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bettababy

Help! Newbie Struggling With How Much Water?

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Hi everyone.  I am a beginner and just inherited a pottery wheel.  (2 speed AMACO wheel)  I don't have access to any schools or studios/instructors so have had to rely on internet (youtube videos have been a huge part of my learning process) for instruction & guidance.  

 

I have thrown a couple of bowls thus far but I know something is very wrong and am at a loss.  My daughter saw the photos of the work I've done already and she commented that I was using too much water (based on her high school pottery class experience a couple of yrs ago) but was unable to help me figure out why I am struggling.

 

I am wedging about 75 - 100 motions before using the clay on the wheel and not noticing air bubbles, clay is soft but not sticky when I begin.  Getting the ball of clay stuck to the wheel not a problem.  Centering not working so well and I suspect that, too, is related to the water issue.  How hard is it supposed to be to cone the clay?  (how much resistance from the clay?)  

 

I have tried working with dry hands but the clay doesn't cooperate.  I wet my hands and the clay smooths out under my hands but only on the surface, the rest of it feels near immovable.  I have gone back repeatedly to the youtube videos but they're not helping with this.  I can cone down without too much struggle but when I attempt to cone up it goes up a little bit and then kinda stops there, and I'm having to use a LOT of pressure to get it to do that.  It never actually "cones".   At the same time, when I wet my hands the clay is literally turning to slip so much that my hands end up coated in thick gobs of slip that need to be scraped off every few minutes and the working clay gets a bit "gritty" under my hands.  I have tried using the slip as a lubricant instead of more water but then it gets sticky.  End result is that I am wasting a lot of clay and not making any real progress.  When I continue to use water I am getting some results, but then the clay is so wet that it starts to distort just from the speed of the wheel.  (low speed is not useful for much of anything with this wheel)

So my question is, how do I know how much water I should be using?  How hard should the clay be to move up/down when coning?  (should I have to lean all of my weight into it?  squeeze/push until my hands ache?)

 

I feel really dumb having to come here and ask this but I can't find any online resources that address this issue.  I am also considering that maybe its a technique issue since I am left handed and all of the videos I am learning from are right handed.  There is no way to change the direction of the wheel (that I can find) so again, unsure how to figure this out.

 

Thanks in advance.  I'm enclosing a few photos to show what I have created so far and those were done using a lot of water and ending up with a huge mess.

 

The 1st 2 photos are my first attempts (ever) and the last photo is the one I kept and is currently drying.  It was those 1st 2 photos that my daughter concluded that I was using too much water.  The terra cotta clay in the 2nd photo was much harder to work than the gray clay.  (very dry and gritty no matter how much water I used)  I don't know as much as I probably should about the clay.  It was bought at a pottery studio about 2 hrs away and the guy who worked there wasn't much help.  He suggested these to get me started when I mentioned that I will be pit firing all of my pieces.  

Help? 

 

 

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This is where I'm at today.  Please excuse the excess water on the wheel in this photo... I sponged some water over the clay and laid plastic wrap over it to avoid drying out while I am here.  I have tried so many times to get a proper cone out of this stuff and this was as close as it has gotten so far.  I know this isn't a proper full cone but it doesn't go any higher or narrower at the top... it just doesn't move... comes off as slip (in gobs) on my hands instead.  

 

 

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I encourage my students to use as much water as is necessary to keep their hands from sticking to the clay. You don't need to douse it with a sponge, though, just dip your hands in the water.

 

To cone, lace your fingers nice and tight, thumbs up out of the ways, rest on your elbows, put your hands on the sides of the clay and squeeze. Keep your elbows close to your hips, not your knees. The squeeze comes from the wrists, not the shoulders. Keep your handsresting on the wheel until the clay gets to the top of your hands, then slowly bring your hands up as you squeeze. If your hands start sticking to the clay, take them off, dip them, and keep going.

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Find some private instruction would save you a lot of frustration.  Even if you have drive a ways and spend a day with a instructor that will give you much need guidance and boost to get started on the right track.   Denice

D Walsh, D.M.Ernst and Roberta12 like this

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I use very little water and apply with a sponge. I rarely ever have water in the splash pan.I did when first starting though. If the clay seems too hard or stiff, slice it up like bread and dip each piece in water, let it sit for a little while or wrap it up and let it sit over night. Wedge it after that.

To center make the cone then igloo, back to cone, back to igloo and one more time. Three times should do it.

Marcia

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Looks like your clay is too dry/stiff.  When you wedge it add some softer clay to your ball and mix it thoroughly.  In my experience the clay should yield to gentle pressure from your fingers before you start to center.  With all the water/slip you have in your splash pan, collect some of that, let it dry a bit and add it to the next ball of clay.  

 

Also, for beginners, I always recommend just enough clay that your hands can encircle it.  Smaller than that and larger than that is more difficult.  

 

Keep at it, but soften your clay a bit.  Donna

Min likes this

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There are some really bad youtube video's out there, don't know if you've seen this one but it's a good one for covering most of the issues with centering (including coning). As DM Ernst pointed out, look at the size of the clay he is working with. It's hard to quantify how wet the clay should be if you've never worked with "soft" clay. If you try wedging on a formica tabletop and the clay sticks a bit I would say it's soft enough, if it doesn't stick then I'ld work some water into it like has already been mentioned. For the coning part use the heels of your hands not your fingertips. Doesn't matter if you are a lefty, if your wheel is spinning counterclockwise work on the right side of pot to do your lifts. (at approx 3:00 o'clock).   

 

"I feel really dumb having to come here and ask this"

Why??? Nobody here would ever ridicule you for asking for help with something that is giving you problems. 

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I also think your clay is probably too stiff.  When the clay is stiff, you have to press harder to move it.

 

I recently ran into this with some 'left-over' stoneware clay that had been given to me. The harder I pressed, the more water I needed to keep my hands lubricated.  The outer layer starts turning into slip before the rest of the lump is soft enough to really work well.  A two-pound ball of clay soon turned into a one-pound lump, and a splash-pan full of slip (not to mention the coating on my hands & fore-arms).

 

There are lots of ways to add moisture to your clay.  I use a method similar to what Marcia suggested.  I usually start with 3-4 pounds and slice it into several 1/2-inch thick pieces.  Then, Instead of dipping and letting each slice sit, I sponge a little water onto the top of each slice, and "stack & slam".  Process is repeated until the clay is uniformly moist.

 

It's difficult to describe the correct softness - but it's amazing the difference it makes.

 

PS - If you haven't heard of "stack & slam" wedging check out this article and the accompanying video. There are other variations on the technique, but this gives a good explanation of how it works.

GiselleNo5 likes this

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I started students with 3# of clay. This was enough to get a feel for centering, and at the same time once they could throw a cylinder out of that to 9 inches, I allowed them to explore other forms. The most basic of forms to master on the wheel is the cylinder, after that the bowl, then the plate. From these, all other forms are derived in one way or another. So concentrate as a beginner on the cylinder with 3#.

 

The clay should be soft enough that you thumb indents it easily without over-stressing the thumb. Next, before using any water, slap the round ball into the center of the wheel. I mean to actually throw the clay into the center onto the damp wheel head, and then while the wheel is moving slowly-very slowly, slap the clay with dry hands on the opposite sides at the same time-not hard, as if you are slapping someone for a naughty word back in the 40's. Do this until you notice the clay more in the center of the wheel head. Then bracing you arms onto your legs, do what is known in lots of circles as Mastering, or coning. You apply pressure with the mid palm area of the hand on both sides of the clay with wet hands now-you can even use a sponge to add a little water to the clay. The object here is to make the clay rise into a tall cone. Doing this is not as easy as it sounds, but it teaches you the amount of pressure needed to get the clay to move, without breaking part of the cone off. If you do break it off, set the entire ball aside and start with a new one. Once you get the hang of going up, use your right fist on the top of the clay, as if there were a bell handle at the top of the cone that you are holding onto. Push downward with the right fist while you brace your left arm into you hip, and use the palm of your left hand hand at 7 with the knuckle line perpendicular to the wheel. Pushing down with right, and in with left should dome the clay. Do this process a couple of times. Then start by opening up with either your Right middle finger, or RT thumb. Others may do it differently, but try what works for you. I am sure you are getting to the point where you understand centering and opening up, but. . . . .

  • Check your centering by moving a needle tool in slowly toward the dome/cone parallel to the wheel head. If you go in slowly enough, and the clay is centered there will be an even line all the way around the clay, if not centered, there will not be a line all the way around the clay.  
  • The most important steps to the cylinder are Centered clay, Even opening up, compressed flattened bottom, well established donut at the start, and strong even pulls that start strong, and then as the clay begins to move pressure is relieved somewhat. Always make a pull that directs inward, so that you pulled form looks more like a slight cone with an open top always. This helps to counter centrifugal force of the wheel.

Hope this helps at your starting level, there really is no other substitute for practice. 

 

best,

Pres

  •  
D.M.Ernst, D Walsh, Min and 1 other like this

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all of the above is good advice, i just want to add that your work is very good for a beginner.  

 

you must be relatively close to a public library.  if it has good pottery books you are fortunate. if not, ask for some to be lent through the inter-library loan system.  now you just need to know what to ask for.  search this website from the first page and look for "books" and you might find the posts of many of our members listing the books they favor most.

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For wedging, I use the cut, stack & slam method-I have all kinds of problems with hands/forearms/spine etc. and this is much easier than other technques. Took a while to get the hang of it, but well worth it.  A friend made me the cut & slam set up. He chose steel for the base before I could suggest a board w/canvas but it is working out just fine. Spiral wedging is my second choice, especially for small quantities for wheel work. I also chose stoneware clay without grit and avoided earthenware because I hate that red mess!  Less and less water needed over time-comes with practice. Just curious--betta, as in Siamese fighting fish?

D.M.Ernst, Min and Pres like this

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I taught myself to throw through watching every pottery video I could find, reading every article, trial, and lots and lots of error.

 

I really loved this book: https://www.amazon.com/Ceramics-Beginners-Wheel-Throwing-Lark/dp/1600592449 It may seem odd to learn wheel throwing from a book but this is presented very well with photographs of hand positions that are hard to see isolated in a video. 

 

I agree that it sounds like your clay is way too firm. I didn't even realize in the beginning that it was part of my struggle that I was using hard clay. When I switched over to a different soft stoneware it was amazing what a difference it made. Every once in a while I decide to "use up" some older clay that has gone a little too dry and every time I regret that decision and I remember over again why that doesn't work for me. 

 

If you can, look on this as purely a learning experience. If you keep on persevering and making use of all the resources at your disposal you will come out the other side. I joined this forum a couple years ago as a rank beginning thrower and have received nothing but helpful kind suggestions and a generous sharing of knowledge from so many lovely people with decades more experience than I. :)

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Betta, when wedging stiffer clay trying to soften it up, try slicing into bread pieces, the water spray one piece. Place the next piece on top of the loaf, use the fist(I use the back of my fist), or a stick to paddle the two pieces together leaving rough ridges of the board/fist edge, repeat the spray ow water, continue this until the full loaf(all clay) is used. Then box the loaf up until the lines between slices are gone, and the piece is now a new loaf, but from being reshaped the cut lines would be perpendicular to the table. Repeat the entire process again. Then repeat the boxing to make the lines go in a different direction. This time do not spray with water between the sections, but continue to cut and paddle together until the clay is the consistency you want. Then wedge part or all of this clay for throwing with spiral or ox head kneading.

 

 

best,

Pres

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I know the feeling.

 

When you watch someone else, it looks like they are working with clay the consistency of thick yogurt.  When you try it, the clay feels like almost set concrete.

 

Follow the advice above and just keep trying.  It took me about two years (intermittently at evening classes) to get the clay to centre and cone up and down.  It's just a case of getting in the zone, try it with your eyes closed, and pushing the clay with your mind as much as with your body.  It's a whole body workout, not your fingers, not your hands, not your arms, not your shoulders, not your back or your stomach, but all of them working together.

 

Experts make everything look easy, the rest of us have to practice, practice and then practice some more.

Min, D.M.Ernst and GiselleNo5 like this

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I know the feeling.

 

When you watch someone else, it looks like they are working with clay the consistency of thick yogurt.  When you try it, the clay feels like almost set concrete.

 

Follow the advice above and just keep trying.  It took me about two years (intermittently at evening classes) to get the clay to centre and cone up and down.  It's just a case of getting in the zone, try it with your eyes closed, and pushing the clay with your mind as much as with your body.  It's a whole body workout, not your fingers, not your hands, not your arms, not your shoulders, not your back or your stomach, but all of them working together.

 

Experts make everything look easy, the rest of us have to practice, practice and then practice some more.

 

Yes to all this. :) :) :) 

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