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

Freshly thrown, just off the wheel… a batch of pitchers-to-be!
Tomorrow they’ll be stamped… and if all goes well, trimmed & handled too?!!!
Fingers crossed.

Categories: clay, process, production, wheelthrowing

Now that all of the berry bowls are stamped, trimmed and drilled with holes…
now they need drip plates to catch the water after washing your berries!
Here we go… giddy-up!

Categories: bowls, process, production, wheelthrowing

You know how I love making mugs… but I figure Spring has got to get here
at some point, so I better be ready with some Berry Bowls! So I threw my first batch…
of something “other than” mugs!!! Ha!!!

Categories: wheelthrowing

Our first challenge in our LILLSTREET THROWDOWN class Wednesday night was to throw a “perfect” hollow sphere on the wheel. Thirty minutes and two pounds of clay… plenty of time, plenty of clay… but many of them had NEVER thrown a sphere before… let alone even a closed form!


Categories: classes, wheelthrowing

Looks like there’s only ONE WHEEL LEFT in my Spring Wheelthrowing Class for Beginners & Advanced Beginners at Lillstreet! Who’s going to be the lucky one to snatch it up and come play in the clay with us???

Click here to register online for that ONE LAST SPOT!!!

Categories: bowls, classes, wheelthrowing

Okay, so I would love to call this the POTTERY OLYMPICS…
but that only happens every four years! Ha!!!

So this week in class after we critiqued , judged & awarded the Nesting Bowls…
we moved onto the POTTERY OLYMPICS… okay, so maybe it’s not so bad…

We started by dividing the class into four teams of three. I had pre-chosen the Team Captains… by splitting up the couples… so it was Molly vs. Jacob vs. Patti vs. Jon. But then we found out that Jon was not coming to class for a medical issue… so his “Captain-manship” was handed off to Teresa who had just finished eating Jon’s dinner! So the four Team Captains chose their teams and we were almost ready to move on… except one team only had two people. So I drafted my friend Natalie who has recently returned to Chicago & Lillstreet to join us in the activities. She was great to agree on such short notice!!!

To kick it off… I had each team fill out a worksheet to assign who might be the “competitor” in some of the challenges… only using cryptic hints as to what the challenge would be.

Each team had one bag of clay, a wire tool and one competitor to cut it up into predetermined weights. No scale. No weighing of the pieces. Just their best judgement with a chance to compare each ball to each other. At the end of the challenge, we weighed the balls of clay… to add up the variances. Team that was the closest to the correct weights would win the challenge!

We then did a bit of housekeeping…
Each team had a chance to even out their weighting mistakes, making sure their balls of clay were the correct weight. They then wedged them up – while another member of their team set-up a wheel for future throwing challenges!

This time we had two competitors for each team… each using a two-pound ball of clay. They had a limited amount of time to hand roll the longest coils they could…. and limited table space! And here’s the twist… if your coil were to break during the challenge, you’re done! No squishing it back together. We would just measure the longest segment while the others continue to roll clay.

For the next challenge… it was the third member of each team who did NOT roll a coil that was up! Now they had to use the recently-rolled coils to build the tallest coil cylinder. Simple enough, right? They could not continue rolling the coils… and it had to be freestanding at the end.

We then switched to a wheelthrowing challenge. All three players on each team would get a 3-pound ball of clay. Using one wheel per team, they would take turns throwing matching bowls! The first person would throw a bowl, and then they switched places as the second person stepped up to match that first bowl. Now with two bowls in, the third person stepped in to match the first two! Harder than it sounds… since there was no going back to “fix up” or alter the previous bowls!

We stuck with wheelthrowing for the next challenge… this time with two pre-determined players. Again with a three pound ball of clay they had to throw one “perfect” bowl. And here’s the twist… One throwing. One driving. Yep, one person was doing all of the centering & throwing… while the other person had complete control over the speed on the foot pedal.

 Whoops!!!…  I missed the photos of this one! But trust me, it was fun to watch!

After two wheelthrowing challenges… we switched back to handbuilding for a slab throwing competition. With five pounds of clay, they had to throw the largest slab of clay… round-robin fashion with each team member taking a turn. And again, if their slab broke at any point… they were done with the challenge. No squishing it back together! Largest surface area wins!

It’s a “shame” no one had any fun!!!

For their final challenge.. and the funniest… for me… each team had to throw one final “perfect” bowl with a four pound ball of clay. They would each have two minutes… switch… two minutes… switch… two minutes… Two full rounds of working on the same bowl. Yes, each team would continue to work on their one bowl to make it as “perfect” as they could. Each person had two “two-minute” chances to help their team

And here’s the best part… for ME at least… all the while BLINDFOLDED!!!

And then the final challenge envelope… THEIR HOMEWORK!!!


They have no homework this week as they have all been working so hard over the past couple weeks.. the deserve a break – and some tie to make what ever they want for a change!

And again, I have the BEST STUDENTS EVER!!!
Each of them embraced my crazy challenges and played along with my silly reindeer games!



Categories: bowls, classes, production, wheelthrowing

This week in my Tuesday night pottery class, we did my favorite demo of EVERY session! It’s the night when I teach my class how to make bowls on purpose.. instead of a cylinder gone bad!!! We talked about how to make one from the get-go… starting with a nice smooth curve on the inside. And NOT a flat bottom or a gouge in the side anywhere! So they all gathered around so I could do my demo where I make that one “perfect” basic bowl.

BOWL #1 – The basic round bowl. This was our “starting place.”

So after throwing the first bowl… I set my students free to go back to their wheels and start making some bowls. While they were throwing, I was too!!! I continued to throw more “basic” bowls… a full bag of clay-s worth… which turned out to be eighteen bowls. Pretty close to matching basic bowls.

When I was done throwing the bowls, re re-convened for Part Two of my bowl demo. This is the fun part where I show them some fun “tricks” they can use to make their own “basic” bowls not so basic any more!!!

Two simple fluted twists, one on each side.

And if two fluted twists are good, eight might be better?!

Then  we took the top rim and flared it out & down to make a thin flanged rim.

If the thin flange was goo, maybe a wider flange would be better?

Folded out to make a thing flange and then added four fluted edges.

Who says a bowl needs to stay round?… and I’m thinking this might get a handle over from dent to dent.

I carefully split the rim using the pointed end of my wooden knife… and then dented it in at four places.

After splitting the rim, I dented four spaces inwards, and then again four spaces outwards.

After splitting the rim, I carefully pinched it back together in eight places.

So Stacey, one of my former students who has seen the bowl demo before, challenged me to try a TRIPLE split rim!!! And you know I’m always up for a challenge!!! In retrospect, I kinda wish I had left a little more clay up in the rim if I had known I was going to go for the triple. But I perservered… and then pinched & pressed out in eight places.

My students were impressed… and referred to this a the “churro bowl.”

Using my metal dragonscale tool, I pressed in the edges to make a stylized flower in the bottom of the bowl

After the first dozen bowls, I shifted gears and introduced my students to colored slip.
Just another fun way of decorating their “basic” bowls… to make them less basic!!!

I slathered on a layer of thick white slip, and then dragged the curved end of my wooden knife through the slip as the bowl was rotating on my wheel.

A thick layer of slip and then a little finger squiggle through for the pattern.

Using four pieces of newspaper dipped in water, I created a stencil by  placing the newspaper pieces in an open square. I filled that open square with thick slip, dragged a tool through it for the ridges, and then carefully removed the newspaper strips to reveal clean edges.

Another layer of thick white slip, with some rhythmic tapping of a plastic rib through the slip as it was rotating on the wheel.

I carefully cut four letters out of the newspaper… I wet the letters and carefully pressed them smooth to the bowl. I carefully painted over the edges with some thin black slip, and the covered the entire bowl interior. The tough part is finding the newspaper letters to pull them out!!!

First a layer of thick white slip covering the interior, and then some thin black slip from the top edge inwards to blend and create the ombre effect.

For now they’re all under wraps in my studio. I’m pretty sure there’s a “good chance”there might be some stamping & detailing still to come before I trim the bottoms.

So it was another fun night – I LOVE this demo!!!
It’s so much fun to see the lights going off in my student’s heads as their eyes light up during the demo. A great combination of shock & awe as they start to see some of the possibilities. I know I might have overwhelmed thenm a bit… but my goal is that they got my main point…

Have fun.
Try something new.
Make your basic bowl not-so-basic.
Decorate it. make it yours.
I don’t care how.
But just HAVE FUN… it’s just clay!





Categories: stamped, stamps, vases, wheelthrowing

Still throwing. Still stamping.
Another vase and that one stamp that did all of the tough work!

And a detail of the freshly stamped surface… still a bit wet, and waiting for a little clean-up!


Categories: classes, process, production, wheelthrowing

Last week in my pottery class I challenged my students to make some ovals for our final class exchange game. I made two as part of our class demo… but then I figured maybe I should make some more?!!! Still a work in progress… unless you want an oval that doesn’t really hold anything?!!!

Categories: bowls, porcelain, process, production, wheelthrowing

Playing with porcelain again… starting with some simple bowls!