Beginning Ceramics: From Pinch Pots to Slab Cups

by Lia

Last fall, I enrolled in my very first ceramics class. I’ve always been interested in learning how to create clay art, and it was nice to have the time to jump in and get my hands on some mud!

Over the past few months, I’ve been learning how to hand build pottery. I started with pinch pots, which was much harder than I expected, and most recently learned how to make slabs to build a variety of vessels. I’m eager to keep working on slab-built pottery because I think you can achieve shapes and forms that you couldn’t get from throwing clay on the wheel. I also adore the look of hand-built pottery because you can see the artist in the details. (Hello, fingerprints!)

Something else that I’ve really enjoyed with hand building is working on surface design. I’m a big fan of “sgraffito,” which is a technique that involves scratching designs into the clay. In the pics below, I sgraffito’d my cups with a leafy design, and then I filled in the design with royal blue underglaze. I painted the clay with wax resist before carving my design, so I guess you can say that this uses the “Mishima” technique to inlay the underglaze. I still have so many terms and techniques to learn!

In the two vessels below, I sgraffito’d the pots with a rake tool. I love the simplicity of the pots, and I wanted to keep the design minimal. I also covered both of these in white slip before bisque firing, and I decided to keep the glazes simple. Very Scandivian!

I recently picked up some finished pieces from the art studio, and I’m very proud of what I’ve done. I’m making progress! I made a little ring dish that I hand-painted with three different underglazes. I think it looks pretty cute! And my slab-built cups turned out very nicely! In the photo below (top right), the inside of the vessel has white celadon glaze and the outside has an oxblood red glaze; however, I decided to salt fire it (rather than the conventional firing method), and I love the way it came out! You can see the red come through in different lighting, and it’s got a nice gloss to it. This is probably my favorite piece so far, which makes sense because it’s the latest piece I made.

It’s pretty cool to put all my pieces together and see how I’ve progressed. I obviously still have a long, long way to go—and I still haven’t tackled throwing on the wheel yet 😬—but I’m happy with what I’ve been learning and excited about continuing my ceramics education! 🏺

My First Ceramic Pieces // © 2020 Lia Ballentine

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Cat May 21, 2020 - 11:43 am

Beautiful cups! I just starting out in pottery and my studio temporarily closed because of the pandemic but I’m super excited to try hand-building after seeing your slab and pinch pots. Thank you!

Lia May 22, 2020 - 1:46 pm

Thanks so much, Cat! I hope you’re able to start hand-building soon! 🤗


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