Picture shows plans for a ceramic piece

Pod: Ceramic Sculpture Diary 2

Coils of clay, everywhere.

When I first returned to ceramics the very first thing I made was a coil pot. I expressed my horror at coiling until Ali (my teacher) said I must forget all I had learned in school and this would be different. First thing is we don’t build on a coiled round “table mat” kind of base, and the second is we are not at home to narrow fiddly worms of clay. This, as they say in “How to Train Your Dragon”, changes everything!

Here is the original coil pot, it wasn’t very good (its bottom fell off after firing, how embarrassing) but I still love my bonkers thick as school custard bronze glaze, and I learned a lot making it.


How to do coiling:

  • Make a slab base which is larger than the base of the finished object, you can then trim the base afterward (I mean it makes so much sense yes?!)
  • Score and slurry between layers of coils, score and slurry, you need more slurry than you think you do. Just like butter creaming a cake. Only don’t eat the slurry.
  • Rolling coils is done with a light touch so you end up with a round sausage not a squarish one, this all comes with practice.
  • Fat coils, not skinny mean ones. We are going to…
  • …kidney this back at the end, to make the outside smooth and lovely. I had never heard of “kidneying” at this point and gave teech a strange look. Basically you use a thin metal ‘kidney’ to scrape back all the rough bits where you can see fingermarks from squishing coils together, until all is smooth.

From being coil-sceptical I quickly became coil-obsessed! I’ve made so many pots like this for the past few years, the blue bottles in the first of this series are huge coil pots, and I’ve put pictures of more below. It’s a calming way to make vessels, it can’t really be rushed as the bigger you go the more you have to patiently wait for the clay to firm up between layers. Yet for all the waiting (or slightly less patient hair-dryering of your piece if you do need to get on) you have a huge amount of control over the build. And it lends itself to organic, rounded shapes – which I love.

So for years I merrily roll coils and build, roll and build…but wait…what is this thing on the wall?

The Clay Extruder

A clay extruder on a wall

This device allows you to Make Coils Really Quickly. It’s like a huge potato ricer/noodle maker and reminds me somewhat of the almost industrial mincing machine we somehow acquired during my 1970s childhood.

Clay goes in the top, potter pulls down the handle and giant worms come out of the bottom, I have made a terrible video of this which you can see by . All I can think of as I undertake this process on a now weekly basis is heeding the call of Cthulhu, but unlike H.P. Lovecraft’s appalling creation this is much more fun. I could extrude all night, but then where would we be?
(click the pic to see a ten second video of extruding action)

What we extrude lands on a board and resembles either a nest of earthy snakes/an avant-garde chocolate pudding from the mind of Heston Blumenthal (you choose). Having coils ready made like this really speeds the building process up – especially when building something which is eventually to be …erm…188cm all the way around (C=2 pi r, I can do maths a bit!) but we do still need to wait for the clay to dry out, so I can’t go that fast. At the moment it looks like a huge dish, which I’ll photograph for next time.

Next time: Hitting pottery with a stick, and more coils but in a different colour…

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