During lockdown in 2020 I recorded some handbuilding guides on Vimeo for any student who wanted to carry on working at home. Below is the decorating stage. The video showing the first stage is on the My Channel page of this website.
Links to Video Lesson 1.( Instructions below)
Airdrying Clay Lesson 1
Approx. 1lb ( 450 grams) Scarva Airdrying Modelling Clay
Cylinder template- see below
Slip – see below
long handled brush
old credit card
sponge on a stick
small lidded plastic bowl
cling film/ziplock bag for scraps
small plate covered in cling flim
Also, a small mirror is handy for checking the shape of your pot from all angles. Prop it up on the table in front of where you’re working. And a spirit level is good for making sure your pot doesn’t lean. Finally, a small wooden butter pat is very handy for shaping, or a small hairbrush ( cleaned!). If you get bored half way through this process you can always tidy up your own appearance!
• The template for this cylinder will be a rectangle measuring 9.5” ( 24cm) x 3” ( 7.5 cm). This will form the sides. The lid and bottom are made from 3” pastry cutters. If you don’t have this size of pastry cutter, work out the length of your rectangle by multiplying the diameter of your cutter by 3.14. Don’t sweat about it, the size will be altered a bit as you handle the clay anyway. You can also vary the height to suit yourself, but may have to use less or more clay.
• Roll out your clay to an even thickness- approx. 5mm, then cut shapes on wooden board and leave to stiffen up for an hour or so, or use hairdryer for a few minutes, making handling easier.
• Meanwhile, make slip by mixing some of your left-over clay with water and a touch of vinegar in a small lidded plastic bowl. You can get a smooth mix by sieving, but as long as it’s thick and brushable it’ll be fine.
• KEEP YOUR SCRAPS WRAPPED IN CLING FILM. THIS CLAY IS THREE TIMES MORE EXPENSIVE THAN KILN FIRING CLAY AND YOU DON’T WANT TO WASTE ANY OF IT. ALSO YOU SHOULD ALWAYS WORK WITH DAMP CLAY, AND WHEN CLEANING UP ALWAYS USE A DAMP CLOTH. DRY CLAY IS NOT GOOD FOR YOUR LUNGS, NEITHER ARE THE PLASTIC FIBRES WHICH BIND THIS CLAY TOGETHER!
• When the clay’s ready, use your thumb to shape the right side into an approximate 45 degree angle. Turn the clay over horizontally and shape the same angle on the remaining side which should now be on your right. The angles should dovetail to make a smooth mitred join.
• Rough up the sides by cross hatching with the knife, then lather the edges with slip. Don’t be mean with it! Join up your two side edges first by gently squeezing them together. Dry your hands then use a sideways motion between your thumb and first finger to make the edges disappear into the body of the clay. If you still have a visible seam, use the serrated knife to go over it, then the plastic card. Check the top and bottom are still level, and you still have a concentric shape.
• Now thumb the edge of one of the discs into a 45 degree angle, then pinch inside of the bottom edge of the cylinder to the same degree. Score and slip as above, then place the cylinder over the top of the disc, checking it covers it completely. Roll out a thin coil of clay measuring 8”, or two smaller ones of half size, then place these over the inside bottom seam, and use the damp sponge to smooth the seam down and consolidate the base.
• Turn the pot over and thumb over the edges towards the base. Use the serrated knife and credit card to smooth over. Now pat the edge at an angle with your paddle to start changing the outward form and lift the bottom.
• Continuing to alter the form from the original can-shape, you can now use the damp sponge to “belly out” the pot from the inside. The trick to doing this is to keep the pot revolving, which is where the plate comes in. Keep turning it as you’re working. You must support the shape from the outside by grasping it with the palm of one hand while keeping your fingers squeezed in around the top to stop the top flaring out.
• Once you have a symmetrical shape, check the top is still level.
• Now pinch the rim to thin it and make it curve outward.
• If you are going to put any decoration on the pot, do it now, but keep it simple. The main focus here is form.
• Now the lid! Decide if you want a level, a concave (dipping-down) or a convex (domed-up) shape. Try them all and see what you like with your pot. Once you’ve decided, shape and then attend to the edge to make it fit inside the pot. If you decide on a level lid, you might need to place a coil on the inside of the lid to stop it sliding off. Give whatever shape you’ve decided on a quick blast with the hair dryer- to attach a knob the lid needs to be fairly stiff.
• Take a good size blob of clay and roll it on one side to give it a narrower end. Put your lid on your pot and try the knob on top- if it’s far too big cut it down, too small, add some more clay.
• Press the bottom of the knob to match the shape of where it’s going, ie straight for a level lid, convex for a concave shape and vice versa.
• Score and slip, pick up lid and attach knob. Use fingers to smooth into the body. Try it again in the mirror. If you did some decoration on the pot, match it up on the lid.
• Voila! Leave to dry, and eagerly await the next demo on painted surfaces!