The Artist Outpost is the San Diego local authority on learning to make pottery: throwing on the wheel, hand building, making functional pieces as well as art forms.

Throwing on the wheel is a pottery technique that has been used for centuries to create beautiful and functional ceramic pieces. This process involves shaping clay on a spinning wheel to form various shapes such as bowls, cups, vases, and plates. The wheel allows the potter to control the speed and direction of the spinning clay, resulting in precise and uniform forms. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the techniques of throwing on the wheel in detail, from preparing the clay to finishing the final piece.

To begin, the first step in throwing on the wheel is preparing the clay. It is essential to wedge the clay thoroughly to remove any air bubbles and ensure uniform consistency. Wedging also helps align the particles in the clay, making it easier to work with on the wheel. Once the clay is wedged, it is centered on the wheel by pressing it firmly against the wheel head and using water to lubricate the surface.

After centering the clay, the potter begins the throwing process by opening up the clay. This involves pressing a thumb into the center of the clay to create a depression, which will form the base of the piece. It’s crucial to also compress the floor of the piece. This helps it dry uniformly and not crack! The potter then gradually pulls the walls of the clay upward and outward to create the desired shape. Ideally this is done in 3 passes. The walls are also compressed. By controlling the speed of the wheel and the pressure applied, the potter can manipulate the clay to achieve different forms and textures.

As the piece takes shape, the potter must pay attention to the thickness of the walls to ensure even drying and firing later on. Thicker walls may result in uneven drying, leading to cracking or warping during firing. To maintain consistent thickness, the potter can use a wooden rib tool to scrape off excess clay from the walls while shaping the piece

After the piece is thrown and removed with a splash of water on either side and a wire tool, it is set where it can dry slowly to prevent the piece from warping or cracking during firing. Once the piece reaches a leather-hard stage, it can be trimmed. We spend our second class in our series learning to trim. The piece returns to the wheel upside down. Decorative elements like handles or textures can also be added at this stage. At this stage you can also add underglaze and scratching back into the clay in a beloved technique called Sgraffito.

When the piece is completely dry, usually in 2 weeks, it is ready for bisque firing in a kiln. Bisque firing involves heating the piece to about 900 degrees in our kiln to remove any remaining moisture.

Once the bisque firing is complete, the piece can be sanded (outdoors only) and glazed using various techniques such as dipping, brushing, or spraying to achieve different colors and finishes.

Finally, the glazed piece is fired in the kiln for a second time to over 1000 degrees to fuse the glaze to the clay and make it waterproof. A firing can take 12 hours and then cooling can require another 12.

Throwing on the wheel is a versatile and rewarding technique that allows potters to create unique and personalized ceramic pieces. By mastering the techniques of centering, throwing, trimming, and glazing, potters can unleash their creativity and produce beautiful pottery that showcases their skills and passion for the craft. So, grab some clay, hop on the wheel, and let your imagination spin into a world of endless possibilities.