Gary Jackson: Fire When Ready Pottery
A Chicago potter’s somewhat slanted view of clay & play
Categories: bowls, classes, lillstreet, process, production

So we’re in Week Four of the new Spring session of classes at Lillstreet Art Center. My Beginners are doing so well this time around. Catching on really quickly and progressing quite nicely. So last night we had a full discussion about making bowls on purpose instead of “accepting” cylinders gone bad. That a “good” bowl has a really nice curve on the inside. Not a flat bottom cylinder with corners that then swoop out into a bowl. No “beginner’s” ledge on the inside from where they pinched their fingers together to lift the clay. So I showed them how to throw that good basic bowl.

After we finished that first bowl demo, my students went back to their wheels to start practicing. While they threw their bowls, I continued to throw mine as well. I used up a full bag of clay… throwing seventeen basic round bowls, each about 1-1/2 lbs. Once I got them all thrown, we reconvened so I could show them some quick tricks on how they can alter, design & personalize their pottery. Anyone can make a basic round bowl… but the fun part is making it your own!!! So I showed them the tricks, introduced them to colored slip, and tried to beat it into their head that “IT’S JUST CLAY.” Don’t be too frightened to try something. It’s not precious. Make lots of stuff. Try lots of things. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, just squish it up and do it again. Don’t be afraid. IT’S JUST CLAY!!!

Bowl #1 – Fluted on two opposite sides.

Bowl #2 – If two flutes are good, maybe eight would be better?

Bowl #3 – A simple flared out rim… becomes a great “canvas” to decorate later.

Bowl #4 – A much wider flared flange… for even MORE decoration later.

Bowl #5 – A combination of the flared rim and fluted edges. Gives it a bit of an undulating rim.

Bowl #6 – This one was squared off a bit. Who says bowls need to be round? The shape and edges will be refined and decorated later as the clay stiffens up a bit.

Bowl #7 – A simple flower pressed into the bottom with a metal dragonscaling tool. Always a fun little surprise for someone when they get down to the bottom of their bowl of soup!

Bowl #8 – A split rim using the point of my wooden knife. Then pinched back together.


Bowl #9 – The same split rim trick, but then rounded out between the pinches.

Bowl #10 – Another split rim bowl. This time the shape was altered outwards in four corners, and inwards in between.

After playing with the shapes & edges of the rim, we switched our focus to colored slips. And the huge options thisopens up for them. The fact that colored slip is like adding a new “skin of clay” on top of your bowl. An easy way to add color to your pottery at this stage. It will dry and be fired onto the pot… and then create some new effects when glaze goes over it.

Bowl #11 – I coated the inside of the bowl with some basic white slip. And then dragged the rounded end of my wooden knife through while the bowl was spinning to create this fun spiral. The color contrast between the white slip and the darker clay body will show up after glazing.

Bowl #12 – Another bowl with white slip, this time with horizontal banding.

Bowl #13 – White slip with chattering through the slip. Chattering is rhythmic tapping… I use my rubber rib tapping up & down through the glaze, moving upwards while the bowl is spinning.

Bowl #14 – A thicker layer of white slip with some squiggly finger grooves.

Bowl #15 – Another layer of white slip with finger grooves sliding up the sides. I didn’t like the way the lines met up in the center, so we added the little circular “medallion” in the middle. My original intention was to clean up the top edge, but my students really loved the texture the rough slip edges created… and they were right!

Bowl #16 – A simple newspaper stencil stuck onto the clay with water… then painted over with slip. I waited a couple minutes for the slip to set up and then carefully removed the paper stencil.

Bowl #17 – A colorful ombre effect blending white slip with some iron red slip.

And there they are… seventeen bowls that all started out very basic & round. Just a few minutes of altering and voila’… seventeen different tricks & techniques. Now go play with your clay!!!

At the end of the night I had to carry them all upstairs to my studio so I could wrap them up for the evening. Only took three trips up the back stairs… not so bad. So now all seventeen bowls are under plastic so they don’t dry too fast. I’m still planning on doing some extra detailing & stamping to some of them.



Leave a Comment