Behind the Scenes I: Trimming - A beginner’s attempt

Have you ever wondered what happens before and after our Find Your Center workshops and glazing classes? As an apprentice in Center Pottery, I have come to witness first-hand how the beautifully shaped and glazed vessels that you take home are but the final products of a long and occasionally risky process. For a piece to achieve a lightweight form and consistent glaze is anything but a breeze — it involves multiple steps involving unpredictable factors to bring it to its final form.

In this series of posts, I will share my beginner’s observations of some of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into transforming your clay on the wheel into a beautiful, usable piece.

Finding your base with trimming

Between working at the wheel during a workshop and collecting your fully glazed pieces, it appears that the piece’s metamorphosis comes between its greenware or bisque-fired stage and being coated with a polished, colourful sheen. However, do you also notice a subtle change in the shape of your work, how it finds an even balance on a surface, and perhaps has a more refined, lightweight appearance?

In the past weeks, I have discovered the importance of trimming, a process in ceramics that involves the removal of excess clay on the lower part of the vessel that not only refines its shape, but gives it a stable footing and aesthetic lift. This process is likewise carried out on the wheel when the greenware has reached a suitable consistency. Thus, what appear to be the ‘finished’ pieces that you shape in the FYC workshops still have to undergo another process of alteration on the wheel!

Trimming for the first time felt rather similar to my first try at centering clay on the wheel. To trim a pot, you must also work from the center, using ribbon tools of various dimensions to slough off uneven clay from its base, bottom edge and sidewalls. It is a process that requires a conscientious abiding by the shape (and center) of the vessel, as well as sensitivity to the thickness of its base.

In other words, refining a pot’s edges perhaps requires just as much concentration as centering your original lump of clay. Your movements must remain steady and intentional, as you slowly drag the ribbon tool across the bottom and sides both firmly and gently. Checking up on the remaining thickness of the clay is also essential to avoid puncturing its base! With much practice, different kinds of bases, including some with more conspicuous ‘foots’ can be created. This process is especially interesting with vessels of asymmetrical or even figurative shapes — where do you find its center, how do you refine it?

Above all, the process of trimming offers for me a similar kind of therapeutic satisfaction to building on the wheel. While the first attempts were stressful — I did not want to break another person’s work — I also found myself entering a state of flow as my concentration centered entirely on achieving a delicate balance in pressure to apply to the work’s base. Trimming offers a respite of mindfulness, as well as a sense of aesthetic pleasure in watching lumps and craggy edges smoothen out to reveal the elegance of a piece.

So, the next time you admire a piece of ceramic outside, or your own creation from a workshop, take some time to observe its base – much of the work’s inner beauty lies there too.