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A Thing or Two with the....Wheel Throwers

By Amy Stein

Any potter will tell you: throwing on a potter’s wheel is a complex process. People ask: Is it like that scene in Ghost? In some ways, yes. Demi Moore’s shirt was a mess, her hands were slimy with clay and her pot collapsed – these details were spot on! But does our studio have a shirtless Patrick Swayze sporting a magnificent six pack, standing behind us to distract from our failures and ease our pain? Not so much.

And, yes, that was a great pot Demi was throwing – centered, tall and nicely shaped – but we don’t get to see how she got there. We throwers (Demi included) spend numerous hours in the studio working to get it right. We are aided by mentors and informed by countless instructional YouTube videos. And just like Demi, we witness numerous pots topple along the way.

The process of throwing on a potter’s wheel begins with a lump of clay. The clay sits on the wheel head of the potter’s wheel. The wheel then turns and spins until voila! A pot is made. Right? Well, not quite. Creating at the potter’s wheel takes more than just spinning a wheel around and around – it’s where an artist uses their skill to form a shapeless mass of clay into a beautiful and useful object, such as a bowl, mug, vase, plate, etc.

Creating at the potter’s wheel looks simple, but takes practice. It involves sitting at that wheel, positioning your hands to center the clay, bringing the sides up and shaping the clay all at one time. This can take a lot of strength, depending on how much clay you’ve got on your wheel head. Often one will wind up hunched over that wheel for hours at a time.

After you’ve thrown and shaped your clay on the potter’s wheel, you must remove it from the wheel head, taking care not to ding, dent or drop your work. The wheel and work area have to be cleaned (remember the mess Demi made?), as do your tools. You will leave the object you created to dry until it is leather-hard; after this, you’ll remove any excess clay (known as “trimming”). When your pot is completely dry, you will then fire it in a kiln which can reach temperatures of 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit. Glazing and additional firing options can follow after that.

The whole operation typically takes a few weeks. It is a complex, sometimes complicated process, and it can take years to become the kind of expert artisan potter who can easily throw on a wheel (just ask anyone at the Sun City Creative Clay and China studio – or Demi, if you happen to see her around). But the sooner you begin, the sooner you’ll get there. If you’re curious about starting your own journey into wheel throwing, contact the Creative Clay and China Club at sctxcreativeclay@gmail.com.