as such. From your ball of clay, you can begin by dividing your ball up into 6 or more pieces, roughly equal in size. Roll out the balls into long strands, and begin wrapping those strands around the base of the pot, and then stacking the strand on top of itself. This creates a compact coil on top of the base, which will eventually become your wall.

Every few centimetres, be sure to either use a tool or your fingers to smoothen the clay out and fuse it with the base and the individual coils of the wall. Eventually, you will have a tall, evenly-walled clay piece.

There are several other hand-building techniques that have their own set of merits, but as mentioned, these are the two most basic techniques. If you’d like to find out more, you can simply google them, or you can sign up for a Center Pottery class to not only learn about, but also experience hand-building techniques for yourself!