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In part 1 of our "Introduction to Wheel Throwing" series, we covered the basics and centering. Now it’s time to learn how to draw up, shape and finish the piece.
Slow your wheel to half speed and squeeze some water from your sponge all over your cylinder. Place your left hand inside of your opened cylinder with your fingers pointing down. Position your right hand the same way on the outside and cross your thumbs.
The next step may take some experimentation before you find the most comfortable technique. Most potters will use the sides of the knuckles on their index fingers to draw the clay up, but some use the tips of their index or middle fingers or some combination of fingers and knuckles. The idea is to contact the clay on as small an area as possible on the inside and outside.
Now press in from the outside and start to pull the clay upwards. The motion would be like trying to pick up a piece of dough using just your fingertips; you need to get under the mass you want and pick up more than you need by pinching it from opposite sides and letting the excess stretch out below your fingers. Try not to turn your wrists when you pull, move you whole arms instead.
Try to draw the clay upwards 3 times - first to bring up mass, second to reach the desired height and third to even everything out. Starting out you will need to get a feel for the clay and teach your hands the necessary dexterity, so you will need more than three pulls to draw your clay to the desired height, but three is the goal, not the maximum.
Quick tip: If you are making a bowl you should start the draw the same way by moving clay up, but on your second pull you should move it out at a 45-degree angle.
You should now have a cylinder more tall than wide and you can slow your wheel again (to one-third or one-quarter speed) and begin shaping. Shaping on the wheel takes two basic techniques: pushing out and squeezing in.
To push something out, like the belly of a vase, place your hands on the pot like you are pulling, but apply pressure from the inside with your left hand and use your right hand to provide support. Start at the bottom of the bulge and work upwards by pivoting your hand (instead of moving your whole arm upwards) this will make for an even, round bulge. You may have to repeat this motion a few times to push enough clay outward and to smooth the outside.
To squeeze your cylinder in, like the neck of a bottle, place both hands below where you want your neck on the outside like you are going to choke your pot. Simultaneously squeeze and move your hands upward. Don't try to do this in one motion, but try not to do it more than three times. Once you have closed your neck to the desired diameter, use your sponge on the outside (or a metal rib) and one finger on the inside to compress the neck - this will help to prevent warping when drying and firing.
You will probably need to remove some clay from the top at this point. Do so by placing one finger inside the rim and your needle tool pointing in from the outside, parallel to the wheel head. Slowly push the needle tool in until it meets your finger. Allow the wheel to make one more full rotation and then lift slowly. The excess clay should come off cleanly.
When you are done shaping, the last thing to do is to take your pot off the wheel. First clean up the base with your finger or a fettling knife then use your sponge to mop up excess water from the inside and outside of your pot.
Now fill your sponge with water from your bucket and squeeze it onto the wheel head around the pot. Hold your wire tool with the handles on the outside of your hands and pinch the wire between your thumbs and index fingers (don't wrap the wire around your index finger). Pull the wire tight in your hands, push it down onto the wheel head on the far side of your pot and drag it toward you under the pot.
If you are throwing on a bat, then you are done. Simply take the bat off the wheel and put it somewhere to dry. If you are throwing on the wheel head then have a ware board within arm’s reach for a place to land your pots. Place your hands flat on the wheel head on either side of the pot with your thumbs making “L”s. Gently slide the pot to the edge of the wheel head and wrap your fingers under it to pick it up – try to only touch it in three or four places – and move it to your ware board as quickly as possible.
Congratulations! You have thrown your first pot on the wheel! From here you can let it dry part way and then trim the base or add a handle, or you can let it dry all the way and fire it.