by Katy Kappele
The pot begins as a lump of clay, gestated in bogs, lakes, and wet lowlands, pulled from the earth and shipped to the potter’s studio. The amorphous clay is kneaded and cajoled into a soft and pliable sphere.
The infant pot, a sphere of clay in the potter’s hands, is thrown onto the potter’s wheel in the center and bathed in water.
As the potter pumps her foot, the wheel begins to spin, and her hands on the malleable clay begin to shape the pot. First, the clay narrows on the top, resembling a bowl sitting face-down on the wheel, but as the clay spins and is shaped by the potter’s hands, it begins to resemble its eventual shape.
The potter’s fingers, digging into the center of the forming pot, shape the indentation that will become the hollow part of the pot. The potter’s fingers, shaping the outside as well as the inside, dictate the shape and eventual function of the pot. This where the infant pot become a plate, a bowl, a cup, a pitcher.
When the pot is shaped, in this case into a bowl, the potter stops the wheel. The pot, born on the spinning wheel, is attached to the metal surface. The potter takes a long wire and gently runs it underneath the pot to disengage it from the metal surface.
Once on the board, the pot is left in peace to dry. The hard surface of dry clay is called “leather hard,” and it is at this point where slip, or liquid clay, may be applied for colour and texture. There are three colours of slip: black or brown, blue, and white. The slip may be painted, drizzled, or splattered on.
The leather hard clay is just wet enough for tools to gouge out parts of the clay and form a design. This word “zen” was gouged onto this cup.
After painting with slip and gouging in designs, the pot is fired. White clay, which looks grey before its fired, is fired at a higher temperature than red clay, which looks terracotta after firing. The pot shrinks about ten percent during firing.
After firing, the pot is glazed. The paints are difficult, because the color is not apparent before the pot’s next trip to the kiln.
After a final firing, the pot is finished. The slip and glaze have created a beautiful covering for the clay pot, and the final product may be used as intended or as decoration.
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