Jackie Block is a Michigan artist who loves creating in clay. She took a parent child pottery class with her son and has been hooked since.
I use clay that is fired in a kiln to create my bowls, but if you are getting started and don’t have access to a kiln, you can make a bowl using air-dry clay. The techniques used to create the bowl are the same, although the finished bowl will be suitable for decorative purposes only.
- A canvas-covered board or even an old wooden cutting board will make a good work surface.
- A tub of water and a small sponge help to smooth out your bowl.
- A pottery rib in metal or silicon is useful, but an old credit card will work nearly as well.
- A pin tool or bamboo skewer can be used to even out the top of your bowl or to add carvings and texture.
- And finally, you can use stamps, rocks, seashells, bits of lace fabric, or anything else that catches your eye to add texture to your bowl.
Now that you have your supplies gathered, you are ready to begin.
Clay Types Explained
There are two types of clay you can use:
Air-dry clay can be allowed to dry and then painted on. This is a great, inexpensive way to start playing with clay. Air-dry clay is readily available at craft stores and comes in a variety of colors. Air-dry clay can be painted and sealed with a clear coat of varnish but shouldn’t be used for food or drink.
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If you have access to a kiln, potters clay will allow you to make bowls that are safe to use for food (once they have been fired to their proper temperature).
Pinch Pot Bowl Instructions
The easiest way to make your first bowl is by making a pinch pot. The pinch pot technique is extremely useful and can be the start of many different clay projects. For your bowl, you will want a chunk of clay about the size of your fist.
- Make a ball with your clay and use your fingers to smooth out any cracks and creases on the outside of your clay ball.
- Using your thumb, press a hole in the center of your clay ball about 3/4 of the way through.
- With your thumb inside and fingers outside, start gently squeezing the clay, widening in the center. Rotate the clay around so you are keeping the sides even in thickness. Make sure you switch which hand is pinching so you don’t end up with a cramped-up hand. This is a great way to strengthen your non-dominant hand.
- When the walls and bottom of your bowl are about 3/8 of an inch thick, it is time to start smoothing out the clay. Most of the time it is easy to do with just your fingers but if you have some stubborn cracks that won’t smooth with your finger, you can keep that area stable with your pin tool or bamboo skewer and then use your rib or credit card to smooth it right out.
- You now have a basic pinch pot bowl. The next step is to create some texture on the surface of the clay. You can press objects or stamps into the clay or scratch designs into the sides. You may use your damp sponge to smooth out any rough edges that become sharp once fired or dried. When it looks how you want it, carve your name or initials on the bottom. You may also want to add the year, so you know when you made this pot.
- If you are using air-dry clay, you can paint your piece either now or once it has dried. For kiln-fired bowls, you will need to let your bowl completely dry out before bisque firing. Once bisqued, you can add the glaze or glazes of your choice to the bowl. I like glazes that break over the texture. You can also wipe bake the glaze to reveal the bowl's texture. Fire the bowl to the proper cone required for the clay body you are using. Only fully vitrified ceramics are considered to be food safe. Make sure the glaze you used is also marked food safe before using your bowl for food.
More Than One Way to Make a Bowl
Pinch pots are just one way to make a ceramic bowl. You can also create bowls using coils, slabs or throwing them on a pottery wheel. In fact, you can make a pinch pot bowl using these techniques and add coils to the top for decoration and extra height. The possibilities are as endless as your imagination.
Stages of Clay
Moist clay, moves easily
You can add texture or handles and change the shape of your piece.
Less flexible, but still has moisture
This state is great for carving designs into your clay. Brush the clay scraps off with a brush.
The dry clay is brittle and fragile in this stage. It will no longer feel cool to the touch.
Your bowl is ready for its first trip to the kiln. The first fire is called a bisque firing.
Bisque pieces are more durable than I fired pots but not as much as glaze fired ware. The bisqued pots absorb water.
Your pot is ready to be glazed. Glazes are what give your bowl the color and glasslike finish.
Fully vitrified pottery absorbs very little water and is much more durable than previous stages.
Assuming you used glazes that are food safe your glazed piece is ready for use. Enjoy your one of a kind artwork.
© 2022 Jackie Block