Throwing Hints and Tips

In my last post I linked to a few good sites for seeing pottery being made on the potter’s wheel.  There are many videos out there and many pages on making pottery – some are great and some not so great.  In thinking about my next post, I was going to add a few tips of my own… until I saw the BEST SITE FOR LEARNING TO THROW ONLINE!!!!!!

Marvin Bartel taught (retired, Professor of Art, emeritus) at Goshen College in Indiana.  He must be an incredible teacher (like me – sorry for the shameless plug)!  He is so generous with his knowledge online, I am quite certain he was just as generous, if not more, in person!  I sure hope he is still teaching a little and potting alot!

In case you just missed it, or were too lazy to click the link, Mr. Bartel took photos from the potter’s perspective and has a pretty comprehensive click-through on everything from wedging to centering to shaping and removing the pot from the wheel!!!  I had fantasized about doing this but don’t really have the set-up or patience for computer-type teaching.  THANK GOODNESS for this Learning to Throw online tutorial!!!! If you haven’t clicked yet and are just starting out in throwing pottery on the wheel, shame on you!!!!

Here are a few tips I linger on when teaching Beginner Pottery Wheel classes:

  • STABILIZE!!!  Brace your arm against your body when centering.  I throw right-handed and my left hand is the major player in centering on the wheel.  My elbow is stuck in my hip so that my body leans into the arm, which leads into my hand cupping the clay on the wheel, which centers the clay.  Essentially, I am using my upper body weight to center through my left hand. (the right hand plays a minor, yet important part in centering)
  • STABILIZE!!!  Never take your arms away from your body.  Holding them in close helps stabilize your arms so they don’t get knocked around by the clay.  Just think about how you take a long distance photo – arms are tight up against your body to help keep your hands from taking a shaky photo.
  • STABILIZE!!! When your hands touch the clay, your hands should also touch each other to help support and keep them from wobbling and getting off center.  This is especially important when pulling up the wall of clay.  If your hands aren’t touching, your outside hand will tend to move with the rotation of the clay which then throws your clay off center (actually it causes the clay to fold between your two fingers).
  • STABILIZE!!!! My arms are close to my body, my hands are touching and now my fingers, those little guys doing the pinching, have helpful neighbors who help give rigidity to weak, sorry digits.  Yes – I have each finger supported by another finger.  Whatever finger is touching the clay, another should be helping it out.  In my beginner’s class, I call the hand position the “crab claw.”  Our hand positions may not be exact, but you can see that my hands are touching, my fingers are touching and, what you don’t see is my arms tight against my body for STABILITY!
Hand position for throwing on the potter's wheel

"Crab Claw" hand position for beginner throwers.

In my next post, I hope to talk about my favorite tools for throwing…..  stay posted!

Throwing Pottery Basics

I’m back from my fun holiday vacation and happy to be at Southwestern Community College teaching the Beginner/Intermediate Throwing class.  This, I think, is my favorite class to teach because I can watch the students grow from knowing nothing to making a teapot in 16 weeks.

One of my students recently asked if there were any good sites online to help her learn to throw. Here is a short list of sites that can help anyone learn to make a pot on the wheel:

YouTube is a GREAT start!  Search terms may be: centering pottery, centering clay, wedging clay, pottery wheel basics, etc.  Expert Village has a vast number of videos on Youtube.  I have to say, watch more than one!  Everyone throws a bit different, and not everyone is a good teacher.  The more you see, the better it will translate to you.

Another place to find videos is the Ceramic Arts Daily website.  This site is brought to you by the publisher of several ceramic arts magazines, and so they are interested in selling.  However, beside the selling points, this site offers great tips for the new and initiated potter!  Videos, books, shortened articles from their magazines, etc.

Lakeside Pottery has a pretty extensive site for a small studio in Connecticut.  They posted photos of each step of the throwing process, handbuilding techniques, surface decoration and more.  They really do a GREAT job online, and I am sure they do a mighty fine job in person if you happen to live near them and take a class. does a great job with both photos and text to help any beginner potter.  I particularly like their tutorial on wedging (preparing) clay for those with hand a wrist strains, called the Cut and Slap method.

These links should keep a beginner occupied online for several hours.  Perhaps in the near future I will post a list of books I recommend for learning about throwing pots on a wheel.

Until then, if you are in Bryson City, North Carolina, check out the classes I offer at Pincu Pottery or consider taking a class at the Heritage Arts Institute!


Learning to Throw

Anita learns to throw a pot