Wheel-Throwing Process

Everything with the Servant Ceramics stamp has been made by me, Rachel and they’re all individual, one of a kind pieces. You will notice subtle differences, even within sets, between vessels. This is due to the artisan process – thrown, constructed, altered and glazed by hand.

After inspiration strikes, I usually draw up the design in my visual diary before getting out the clay. Sometimes its better to work out the basic shape, height and decoration before getting the hands dirty, but that’s not always the case. I usually make a few prototypes when creating a new design as you don’t always know what will work for the best.

With ceramics, you’re thinking about it all – the shape, size, weight, lip and handles (if required), base, texture, decoration, materials, colours, glazes, negative space, functionality and the list continues!

When throwing, the clay is prepared (this may involve wedging) before it is used. It can be thrown ‘off the hump’ (a large amount of clay is used to produce numerous smaller vessels) or as individual balls of clay.

The clay is centred and opened, the base compressed and walls pulled up; the lip is continually compressed.

Shape is added as the vessel develops and when complete, the base is cut with a wire tool and put aside to dry.

When the vessel is dry but is not dried out, it is at the leather-hard stage and able to be refined. This process is called turning or trimming and there are many methods to achieve this.

Regardless of how they do it, most potters create a foot at the base of the vessel and remove any excess clay at this stage.

Once this is occurs, additions or subtracts are made to the vessel, before it is too dried out – think handles, spouts, altered edges and other decoration elements.

With the form and suitable decoration complete, the vessel is left to become ‘bone dry.’  The drying process may take a while – certain pieces require slow drying with plastic so cracks don’t appear or so it doesn’t warp as it dries. Plates and platters are exceptionally prone to warping.

Once the piece is dry enough, its stacked into the kiln for a bisque firing. The temperature of a bisque firing is usually around 1000°C but this can vary among potters. Of note, the vessels undergo two important phases as a) the water is burnt away and b) significant chemical changes occur as the clay hardens into a permanent, unchangeable form. As a result, bisqued wares are more resilient than greenware (non-fired wares) and their porosity easies the application of glazes.

When it comes to glazing, ideally, you mix a glaze correctly, you apply it correctly (not too thick, not too thin), you place the vessels in the kiln correctly, you fire the kiln correctly  and you get the results you were hoping for. But this isn’t always the case. Firing and glazing goes hand in hand and it can be one of the cruellest blows to a potter when you open the kiln door to see that something has gone wrong  in this, the final stage of the making process.

I, Rachel, use a variety of clays for the Servant Ceramic range – mostly stoneware bodies – and have developed a number of glazes for these specific clays. I enjoy the challenge of developing glazes, discovering how they change and mastering the firing process. While I currently high-fire my pieces (between 1240-1280°C, Cones 8-10), I would like to explore the world of mid firing soon.

After the work is fired, I grind the bases for a pleasant user experience and to ensure that they wont scratch any table surface. I also wash the wares to remove any kiln material from them as well.

While it might not take long to make and glaze one individual item, as a small studio, I need enough work to fire the kiln efficiently. This is why I suggest a 4-6week production turn around on custom orders.

I hope this insight into my process has helped you understand how unique, individual and beautiful handmade ceramics vessels are.

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6 thoughts on “Wheel-Throwing Process

  1. Hi Rachael , Being a potter my self I was very impressed with your Photos, and description of throwing ,very good. The WBBPA are having their Annual Convention at Kingaroy on 26th & 27th Oct, Well worth coming for the weekend. If you or any one you know would be interested you can contact me by e mail at struyhills@hotmail .com for more information. Lyn

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