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

Last night at Lillstreet Art Center, we had a great little workshop by one of the Artist-In-Residence Artists before my class. Nolan Baumgartner demo’d three different large platters… but more importantly, three different techniques of centering & throwing them. Since the demo was right before my class, I encouraged my students to come an hour early. Even though my students are mostly Advanced Beginners, it’s always good to watch someone throwing pottery. Even if their skill sets aren’t quite ready to tackle this amount of clay!

Platter #1 – Traditional Centering
Nolan started with a large ball of porcelain… about 20 pounds. He muscled & finessed his way through centering the clay in the traditional way. Locking in his elbows and pressing everything to the center. He then started throwing a large cylinder with a slight angle inwards before the pull of centrifugal force sets in. You could just see my students soaking up every little bit… intrigue, concern and understanding.

But when Nolan pulled out the blow torch…. WATCH OUT!!!!
My students were mesmerized... and I had to nip it in the bud. I don’t even allow my Beginning students to use fans or blow dryers. So when they saw Nolan using an open flame to help stiffen his clay quickly, I knew I was in trouble!!! But I kept “glaring” at my students with my best “don’t even think about it” look!

After stiffening up his clay a bit, Nolan went back to doing some more shaping of his platter… flaring out the flange wider & lower. And look at my students Taylore, Patty and Catherine right there closely watching his every move!

Some finishing touches and Platter #1 was ready to be set aside.

Platter #2 : Centering Layered Balls of Clay
For his second platter, Nolan started with centering a 5-pound ball of clay. He then carefully set another 5-pound ball of clay on top of it… and then slapped and centered it downwards.

After smoothing & centering the second five pounds onto the bottom five pounds…
Nolan added another 5-pounds on top making it a total of 15 pounds of clay. Again, centering the top ball of clay down onto the centered bottom two-thirds. Once he had all three balls of clay centered & incorporated, Nolan went back to throwing the second platter similar to the first one.

And then again… THE BLOW TORCH!!!
Really?… you’re killin’ me! I know I’m going to need to “re-direct” my beginning students a bit when we get back to my classroom! But for Nolan’s large porcelain platters, I get it. Especially for a workshop demo like this. If he pushed it too far too fast, the porcelain platter would just flop down.

A little more shaping with ribs, and a little more blow torching, and Platter #2 was ready to set aside.

Platter #3 : Pounded, Paddled, Beat-up and Fluted Platter
For this one, Nolan started with another large ball of wedged porcelain. He set it on the wheel and slapped it around a bit until it was close to centered. But his third technique was to make this platter WITHOUT centering it the traditional way. So he started slapping it down while the wheel was rotating slowly with open palms.

Once it was “kinda” centered, he then pulled out a square mallet… and started pounding!!!
The wooden mallet is covered with a white gym sock. Again, pounding the clay evenly as the wheel is rotating slowly. I think the trick is to keep the spacing even, as well as the strength & power of each pounding of the mallet.

Pounding the sides, then the top… then the sides…. and the top again…
Getting it more & more centered, compressed and flattened out.

When it gets low enough, flat enough, and centered enough… Nolan switched to pounding it with a closed fist. Again, rhythmic pounding as the wheel is rotating slowly.

At some point, the clay is “centered” and it was time to throw the rest of the platter the “normal” way. Since this was the third and final platter, Nolan decided to decorate this one with his special fluted technique. He did a split rim, and then curled up even spaced areas using an MKM Decorating Disk.

A quick pinch and a pull upwards…

And since the clay was still a bit squishy & slumpy, Nolan likes to use some clay “logs” to hold up the fluted points. A quick hand-squished coil to put in… kinda like flying buttresses.

Once supported, Nolan then curves the spaces between the pinches downward to give it some sexy curves.

Huge thanks to Nolan for sharing his tricks & techniques. My students loved the demo, as did all of the other students who came to his workshop. He definitely gave everyone a lot of great ideas… some too good for my Beginners.

Did I mention the blow torch?!!!


Categories: classes, lillstreet

Getting ready to teach my pottery class tonight. It may only be the second class of the new session, but I’m pretty darn confident it will go better than this!!! My students ROCK… and I don’t allow them to make ashtrays!

Click here for a fun Pottery Class with Jeff Foxworthy!

Categories: classes, lillstreet

We’re a week away from starting the new Winter Session of classes at Lillstreet.
I checked in tonight about my Beginning & Advanced Beginning Wheelthrowing class starting next Tuesday… and we are officially FULL. All eighteen spaces taken… with three on the Waiting List. Can’t wait to get started up again!

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.



Categories: bowls, lillstreet

A quick Selfie from one of the “lucky” people to snatch up my donated empty bowls last night at the EMPTY BOWLS fundraiser. Thanks for sharing your Selfie Lisa! Enjoy your new bowl… and thanks for contributing to a great cause. I’m sure your hot fudge sundaes will taste SO much better now!!!

Categories: bowls, lillstreet

Lots & lots of bowls spreading out all over the place getting ready for the EMPTY BOWLS fundraising event tonight at Lillstreet Art Center from 5:00-8:00pm. Proceeds go towards hunger programs through the First Slice Pie Cafe. Stop by and enjoy the scavenger hunt to find your favorite empty bowl… and then get it filled with some soup!!!

Categories: bowls, lillstreet, pottery

Pulling together some class demo bowls to donate for tonight’s EMPTY BOWLS event at Lillstreet Art Center. Stop by tonight from 5:00-8:00pm for some great pottery at a great price… great soup… and a great cause! Now I’m sure there are more bowls somewhere around here…

Click here for more information about tonight’s EMPTY BOWLS event at Lillstreet.

Categories: bowls, lillstreet, special events

Tomorrow may be “taxing” for some… but it is also a great opportunity to help those less fortunate. Tomorrow evening is the EMPTY BOWLS fundraising event at Lillstreet Art Center. Come buy a handmade bowl, get it filled with soup and feel good as the proceeds go to benefit First Slice Pie CafĂ© and its efforts in serving nearly 4,000 meals each month to Chicago’s hungry. Make every day less “taxing” for those in need… and YOU keep the bowl!!!

Click here for more information – EMPTY BOWLS at Lillstreet Art Center.

Categories: classes, lillstreet, process, production, stamps

Sure, their beginner mugs were a little too smooth & undecorated for my liking. Sweet, but plain. They could surely use some texture… if only they had some stamps to decorate with??? Oh wait… we made those too! It was a very busy night!!!

Categories: classes, lillstreet, mugs, process, production

My students ROCKED it out tonight. It’s only their second class of the new Spring session… and they’ve already finished their first mugs!!! Thrown, trimmed and handled!

Voila’…. MUGS!!!